‘s fan’s-eye Shenhua preview returns from international duty at Euro 2012 to cast a footballing eye over another bottom-of-the-table clash for the Hongkou boys.
Last Time Out
Both sides came through midweek home cup ties with League One opposition relatively unscathed — Shenhua requiring penalties to see off Shenzhen, and Qingdao continuing their recent CSL resurgence by smashing Guizhou Zhicheng 4-0.
A word about that CSL form — from being in danger of seeing themselves cut adrift in sixteenth spot, Jonoon seem to have rediscovered some of last season’s surprise-package form, holding Guo’an to a draw at Worker’s Stadium and wrecking R&F’s unbeaten home record last time out.
Shenhua’s form since appointing Batista as their fourth manager of the yet-to-reach-halfway season has been predictably familiar: a surrender away to Changchun followed by somehow contriving to throw away a two-goal lead against a weak Aerbin side at Hongkou.
Causes for Optimism…
In spite of their run of form, Qingdao remain the league’s basement club for a reason, and this is a match which should hold little concern for Shenhua’s squad on paper. If the season were played out on paper, however, Shenhua would likely be sitting in an ACL spot rather than the lower reaches of the table. Shall we all sack this in for a game of CSL dungeons & dragons, then?
In Batista Shenhua do at least have a real football manager — a rare species spotted only sporadically in Shanghai since the departure of Blazevic. Having said that, Jean Tigana didn’t exactly last long… this is supposed to be the positive paret of the preview, right?
Encouraging signs from recent games show that Batista has hit upon the startling tactical masterstroke of actually sticking Nicolas Anelka (former centre-forward for France & more big clubs than I ever need to list again) up front and having him run around a bit — this helps the team have some form of shape moving forwards, and allows players such as renaissance man Feng Renliang and new signing Moreno the space to pull strings and make runs in behind him.
… and for Concern
It’s not inconceivable that the right (wrong?) series of results would see Shenhua end the first half of the season in dead last — and it’s not inconceivable that they would deserve this, either. While some players are very difficult to fault, they continue to be badly let down by those above and around them.
Wang Dalei & Dai Lin are making good on their early-career promise, but are hamstrung by the chops and changes made around them and a midfield which can’t keep the ball.
Yu Tao & Wu Xi continue to be proper footballers and model professionals, but are consistently being shunted around the side, and even made to play alongside slower-than-treacle Jiang Kun.
Feng Renliang has worked out that heading & a left foot are useful attributes for a professional footballer, and Cao Yunding continues to be sublime — yet both struggle to change the game from either the bench or as the furthest man forwards due to the lack of a centre-forward for much of the season.
And the tactical inconsistencies and overall gutlessness of the management & squad were well summed-up in the Aerbin match report, so we don’t need to cover that ground again here.
Watch Out For
Shenhua’s priorities — ten points from the race for an ACL spot halfway through the season is a big, but not impossible ask if the new signings are fit and firing. Any more points dropped against struggling teams would put the final nail into those chances, however. Watch out for Batista’s line-up: do Shenhua go for the jugular here, or are they content to rest the stars who played in the midweek cup-tie and keep their powder dry for upcoming derby pride and a run at the cup?
North Terrace Preview is nothing if not optimistic. Some of the younger lads in a young squad have looked fiery enough in their cameo appearances thus far: don’t be surprised if Batista rest a number of first-team regulars and the second string is hungry enough to stall Qingdao’s revival, winning by the odd goal in three.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015