It’s time for another mid-table CSL battle at Hongkou this week, with Dalian Shide the visitors for the latest clashto pull clear into the top half.
Last Time Out
Shenhua continued their recent trend of following impressive home victories with away draws which give fans cause for both encouragement and disappointment.
A 0-0 draw at Tianjin is not a bad result, and the game itself was well-balanced with both sides hitting the woodwork and drawing spectacular saves from the goalkeeper. Inability to win away from home and record back-to-back wins are less a concern for this season (where a charge for third was always unrealistic) and more for next year: title challengers follow wins up with more wins, to put it bluntly.
Shide meanwhile recovered from back-to-back defeats at the hands of Beijing and Jiangsu by recording a stunning 4-1 home victory over a faltering Guangzhou R&F, with Brazilian Adriano showing London-bus-like form for scoring: you wait half the season for the man to open his account, and then two come along at once.
Causes for Optimism…
Seven games unbeaten (six in the league) is not a record to be sniffed at. Shenhua’s post-Qingdao re-emergence as a quality side has been borne out by the results as much as the performances. With Joel Griffiths back to fitness, the attacking options available to Batista are something to be envied, with neither Song Boxuan or Cao Yunding getting any game time last weekend.
… and for Concern
This writer is as guilty as many others of a blue persuasion here: complacency. The feeling persists that simply by turning up, Shenhua will have too much for Shide (or many other CSL sides).
Signs of this complacency, and the results thereof, were on show up in Tianjin last week: Shenhua played far too direct and sloppily, and threatened only through long-range shots. The slick interplay, movement and short passing which has been a feature of their recent resurgence was lost, replaced by a haphazard “play it to Drogba and see what he can do” mentality. For all the quality Shenhua have, the team do need to work hard and play as a team in order to score goals and win matches — there are no easy matches in the CSL any longer (except perhaps facing Beijing Guo’an in their current run of form).
Watch Out For
The midfield selection. Sergio Batista went with an unchanged starting line-up last week — understandable after watching his picks steamroller Hangzhou 5-1. Amid the side’s seeming loss of identity and gameplan, both Jiang Kun and Feng Renliang were withdrawn at half-time for being ineffective: only to be replaced by Zheng Kaimu in one of his more “unpolished diamond” days, and Joel Griffiths whose running simply gave another target for the casual long ball.
How will Batista set the side up to keep the ball and work on shorter passing? Dropping Jiang Kun for Cao Yunding would be one option, but the manager has a few options available.
For all that we’ve just said about complacency, this game is Shenhua’s to lose — hopefuly cheered on by another big crowd, this should be another home win to boost the side back up the table. North Terrace Preview says: 2-0.
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