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Pub Talk: The Final Third begins…

In the pub this week, Shanghai Ultra arrives dripping after having to make his way to the pub in the middle of (another) recent Typhoon. Silly transfer stories raise their silly heads again, but Bcheng is there with his big mallet to bop them down. Shenhua are back on the agenda – Anelka turns up, Drogba’s impact is analyzed. Meanwhile, the pair spent a great deal of time looking back on what was a massive week in the CSL in the last round – Evergrande slipping up again. Relegation candidates are looked at – who is going down? Ultra thinks Qingdao, will Shenhua ever play in the city during its beer festival? Elsewhere, Bcheng amuses everyone with his defence of Guoan fans’ civility, in front of a scoffing Ultra. No animals or funny foodstuffs in the pub this week, just good old Chinese footy chat. That is what is coming your way, this week, in the pub.

S: Good evening B, here we are enjoying another pint.

B: Yes indeed! We’re right in the thick of things now, should we get to it?

S: We are. I see bizarre transfer stories refuse to go away despite the transfer window being firmly closed for several weeks now. Ballack is apparently considering coming to join Shenhua next season.

B: I think we’ll see plenty of those as we get near the end of the season, but let’s not allow that to spoil things. We’re still four months away from the transfer window opening up and there’s plenty of football matters to talk about.

S: Agree, but we can’t dismiss this story purely as a rumour since Zhu Jun mentioned it on his weibo, he just passed on the news without commentating on whether it was true or not. Which probably means he’s just enjoying being in the spotlight again.

B: zzzzz….what? Did you say something? Zhu Jun?

S: Alright alright, just think its daft to talk about bringing in more foreigners after your side’s finest performance in many years. How about that for a segue!

B: True, the dismantling of Hangzhou last week was impressive.

S: I think it may have been the best performance I have seen at Hongkou, ever. And it should be really, considering the amount of cash lavished upon the team.

B: So what brought it on?

S: Anelka finally bothered to turn up, and linked up the whole team. He was everywhere and I think the last of Shenhua’s goals summed him up. Having just watched Drogba score 8 minutes into his Hongkou debut, and having taken a lot of heat for not scoring even one goal at Hongkou in more than half a season, he passed the ball to Joel Griffiths for a certain goal, rather than shoot himself when he had a good chance of scoring. All that and the fact it was injury time and the game was already completely won. That shows he simply doesn’t care what others think of him, he can be a fantastic team player on the pitch when he wants to be and Shenhua benefitted from that finally.

B: So what it comes down to is Anelka wanting to show up. How big was the Drogba impact?

S: For me Drogba pushed Anelka all the way for man of the match. Most likely a similar contest for MOM will happen for most games from now on in. We talked a while ago about Anelka’s touch and general ability being obviously better than the average CSL player’s, at least, when he first arrived. Drogba is a notch up again, amazing strength and a great finish. He looks to be in great physical condition for someone in the veteran stage of their career at 34.

B: Yeah, he showed it toward the end of the year at Chelsea, and it makes it all the more impressive that he’s doing this with virtually no rest, 15 months straight of footy.

S: The man himself said as much in his after-match interview, the first time he’s had no preseason. But back to the game itself, Shenhua just basically destroyed Hangzhou, we saw a team which has had an awful lot of money spend on it finally show up. Feng Renliang’s goal was probably the best for me, it shows Shenhua aren’t just about big money aging EPL stars, also Bai Jiajun who is on-loan from Shanghai East Asia looks terrific at left-back, I hope we sign him up full-time asap.

B: It’s what I think you’ve been waiting for and expecting all year, especially since Drog’s arrival. A dominant performance all around.

S: You summed it up well. But obviously its way too late for any shot at the title and I don’t think grabbing 3rd and the last ACL place is very likely. Having said that, for the run-in, Shenhua have already played the top five twice with the exception of Guizhou. So they do have easier games than they might. However, other teams are going to have to throw it away basically for Shenhua to get anywhere near third, assuming last Saturday’s 5-1 was not a false dawn. Something Shenhua have had a great many of, if the truth be told.

B: Third’s a dream, but I do think things will get better for fans in Shanghai. So speaking of Guizhou, should that be where we go to next?

S: Yes, that was a stunning victory over Evergrande and the CSL title race is not going exactly the way we predicted, is it?

B: Unlike last year, where Evergrande would have been able to find a way to score late, this time it was the other side that got the 80th minute goal that secured a victory. Guizhou could even get into the race, but I think they dropped too many points early in the season to be a factor.

S: It’s exciting stuff, Guizhou is a difficult place to go with a very solid support there.
Also they didn’t have the benefit of the ref on their side against Guizhou, unlike they did against Shenhua the other week with the dodgiest off-side call you will ever fucking see in your life, which saved Evergrande’s arse..

B: They are a well-managed team and are getting massive crowds, most of all they’re a team that seem to always be involved in games with lots of goals, even if they’re giving them up.

S: Yes, but as you said they gave away too many points earlier in the season and they are six behind Sainty. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t win against Shandong. 3-3 at half time!!

B: 3-2 at halftime, it certainly was a wild one, with Danalache completing his hat trick just before the end of the half, but Shandong found an equalizer in the second half and were able to hold off Jiangsu.

S: Danalanche is a beast. He’s on track to break the CSL scoring record.

B: He certainly is a beast, but you think he can do it? I can’t see it…

S: Is it 26 goals Li Linyu?

B: Yeah, Li scored 26. Danalache scoring 10 more in 10 games could prove tough, but he’s certainly wrapped up the golden boot award.

S: Yeah it is a big ask but he’s on fire. So it was a big weekend last weekend in the CSL which told us a lot I think.

B: Definitely! It looks like we’ll have the title race we wished for, Evergrande and Jiangsu are going to battle it out down the stretch and if they falter too much, maybe Guizhou may enter the picture.

S: Yeah. We also saw both Shandong and Shenhua put in performances which suggested at least one of the pair will not finish in the wrong half of the table, as far as CSL old guard sides go.

B: Right. While Shandong isn’t entirely safe, numbers wise, I don’t think anyone expects they’ll go down the way they’ve been playing lately, while Shanghai is clearly safe and on the cusp of the top half.

S: Yeah that is how it’s looking as things stand.

B: Qingdao also came up with a big win over the weekend, the relegation picture is going to be interesting.

S: Indeed, kinda surprised to see Aerbin getting sucked into it, they’ve spent some cash…

B: They have Keita, so he should be able to keep them up, but outside of their foreigners and Yu Dabao, that’s a team seriously lacking in talent. And despite all that, the fans have come out.

S: Right. Dalian is such a weird town, Shide always seems to receive such inconsistent backing, despite being the most successful team in China ever, by a long way. I suppose it doesn’t help though that they haven’t won anything for I think, 7 years now.

B: Yeah, they have the strongest supporters section in the country, but the past few years nobody else has really bothered coming. We’ve talked a lot about this past weekend, but what didn’t get mentioned is quite possibly the goal of the year.

S: Right, that was a storming goal by your man. Just think, had someone in the EPL scored it, we would be hearing about it for decades and how great the EPL is.

B: A perfect bit of skill from Xu Liang, we’re unlikely to see another like it anytime soon, and a goal that Guoan really needed.

S: It was a goal fit to win a match for sure. How did it feel from the terraces? Did everyone go more nuts than usual?

B: I don’t know about more nuts, but for us at the north end (the goal was scored on the south end goal), it really took a second to hit, like what the fuck did he just do, and then a massive release.

S: Hahah. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goal scored from within a teams own half before, at least, not at a game I personally attended.

B: I admit to watching the replay a number of times after the match, still amazed that he actually did it.

S: It’s worthy of a good few watches. Kanoute also should have scored with a header earlier on, I bet he was relieved.

B: Yeah, I think the whole team was, Xu’s goal put a stop to a recent skid and probably stopped a post-match riot if the team would have failed to win yet again.

S: Looks like there will be a very cut-throat fight for third place.

B: It certainly is going to be tight, but at the same time, I’m not sure anybody wants to finish there.

S: Yeah because it only gets the winner into the ACL qualifying around… and the ignominy of the Asian Cup if they fail to win that game.

B: Exactly. So, who do Shenhua have this weekend?

S: Away to your favourite other team, Tianjin. Bet you can’t decide which side you want to lose.

B: I’m sure there will be lots of negative chants against Guoan in the stands, with the Tianjiner’s love of only chanting “sabi”

S: Ha ha. Beijing don’t chant SB much, right?

B: In Beijing, it’s rare, only when “required”, not the constant drone that it is in Tianjin.

S: According to the excellent “An “Uncultured” Chant That’s Part of Chinese Culture” article you wrote, SB is, I quote, “regularly heard at football matches in Beijing”….

B: Haha, when I used “regularly heard”, I meant that it’s heard at every match in Beijing, but not that it is the only thing heard, or even that it’s heard all that much during the game.

S: Hahah. Ok then.

B: Then again, it’s stupid to be even talking about this. By far Beijing is one of the least offending teams when it comes to this chant and the reality is that there isn’t a club in the country who doesn’t chant SB, or the local equivalent of it, during games. It’s just that reporters tend to be in Beijing and not, say, Tianjin or Guiyang or Shenyang.

S: “Beijing chants SB less than everyone else” that’s a good one!

B: Having been to 10 out of 16 stadiums, I would put Guoan fans toward the bottom when it comes to the chant (or its local equivalent). Well, 11 of 16, I can’t not include Gongti.

S: I dunno why you give a shit…..whats wrong with shouting SB? I think it’s funny and those who are offended should worry about more important things.

B: There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s a difference between being pissed off at a referee or diving player and so chanting shabi while having a supporter’s culture and songs beyond that. Or being like the Tianjin or Liaoning fans (though big ups to Liaoning, they’ve improved drastically the past two seasons) who immaturely ONLY shout “sabi” and cnm for 90 minutes, without anything else.

S: People shout all kinds of things at football grounds all over the world. except in the EPL, where they are too busy munching prawn sandwiches. Perhaps they should give away free food at CSL games to shut everyone up?

B: Well, you can give free tickets like in Guangzhou and watch as the local punters just sit on their hands for 90 minutes. I couldn’t not take that shot. Anyways, back to the weekend’s slate of matches…

S: Haha. Ok, that was an amusing diversion. So Guoan are where?

B: The team doesn’t have to go far as they face off against reinvigorated Shandong Luneng, should be a heck of a match.

S: Right, that is possibly clash of the round.

B: There are a number of good matches this round, clash of the round is hard to call. Greentown are licking their wounds, hosting Evergrande, it will be fun to watch how they come back from the defeat. Guizhou stays at home against Changchun in a real six pointer, a win for the southwestern side would see Changchun effectively knocked out of the race for third.

S: Yeah, they couldn’t get a tougher test after their suffering of derby destruction.

B: Most of all though, there are two six pointers at the bottom of the table. With 10 games left, there’s still plenty of time, but to have Qingdao playing Shenxin and Henan hosting Aerbin, it makes things interesting.

S: Yeah thats a relegation orgy going on right there. I still think Qingdao are going down. Hopefully Shenxin too.

B: If forced to guess, I’d say Henan and Shenxin.

S: It’s sure to be from those teams, as we said last time Luneng are too strong, can’t really see Aerbin slipping either.

B: I don’t know, I’m not so confident when it comes to Aerbin, it depends how well (and how fast) Keita can become a part of the team, but after all, he’s only one player. If Yu Dabao or Utaka were to go down with an injury, I could see them in the picture fast.

S: That’s a good point, yeah.

B: Anyways, I don’t think this weekend’s results are going to create a much clearer picture. I think the relegation race will go down to the wire.

S: That’s for sure, it’s going to be tighter and involve more teams than at the other end of the table it would appear.

B: Let’s just be happy we have a race at the top, even if it is only 2.5 teams involved in it. And to that, we drink?

S: Indeed, we do. Cheers!

B: Cheers!

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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