Shanghai East Asia (1st) – Wuhan Zull (2nd)
Undoubtedly the game of the round and a fixture that could define the seasons of both teams, Sunday’s clash between the league’s two top teams couldn’t arrive at a more dramatic point given that they are only four games left to play in the China League One schedule.
For East Asia, having rescued themselves thanks to Wang Shenchao’s late winner against Hohhot Dongjin, the visit of Wuhan will be a big step up in talent and they will need to be far more clinical around the goal to deal with their dangerous guests from Hbei province. Luis Carlos Cabezas turned in another uneventful game against Hohhot whilst Wu Lei and Lv Wenjun can still conjure chances out of nowhere, they now seem to continually send their shots just wide or into the side netting. Things will obviously need to improve in this department to say the least.
Wuhan have also had their problems with being decisive but rather than simply being flimsy infront of the net, the guests have been struggling to find game time consistency during critical points in the season. When focused, Zull have ably dismantled some of the best sides in China League One (recent wins against Harbin Yiteng and Hunan Xiangtao can speak to that) but they can also shoot themselves in the foot with woeful draws at home (as was the case in their previous game against Beijing Baxy).
All of this sets up a compelling spectacle on Sunday. East Asia’s defense should be bolstered by the return of center back Ransford Addo from suspension, which will make things a little more difficult for a Zull offense that has scored in every game they’ve played in since July. However, Wuhan’s own defense has looked increasingly creaky in recent games and if East Asia can get some momentum early, than the visitors’ keeper will be a very busy man. A score draw feels like the most likely result but its going to be a bumpy ride regardless.
Shenzhen Ruby (8th) – Chongqing Lifan (3rd)
Can Shenzhen stop the uber-potent Chongqing offence? Phillippe Trousier would certainly like to think so. The home side are almost certainly out of the promotion race and will now have to settle for spoiling the party for others still in with a chance.
On paper, there certainly seems to be the potential for an upset of sorts. Shenzhen will probably look to harness their 4-5-1 formation into helping them suffocate the Lifan attack and use their midfield advantage to dictate the play. Chongqing will have no choice but to come forward in search of victory and this will play into the hands of the home side and deep-lying play maker Benjamin Gavanon, who will relish the opportunity to try an unlock a defensive line that is extremely leaky and will now also be exposed to the counter attack.
That said, Lifan are going to be more than aware that the Shenzhen back line is nothing to be scared off and if any of their strikers gets a good-looking opportunity, their form over the season tends to suggest that that Chongqing make the opposition pay.
Inspite of Lifan’s undoubted quality though, this fixture has a strong whiff of an upset as Shenzhen’s home form is still pretty strong and a talented but under performing group of players will be looking to put themselves in the shop window for the following season. Lifan’s form on the road has also been woeful- they haven’t won since Jun and that was against also-rans Shenyang Shenbei. One goal should decide it and it just feels like it will be scored by a Shenzhen player.
Tianjin Songjiang (6th) – Hohhot Dongjin (15th)
It’s now or never for both sides and a loss could effectively end the season for the beaten outfit. Tianjin, who were once second in the league and with breathing space over the chasing pack, have sunk back down the table whilst Hohhot are running out of time to save themselves from the drop.
Having been pummelled by Chris Killen in their 2-0 defeat to Chongqing FC, Tianjin have to come good against a broken Hohhot side that will be without their main striker Yovanny Archerea after the Columbian was sent off in his side’s previous game against Shanghai East Asia. However, having lost three games on the trot, it remains to be seen how much life is still in the Songjiang team. Aleksander Rodic will be back from suspension after his own remarkable sending off in a game against East Asia and Rong Yu will remain a real problem as he drifts around midfield but anything less than a win and it is surely game over for Tianjin.
As desperate as Tianjin’s situation is, Hohhot’s is far worse. The loss of their main striker through suspension and a team that looks bereft of ideas will struggle in this encounter, especially as their away form has been poor. Captain Le Beisi is an excellent galvanizing spark in midfield but as soon as the ball gets to the business end of the pitch, play breaks down almost immediately.
The hosts should get the win but whether it counts for anything in the long run remains to be seen.