Guangzhou Evergrande put aside their recent rather poor run of form to beat an uninspired Dalian Shide team 3-1 at home, exacting revenge for their defeat by the same scoreline in the reverse fixture last May.’
However, it cannot be said that the match was all plain sailing for Evergrande, as after going two goals up in a first half in which Shide posed relatively little challenge, they eased off after the restart, allowing their opponents back into the game.
Dalian duly pulled one back early on but had little in the way of clear chances thereafter and would have been extremely fortunate to leave Guangzhou with a point; as it was the result restored some much-needed confidence to the Cantonese side in the midst of a tough run of fixtures.
After a string of three domestic matches played in a rather overly cautious style, yielding just a single goal between them, this match represented a return to a more attacking approach from Evergrande, perhaps mindful of the upcoming home leg of their Champion’s League quarter-final in which they will need to score at least two. Strangely, the crowd was the smallest I’d seen here for a league game (perhaps there’s been a moratorium on the fabled free ticket allocation?), and Shide seemingly (though unsurprisingly) failed to bring any fans at all. The ultras provided a rousing atmosphere as usual though.
The first 15 minutes saw a couple of corners and Zhao Xuri’s slightly wild volley over from a good Gao Lin cross, before Li Jianhua opened the scoring for the hosts with his first league goal of the season. Barrios on the left fed Wu Ping Feng in the middle, and he sent a perfectly weighted ball to Li, who was charging up the right in open space. His low and somewhat soft shot was fumbled by the hapless Zhang Chong in the Dalian goal, but Li made no mistake from the rebound. It was one of several good exchanges between Li and Wu in the first half, causing no end of bother for Dalian on their left.
The first name went into the book in the 26th minute, as a result of one of Gao Lin’s balletic leaps. I think it was Zhao Mingjian, given the fury with which he berated everyone in a red or black shirt for a minute or two afterwards, but I’m not 100% sure.
Either way, it was a reminder of why it’s very difficult to warm to the Evergrande forward, despite his occasional non-thespian creative flashes. He did give everyone a good laugh in the 55th minute though, when he and the bench feigned bewildered shock after the ref ignored one of his swan-dives, waving play on as Gao sat waiting for the whistle (after all, the ref had been playing along up until that point).
Some great interplay between Conca and Wu just after the half-hour mark ended with Wu cutting the ball back into the box for a great chance for Barrios, free in the middle, who proceeded to loft it well over the bar.
I really cannot understand why Wu, probably only playing because of the injury inflicted on Muriqui in the match against Al-Ittihad, has so much difficulty getting a game. He was outstanding here, skilful and imaginative, and always puts in a good shift. As a winger in his early 30’s, and thus perhaps nearing the end of his career, he deserves more opportunities to shine.
Barrios made amends two minutes later when he sent a clever ball down the middle to Conca, who easily beat a belated one-man attempt at an offside-trap, pushed the ball out left past the onrushing Zhang Chong, and slotted into the net for Evergrande’s second.
Moments later, Dalian’s Quan Lei became the second player to receive a yellow card, for an obvious clip on Conca, who in his funk refused the proffered hand back up. Shide then replaced their left-back Yang Boyu, who had not impressed, with nominal midfielder Sun Guowen.
Shortly before half-time, Zhao Mingjian retrospectively justified his earlier booking by sliding in on Wu Ping Feng, who was stretchered off as a result. He did return to the field, clutching his lower back, but didn’t reappear after half-time. Hopefully this was just a precautionary measure, as it would be worrying to lose both him and Muriqui for the upcoming cup matches. Thankfully his replacement, Feng Junyan, acquitted himself fairly well, and word has it that Muriqui should be back for the ACL fixture.
There was still time for Wu to set up another chance for Barrios before the interval, which he headed wildly over. It was only a half-chance really but, despite some good team play, the Paraguayan’s general lack of confidence and composure in front of goal since his arrival is troubling, especially considering that his rival for the centre forward slot, Cleo, hasn’t been faring much better of late. So much for the strength in-depth the special foreigner-allowance-rule-change gift from the CFA was supposed to grant Evergrande!
After the restart, there was an air of nonchalance about Guangzhou’s play, which suggested that they’d forgotten this was one of only three teams to have beaten them in the league so far this season. Evergrande captain Sun Xiang picked up a booking for a late challenge three minutes in, and then Gao Lin in the Shide box collected a lofted pass from Conca on the right-wing and did well to hold off Zhu Ting and get a shot in, but it was too tame to pose any real threat.
From this, Dalian broke and Zhang Linpeng made a great challenge in the box to stop their danger-man James Chamanga‘s attempt on goal. From the resulting corner, Guangzhou’s goalkeeper Yang Jun impressively blocked Zhu Ting’s point-blank header, but was powerless to stop Shide captain Zhang Yaokun knocking in the rebound.
The Northern side began to grow in confidence as Guangzhou initially failed to react to the deficit being halved, and the lead began to look quite shaky. Qin Sheng was booked in the 54th minute, and soon after was replaced by Zheng Zhi. It proved the right change to make, as Zheng quickly began to restore order to the contest, breaking brilliantly from deep in his own half two minutes after coming on to provide Conca with a good chance which resulted in a corner.
Nothing came of this set piece, but the tone of the match had changed, and moments later Zhang Linpeng had his own mazy run from deep which ended in a shot that hit the side-netting (and briefly fooled those on the wrong side of the pitch into celebrating). Zhang got the goal he deserved in the 65th minute though, when he met another of Conca’s wickedly curling corners by a downward header which bounced into the top right corner of the net.
Cleo came on for Barrios a couple of minutes after the third goal, and had one very good moment, when he centred the ball from the by-line, only for Feng Junyan to completely fail to connect for what would have surely been a certain goal, and one slightly comedic one, where he went for a bicycle-kick that never really seemed on, and naturally completely mishit it. He also had a shot saved just before the end of normal time.
The rest of the game consisted mostly of consistent pressure from Evergrande, including some clever set-piece deliveries from Conca, often resulting in humourously awkward attempts at punched clearances from Zhang, who really did not look like a top-flight goalkeeper. Shide had a few attacks too, mostly involving Chamanga, especially as the match got closer to the final whistle, but the result was never really in doubt after Guangzhou’s third.
With title rivals Jiangsu Sainty only managing a goalless draw away against Changchun Yatai, this result leaves Evergrande 3 points clear at the top of the table, and hopefully they will pick up enough self-belief (and not pick up too many injuries) in the CFA Cup semi-final return leg away to Liaoning on Wednesday and the away league game against Qingdao on Friday, to do what is necessary against Al-Ittihad next Tuesday in order to progress to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League.
For the glory of the motherland in these sensitive and trying times, of course.
Guangzhou Evergrande: 1 Yang Jun, 32 Sun Xiang, 14 Li Jianhua, 28 Young-Gwon Kim, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 37 Zhao Xuri, 15 D. Conca, 26 Wu Pingfeng (7 Feng Junyang 46′), 8 Qin Sheng (10 Zheng Zhi 57′), 18 L. Barrios (9 Cleo 68′), 29 Gao Lin
Dalian Shide: 22 Zhang Chong, 6 Zhang Yaokun, 23 Dong-Hyuk Park (Li Xuepeng 76′), 5 Yang Boyu (Sun Guowen 39′), 19 Yan Xiangchuang, 24 Yan Feng, 13 Quan Lei, 15 Zhao Mingjian, 46 Wang Shixin, 8 Zhu Ting (Hao Xingchen 76′), 11 J. Chamanga