Thursday night’s 0-0 draw at Dalian Aerbin was by no means a disaster for title-chasing Guangzhou Evergrande. Indeed, it may yet turn out to be a point gained over their rivals in a difficult away fixture. However, post-match, the club are counting the cost of the game, with three competitions beginning to take their toll on some of the squad’s key players.
Quite how they didn’t secure all three points is a mystery in itself, with the game dominated throughout by those in red and not even Aerbin’s attempts to stop the supply-line of Darío Conca were enough to prevent Evergrande creating numerous chances. As so often, it was Muriqui who was at the centre of everything good for the Cantonese side and news that the Brazilian is carrying a knock will no doubt worry fans.
In the early stages, Evergrande attacked with excellent width and should have reaped the rewards had Cléo and Muriqui converted headed chances from two wonderfully delivered Jiang Ning crosses from the right. Both players will feel disappointed with their efforts. It was then, though, that Muriqui stepped up, beating players for fun before sliding a pass through to Cléo who could only watch in agony as his shot beat the advancing keeper but struck the post. Going in at the break it appeared only a matter of time before the deadlock would be broken.
After the break, more of the same followed with Aerbin unable to muster sustained attacks on the Evergrande goal, mainly due to the excellent defensive work of national team centre-back Zhang Linpeng and Korean Kim Young-Gw0n – the latter described by coach Marcelo Lippi as the “best player on the pitch” post-match. In attack, though, the reigning champions were muted. Muriqui and Cléo were withdrawn on the hour mark and Huang Bowen was guilty of missing a fine opportunity to score after a long-ball forward from Zhang was flicked on.
Big money signing Lucas Barrios was the man who was summoned to replace Cléo, but the Paraguayan could not make the same impact as his team-mate in his all round game. He did, however, receive a great chance to secure the points for his side after a defensive error saw the ball loop in his direction, but a tame outside of the boot effort was easily gathered by Liu Weiguo.
Evergrande will have to wait until Saturday to see how title rivals Jiangsu Sainty get on in their tough home fixture with Guizhou Renhe, but more of a concern to Lippi will be the fitness of Cléo and Muriqui – two of the side’s most influential players.
The former Juventus coach told reporters post-match: “Throughout the competition, we always want to give our all to win. However, Muriqui’s current physical condition does not allow him to finish the full 90 minutes. He already played ten minutes more than we had expected. Cléo also suffered a small injury.
“We had opportunities to score in the game, especially when Cléo hit the post, but we were left to regret not seizing the game. There are outstanding players in the Aerbin team, their performance was deserving of our respect.”
The Italian also bemoaned the effect of the recent international break on his side: “This period [international break] we had many players unable to train with the team and even now, we have two top players who are yet to return.”
Luckily for Lippi, though, Cléo was able to report good news later in the evening, insisting that it was just a small muscle strain and should not disrupt him too much in the coming weeks, while Muriqui’s injury is also thought to be minor. Evergrande face a fixture pile-up of six games in 20 days as they compete on three fronts and will need to use their entire squad to emerge unscathed, leading the Guangdong media to deliver stinging criticism of Aerbin’s rough tactics on Friday morning.
Evergrande will now face Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia next Thursday in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-final, leaving Lippi with much to consider. Barrios should start up-front, with Cléo having been omitted from the squad list, while Feng Xiaoting could partner Kim in defence. The Italian, though, admitted he is unsure of the fitness of Feng and fellow defender Tang Dechao ahead of the big game.
Dalian Aerbin: Liu Weiguo; Liu Yu, Mullen, Jin Pengxiang, Zhao Hejiang; L. Addy (Yin Lu 75′); Rochemback, Zhou Tong (Hu Zhaojun 59′), Keita, Yu Dabao; Dong Xuesheng (Wang Jun 59′)
Guangzhou Evergrande: Yang Jun; Sun Xiang, Zhang Linpeng, Huang Jiaqiang (Li Jianhua 70′), Kim Young-Gwon; Huang Bowen, Jiang Ning, Qin Sheng, Conca, Muriqui (Wu Pingfeng 61′), Cléo (Barrios 61′)