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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Liaoning Whowin

Your intrepid fan’s-eye preview tries to wilfully ignore the news (or lack thereof) emenating from Hongkou and focus on a chance to return to winning ways.

Last Time Out

The last full round of CSL fixtures was played three weeks ago — as a quick memory refresher, this weekend’s visitors to Hongkou continued a decidedly patchy run of form with a harsh 2-1 defeat at home to a Yakubu-inspired R&F, with Shenhua extending their unbeaten run to nine games with yet anoter tied game in a pulsating 3-3 thriller in Jinan.

Not only has there been a lack of domestic football in the interim, but there’s also been little in the way of non-speculative updates on the current political wrangle and potential fall-out — at the time of going to press, your guess is as good as (or probably better than) North Terrace Preview’s when it comes to reliable Shenhua news.

Causes for Optimism…

If you were hand-picking a side to get back into gear against, then one hovering just two points above the relegation zone with no win in five games, and only one away win all season, would be an ideal candidate.

That’s what Shenhua are facing — despite a decent start to the year following their third-place 2011 finish, Liaoning’s results indicate a side on a downward slide.

… and for Concern

From an on-pitch perspective, a 9-game unbeaten streak  sounds a fair bit less impressive when re-cast as “two wins from nine”. Batista’s side may have become pleasingly difficult to beat, and encouragingly full of fight-backs, but remain very much a frustrating work in progress with their inability to put teams away.

From an off-pitch perspective, the only certainty is that Shenhua are something of a PR laughing stock, making international news for all the wrong reasons and remaining as transparent and forthcoming as the Church of Scientology. No news here, then.

Watch Out For

The starting line-up and its implications — Gio Moreno’s surprise Shandong omission (and despite having had a shocker against Dalian, the big Colombian’s midfield control was badly missed) was the first indication that all might not be well in the state of Shenhua.

Whatever further news than the non-specific “foreign players reported to be in Shanghai” may follow this preview and precede the match, North Terrace Preview will not be convinced either way until the starting 11 line up on the pitch at 19:45 on Saturday — we’ve been here before with Drogba’s will-he-won’t-he debut, after all.

The Verdict

Good lord — predict a game of football when you don’t know whether your team’s biggest 3 stars will be a) playing, b) fit, or c) ready to mutiny after not being paid.

OK, then — 1-1. Teams have begun to come to Hongkou to settle for a point, and expecting ambition away from home from a CSL side on a wretched run is somewhat wishful thinking. The corresponding fixture in Shenyang finished 1-1 with a last-gasp equalizer this year, and Shenhua have been drawing more frequently than Leonardo da Vinci in his prime of late.

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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