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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenxin v Shanghai Shenhua

It’s Shanghai Derby time again. Our resident fan’s-eye preview is looking forward to a game which can’t fail to be more entertaining than its reverse fixture.

Last Time Out

After all the speculation, Shenhua’s full foreign legion was back on the field against Liaoning Whowin, although to relatively limited effect with the side’s younger domestic players taking center stage in a 3-0 win which came nicely to a boil in the final ten minutes after a lot of simmering.

Shenxin, meanwhile, literally surrendered the opportunity for a point in a late, late home win for Guangzhou R&F, leaving the Jinshan side perching precariously over the trapdoor to China League 1 football.

Causes for Optimism…

Dai Lin should return from suspension to resume his place at the heart of one of the best defences in this season’s CSL. Qiu Tianyi has looked particularly shaky of late and was troubled throughout the Liaoning game — although he did give Wang Dalei the excuse to make possibly his own save of a spectacular season so far, pushing a dipping 30-yard shot around the post.

Didier Drogba continues to show that he’s still got everything needed in the penalty box, and Shenhua’s younger players should come into this one brimming with confidence — Bai Jiajun and Zheng Kaimu in particular, with the pair striking two very sweet goals last weekend.

Shenhua also demonstrated an admirable patience and willingness to keep the ball against Liaoning — Wang was consistently distributing the ball short, and there was much less panic or forced directness about the team’s use of the ball — while this approach can lead to terrace mutterings and a lack of drama, making the other side do the first-half off-the-ball running can often result in tired legs being easier to bypass in the second. Shenhua’s 57% ball possession and their two late goals might not be unrelated.

… and for Concern

Remember the last time Shenhua followed up a win with another win? No? Well, you’re not the only one — not since the days of Luis Salmeron being an unstoppable goalscoring force of nature have the Hongkou boys managed this feat — a run stretching back to April 2011 and the earliest rounds of last season’s league.

There is cause for concern regarding each of the returning big-name imports, too — while his passion and quality are undiminished, Drogba’s age and long-distance travels are clearly catching up with a man in need of a end-of-season break.

Gio Moreno has reverted to his frustrating habit of being incredibly sloppy in the first half, only to come out and grab the midfield by the scruff of its neck in the second half.

Nicolas Anelka is… Nicolas Anelka (2012 version). If you spot a fattening bald Frenchman wandering with insouance somewhere vaguely near the left wing position while not really getting involved in the game or looking like a team captain, then you’ve found your man.

Most dishearteningly, Joel Griffith’s long-awaited return from injury has been quite the let-down. Likeable for his tenacity and important early-season goals, Joel would seem to have fallen prey to the curse of all injured footballers — to be sorely missed and built up as something of a saviour while on the treatment table, only to show himself up as very human indeed on his return.

Watch Out For

The need for someone who can pick a pass. Shenxin, although on a downward spiral, are at their best when playing an organized, low-scoring game. Particularly if Gio Moreno is slow coming out of the blocks, the midfield is crying out for a Cao Yunding or even Jiang Kun to provide the guile to unlock some space.

Having said that, what odds we get a midfield three of Moreno, Zheng and Yu Tao? Even in a game by the (artificial) seaside, one water-carrier should be enough.

The Verdict

Shenxin are without a win in five, and staring the relegation they escaped last season squarely in the face. While North Terrace Preview doesn’t share the belief prevalent among some fans that ACL qualification remains a possibility, there’s no denying the kindness of the fixtures during the run-in.

Derby or not, the fight may have gone out of Shenxin already — a cheerful 3-1 Shenhua win is predicted here.

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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