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Match of the season analysis: Evergrande in the driving seat

With just three games left of the season, Guangzhou Evergrande are in pole position to be the first club to successfully defend a CSL title but they face a mighty challenge on Saturday night when they make the trip to Nanjing to face second-placed Jiangsu Sainty.

The Cantonese club currently have a 3 point lead over Sainty and a goal difference of +21, as opposed to Sainty’s +20 – meaning their upcoming clash at the 60-000 capacity Olympic Stadium in Nanjing will be the biggest game of the season and quite possibly the best attended.

Guangzhou Evergrande remaining fixtures:

  • Saturday away to Jiangsu Sainty
  • October 27 home to Liaoning Whowin
  • November 3 away to Beijing Guoan.

Jiangsu Sainty remaining fixtures

  • Saturday home to Guangzhou Evergrande
  • October 27 home to Beijing Guoan
  • November 3 away to Guangzhou R&F

The key game is of course coming right up. Should Sainty lose, the title will be all but Evergrande’s. However this time last year Sainty stunned Evergrande 5-2, albeit the league already being in the bag for the Guangzhou side.

Let’s take a look at the two side’s head-to-head record. Both teams are relatively new to Chinese top-flight football, Evergrande in their previous incarnation not reaching the CSL for the first time until 2008, Sainty a year later.

Jiangsu Sainty v Guangzhou Evergrande head-to-head CSL record:
17/06/12 CSL Guangzhou Evergrande 5 – 1 Jiangsu Sainty
22/10/11 CSL Jiangsu Sainty 5 – 2 Guangzhou Evergrande
26/06/11 CSL Guangzhou Evergrande 2 – 1 Jiangsu Sainty
12/09/09 CSL Jiangsu Sainty 3 – 1 Guangzhou Pharmaceutical
02/05/09 CSL Guangzhou Pharmaceutical 1 – 0 Jiangsu Sainty

Do you see a pattern there? Yep, Sainty can feel very confident looking at the historical record – every single one of the five clashes between the two have ended in a home victory. Interestingly, their two most recent China League One clashes, back in 2007, also resulted in home wins. But will historical trends influence such a huge match?

Looking at recent form doesn’t help much either – Evergrande have a W-L-W-D-D record over their past five games, Sainty have L-W-D-W-W. It’s interesting to note that the L in both those records is shockingly due to defeats to lowly Qingdao over the previous two rounds.

Should Evergrande win, the title is all but theirs, and a draw will most likely merely postpone the same outcome. But predicts a narrow home win for Sainty on Saturday. From then on in, it will be a mad sprint the finishing line with both teams neck and neck on goals and points. Evergrande should turnover Liaoning at home in their next fixture without too much trouble, but Sainty will have to summon all their reserves to get the better of Guoan in the second last round.

Sainty wrap up their season against Evergrande’s city rivals R&F on the road and could seal a maiden CSL title in Evergrande’s hometown. It’s another tough fixture, this game along with the Beijing match are hardly ideal fixtures for Sainty to topping up their goal difference. Then again,Evergrande also face Beijing in the run-in – ending their season at Gongti is a daunting prospect.

Most observers this season have been waiting for Sainty’s bubble to burst, whilst Evergrande have struggled in the latter half of the season, feeling the pressure of battling on league, cup and continental fronts, not to mention as many as seven of their Chinese players called up to the national squad. But with Evergrande now out of the ACL and their cup final against Guizhou not taking place until after the last CSL game of the season, the squad is now free to concentrate on successfully defending their title.

Both teams have tough run-ins, but Evergrande’s Liaoning match makes theirs a little less challenging than Sainty’s and its for this reason that is tipping Evergrande to be the CSL’s first team to win the title in successive seasons.

Come what may, the stage is set for the clash of the season this Saturday and a potentially nail-biting dash to the CSL finishing line after it. Check out Sina’s live feed of the match on Saturday night, 19:30 kick off.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.



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