Sunday evening football returns to Shanghai with another must-not-lose, probably-need-to-win game for Shenhua. This time around it’s Liaoning Whowin and their free-scoring Brazilian who visit Hongkou tomorrow night, kick-off 19.45.
Last Time Out
A re-jigged Shenhua side featuring Cao Yunding (in for the injured Gio Moreno) and Firas al-Khatib (in for the hapless Dady) triumphed in the early-season Shanghai derby, winning 1-0 at Shenxin in a game where they could and perhaps should have made more of the chances created by debutant al-Khatib’s intelligent movement.
A defence expertly marshalled by Rolando Schiavi again held tight, keeping a second straight clean sheet of the season, with Schiavi’s fellow Argentine Patricio Toranzo keeping his cool to slot home the 4th-minute winner.
Meanwhile in the north-east, Liaoning followed up their first-round goalfest at Guangzhou R&F with a 1-1 draw at home to Tianjin; a game notable for two cracking goals, with an injury-time equalizer from Teda defender Cao Yang earning a share of the points but not quite standing up to an absolute screamer from Whowin’s former Schalke striker Edu — an early goal of the season contender.
Causes for Optimism…
al-Khatib’s debut seems to have pleasantly surprised all of the (true) blue half of Shanghai — given the club’s recent penchant for signing spectacularly poor unheralded foreign forwards (yes Mathieu, we’re talking about you) and wasting their AFC-player squad slot. expectations were perhaps low from the man from Syria. The pint-sized forward does come with a strong goalscoring pedigree in leagues across the Middle East, however, and surely played himself into the first choice #9 role with a performance in Pudong which bristled with energy and footballing intelligence.
The Shenhua defence also remains to be breached this season — the impressive Wang Dalei has not been overly troubled thanks to a solid back four in which Schiavi’s pedigree is so far making a mockery of those of us (North Terrace Preview included) who cast doubt on the wisdom of bringing a 40-year-old out of retirement to come halfway across the world.
… and for Concern
While Liaoning aren’t likely to threaten the ACL places come the end of the season, they’re a stronger side than either of the two teams who Shenhua have come up against in a promising start to the season thus far. Edu in particular is likely to provide a sterner test of the perfect defensive record thus far.
Cao Yunding aside (and who knows when his next start will come if Moreno is fit), the midfield has impressed and performed only in flashes — North Terrace Preview rates Wang Shouting as a dependable CSL workhorse but isn’t quite sure what he offers which the bulldozing young Zheng Kaimu doesn’t, and Xu Liang provided a second disappointing display against Shenxin.
It would be remiss to not comment on the effect which the ongoing boardroom politics and posturing might have on the squad also — not least the fact that a further points deduction would almost certainly make their efforts this season in vain.
Watch Out For
Two big questions coming up for this game, both with a South American angle to them:
Firstly, who will triumph in the classic duel of Brazilian forward versus Argentine center-back? Schivi’s class and reading of the game reflect his status as a Boca Juniors stalwart, but those 40-year-old legs will be tested to their fullest by Liaoning’s man from Sao Paolo — having said that, Edu does seem to have a penchant for shots from outside the box, and the CSL has few (if any) keepers with better athletic shot-stopping ability than Wang Dalei.
Secondly, will Gio Moreno return to fitness and the side for this game — and if so, who makes way for Shenhua’s Colombian skipper? Toranzo looks the likeliest to miss out from a foreign player perspective, and Cao Yunding will be looking over his diminutive shoulders from a positional point of view — Sergio Batista has shown no signs of confidence that Cao and Moreno can play together. The real question is whether considering dropping your creative dynamo and only goalscorer of the season so far are worthwhile decisions in order to accommodate a player of undoubted ability but inconsistent application.
This one could be a cracking game, and it’s a fixture North Terrace Preview is gutted to be unable to make it to Hongkou for. Liaoning will pose a sterner test than either Tianjin or Shenxin have, but there are signs that this new-look Shenhua side are stirring into some kind of rhythm. Ever the optimist, this week’s verdict is a third-consecutive clean sheet and a goal for al-Khatib on his Hongkou debut — 1-0 to Shenhua.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 2 W 1 D 1 L 0 GF 2 GA 0 GD +2 Pts -2
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 1 W 1 D 1 L 0 GF 1 GA 0 GD +1 Pts -2
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015