We’re just days away from the kickoff of the 2013 Chinese Super League season. As we lead up to the start of the new season, we’ll preview a number of the side, this time it’s the struggling northeastern side with the strange english name, Liaoning Whowin.
The manager: Liaoning will be led into battle by the longest serving manager in China, Ma Lin, who has been in charge of the side since 2008. In the offseason, Ma received some offers from a few different clubs, but decided to stay loyal to the club he’s had an on again, off again relationship with for the past 30 years.
The history: Despite a proud past dating back to the era of semi-professional and amateur football in China, Liaoning has had an up and down experience in the top flight of Chinese football. An era of young stars in the late 90s and early 2000s almost delivered them a league title, but a sell-off of its stars saw the club back peddling until, in 2008, it ended in relegation. The club was back up the next season and finished a surprising third in 2011. Last season, it was back to reality, with the club staving off relegation and finishing a mediocre 10th.
The team: Youth will be the key in 2013 as the club sold off two of China’s best players in the offseason, Yang Xu and Yu Hanchao. Zhao Junzhe will lead the way, as always, alongside some solid foreign attacking threats. Beyond that, it’s a mix of a largely U22 side with a sprinkling of CSL journeymen. If you’re a fan of the northeastern tigers, you aren’t going to be very optimistic about the new season, but it will fall on manager Ma to have his troops in line and playing a style of tight, defensive football.
The stadium: Tiexi Stadium is one of the league’s newer stadiums, located in the northwest of Shenyang. The stadium’s about a 15 minute walk from the Zhong Gong Rd (重工街) subway station and tickets are readily available outside the north gate (often from a large bus parked opposite the gate) and shouldn’t run you more than RMB30. For more, check out our look at football in Shenyang.
The changes: It’s more about who left than who arrived when talking about the club’s offseason. Despite making at least RMB55 million from the sale of two players, the club wasn’t very active in the domestic transfer market, pilfering provincial neighbors Dalian Shide of two of the younger players that other teams didn’t pick up, Ni Yusong and Wang Liang. They also took James Chamanga, a longtime CSL star, from Shide. While they may haven’t done much in buying domestic players, they did bring in three impressive foreigners.
The foreigners: Miloš Trifunović and Pablo Brandan, who both played key roles for the club last year, will return for the 2013 season and will be aided by three new key foreigners. Chamanga, mentioned above, is not new to China and will be a key goal creator for the side. The loss of star striker Yang Xu is going to hurt, but his replacement, Edu, purchased from Schalke 04 is an impressive pickup if he’s not already past his prime. Uzbeki defender Shavkat Mullajanov, is not a big name, but is a key part of the Uzbek national side.
The star: This will be Zhao Junzhe’s last year for Liaoning, after having given the club his entire, 14 season professional career. The past few seasons he’s been good for four or five goals and the club will need him to do at least that much in his final year. Unfortunately, the club didn’t bother surronding him with the parts needed to go out on a high, but if he can keep things together in the midfield, Liaoning should be able to avoid relegation.
The x factor: Edu was an expensive signing with an attractive pedigree, but only his years in Suwon really stand out, and those were all five or more years ago. Will coming back to Asia be enough to re-ignite the 31 year old’s career or is he done? The answer to that question will make a massive difference between Liaoning having a decent season and the club going down. Somebody needs to make up for the goals the club lost when Yang left and the burden is likely to fall on Edu.
The prediction: This is going to be a tough year in Shenyang, but the club has a lot of money to spend if they so choose, unlikely though that is. The club is in danger of being relegated, perhaps only saved due to the six point deductions suffered by Tianjin and Shenhua. They have a lot of experience, both amongst their domestic and foreign players, so ultimately avoiding the drop is doable, though don’t expect higher than the 10th place finish of last season.