I feel slightly hesitant about writing this match preview. Sunday’s Super Cup defeat to Jiangsu came as a surprise to nearly everyone, not least Evergrande themselves. The 3-0 win against Japanese side Urawa Reds in the Asian Champions League was the bang that Evergrande had hoped to start the season with. The cup loss on Sunday has seemingly taken the wind out of Evergrande’s sails and gives us a more intriguing first game than we may have predicted a week ago.
The Best Forever?
Guangzhou will come into this game feeling that they have something to prove and a reputation to uphold. As reigning champions they will need to make a statement of intent and prove that last Sunday’s defeat was just a rather lazy blip. Evergrande’s poor performance in the Super Cup was blamed on lack of motivation and an underestimation of Jiangsu. Why they would belittle the team that finished 2nd in the league is a mystery. It was rather surprising and a little perturbing just how much Guangzhou switched off against what they thought was lesser opposition, slow to track back when not on the ball and giving away possession sloppily. New Brazilian signing Elkeson had a disappointing 55 minutes and was criticised in most Guangzhou newspapers for being slow, out of position and unable to shoot accurately. If he gets a chance to play on Friday he will need to use that time to convince Hengda fans that he is worth the large investment. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what line up Lippi decides to choose for Friday’s game. On Sunday they started with a 4231formation but when Barrios was put on for the ineffective Elkeson, they changed to a 343 which they seemed slightly more comfortable with.
A Shenxin Surprise?
Shanghai Shenxin are a changed team. Not only have they moved to their own stadium but they have also changed colours, from red to blue. Not many would back Shenxin to get anything out of this game. By all rights, they should be playing in League 1 but were saved when Dalian disbanded. Shenxin ended their 2012 league campaign 4 points above relegated Henan having only won twice away from home. For Shenxin, Friday’s fixture is the first of a series of tough games. After their trip to Guangdong they face their local rivals Shenhua at home and then play Super Cup winners Jiangsu away. On the plus side, against Evergrande their record is far from humiliating. Last season in the same fixture it took two goals from Conca for Evergrande to come from behind and win 2-1. The fixture in Shanghai ended 1-1 after eight yellow cards and a 91st minute equaliser from Anselmo. In the run up to the new season, Shenxin went to Turkey where they beat Russian Premier League side FC Amakar Perm 9-2 (abeit a reserve team) and drew 1-1 with Danish first division Hobro IK. Much has been made in the Shenxin camp of new signing Michael Marrone. The Australian defensive midfielder joined from A League team Melbourne Heart and should add some much needed defensive steel. Other preparations have not gone so well. New signing Yu Tao received his registration a few days before the game after an exhausting period of trips to and from Shanghai to Beijing.
The gulf in class between the two teams should mean that Shenxin shouldn’t give Guangzhou too many problems. Jiangsu had a lot of success on Sunday by playing tight defensively, suffocating influential playmakers Muriqui and Conca. Shenxin could do the same and keep players behind the ball, exposing Evergrande’s defence on the break. Whether Shenxin actually have the players capable of doing this remains to be seen. If they can frustrate Evergrande, Shenxin may get a lucky break. Using wing backs seems to be Evergrande’s attacking plan B and if Shenxin go defensive Evergrande’s number 32 Sun Xiang may have a large influence on the game. Sun found a lot of space on the wing against Jiangsu but had trouble delivering decent crosses. Guangzhou have not taken this game lightly and it was reported that they sent scouts to check out Shanghai on their preseason tour of Turkey. The reigning champions do not want any accidents.
Guangzhou Evergrande have enough quality both on the pitch and on the bench that they should be able to muster an improved performance. To be able to take Barrios off and replace him with either Gao Lin or Elkeson must be a daunting thought for Shenxin. It should be said that Sunday, as much as it feels wrong to admit it, was just a souped-up friendly which has little bearing on anything apart from some early season pride. Playing at home on the first day of the season in front of a large partisan crowd will be to Guangzhou’s advantage. I’m wary of writing Shenxin off. To say Friday is going to be an easy victory may be to unfairly underestimate and belittle an opposition, something that Guangzhou were a victim of last week.