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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Shandong Luneng

Shanghai Shenhua’s current incarnation as a tough-to-beat side united by adversity will come up against their biggest test of the season yet when a CSL giant which has awaken from its slumber rolls into town this Saturday.

Last Time Out

Played four, lost none — an impressive run of solid performances which has surprised even the most one-eyed of the Shenhua faithful continued with a Yangtze Delta derby stalemate in Hangzhou — all the more impressive for being the second consective game without South American flair and a point won at a ground where Shenhua have a less-than-happy hunting record.

Played four, won four — Luneng’s perfect start to the season continued with a last-gasp winner from Han Peng sinking a spirited Tianjin Teda. Shandong currently sit pretty at the top of the early-season table having seen off some solid teams in Aerbin, Changchun and R&F in their rocket start to 2013.

 Causes for Optimism…

Shenhua find themselves back where the rest of the pack started out — no longer with a negative points total to their name, the Hongkou side have clawed their way above not only fellow victims of justice Tianjin, but also a frankly rotten Wuhan Zall side who are finding life at the top table difficult to acclimatize to. Sitting in that coveted 14th spot and already being out of the relegation zone is a just reward for a side who appear to be bonding in the adversity of point deductions and unpaid wages.

… and for Concern

Shandong boast a lot of firepower — Radomir Antic’s side can call on a number of experienced forwards to support last season’s top domestic scorer in the portly Wang Yongpo and the midfield rock that is Roda Antar. Shenhua’s new-look 4-2-3-1 may well be pushed to the limit of its ability to contain on Saturday evening.

The ongoing off-field financial wrangles will undoubtedly come home to roost at some point, too — and with the ongoing absence of their South American contingent, Shenhua’s squad is stretched to the breaking point in terms of quality replacements — the starting role handed to Jiang Kun may imply that said breaking point has already been passed.

Watch Out For

No prizes for guessing this one: will the starting line-up indicate that the directors have still not managed to put their egos to one side and release the money to pay their playing squad for, well, playing? If Moreno, Schiavi and Toranzo do return to the line-up, they’ll have some questions of their own to answer, too — while few (if any) would criticize the stance they have taken, they could find themselves in the unexpected position of having to put in a performance to justify inclusion ahead of their domestic back-ups who’ve stepped up to the plate in the last two rounds.

The Verdict

North Terrace Preview has been a little downbeat in forecasting continued success for Shenhua this season — and with an ever-stiffening fixture list to come from May onwards, it’s still easy to see a lot of toil ahead.

The attitude, performances and maturity displayed by Shenhua so far this season have been admirable. Coming up against a team of genuine quality who’re in strong form will be a very big test — while it’s difficult to predict a Shenhua victory, it’s also hard to write off this group of players right now. A 1-1 draw it is, then.

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 4   W 2   D 1   L 1   GF 3   GA 2   GD +1   Pts 1

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 4   W 1   D 3   L 0   GF 3   GA 2   GD +1   Pts 0

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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