Insurrection! Your regular drinkers BCheng and Shanghai Ultra find themselves locked out of the pub this week, as the Beijing-Shanghai axis is finally overturned. With the Guangzhou derby on Saturday evening, this week’s Pub Talk has an unashamedly Cantonese flavour. In the blue corner we have Yuexiu Shan stadium regular, Donald Ross, fresh from his cameo on TV supporting his side away to Wuhan, and in the red corner we have Evergrande season ticket holder GZ Biffo, who shares his unique insights into players personal lives amongst other things. Sat rather awkwardly in the middle is Will Crook, general Guangzhou football follower and for tonight, peacemaker. Pull up a stool for a special edition live and direct from China’s third city, and join in the comments section.
Will: So guys we’ll start with the home team, Donald, R&F, what’s happened this season? a lot of promise, not a lot of it shown so far.
Donald: Only five points from the first six games, it’s not been the start that R&F have hoped for. Unlucky against Liaoning, dreadful against Hangzhou and Shanghai East Asia and deserved to lose to Shandong. Finally a win last weekend at Wuhan but even then the Hubei side dominated the game.
Will: Yes, I thought they were fortunate to get a win in that game.
Biffo: Nice to see you in the highlights Donald!
Donald: Wuhan only created one real shooting chances but a lot of their crosses, particularly in the first half, had the R&F worried. It was nice to be at the game, my first proper away match in China.
Will: would you recommend going to Wuhan for an away game?
Donald: Not if you’re a Beijing Guoan fan! The Wuhan fans were really nice towards us though, swapping scarves and shirts with the Wuhan supporters group closest to us at half-time was really special.
Will: cool, Biffo, fancy the trip to Wuhan??
Biffo: I was going to as I know a couple of lads there, but unfortunately I’m going to be back in Europe. Only saw the highlights of the R+F game, thought Wuhan had a few more chances than that but they have a hard time finishing. Thought the two goals were nice though. Do you think R+F are going to improve under this manager or is a change needed?
Donald: Ever since he arrived Farias has played a 4-2-3-1 formation which inevitably leaves the lone striker a little exposed and when that striker is Yakubu who isn’t the most mobile it can be hard to break down defences. Especially when your most creative midfielder, Davi, gets himself sent off for a needless shove in injury time and banned for four matches.
Will: I think R&F have become a bit stale tactically and, as Donald said, just role out the same formation for every game and I think teams have cottoned on to this. But it seems, for the time being, Farias has the backing of the club management.
Donald: There were rumours that Farias might leave at the end of last season but the club offered him a new contract about a week after the final game. I don’t think they’ve always seen eye-to-eye over player recruitment though.
Will: Yeah, What do you think of the Evergrande players they brought in? And why’re they not getting games?
Donald: Li Jianhua didn’t start the right back didn’t start the season at right back but played really well in his debut so Tang Miao, one of R&F’s best players last year, will have to work hard to get his place back. Wu Pingfeng has had a real impact from the bench and I’d like to see him given the chance to start a game. Jiang Ning played very well against Qingdao but has been average apart from that so has flitted between the bench and the starting line-up
Biffo: Yeah, I’ve been disappointed that Wu hasn’t been given more game time. He was one of my favourite players when at Evergrande, but didn’t play very much, and I thought that at least at R+F he’d be able to play more. He doesn’t have great stamina though – I don’t think I ever saw him play a full 90 minutes. Glad Li Jianhu has taken his chance, he’s a solid player. Surprised Jiang Ning hasn’t done better.
Will: But you could argue that it isn’t Jiang Ning’s fault. I think mainly because of Farias’ tactics, the whole front line has looked a bit clueless going forward. They don’t seem to be able to create many chances. I think it goes to what was said before, just playing the lone striker has been a problem.
Donald: To get the best out of Yakubu he needs somebody to play closer to him, probably Zhang Yuan or Raphael
Will: Do you think he Farias will be there at the end of the season?
Donald: There was a lot of talk at the start of the season about R&F contending for the ACL places this year, and given that they only missed out by a few points last year, I’d be surprised if Farias is still there if things don’t improve. Having said that, things could improve and he might still get sacked. Take Evergrande last year….
Biffo: I’ve heard rumours that Farias is not too popular with his players. Do you think there’s any truth to those?
Will: I’ve heard that too, I read an article which said one of the Chinese players had made a few comments on Weibo.
Donald: I’m going to have to admit my ignorance on this one, not being able to frequent the same watering holes as you two in Guangzhou. What rumours have you heard?
Will: I’ve heard that the foreign players are not too impressed with him .
Biffo: Yep much the same here. That he’s lost the dressing room basically. Not that that’s proof, but it makes sense considering how they’ve gone from where they were in the middle of last season, to their form towards the end of the season, to now. They just seem increasingly forlorn.
Will: But do you think the win last week will make much difference?
Donald: The three points will be a confidence boost but last week not much changed on the pitch. Davi’s still got one game left on his four match ban and if Farias doesn’t try something new when Davi comes back he probably never will. If Evergrande have as much of the ball as Wuhan did R&F won’t be keeping three clean sheets in a row
Will: Biffo, Evergrande, what do you make of them this season, so far so good?
Biffo: Yeah, I can’t really complain. We’ve only lost 2 out of 12 so far, both losses coming in games that didn’t matter very much and in which the team looked rather disinterested. There have been some very high-scoring wins otherwise, with the Elk in particular being a revelation.
Will: How’s he managed that? he’s been on fire.
Biffo: I have no idea! I thought we were getting a long-term replacement for Conca, and wasn’t expecting a whole lot in the short-term, especially after his debut in the Super Cup. The (unfair) slating he got after that game seems to have spurred him on no end. 10 goals in his first five league games in simply incredible. It’s interesting to note that while the unhappy wantaway Argentinians live in Zhujiang apartments, the Brazilian players live with the rest of the squad in the Evergrande complex.
Will: Yeah, like Muriqui, Elkeson seems to have the right attitude towards the game here.
Donald: Do you think Conca will leave in the summer?
Biffo: Yeah, Conca’s clearly desperate to leave, and his contract is up at the end of this season, so you would assume that the club would want to get something back while they can.
Will: He’ll certainly be missed on the pitch, he plays quite a pivotal role in the Evergrande attack, could have consequences if there is a tight championship run in.
Biffo: He will – I wonder if Elkeson will be expected to step into his role then or if they’ll try to buy a direct replacement. Lippi is trying out Huang Bowen in that position a bit this season, when taking Conca off, but he can’t do the same job.
Will: No, and as Elkeson has been doing so well it would be difficult to justify moving him back. Whoever they get to replace him will have some pretty big shoes to fill. And talking about want away players; Barrios, do we love him or hate him? he seems to divide opinion.
Biffo: We are not massively fond of him I think. He’s not very interested, to put it mildly. He won’t be missed by many. Except maybe those who splashed out on ‘Barrios the Terminator” t-shirts when he arrived.
Donald: I notice you tried to dismiss it as “a game that didn’t matter very much” but Evergrande losses are a rare thing. What happened against Urawa in the ACL this week?
Biffo: Well, Urawa had to win to stay in contention for the knock-outs, especially after they heard at half-time that Jeonbuk had won against Muangthong. Guangzhou just had to not lose by more than three to ensure qualification. Urawa are a decent side and they wanted it a lot more.
Will: Do you think the loss will be any bearing on this weekends match?
Biffo: I don’t think so. I could be wrong, tiredness could be an issue, but I think they’ll be keen to avenge the two defeats last season, and R+F are looking vulnerable.
Will: Ok guys, so the big game this weekend at Yuexiu Shan. The Guangzhou derby. I’d like to hear your predictions for this weekend.
Donald: Not confident at all. If both sides continue playing like they have done so far then Evergrande will win and unfortunately I don’t see R&F changing anything this weekend.
Biffo: Well, I’ve only been to one game at Yuexiu this season, against Shandong, and they weren’t too impressive. From that and what I’ve heard about the rest of their games this season, I’d be very surprised if they were to get anything from the game. I’d like to see R&F put up a fight though – a good battle between the Elk and the Yak.
Will: I’m not sure I can really justify sticking up for R&F here, but saying that, Evergrande have conceded this season but usually to quick attacking teams and R&F are not that. Evergrande have seemed to start games very slowly, so if R&F can somehow get an early goal, maybe, just maybe
Donald: Well, R&F do have a 100% record against Evergrande and are on a club record equalling three game CSL unbeaten streak and kept two clean sheets in a row for the first time ever. I’m not hopeful of making it three in a row but as Kevin Keegan once said “I’d love it if we beat them”
Biffo: Well, R&F do have history on their side, but it’s a very tiny bit of history. I can see this game putting the seal on Farias’ career at R+F. There, won’t that keep everyone happy?
Will: I too hope it’s a good game but I predict Evergrande to win 3-1, how about you guys?
Biffo: Ok, I’ll say 2-1 to Evergrande, assuming the Evergrande players are a bit weary. It could well be more if Elkeson picks up where he left off last week.
Donald: I’ll feel bad making the worst, from an R&F view, prediction but as you said Elkeson has been phenomenal and Evergrande dismatled Changchun last week even with the rain so I’m going to go for 3-0 to Evergrande.
Will: Not even a goal for R&F?
Donald: If the attacking performance is anything like it was against Shanghai East Asia then sadly no.
Biffo: Maybe if Jiang Ning and Wu Pingfeng get picked they’ll up their game a bit?
Donald: Lu Lin started last week and if Wu plays too then there will certainly be a lot of energy and if Yakubu gets a chance he might well take it.
Will: So, apparently there are other games on this weekend. Which teams you’ve seen so far this season have caught your eye?
Biffo: I thought Shandong were decent against R+F, nothing exceptional but they did what they had to do. They’re looking like they’ll be up there come the end of the season. Beijing played very well against Evergrande, but since. They don’t have much strength in depth, and that’s going to tell over the season. I hope they get through to the next stage of the ACL though (if only to distract them from the CSL!) I haven’t seen Qingdao this season except in highlights, but they were very good against us at the end of last season, and I’m happy to see they’ve kept that form going. Jiangsu did well against us in the Super Cup, but they seem lost without Danalache.
Donald: Given what was expected of Dalian Aerbin they’ve not had a great start to their season. If they’re to be serious contenders Aerbin will have to start winning soon and a home victory against Beijing this weekend would be a big statement. On the other hand, Shanghai Shenhua were tipped to struggle and have got off to a flying start.
Biffo: Yeah, the Shenhua response has been amazing, especially considering all the hoo-ha with the unpaid wages and striking foreigners.
Will: Dare I say it, I agree with Guoan, they really gave Evergrande a good game but faded quite badly in the second half. I have to say, one team that I’ve enjoyed watching has been Liaoning, Edu has done pretty well so far this season.
Biffo: Liaoning came very close to the drop last year, but they’re looking much more solid this time around – like you say, Edu seems like a really good buy.
Will: Yes, they looked very lively against R&F, admittedly a few weeks ago now.
Donald: The Liaoning game was on the opening weekend and they were good but R&F could have won. That was one of R&F’s better performances of the season and there was a dissallowed goal and a penalty not given. Not that I’m bitter. It clearly wasn’t a blip for Liaoning though because they’ve been consistent
Will: So, are there any games, apart from the biggie, that you’ll try to catch over the weekend?
Donald: One of the most important games will be Tiajin v Wuhan as both teams are really struggling at the moment. It’s derby day in Shanghai again too.
Will: Yes, I was going to say, I’m going to try to watch that one plus Liaoning vs Qingdao. Two teams who’ve had a pretty good start to the season.
Biffo: The Shanghai derby’s the only one I’ll be able to watch – Shanghai East Asia have been doing well enough too. But just how bad were they in that scoreless draw with R&F Donald? They didn’t have much possession but when they did they passed the ball around well and created a few chances, almost winning it right at the end. They’ve got enough to stay up this season.
Biffo: So what do you think of Beijing, Guizhou, and Jiangsu’s chances of staying in the ACL?
Will: I think Guoan have ground out some pretty decent results, especially at home. Jiangsu seem to be mirroring their league performances so far this season. I think they’re getting a bit of a reality check after last season.
Donald: Guoan should go through and a win next week guarantees it. For Guizhou and Jiangsu it will be a lot closer.
Biffo: Yeah, it would be interesting to see Guizhou go through – in that case, if we don’t lose to Jeonbuk, we would face them in the next round! Which thankfully will be two-legged this season. Jiangsu, I can’t see managing it.
Will: Do you think a Chinese team has a chance of winning it?
Biffo: I think a Chinese team definitely does, though obviously Evergrande look by far the strongest. The other East Asian clubs don’t seem as interested in the competition as the Chinese ones – attendances are generally lower than for league matches, which isn’t usually the case here. I thought Evergrande were unlucky to go out in the quarter-finals last year, and when we get Elkeson into the side after the first knock-out stage, we will be a handful for anyone. Unless of course he gets kicked out of the competition, as Muriqui was by Al-Ittihad last year.
Will: Why do you think the competition is less important in other countries? For the locals it seems just as much national pride as team pride.
Biffo: I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because it’s still a young competition. Maybe the money on offer in comparison to that in most leagues isn’t enough for the clubs to ordinarily care too much. I don’t really know though.
Will: Well, Zhang Lin Peng’s sending off won’t help matters, and Lippi got sent to the stands too.
Biffo: Lippi getting sent off was a bit ridiculous. Shades of Steve Staunton…
Donald: And Muriqui’s goal that was offside or wasn’t. It all got interesting at the end of the Urawa game didn’t it?
Biffo: Yeah, pity whoever the AFC got to televise the thing didn’t know how to work the replay controls though.
Will: Yeah, quite a frustrating night all round for Evergrande.
Biffo: Yes, Zhang’s sending-off was down to his own stupidity, but on second viewing there was nothing very dangerous or violent about his barge, despite the Koroki’s reaction. I’m hopeful it won’t be treated as a special case. And with their Zhujiang beers finished, the Guangzhou three called it quits, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. May the best team win.