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North Terrace Preview: Jiangsu Sainty v Shanghai Shenhua

It’s Yangtze Delta derby time again, with finally-beaten Shanghai Shenhua travelling to Nanjing for a Saturday meeting with a Jiangsu Sainty side who’re starting to pick up a bit of form after a slow start. Will it be another dramatic meeting between these two sides?

Last Time Out

Shanghai Shenhua surprised many by taking the game to the only other unbeaten team in China and bossing the first half against Guangzhou Evergrande. Shenhua, however, paid for not taking their chances against such a high-caliber side when they began to tire in the second half and Evergrande’s quality, along with a refereeing performance which can only be described as questionable, saw the Cantonese giants knock the stuffing out of a raucous Hongkou atmosphere with a 0-3 scoreline.

Sainty meanwhile continued to find their feet with a second-half equalizer away to Tianjin Teda — the Nanjing side are now undefeated in three games following a dreadful start to the season without last season’s goalscoring revelation Cristian Danalache.

Causes for Optimism…

Better sides than Shenhua will be swatted away by Evergrande — continuing to spend money well, the red half (or nine-tenths if we look at attendances) of Guangzhou must be considered odds-on to retain their title, and will take some stopping in the Champions’ League.

It’s worth pointing out that the first 45 minutes last week were possibly the best this correspondent has ever seen Shenhua play — certainly the best they’ve played without having a goal to show for it — by going toe-to-toe with a team packed with internationals and dominating possession and chances.

Xu Liang has now found his feet in Shanghai, and alongside the graft of Wang Shouting and class of Patricio Toranzo, drove a classy, ball-retaining midfield performance rarely seen at Hongkou in recent years.

… and for Concern

As classy a center-back as Dai Lin is, he’s continuing to look lost as a full-back. Newsflash: playing someone patently out of position often doesn’t work, and selling both your first-choice right back and his stand-in over one transfer window is not a great idea. Despite a relatively blame-free performance against his parent club, Li Jianbin has more often than not looked lost on a football pitch in general in recent weeks — there’s something depressingly predictable about seeing him bullied off the ball by every center-forward he comes up against.

Shenhua also continue to have potential issues in the creative midfield department — Cao Yunding may have played himself out of the team with increasingly wretched displays in 2013, and Gio Moreno plays himself in and out of games thanks to his continued creative interpretation of footballing discipline. All this means that the admirable Firas al-Khatib is drifting deeper and deeper back, leaving the side with very little outlet at times.

Watch Out For

Fireworks! A very feisty 2-2 draw last season featured two of the slackest penalties you’ll ever see. 2011 saw these two sides play out a classic Shenhua comeback which wouldn’t look out of place for the class of 2013, also — 2-0 down at home in the driving rain at Hongkou, Shenhua roared back to claim all three points with a last-minute winner after barely letting Sainty out of their half all game. More often than not these two sides have thrown up classics in recent seasons.

Alternatively, this could be a very cagey affair — Sainty are suffering a little from the hangover of their remarkable 2012, and especially the absence of Danalache. While Hamdi Salihi’s early season goals masked the issue, Sainty have taken a little while to hit their stride — recent results have been encouraging for the Nanjing side however, and they can consider themselves a little unlucky to’ve exited the ACL at the group stage.

The Verdict

This is a very tricky one to predict — there’s a case to be made for all three outcomes here. You’d have to fancy a Shenhua comeback might be on the cards, provided that morale didn’t take too much of a dent against Evergrande — confidence has appeared to be lacking from Sainty at times from this correspondent’s television viewing.

In the head-versus-heart debate, the limited amount of rational grey matter housed within North Terrace Preview sees the quality and organization of Sainty winning out — but football’s ultimately all about emotion and fun, so let’s go for another 2-2 classic, with yet another improbable late comeback from Shenhua.

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 9   W 4   D 3   L 2   GF 10   GA 9   GD +1   Pts 9

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 9   W 3   D 5   L 1   GF 11   GA 11   GD 0   Pts 8

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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