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Pub Talk: First v Second this weekend…

Back in the pub once again and this weekend the big clash between 1st and 2nd is previewed – how will it go down and what might it mean for the league if Evergrande win. The Cantonese side’s strength is assessed, and should a resurgent Han Peng of Shandong be back in the Chinese national side? These are some of the questions asked. Elsewhere there is the small matter of the China Derby to look back on – Ultra keeps his gloating to a minimum, but the guest animals in the pub this week are turtles which Ultra admits to throwing  around post-match… A.C.A.B…Meanwhile the CFA cup appears, Dali want Evergrande to give up home advantage, can they, should they, will they? Pull up a stool and join the banter….

S: So glad to see you had fun in the pub at my expense when I was gone B, there’s no end of trickery and Shenanigans at is there?

B: Certainly not, but I must say you were missed. I’d much rather not have you here this week.

S: Haha, revenge time! Another wasted journey it seems, you are a stubborn fellow are you not?

B: It’s gotta happen for us one of these years.

S: Well, it’s been almost two decades, a real hoodoo, although we don’t quite go on about it like some of a green persuasion do about a certain China derby result back in the mists of time…..

B: No, you lot much more prefer throwing around turtles and yelling Guoan SB.

S: Yeah and we all had a great time doing so, although the Shanghai PD seemed to not be very happy about that, kill joys! Not sure if you saw this video….

B: Yes, was kinda surprised by how harsh they treated the locals.

S: It’s ridiculous. I saw a comment on weibo saying the very same policewoman had, a few games ago, stopped a fan from banging a drum because the loud sound “was hurting her body”. Needless to say she got shot to pieces online.

B: To the match, Guoan put in a fine effort, all things considered, but once again it was the Hongkou bugaboo that got them and led to a tough loss.

S: It was a very typical Hongkou China Derby, not much in it and the game could have gone either way, but nevertheless Shenhua won their fourth game against Guoan in a row. Guoan were understrength of course, but the Hongkou hoodoo doesn’t care about that…

B: Erm….Their fourth in a row at Hongkou.

S: Right, actually Chris made the same mistake in the write-up. LOL. But looking ahead, as we get closer to the half-way stage, im worried the second half of the season can’t possibly be so exciting for Shenhua compared with the first. And Guoan don’t have an awful lot to play for either it would appear, what with you out the ACL.

B: There’s still the ACL race for Guoan, plus the club’s still in the CFA Cup, perhaps even playing against a certain third division side in the semifinals.

S: Ha, that would be Dali. I think some pub goers were disappointed I wasn’t here last week to let fly with a diatribe of abuse to Shenhua for that diabolical performance.

B: Then again, perhaps that was for the best…It will be interesting to see if Evergrande agrees to allow Dali to host their CFA Cup match.

S: I think it was better I wasn’t around, plus I think I made my feelings perfectly clear with the match report. I am very surprised that Dali are asking to switch, why would Evergrande want to travel when they don’t have to?

B: I would agree there’s no good reason for Evergrande to agree, but many think they should be cooperative and support football at the lower levels and in an area that has never seen a side like them. I can’t see Lippi agreeing to it, football isn’t about charity. Plus the last thing Evergrande needs is more money.

S: I think it would be a nice gesture, but who knows what the financial arrangement would be. I’ve spent some time in Dali and it’s laid back to the point of being vertical, I’m not sure where the funds would come from to encourage Evergrande to switch. In anycase, this is another example of why giving ACL teams automatic home advantage spoils the romance of the cup.

B: Speaking of Evergrande, they finally got to making up one of their league matches last night and they blew Guizhou off the pitch.

S: Yes I was wondering when those games in hand would be played. Now unfortunately we can’t pretend Shandong were so close behind.

B: Well, they are still close, it’s only three points. That said, the level of play is where I think the gap seems to be.

S: True, we forget how strong Shandong have been, since Evergrande have been so dominant. It’s very much as-you-were as far as the championship race goes though.

B: Well, it does all come down to this weekend, but I don’t want to get to that right away. I know I was absolutely blown away with how easily Guangzhou handled Guizhou. I think we both expect Guizhou to be a top 5 side this season and Guangzhou completely outclassed them.

S: It was a heavy defeat and was a little surprising since Guizhou were in excellent form going into the match. Oh well.

B: Yes, it’s impressive how Evergrande have handled the opposition. Only Guoan has taken points from them and in many of their matches, they’ve simply ran away with them. It’s almost like Lippi is trying to make a statement this season, nobody else is in their league.

S: Yes this is Lippi’s team now, he struggled a bit at the tail of last season, but now they are in command. Although they only scored one against Hangzhou last weekend, I didn’t catch that game so perhaps the scoreline was misleading.

B: Yes, I wonder what happened with that one. Hangzhou achieved something few have done, the only other team to keep a single goal between themselves and Evergrande was Dalian Aerbin.

S: Yeah. Well, whilst we are on Evergrande, may as well roll on to the weekend’s standout fixture. Prediction?

B: I’m going to say an Evergrande victory, just because every time I pick whoever plays them, Evergrande always wins. Plus, travelling to Tianhe is never going to be easy.

S: Shandong have been very impressive, you never know. But the clever money would be on a home win for Evergrande, and with that, the end of the only possible challenge to the Cantonese this season.

B: I wouldn’t say its the end, but it certainly won’t be looking good for the rest of the league.

S: Of course anything could happen, but I think Shandong are the Jiangsu Sainty of this season and probably won’t be able to keep up the pressure. The only chance is if Evergrande tire with all their competitions.

B: Well, Jiangsu kept up the pressure through to the final few weeks of the season, if Shandong can do that, I think we’d all be happy. Even with an Evergrande win, it’s only a 6 point gap. But could this be the year Evergrande goes undefeated?

S: It’s looking quite possible. I just think the talent level in the club is at an all time-high, the likes of Cleo was good but in Elkeson and Muriqui they have two of the best players ever to play in China, not to mention Conca, even Lucas Barrios despite his issues fitting is still a very dangerous striker as he has shown coming off the bench. Then there are Chinese players like Zhang Linpeng, they are just on another level, even when they have an off day, they are still better than most other teams.

B: Right, their squad is just so solid that even when one player is struggling, someone comes and steps in. Even Huang Bowen contributed two goals last night, I can’t imagine he scored two goals in the past two seasons.

S: Yeah. Well, it seems as if the other clubs have made only half-hearted efforts to challenge Evergrande;s dominance in terms of transfer policy. Shenhua’ quickly fell apart after Zhu Jun’s failed huge investment, Aerbin and Guizhou signed some very impressive foreigners but are still some way off, Guoan as you said before don’t want to splash too much cash, perhaps Shandong could catch them with a big summer signing?

B: Shandong’s already spent a lot, if they continue I think at the very least they can keep pace.

S: They have a strong pedigree as well in terms of players they bring through the ranks, plus they are technically China’s most successful existing team now Shide are no more. So they are the standard bearers in some ways.

B: Even more than Jiangsu last season, they are an example of the “right way” of doing things, they did spend a ton in the off-season, but still the majority of their key players all came through the club’s youth system.

S: Right, and I am hearted to see Han Peng is back, I think he’s China most natural striker, seems he didn’t gel with the coach last year.

B: Yeah, I thought his time was done when they brought in Yang Xu, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, it would be great to keep the two together because I think Han could teach the younger Yang a lot.

S: I’d have Han in the national team again, he’s a better player than Gao Lin by far in my view.

B: I completely agree with the second half of that sentiment. My only issue is that I’ve been calling for younger players to be brought in for a long time, a 29 year old Han is not the future of the national team, then again he’s only two years older than Gao.

S: I know what you mean, but 29 isn’t that old, and whilst I think Gao is a good forward, he isn’t the right type of player to lead a line by himself, Han is much better suited to that role. Quite simply, Camacho has to pick the best players he has, regardless of age, and whilst I agree that in general, they need fresh blood, upfront is not an area China has a lot of choices in. So I’d like to see Han get back in the squad, China is facing meltdown if they can’t even qualify for the AFC cup.

B: With their recent win against Iraq, they should be able to do it, and yes, if they are playing guys in their 30s, bringing in Han is okay.
So the Guangzhou-Shandong match is obviously the one everyone will watch this weekend, but who do Shenhua have?

S: We are away to Guizhou, a very tricky fixture indeed, one can hope that Shenhua find their opponents on a downer after their big defeat to Evergrande.

B: That’s definitely not an easy match, do you think Shenhua will be able to make it two in a row?

S: Guizhou is a very tough place to go, I think a draw would be a very good result for Shenhua.

B: What say you about the reports that Wang Changqing asked to be left out of the lineup against Beijing?

S: I think the reports are most likely to be bullshit, Wang was very solid, you may recall that he even made a vital goal-line block.

B: I doubt they are bullshit, he’s a trooper and if he is put in the lineup, he’s not going to be half-assed about it. He didn’t look happy at all (especially compared to Xu Liang), and he was tearing up when he came to the Guoan fans.

S: Wang is a Beijinger so that may be the difference between him and Xu Liang. But he’s barely started a game anyway, so that’s why I think the reports are bullshit.

B: But he’s been a regular on the bench this season, so it isn’t like he’s out of the lineup that often. Anyways, anything else catch your eye this weekend?

S: I can sympathize with someone playing against their hometown team, but, he performed solidly in the end, kudos to him. This weekend there are a couple of derbies in my part of China, the other Shanghai Derby catches my eye, East Asia are in free fall at the moment.

B: Yeah, that sounds like one of the more interesting matches this weekend as it looks like the two sides a re headed in different directions as of late.

S: I’m tempted to go and check it out. I’d certainly be very interested to see what the attendance was really like.

B: I’d expect they’ll draw a decent crowd for this one.

S: I doubt it, anytime I’ve been there it’s usually mostly empty, unless they are giving away a lot of tickets I can’t see it, then again, Shenxin blatantly mis-report their attendances. I might take myself a few pictures of the crowd….

B: Sounds like some sour grapes from a Shenhua fan there…

S: Hahahahah! I’ve been living in Shanghai 8 years and watched numerous games both in person and on telly at that Stadium, there’s simply never more than a few thousand people there…

B: Those matches weren’t Shenxin matches though….

S: No, they were other Shanghai teams. But the evidence Shenxin fake their attendance reports is quite clear, I think you saw the pictures yourself on weibo. Plus they must have given away a hell of a lot of tickets to make their game v Shandong have more fans than turned up for the match v Shenhua. Anyways, shall we drink up?

B: That was only half the stadium though. A picture of midfield at Hongkou would make it seem much the same

S: I have to take care of some business…

B: Sure, let’s get out of here.

S: But that is where most people choose to sit at that Stadium… me thinks you don’t know so much about the SH scene B….

B: Are you serious? If you showed someone a photo of Hongkou without the north and south end from most matches, it would look like the stadium is empty. From what I’ve seen, Shenxin typically have a good crowd in their supporter’s section. Anyways… I’m out of here…

S: Sounds good, until next time, cheers.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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