It’s that time once again, but this week in the pub we have a replacement once again. No, B. Cheng isn’t on the road, instead a depressed Shanghai Ultra couldn’t make it to the pub, even to water down his tears in beer, after bottom of the table Yi League side Dali Ruilong defeated Shanghai Shenhua on Wednesday. We’re happy to have Chris Atkins join us for a busy discussion on a number of topics. Despite being fairly new to the pub, Chris hits all of B’s buttons making for an interesting discussion. Topics include the Asian Champions League Round of 16 results, the CFA Cup, Camacho’s recent national team call-ups, and of course the domestic league.
B. Cheng: My good friend Shanghai Ultra isn’t joining me in the pub today, he’s too disgusted to get out of bed after Shanghai Shenhua’s loss to struggling Yi League side Dali Ruilong yesterday. Instead, we have Chris Atkins, who is starting to become a pub regular around here.
Chris Atkins: Hi Bcheng. Nice to be back once more, I can’t resist a pint or two and a chat about Chinese football. How is Mr Ultra? Anyone checked in on him today?
B: He’s getting by, but too embarassed to show his face in here, especially surprising considering the big match coming up this weekend. This is a busy week, you have the league, the CFA Cup, the national team, but I think we should start with the ACL. No real surprises there, I think.
C: Not really. I, like yourself, was at the first leg of Beijing vs. FC Seoul and that felt like a real missed opportunity. They needed to get goals on the board against their 10-man opponents. Even on Tuesday, they missed too many chances. At this level, it is going to come back and haunt you.
B: Yeah, Guoan has found a way to miss chances left and right this year. There is so much wrong with how things went down on Tuesday night, its hard for any Guoan fan.
C: What are your main grievances? I think it would be best to get them off your chest. Think of it as therapeutic.
B: The cards, of course were frustrating. It’s hard to figure out what Stanojevic was thinking with some of his substitutions, and that was a very close offside called on Kanoute.
C: Some of the refereeing decisions were a bit difficult to comprehend, as the players all said after the game. What did you make of their comments that they ran out of energy in the second half? Poor preparation?
B: I think there was just so much emotion in this one, the Beijingers were putting so much into it they had nothing left as the match went on.
C: That’s understandable. Before we get on to Evergrande, how do you look back on this ACL campaign as a fan?
B: It was a good run, they got a lot further than I expected, which is equal parts comforting and frustrating, because we were so close, and yet so far, from the final eight.
C: Must be annoying, especially with the opportunity to strengthen a bit before the quarterfinals. China, though, will have a representative, as Guangzhou Evergrande made light work of a 5-1 aggregate win over Central Coast Mariners. Were you grudgingly impressed?
B: It’s not really grudgingly at all. While my dislike for Evergrande seems pretty widely known, they have some unbelievably talented foreigners who are able to carry them with ease, especially against a weaker Australian side.
C: The Mariners were not up to much, that is true. However, there was admiration from some of the Australian lot on Twitter for Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin in particular. I don’t think we should always overlook the Chinese players (even if the foreigners are often the matchwinners).
B: I’m allergic to giving Gao any praise, but Zhang is an amazing player. That said, they cruised past the Mariners due to Conca, Barrios, and Muriqui.
C: They had a double boost this week with the news that Conca is not looking for a summer move back to Brazil. In these ACL games, he is really important for the control he brings to the midfield.
B: I agree, though I’m somewhat suspicious about those claims about Conca. Though perhaps this is a last hurrah and he’s hoping to add the ACL to the trophies he’s won.
C: Could well be. He has won three consecutive league titles, including one for Fluminense, so maybe a continental title is next on his list. However, he has looked happier this season and perhaps realises that he is out of Fluminense’s price range.
B: I think that could be it, his price tag’s just too high and so he’ll wait to go somewhere on a free in the offseason. So Evergrande is dominating in Asia, they are continuing to roll in the CSL as well, crushing Liaoning last weekend.
C: Yeah, I managed to get down to Tianhe for that one. Same old story: slow first half, before accelerating away after the break. They seemed to miss Conca’s organisation. Barrios scored two, but picked up yet another injury, while Elkeson and Zhang Linpeng stood out. Even Zhao Peng got a game. Somewhat of an easy script to write!
B: Yeah, I still feel that these slow starts are going to come back to haunt them one of these days, somebody is going to jump on them eventually.
C: May happen sooner rather than later. Guizhou and Shandong are the next two games, with them lying 3rd and 2nd in the table respectively. Both in Guangzhou, though.
B: Well, they do have Hangzhou this weekend, should be cruise control once again.
C: Sorry, skipped past that one. If they win all three then we might as well call them champions already. How was the Jing-Jin derby?
B: Yeah, there’d still be almost half the season to go, but a six point lead would be hard to fight back against. Man, do you have to do this to me? This is becoming an ever more painful day….The injuries were bad enough, but then the second half of the match just felt like it was played sleep walking, of course what happens is that Tianjin equalizes in extra time.
C: Valuable points for Tianjin who have been struggling, to add to their six point deduction. A bit of trouble after the game?
B: Argh, yeah, another topic that I’d prefer to avoid. Some idiots wearing green decided to take out their frustration on some cars with Tianjin license plates.
C: Sad but predictable. It was a weekend of 2-2 draws, though, in general. Three of them in total, plus a 3-2 for Guizhou against Guangzhou R&F. Should probably mention Guizhou’s post-ACL rise, and the continued troubles of R&F. A lot’s changed since your visit to Yuexiushan last week!
B: It was a pretty boring weekend, actually…Yes, R&F is much the same, but the firing of their manager last week (no surprise there), has led to a lot of speculation over who will be his replacement.
C: Is it time for the arrival of Sven in the CSL? (It’s got to happen sometime)
B: Well, if you believe the reports, he’s in Guangzhou now, but talks with the club fell through. Who knows? It appears Sven, Lee Jangsoo, and Branko Ivankovic are the leading candidates, with Central Coast’s Graham Arnold on the outside. Who do you think it will go to?
C: I think Lee’s the best shout of them all. He knows the city, knows Chinese football and has a good track record. I don’t know too much about Arnold, and don’t think Ivankovic is anything special. Sven would be entertaining, and is a decent manager, but he hasn’t stuck with a job in the seven years since leaving England.
B: Despite the chaos in Guangzhou, R&F managed to do okay in the CFA Cup this week, anything else you found interesting in the competition’s third round?
C: The Shenhua debacle is obviously the headline, but there were decent performances from Chongqing Lifan and Shenyang Shenbei to take CSL sides to penalty shootouts. I guess we should mention Guangdong Sunray Cave also, who beat Wuhan away (although that’s not too hard this season)
B: Yeah, there were a number of matches between China League sides that are in the battle to go up and CSL sides that are struggling to avoid the drop. In those matches only Sunray Cave was able to win, which I kind of found surprising.
C: I think Henan Construction would have hoped to beat Changchun. They are flying in the race for a CSL return, while Changchun have been terrible.
B: True, Changchun’s ability to hold on there was slightly surprising. I think we have to give some credit to Wuhan Hongxing, the winners of Vision China, who were able to stay competitive against Hangzhou.
C: Aye, that’s an impressive one alright. Though, before we finish on the cup, did you see who Dali have in the next round?
B: Yeah, though Evergrande will be without their foreigners, I think Dali is going to be sheeps to the slaughter. So let’s talk a little about the team that Dali beat, Shenhua, they have a big match coming up this weekend, eh?
C: You could say that. Guoan travelling down to the Hongkou. Are you confident? Both teams have had a week to forget.
B: Honestly, CFA Cup loss notwithstanding, I can’t see how Beijing is going to get a result in this one. In fact, I’m afraid it will be a bit of a disaster as the side will be missing three starters for sure, and likely two more due to injury.
C: Stano could really do with a win. After a positive opening few weeks to the campaign, there is a danger the wheels will come off. Squad depth is not a strong point.
B: It definitely isn’t, but missing five starters would be killer. I’m not sure how long Stanojevic’s going to be around in the capital, to be honest. I believe he’ll get through this season, but it may be one and done for him.
C: Dalian would gladly have him back. They’re making a typically messy effort at bringing in a new manager. It seems, then, that the CSL is remarkably even this season. Barring the bottom couple of sides and top couple, the rest are almost completely interchangable
B: Certainly. When looking at the schedule, no other match really jumps out at me, I guess if I had to choose, I’d say Liaoning against Jiangsu might be a good watch. Anything that stands out for you this weekend?
C: Something tells me that R&F v Aerbin might be interesting, if the hosts have a reaction to losing what seemed to be an unpopular manager. Other than that, just the Shenhua-Guoan game. Evergrande and Shandong should sail to wins, while I think Shenxin will fancy their chances at a win in Changchun.
B: Good call on R&F, could be worth a watch. So we’ve banged through a lot, but I’d be remiss if we didn’t have a brief talk about Camacho’s announced roster for the three upcoming friendlies China has in June.
C: Right, I saw your article on it and largely agree with your sentiments. Some good decisions to bring in a few new faces, although I don’t think he could leave out Wu Lei or Wang Yongpo on current form. Some players included that are perhaps lucky that he wasn’t more adventurous, though.
B: That more or less sums up my views. He had to bring in Wu Lei and definitely at least one of Guoan’s youngsters. I don’t think he did quite enough, but I’m still holding out outside hope that he’ll make a few more changes for the EAFF Cup. Most of all, he’s brought these new names into the lineup, I hope he actually uses them, which is something he hasn’t always done.
C: You’re asking a lot now!
B: Right, its better just to give them a bunch of national team swag and then let them return to their clubs unused.
C: Exactly. Increase their arrogance levels and make them think they’ve reached the top, despite never hitting the top. More countries should try this on a regular basis. Anyway, B, before we go… If people are interested in some of the statistics of the CSL after 10 games, I have knocked up this chart for them http://wildeastfootball.net/2013/05/csl-round-10-stats-centre/
B: Fairly new to the pub and already throwing in some plugs, the nerve!
C: I got a call up and it went to my head. I’m very Chinese in that respect. I’m calling my agent to negotiate a new deal as we speak.
B: And with that, I’ll leave you to your phone call as I finish my pint and get another, cheers! Great to be back with you in the pub.
C: Indeed, it’s been a pleasure as always. I better go, this agent is useless.