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Guangzhou R&F: The times they are a-changin’

It’s been a busy first third of the season for the Cantonese club, with new players in the squad, a return to an old stadium, three managers and results not going as well as last season.

takes the opportunity of the international break to explain exactly what’s happened to blue side of Guangzhou so far in 2013.

After being forced to move to the University City stadium last year, Guangzhou R&F opened the 2013 season back at the spiritual home of Cantonese football, Yuexiushan. Sadly, opening day visitors Liaoning hadn’t read the script and when James Chamanga scored after three minutes to give them the lead a lot the optimism around Yuexiushan quickly drained away.

The optimism had been in place because a number of players, notably Zhang Yaokun from Dalian Shide and Jiang Ning from Guangzhou Evergrande, had been signed over the winter to strengthen the squad. However, the opening day defeat was soon followed by several shocking performances—especially at home to Shanghai East Asia and away to Jiangsu—and rumours of unrest in the changing room began to emerge.

Just as last year, Brazilian coach Sergio Farias hadn’t been helped by all of his foreign players being unavailable for at least one game due to problems caused by injury, suspension or being unregistered to play in the CSL. This year, however, results and performances were not what the club had come to expect, with just one win in the opening eight rounds of the league. R&F’s tactics were much the same as last year and opponents had worked out how to defend against them, with the side unable to find another creative spark. R&F tasted their first ever defeat in the Guangzhou derby, and even a home win against Beijing Guoan in round nine couldn’t save Farias from the sack after a loss to Guizhou in the next match.

Li Bing was installed as interim manager and did very well in his time in charge with a victory over Chongqing FC in the CFA cup and a win over Dalian in the league. He was four minutes away from making it three wins in a row but a late Changchun equaliser on Saturday spoiled his run. The club have much to thank him for, as results under Li not only boosted morale but also finally appear to have kick-started R&F’s season. The results are all the more impressive because of the constant speculation swirling around who would take over from Li on a full-time basis.

That speculation ended after a three week period of rumours and denials as Sven-Goran Eriksson became the new manager on a two-year contract worth $3 million a year. The much travelled Swede takes over a side who, after the boost in results under Li, sit thirteenth in the CSL with twelve points from twelve games. It is still a far cry from this time last year, though, when Farias had led his players to second place.

Whilst emulating last season’s eventual seventh place finish is now a very difficult task, Eriksson will begin by facing Shanghai Shenxin in his first game as manager on 22 June. He’d be well advised to start by working on defending set pieces, with nine of the 23 goals R&F have conceded this year coming from free kicks and corners. This hasn’t been helped by the multiple different centre-back combinations used this year, nor by the makeshift central midfielders and left backs.

Eriksson will also have to see whether he can use their shared time together at Leicester City to inspire Yakubu back to his best form as a lone striker, or change the formation to play with a strike partnership. Yakubu may have arrived in the July transfer window last year, but the Cantonese side have fewer options this time around as they would have to release a foreign player to make space for any new arrival. Plenty, then, for Mr Eriksson to think about then as he settles into life in Guangzhou.

Donald began following Guangzhou R&F having moved to China in the same year that R&F moved to Guangzhou. The club's first foreign season ticket holder, Donald was able to watch three seasons at Yuexiushan before returning to the UK.

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