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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Dalian Aerbin

There’s a big-spending side dogged by managerial instability and with marquee signings who haven’t had a consistent impact on show at Hongkou this Friday evening. Remarkably, for once it isn’t Shanghai Shenhua.

Last Time Out

In what feels like last season already, Shenhua ended their pre-international-break season with a game featuring a dramatic late comeback. For once the Hongkou vintage of 2013 weren’t the recipients of the scoreline turnaround – Guizhou Renhe came back to clinch a 2-2 draw at home following a last-gasp goal from everyone’s favorite former occasional Manchester City left-back Sun Jihai. Frustratingly, North Terrace Preview wasted at least 15 minutes failing to track down video evidence of a hazily-remembered, and absolutely dreadful, travel agency advert featuring Sun circa 2006. Any CCTV9 veterans of years gone by able to help out?

Aerbin meanwhile snapped a rotten streak of results (one point from four games) with a 1-0 home victory against Tianjin Teda, in what proved to be their final game under the caretaker stewardship of Li Ming before the arrival of Simo Krunic as a new full-time coach.

Causes for Optimism…

What’s not to like about the 2013 Shenhua side? With even Gio Moreno starting to get amongst the goals, the pathetic cup surrender from Shenhua’s reserves has been the only blot on their season thus far. When we previewed Shenhua’s 2013 season there were major concerns raised about a threadbare squad, a couple of unheard-of foreign forwards, a geriatric center-half and a manager who proved tactically inflexible last season. Short of the depth issue, all other concerns have been swatted away with an outstanding display of dedication and togetherness, with Firas al-Khatib and Song Boxuan being perhaps the standout performers, and signings Dady and Xu Liang settling well into the side.

From Aerbin, it’s difficult to know what to expect — perhaps we at  were guilty of wishful thinking in proclaiming a real challenger for Guangzhou Evergrande when predicting a strong 2013 for Aerbin. While there is undoubted quality in their ranks from both home and abroad, new players always take time to gel (or indeed sometimes never gel, as those of us of a blue persuasion are painfully aware) and a club with such a meteoric rise were always going to hit some roadbumps along the way — all in all, a good season to be facing Aerbin?

… and for Concern

If there’s one truism in football more reliable than the new-manager bounce, it’s the fact that Shenhua’s season invariably takes a turn for the worse at this time of year. The “summer slump” is becoming a well-documented phenomenon, and the terraces of Hongkou will be anxiously awaiting the first 15 minutes on Friday to see whether their team has, once again, deteriorated dramatically over the summer international break.

Watch Out For

There’s presumably goals in this one. While Horeau has disappointed thus far (should have asked Shenhua about the wisdom of signing washed-up French strikers, boys), Seydou Keita remains a cracking player, and Yu Dabao is a class act. Yu scored one of the better goals North Terrace Preview has witnessed at Hongkou with an absolute belter for Tianjin a couple of years ago, and is a big factor in whether the Aerbin forward line clicks or not.

Shenhua, meanwhile, have developed a pleasing habit of not only scoring goals regularly, but also scoring goals of good quality this season. With so little involvement of the side in the international fixtures of the past weeks, we can but hope that Firas and co come out firing on all cylinders and gunning for goals on Friday. While it may not produce the most consistent 90 minutes of football, you can potentially expect a cracking highlights reel here.

The Verdict

It’s so difficult to know which Shenhua side will turn up over the summer. If ever a side had the mental fortitude and workrate to avoid the traditional collapse, then surely it’s this season’s vintage. And the new-manager effect may take a little while to kick in given that Krunic’s managerial experience has been solely confined to Serbia thus far.

If in doubt, plump for the 2-2 draw; a result which would not necessarily be enough for an Aerbin side looking desperately to launch themselves into the ACL contention we all expected them to be comfortably occupying this season. The folly of making football predictions, eh?

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 12   W 5   D 4   L 3   GF 14   GA 14   GD 0   Pts 13

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 12   W 4   D 7   L 1   GF 16   GA 15   GD +1   Pts 13

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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