Like many CSL sides, NTP will be on the road this week — brings you a bumper-sized bundle of Shenhua predictions to last through two upcoming games.
Last Time Out
Shenhua returned from the international break in front of a somewhat muted Hongkou, perhaps fearing the start of the traditional summer slump. A 0-0 draw was a reasonable result against a Dalian Aerbin side still struggling for fluency, although Shenhua were once again indebted to a man-of-the-match performance from Wang Dalei.
Changchun Yatai remain rooted to the foot of the table following a narrow defeat in the bottom-of-the-table clash against northern neighbours Tianjin — TEDA coming away with a 1-0 win.
Meanwhile the Sven Goran Eriksson show rolled into Guangzhou and saw R&F walk away with a 2-0 home victory against an obliging Shanghai Shenxin, with both goals coming late in the day.
Causes for Optimism…
At this point in the season, the table doesn’t lie. Having faced every side in the league bar these two, Shenhua have been beaten only by Evergrande and sit comfortably in mid table — far from the season of struggle many feared. Playing with a togetherness and resilience not seen at Hongkou for many a year, the boys in blue have earned their relatively strong position, overcoming a six point penalty and yet more unpaid wages with aplomb.
… and for Concern
In spite of their strong form, Shenhua continue to struggle for balance and a formation which brings the best out of their star players. Big Dady has perhaps earned a run in the side with recent goals — however it’s very clear that Shenhua don’t have the midfield for a traditional 4-4-2. The center of the park looked painfully shallow once Xu Liang went off injured against Aerbin. Wang Shouting is an admirable water carrier but offers little going forward. The main culprits were once again the ineffective Cao Yunding (arguably out of position on the right) and wasteful Gio Moreno. Shenhua’s supposed flair players have blown colder than your correspondent’s air conditioner almost throughout the season, and Firas al-Khatib and Dady were starved of service throughout.
Watch Out For
Sergio Batista has shown more willingness to adapt this season — toying with both 1 and 2 up top, and rotating players to make tweaks such as allowing Dai Lin to return to his natural home at the heart of the defence. There are big questions surrounding the re-balancing of the midfield. Patricio Toranzo has shown a regular ability to make the transition from defence to attack and formed a good understanding with the al-Khatib’s MENSA-smart running — that Toranzo has featured largely from the bench is a result of Firas’ critical value to the side, Dady’s goal streak, and primarily the untouchable status of captain Gio.
It’s clear to regular observers that Moreno is not warranting a place in the side — a midfield 4 of Wang and Xu in the center flanked by Song Boxuan and Toranzo, with Firas playing in the hole behind Dady, would be this armchair expert’s solution — does Batista have the balls (or the freedom from egotistic owners) to drop his captain? Either way, Shenhua need to find some solution to their chronic lack of possession — it will be a long and sapping summer of ball-chasing otherwise, and games against a struggling Changchun and R&F side still searching for a second-season consistency provide as good a platform for more ball-time as Shenhua could ask for.
Perhaps it’s just the natural pessimism of the long-suffering supporter, but North Terrace Preview fancies Shenhua to come unstuck up north. After the fantastic unity and workrate, allied to razor-sharp finishing, of the early season, theHongkou boys have been showing increasing signs of complacency — witness the periods of away games where Wuhan and Guizhou dominated, and the fact that Aerbin could easily have gone in two up at half time last weekend.
A 3-1 defeat against a desperate Changchun side will act either as a wake up call or a herald of the summer blues — this correspondent is backing a more fired-up performance against a flaky but talented R&F side, with a 2-1 home win on the cards.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 13 W 5 D 6 L 3 GF 16 GA 16 GD 0 Pts 14
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 12 W 4 D 8 L 1 GF 16 GA 15 GD +1 Pts 14