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Pub Talk: Crown their asses

Once again it’s Chris Atkins joining BCheng in the pub, if Shanghai Ultra keeps it up, people are actually going to start missing him. The pair have a lot to get through with weekend and midweek matches to discuss. They also go into a bit of transfer talk as well as national team rumors, as Camacho’s head finally rolled. There is talk of all the races, or the lack thereof, as well as a look at the weekend’s matches, as the season reaches the midpoint.

BCheng: This week, we have a lot to talk about with midweek games last night as well as the past weekend, and also a preview of the upcoming weekend’s full slate of matches. Once again I’m joined by our own “super sub”, Chris Atkins. Chris, what say you?

Chris Atkins: Alright, B. Nice to be here once more. It seems that Shanghai Ultra is a busy man these days, unlike us fellows. But, it leaves us with plenty to discuss as the CSL got back underway on the weekend, and we’ve already had a second set of fixtures.

B: Right, and while Guangzhou Evergrande looked considerably less impressive than usual in both of their recent fixtures (a 3-1 victory at Qingdao and a 1-0 victory at Tianhe vs. East Asia), the side chasing them, Shandong Luneng, lost both their recent matches. To take the words of an American football coach, is it time to “crown their asses” as 2013 CSL champions.

C: You would have to think so. I watched both Evergrande games and, while unimpressive, they could have scored more and always seemed to have another gear (or two) that they could go into. We spoke of an important four or five games for Shandong, but it has already gone wrong after two. A nine-point lead is game over, in my opinion. I think the key point was on Saturday, with Evergrande playing before their rivals. Qingdao pulled the score back to 1-1 in the second half, but they didn’t panic and were ahead again within minutes. This is a side that know they are better than the rest.

B: Yeah, its really too bad we’re a match shy of the halfway point and things look to be over. I think its no longer a matter of Evergrande winning the league, but how many they win it by (guessing it could get to 15 or so) and if they can complete the season undefeated (don’t see it happening).

C: Probably not. But, a big lead will give them freedom to rotate once the Champions League and cup fixtures begin to pile up. That could be crucial

B: It will definitely help. I can’t understand what happened to Shandong. We can talk about how playing 2 games in a matter of a few days has effected them, but these two losses really come as a surprise to me.

C: They do, but I think they were overperforming a bit. They have a good side, but not a side that is that far ahead of the competition. Jiangsu (who beat them at home) have secured two great wins this week, which suggests they may have got over their ACL hangover. Guoan at the Gongti is never an easy game either. That said, I wouldn’t have predicted either result.

B: I don’t know, I think they have a side that should be equal to Evergrande. I think only Evergrande can compete with them in depth. I was at their reserve match this morning, their lineup featured 7 players who’ve played for China, and 2 who definitely will one day. Neither match was easy, but like you said, I don’t think anyone would have predicted this. Perhaps the break hurt their structure and that’s why they’re struggling

C: Right, but I guess that’s all part of the challenge of winning a league title. Considering they haven’t had Champions League football, I think it’s safe to say they are still some way off challenging Evergrande—although others may disagree.

B: I wonder how much losing to Jiangsu the way they did served as a disappointment and that heads were down going into Worker’s Stadium.

C: Quite possibly it had a big effect. What have you made of Jiangsu? I mentioned the two big wins, as they put three past Qingdao on Wednesday. That’s a great week for them.

B: I’m obviusly surprised by their last two results. They are a good side, never going to repeat what they did last year, but teams know a trip to Nanjing isn’t going to be easy.

C: Indeed. They’re now up into sixth with that result, although still six points off Guizhou’s ACL spot. Beijing and Liaoning also ahead of them. At the other end, a win apiece for Changchun and Tianjin, and a bad week (on the pitch) for Shenhua. Is that why Shanghai Ultra is absent, I wonder?

B: Haha, perhaps that’s indeed why he’s once again MIA. Changchun getting their first win of the season was big. The two Shanghais, Shenhua and Shenxin, are both probably safe, but it’s going to be a hell of a battle between the other three sides.

C: That seems to be the case. The mid-table sides all appear to be safe, as you say. However, if two of those at the bottom hit form, could we see a side fall into trouble with a few defeats? I don’t think we can rule it out

B: It’s certainly posible, but considering Changchun and Wuhan have only won one match apiece (and Tianjin only has two wins), it’s hard to imagine a team falling that far. Especially when looking at whose directly above them.

C: That’s true. It’s now Shenhua and Aerbin, who have had another couple of really poor results. For a side with the players they have, they’ve been woeful this year. Sixteen goals scored in fourteen games is awful for a team with their attacking talent. Hoarau, Keita, Utaka, Yu Hanchao, Yu Dabao, Chen Tao—all respected players.

B: Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with Aerbin. Usually a coaching change helps to motivate everyone, but they didn’t look very good at all against Shenhua over the weekend. For Shenhua, this was never a year to be optimistic, plus I believe Gio Moreno has already left, so they surely missed him last night. I think Shenhua fans are just happy they’ll be in the CSL in 2014.

C: That’s true. Moving away from the pitch for a second, then. Shenhua are supposedly being taken over, although details are still scarce. It appears to be a majority takeover also, by Greenland Group. We wait to see how they will act, but that’s a source of potential joy for Shenhua’s downtrodden fans.

B: I think you hit the nail on the head with “potential joy”. We’ll really have to see how all this plays out.

C: Right. I don’t think anyone should be getting carried away about potentially rivalling Evergrande etc. However, any move that limits Zhu Jun’s influence will be good, and there is the potential for major investment in what is a potentially marketable CSL club.
Notice the overuse of the word “potential” in this section

B: Zhu Jun’s batshit crazy, but at least from an outsider’s standpoint, he’s always interesting. Plus, let’s not discount his bringing Anelka and Drogba to the CSL (even if it ended badly). He’s not necessarily this truly evil power. I would definitely agree with the idea that we shouldn’t get carried away, there’s no reason (at least not yet) to expect Greenland will do what Evergrande has done.
Indeed, this hasn’t even been officially announced yet, so it’s definitely a wait and see situation. Plus, I’d point out money isn’t everything, CITIC has more money than Evergrande and Greenland combined (well, not quite, but not too far off), yet it hasn’t ever translated to spending on Guoan.

C: All very true. Any other non-game matters to discuss?

B: There is the matter of the national team. It appears that Qin Sheng, Feng Xiaoting, Zhou Yun, & Zhao Xuri may be singled out for their performance against Thailand and excluded from the East Asia Cup roster.

C: That’s an interesting one. As much as they were poor against Thailand, so were other players. Zhou Yun is only a kid, while Feng Xiaoting has been excellent for Evergrande and is probably China’s best centre-back. Zhao Xuri was also one of the better players against Netherlands. Qin Sheng should not be involved, but I’d say he is the only one. Even Zhao Peng making the squad, rather than the first-team, would be fine. I’d prefer, though, that it was left to the manager rather than some suits in an office to decide.

B: Feng and Zhao Xuri (for that matter Zhao Peng) were worse than poor against Thailand, they were shambolic. We’ve talked enough about Qin Sheng that I think nobody (not even his mother) thinks he belongs on the national team. As you say, with Zhou it’s a little unfair. I’d generally agree with you, but I think this time around the national team won’t have a real manager to make selections and it’s worth it to show these guys their actions have consequences.

C: I think that, if you don’t take Feng in particular, you have a real problem. Liu Jian was hopeless in midfield, yet has escaped criticism as Zhao Xuri lost the ball for a goal. Li Xuepeng also had a terrible time against Netherlands. I think those singled out, in some cases, are scapegoats who made noticable errors that led to goals. The poor performances extended past them. For instance, why hasn’t Geng Xiaofeng been mentioned? His goalkeeping directly led to two goals. The reaction has focused on Evergrande players—with some reason—but has been exaggerated in some cases.

B: I’d disagree it’s been exaggerated or it’s too Evergrande focused. Obviously nobody played well in that match, so you could call any of the 11 to criticism, but Feng was absolutely awful (perhaps an off night, perhaps he simply quit on the team) and Zhao Xuri was partly at fault,due to turnovers or bad coverage, for 3 of the 5 goals.
I don’t think Geng’s escaped criticism. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s left off the next squad for Yang Zhi.

C: It will be interesting, but I think it should always be left to the coach unless it’s a disciplinary issue. If not, it becomes too messy and reactionary. The guys at the CFA are not football coaches. If they make enforced selection decisions based on outcry, it will be a situation that will reoccur continually. They should stay out of it.

B: I get where you’re coming from, but the team’s without a coach now and whoever is put into the position is only going to be a caretaker who is acting on behest of the CFA, so whether you explain it as “punishment” or just a manager selecting a different squad, it’s messy all around.
On top of that, I don’t think the CFA’s ever held back when it has an opinion about who to play in the side. Shall we move to this weekend’s fixtures?

C: Yes, let’s do that. I think people have heard enough about the national team recently. The standout game is Shandong-Guizhou, which could decide whether we have a race for second on our hands.

B: Very true. If Guizhou can win this one, it’s going to make the ACL race equally boring I think.

C: Yeah, it would seem so. Sven going for three wins in a row away at Shenhua. Got a chance, you reckon?

B: It will be Sven’s first road match in the CSL, but it ain’t his first rodeo. With things how they are at Shenhua and R&F seemingly rejuvinated now that they have a new manager, I don’t see why not.

C: Anything else of note this weekend?

B: I think there’s two things of note, one is with Guoan travelling to Qingdao. As expected, Qingdao’s fallen off a bit as of late, if they lose to Guoan, that sees them drop further.

C: That’s true, although one of their two defeats was against Evergrande, and they played well.

B: We’ll see how they handle Guoan, who have often struggled at Tiantai. The other match I find somehwat interesting is Hangzhou hosting Dalian Aerbin. We talked a little about Aerbin’s struggles at the top. For Hanghzou, once again they seem to have gotten their shit tight around midseason and are slowly moving up the table.

C: Okada deserves praise for what he’s doing down there. They are not an exceptional group of players, but seem to be a decent unit.

B: Yeah, he’s kept things tight and though there are a lot of ups and downs, they get the points they need.

C: Much like Shenxin, who are away at Tianjin. If TEDA want to survive, that is a game they have to win.

B:  I think we can right off Teda winning, they’re a lost cause.

C: It will be interesting if they do win, that’s for sure. Anyway, B, the transfer window will be open by the time of the next pub chat so we’d better go home and prepare for the tidal wave of speculation that’s about to hit.

B: Oh great, just what I’m looking forward to….Cheers mate, great having you back in the pub.

C: No problem at all. I just wonder which multi-millionaire Premier League icon will be rumoured to be considering dragging his model wife to the booming metropolis that is Guiyang.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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