The CSL resumes with another journey to the North for Shanghai Shenhua — how will the boys from Hongkou fare against Liaoning’s in-form international front three?
Last Time Out
Despite, or quite possibly due to being inspired by, this correspondent’s pessimistic prediction, Shenghai Shenhua swept aside a rank rotten Shenxin side to continue their mastery of the 2013 intra-city league. The returning Gio Moreno somewhat inevitably slotted home a very early goal, which was later topped by one of the goals of the season — form man Song Boxuan slaloming past a couple of Shenxin defenders before placing the ball inside the far post.
Meanwhile, there was a very dubious 3-1 scoreline up in Tianjin as Liaoning Whowin, recent 5-0 victors in a CFA Cup game against Tianjin, rested more first-team players than even Japan or Korea in the recent EAFF competition and went down to a limp reversal which saw TEDA climb out of the relegation zone.
Causes for Optimism…
If we were to take the Tianjin result at face value, then it would suggest that, coupled with a recent 1-0 reversal against Changchun, Liaoning appear to have a slight weakness against sides at the bottom end of the table. Granted, Shenhua are in something of a false position due to their points deduction (they would actually be ahead of Liaoning in the race for ACL places otherwise), but on such hypothetical crumbs of comfort is the optimistic football fan nourished.
The Whowin backline has also been somewhat porous over the season so far — a tally of 27 goals conceded in 17 games reflects not only a couple of thumpings away at Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Guoan, but also a number of high-scoring draws and wins — while Liaoning might be a formidable attacking side, the statistics do highlight that they are also open at the back and can be attacked.
… and for Concern
It’s still the summer, and Shenhua fans know what that often means. Additionally, more often than not international breaks have resulted in managerial shake-ups and/or reports of unpaid players in recent years — what drama awaits Shenhua this time around?
From a purely footballing perspective, there’s also plenty to be wary of. While the goal contributions of domestic players account for a paltry two of Liaoning’s goals* (one of those a consolation strike in a game they quite possibly threw), their foreign triumvirate of Edu, Milos Trifunovic and James Chamanga contribute a lethal combination of late-career purple patch, flair, and CSL know-how respectively. The goals for column, and ability to win a tight match by the odd goal in three or five, is the reason for Liaoning remaining towards the business end of the table in spite of their relegation-fodder backline.
*Pedant watch: yes, only three of Shenhua’s goals have come from domestic players this season. But they’ve all been screamers at least.
Watch Out For
Gio. Like it or not, it has to be Gio — it seems that Senor Moreno will be the central player in whatever drama 2013 has remaining for Shenhua. Following the will-he-won’t-he Dubai saga, Moreno finds himself key to Shenhua’s central midfield creativity in the absence of Xu Liang. Additionally, in the few times Shenhua have been able to go head-to-head with a form team at the top end of the table (think Guangzhou or Jiangsu away last year), a fully-firing Moreno has been an important cog in the machine. With Firas showing some signs of misfiring and Dady’s purple patch only ever one shin-shank away from disappearing, much rests on the Colombian’s shrugged shoulders this weekend.
North Terrace Preview can’t see Shenhua coming away with too much from this one — the front two are showing some signs of running out of steam, and are somewhat starved of service following Xu’s untimely cruciate injury. Defensive solidarity, fighting spirit, and a truly inspired goalkeeper can all be expected to make an appearance here — ultimately it’s hard not to see Shenhua being outgunned up in Shenyang, and ending up on the wrong side of a 2-1 reverse.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 17 W 6 D 7 L 4 GF 20 GA 21 GD -1 Pts 19
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 17 W 5 D 10 L 2 GF 20 GA 18 GD +2 Pts 19
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015