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North Terrace Preview: Tianjin Teda v Shanghai Shenhua

For the second time in a week, an out-of-sorts Shanghai club ventures up to Tianjin in a game TEDA must win to have a chance of survival. Will Shenhua fare any better than their galline pseudo-neighbours?

Last Time Out

In a game so dull that the entire Internet decided not to carry a single match report, Shenhua followed up their gutless surrender at Changchun (as called, of course, by everyone’s favorite modest CSL preview column) with a 1-1 draw when Sven’s R&F rolled into Hongkou — that man Firas al-Khatib slotting home a penalty to snatch a point for the boys in blue.

It was deja vu all over again for Tianjin, with Brazilian midfielder Dinelson scoring the only goal in a 1-0 home victory for the second consecutive match, with both Changchun Yatai and Shanghai Shenxin beginning to look over their shoulders following defeats in Tianjin’s Olympic Center Stadium. Note also that North Terrace Preview could have elected to include at least three fancy continental accents in that previous sentence. Straight talking — that’s what we’re about.

Causes for Optimism…

For the moment, let’s putt aside Sergio Batista’s sudden departure as coach on Thursday, having finally decided he’s unable to continue working after going four months unpaid. Shenhua come into this game still nursing a better-than-hoped-for cushion of seven points & six goals over the relegation zone (mathematically, the Hongkou boys sit closer to fifth than to fifteenth). The fortunes of these two sides diverged fairly rapidly following the eyeball-numbing stalemate which kicked the season off — Shenhua rapidly overcoming their six-point penalty and going on to lose only to the best and, typically, worst, side in the league over the first half of the season.

Oh, OK, and a third-tier side at home in the cup too, but we don’t talk about that.

Shenhua’s back-line is good enough for the upper echelons of the table, both in pedigree and that much more objective “goals against” column, whereas Tianjin have scored less than a goal per game on average this year, struggling to replace the gaping wide hole up front left by the departure of 2012’s spanking-good signing Sjoerd Ars.

… and for Concern

As the dog days of 35+ degrees C will attest to, it’s the summertime. The recluse among our audience could ascertain the season from the simple fact that Shanghai Shenhua haven’t won a football match since the heady days of late May, swatting aside Beijing Guoan for their annual Hongkou humbling. The summer has not been kind to Shenhua in recent years, and the signs of life currently being shown by the side aren’t immediately encouraging for a change to recent seasonal slumps in the 2013 season.

A couple of weeks ago Tianjin and Wuhan both looked dead and buried — those back-to-back home wins have made matters at the bottom of the table at least potentially interesting, with this weekend’s visitors being amongst a couple of teams who may get dragged into a dogfight if they’re not careful. Indeed, another home victory here and Shenhua could be in for some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous “squeaky bum time” over the second half of the season — it’s times like this that we can be thankful that Mr. Ars isn’t going to be around come Saturday to give Shenhua a good old kicking.

Watch Out For

It could be interesting to see how caretaker coach Shen Xiangfu sets his side up for this one — Shenhua’s traditionally awful away record has transitioned into the side being very hard to beat this season, if not easy on the eye — a less ambitious, more workmanlike Shenhua have frequently played for and gone home with a point from road fixtures.

To stick or to twist? Win here and it would take quite the dramatic turnaround for Tianjin to overhaul Shenhua, even given the number of games remaining. Over-stretch and end up losing, however, and it’s time to start looking over your shoulder. While North Terrace Preview doesn’t necessarily expect Shenhua to go for Tianjin from the off here, it would be quite the statement of intent and confidence were they to do so.

The Verdict

The 2013 CSL campaign began with the two points-deducted sides groping their way through a 0-0 stalemate at Hongkou, with Tianjin showing as much ambition as the scoreline suggested. Expect Shenhua to return the favor here — the boys in blue have been drawing more frequently than Picasso in his pomp this year, so don’t be surprised to see them chalk up yet another one-point outcome here. 0-0, and not too much football to write home about.

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 15   W 6   D 5   L 4   GF 19   GA 20   GD -1   Pts 17

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 15   W 4   D 9   L 2   GF 17   GA 17   GD 0   Pts 15

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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