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The Mads Davidsen Column: Shenhua deadly on the left again

welcomes aboard our new match analyst, Mads Davidsen. A professional football coach based in China, most recently with the Ebbe Sand Soccer Academy Shanghai in Shanghai, he will be offering his insights into the technical and coaching aspects of football on and off the pitch in the Chinese Super League in his regular new column.

Two new head coaches were on the bench Saturday evening at the Shanghai Derby, where Shenhua was the best team and won 2-0. On Sunday the CSL top side Evergrande won for the first time in six years in Jiangsu after a really exiting match.

Shenhua’s left-wing bias…

First, let’s try to analyze the game in Shanghai and find out why the home side won their second derby against Shenxin this season.

There were not many surprises in the two line ups, but of course what was interesting was that Giovanni Moreno played after his transfer to Dubai fell through, and also number 15 Zhan Yilin is relatively new to the starting 11. For Shenxin the new head coach Guo Guangqi, he almost used the same players as Zhu Jiong probably would have chosen, so no surprises here either, but right full back Marrone was back after injury.

From the beginning of the match Shenxin looked very passive and non-aggressive without the ball. Their pressure line started at their own half, which is a very deep. When Shenxin won the ball they would build up as we know them; a lot of possession and patience waiting for the right pass, but the problem this evening was the quality of the passes. Playmaker number Zhu Baojie did not play well. Too many easy first touch mistakes and passes that didn’t hit the target from the young man.

And when a possession side has passing problems and the playmaker has a bad day – the team will have a difficult night. Shenxin’s play in the last third was also full of mistakes, bad timing, misunderstandings and bad decisions. Players like number 23 Flavio, 2 Mao Jianqing and 20 Wang Yun were almost invisible and without any influence on the game. And this was 75 % of the Shenxin offense.

Only number 19, Kieza showed some skills from time to time, but he was too alone and seemed very frustrated about the situation and his team’s performance.

I previously carried out an analysis of Shenhua and found out that 25 % of their goals came from set pieces and 50 % of their goals this season have come from the left side, with 8 Song Boxuan involved either as the goal scorer, as the assist player or as the player before the assist. So if Shenxin prepared professionally for this game, they would know that the left is Shenhua’s preferred attacking side with statistically most success.

And yet both goals this evening were scored from the left side. The first goal after a great pass, movement and finish from 10 Moreno. And the second goal after a counter attack and a solo raid from 8 Song Boxuan just seconds after a Shenxin corner. If you analyse this goal and look at the transition after the Shenxin corner kick, 23 Flavio can actually stop the Shenhua counter attack, but the offensive Shenxin player does not want to duel in the air, this lets Shenhua play forward, which leads to a goal. A tiny detail, but at the top-level – these details make the difference.

The teams seemed relatively tired and exhausted in the second half, were the tempo and intensity dropped a bit, so without a big effort Shenhua could bring home the three points. Again, we have to applaud Shenhua goal keeper Wang Dalei, who had a few good saves as always and just keeps getting better and better. He catches more balls in the box now, which I know from his goalkeeper coach Ian Walker has been one of his main areas to improve this season.

Two new head coaches could have shown us a lot of new things, but not much has changed yet. We saw a new build up pattern for Shenhua a couple of times, where they play short in the right side in the middle, to right full back 7 Wang Changqing, who on his first touch crosses the ball to 8 Boxuan or 12 Bo Jiajun in the left side. With this move and 40 meter pass, Shenhua tries to isolate 8 Song Boxuan and 12 Bo Jiajun with the right full back of the opponent to attack that side 2:1. Interesting and good job by the new coach, Shen Xiangfu, because the pattern was clear.

An overall disappointing performance by Shenxin who played too defensively under the new head coach. Shenxin is a team which needs to be in control, so the coach should have moved the pressure line further up the pitch and not allow Shenhua to move forward freely.

Shenxin is not a team which will win points from defending.

Shenhua, on the other hand, looked good and if Moreno can score a goal like that every game – he will be important for the team again, but we need to see more from him if he wants to benefit his team. There are still too many lost balls and unfocused actions from the Colombian.

Individual skills win it for Evergrande

For the first time in 6 years, Evergrande managed to win in Jiangsu after a very good game with high tempo – just like the CSL games always should be.

Evergrande had periods in this game where they played fantastically. What tempo, what movement, a common understanding and of course incredible individual skills. And the first goal came after great individual skills from 9 Elkeson. A fantastic shot and goal from the Brazilian. Nothing Jiangsu could o. Sometimes as a coach, you have to accept a goal like that conceded if your team defended well, but a player just smashes the ball into the corner.

Jiangsu played in their tight 4-4-2 organization trying to give as little space as possible between the defensive line and the midfield line, but when you are dealing with players like 15 Conca and 11 Muriqui, who practically “are born” in these in-between-areas, you will get in trouble from time to time. Players like that can turn on one touch, they have the ball control, speed and split vision to set up a teammate as well on one touch, so even though you defend well, they will find space in-between and use it.

Jiangsu Sainty though looked better offensively than they have done in a long time, playing faster (maybe because they had to against Evergrande), and with a lot of crosses towards their top strikers 38 A. Jevtić and 11 H. Salihi. They hit their crosses very early unlike most teams, who prefer to go all the way to the goal line before hitting the cross – from the same angle as a corner kick.

The advantage of early crosses is to isolate the goal keeper and to make the defenders run backwards while defending, and this is a very obvious pattern in the Jiangsu attacking style on the last third. 20 Sun Ke played a good game and when you hit crosses from the left side for example – it is so important that your right-winger runs into the box as well, so you attack with two attackers and a winger.

And this in the box run from Sun Ke gave Jiangsu the 1-1 goal. A great individual effort from 38 Jevtić and a cross, where Sun Ke came sprinting in the box scoring the equalizer. Jiangsu actually scored again after a free kick from 16 Deng Zhuoxiang and a header from 3 Eleílson, but the goal was called off. And the home side seemed they could win the game at this point.

16 Deng Zhuoxiang came on the pitch in the second half as well as last year’s top player 10 C. Dănălache and when Jiangsu gets these two players up to speed again – they will win more points.

In the end Evergrande won 2-1, and top matches are often about individual quality. Both teams are well-prepared, well-organized, all 22 players are working 100 % all the time, and neither team wanted to take chances, so they played safe and without risk. This gave very few goal opportunities in open play and therefore it is often about set pieces and the team with most individual quality, who win these tight matches, and the game on Sunday was just another example.

How many teams in the CSL have a star national player on the bench? Probably only Evergrande, who can bring in a fresh Gao Lin in the second half, and of course in the end, he was the match winner with a great bicycle kick. Jiangsu can be proud of their performance, but in the end Evergrande has so much individual quality – also on the bench – and these skills won the game for Lippi.

Mads Davidsen is a professional football coach working in China and is Wild East Football’s match analyst. You can follow him on Twitter and Sina Weibo.

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