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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai East Asia v Shanghai Shenhua

It’s Shanghai derby time again — this time featuring two actual Shanghai teams who can actually play football. Can a patched-up Shenhua make it 4 from 4 in their intra-city clashes in 2013?

Last Time Out

Both sides tuned up for perhaps the most eagerly-awaited of all this season’s Shanghai derbies (don’t miss our Shanghai Derby history piece from last time) with wins in the last round. East Asia may have actually done both of their city rivals a favour in the relegation scrap by putting an end to Tianjin TEDA’s recent resurgence with a3-2 win in a pulsating encounter up north — with that man Wu Lei banging in a hat trick.

Shenhua meanwhile came out on top in a much more prosaic affair, as predicted just about edging out Qingdao Jonoon in a nervy affair at Hongkou. A drab first half was followed by a bit more impetus from the home side in the second half and just about deserved the crucial three points. In spite of an otherwise awful and typically wasteful performance, a badge-caressing Gio Moreno won the match with a bullet header in front of the north terrace. The game’s most memorable moment however was the latest episode in the tragicomic tale of Jiang Kun’s twilight years — put clean in on goal by a selfless Dady, the over-the-hill playmaker somehow managed not to even get in a shot from a chance which North Terrace Preview‘s grandmother-in-law would have put away.

North Terrace Preview‘s grandmother-in-law is 80+ and has a similar baijiu habit to Jiang Kun.

Causes for Optimism…

Shenhua should be up to their full complement of  foreign players for this one, with Rolando Schiavi ready to return after sitting out the Qingdao game to recover from some of the leginess displayed recently as an unrelenting summer heatwave taxes those quadragenerian legs. The perky Firas al-Khatib is also full of energy due to a spate of recent substitutions for “tactical reasons” — Shen Xiangfu’s tactical reasons being the need to put on as many defensive players as possible to clog up the eighteen-yard line for the last fifteen minutes and hoof the ball up to Dady.

Shenhua’s cracking record in derby games this season also stands up to scrutiny of the emotional and mental strength instilled in the side by Sergio Batista early this season — the tally currently stands at two wins from two “derbies” with the chicken-botherers from across the river, a win in the home fixture against East Asia, and of course the customary China Derby ending with Guoan returning to the capital with tails between their legs. Do turtle tails fit behind their legs? Aquatic physiology isn’t North Terrace Preview‘s strong point.

… and for Concern

If the ongoing absence of Xu Liang and recent loss of Song Boxuan wasn’t bad enough, Shenhua face a bizarre situation regarding their remaining left-sided players here. In a classic only-in-the-CSL move, apparently there exists a gentleman’s agreement which East Asia intend to enforce with the CFA that neither Bai Jiajun nor Zhang Yilin are permitted to play against their former employers in Shanghai Stadium. Yes folks, that’s correct — two players who were fully transferred (not loaned) to Shenhua, and played against East Asia already this season, are set to be absent due to a clause which surely wouldn’t stand up under any kind of contractual scrutiny. While Zhang Yilin has been a sporadic presence this year, Bai’s dynamism and workrate from left-back are a great asset to Shenhua, and will leave the Hongkou side sorely short of options at full-back.

It also stands to be said here that, although their 2013 record is inferior to Shenhua’s (only the points deduction leaves the red side of Shanghai sitting higher in the table), East Asia are a thoroughly handy football team, with Wu Lei a genuine talent.

Watch Out For

Back in training, it is unclear whether Song Boxuan will be fit to start this game. In the absence of Bai, the natural width the former Tianjin Locomotive player provides Shenhua with on the left could be critical to this game. Although recent pre-injury performances had the winger a little, ahem, off-Song, there’s little doubt that the squad’s only natural winger is a key player for Shenhua when fit and firing.

The Verdict

The one thing which is sure is that this should be an entertaining game, and continue the start of a genuine local rivalry which has been lacking in Shanghai for some years. It’s a very tricky game to call — Shenhua are short on players, yet have stepped up to the plate consistently in big games this year. East Asia have a wealth of attacking talent, but remain a very flaky side when under pressure — the scene would appear to be set for another Shenhua comeback, but this game genuinely rests on a knife-edge — if either side gets on top in the emotional hothouse of a derby match, they could end up running out of sight. Home advantage and some key Shenhua absentees should see East Asia as favourites here — the heart is overruling the head here and going for a 2-1 Shenhua win here to leave the blues as the undisputed best side in Shanghai on head-to-head record.

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 21   W 8   D 7   L 6   GF 26   GA 28   GD -2   Pts 25

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 21  W 6   D 11   L 4   GF 24   GA 23   GD +1   Pts 23

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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