Monday night football sees the Hu-Hang derby coming to Hongkou. Visitors Hangzhou might be slipping into the relegation mire – can Shenhua take out their frustrations from Shenyang in a more productive manner than throwing a toddler’s tantrum here?
Last Time Out
Shenhua come into this one off the back of an odd midweek draw at Liaoning. While Shenhua would have undoubtedly taken a draw against the high-flying Whowin before kick-off, the result itself proved frustrating in the end – having been on top of the game for 80-odd minutes, the Shanghai side fell into the all-too familiar trap of changing everything they had been doing well so far, and instead camping desperately on the edge of their penalty area and just punting the ball straight back to Liaoning.
Teams all over the world are prone to falling into this pattern at the end of the game, but it’s always frustrating from a supporter’s perspective – and a cowardly Shenhua got their just desserts in the depths of injury time when yet another ball was looped into their area. Wang Dalei had an uncharacteristic flap, and then got into a flap trying to redeem the ball, felling the big Brazilian striker Edu, who promptly converted the penalty – not before retaker manager Shen Xiangfu had managed to give a remarkable impression of a five year-old brat who’s been told they can’t have the latest Barbie doll. It was a display of petulance and lack of self-control entirely inappropriate for any grown man in public, let alone the supposed figurehead of a professional sports side.
Hangzhou, meanwhile, continued their mid-season slide by losing 1-0 at home to Tianjin. The Zhejiang side have been in some pretty desperate form of late, with only one point from their last four matches leaving them within 5 points of the relegation zone.
Causes for Optimism…
Aside from the late-game meltdown, there were a surprising amount of positives to be taken from the match in Shenyang. Shenhua for much of the game looked very comfortable indeed in possession, and played with a patience and ability to string more than three passes together which has been sorely absent for the side from a number of years. Firas, with a well-taken goal, was back on form as a tireless bundle of energy and smart running – and playing Gio Moreno just off the striker gets the big Colombian away from the depths of his own half from which he is tempted to ping around the Hollywood balls.
Li Jianbing is also beginning to look the real deal of late, coming to the side’s rescue with a number of blocks and challenges in the first half. While he initially looked very much like a little boy lost and was directly or indirectly responsible for pretty much every goal Shenhua conceded at the start of the season, something must have clicked within the Evergrande loanee. On this evidence, making Li a full-time signing would look a smart piece of business – once safety is assured, perhaps Shenhua would even be served to dispense with the experience of Rolando Schivi a little early and begin developing the pairing of Li and Dai Lin at centre-back ahead of next season.
… and for Concern
What’s that on the horizon? Nothing other than a large, bovine, butterfingered creature – the lesser-spotted Qiu Shenjiong. Known affectionately by his teammates as Da Niu or “big bull”, Shenhua’s second-choice keeper is known slightly less affectionately to regulars as “comedy fatman Qiu Shenjiong”.
Wang Dalei’s booking against Liaoning means that his amply-sized understudy will be stumbling into the breech for this fixture. Expect pie sellers and Hanzgou forwards in the Hongkou vicinity to be looking forward to a bumper day come Monday evening.
Watch Out For
A big test for the defence, this one – if Hangzhou are allowed to get too many chances in the area, they will score against Qiu. While Bai Jiajun continues to look as irrepressible as ever and Li Jianbing is coming into form, there are still question marks over Dai Lin as a full-back – in all honesty, not so much question marks as the fact that he’s a centre-back, the best one at the club, and is being used out of position to accommodate two other centre-backs who might not even be at the club next year. Ah, Shenhua.
Speaking of those other centre-backs, Schivi has been a little low-key of late – are those 40-year-old legs catching up with him – and defensive shield Zheng Kaimu put in an absolutely shocking performance in Liaoning. It’s understandable that, as a young player whose focus is mainly defensive, Zheng needn’t have a range of 40-yard crossfield passes and creative through-balls. It is, however, completely unacceptable for a supposed central midfielder to be unable to complete anything other than a five-yard sideways pass without giving the ball away.
Shenhua typically do well in this fixture, and are facing Hangzhou at a good time. If they’re going to win, it will need to be with weight of goals (the weight of their goalkeeper ensures that) – North Terrace Preview is casting off the shackles and predicting an entertaining encounter which Shenhua win 3-1.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 18 W 6 D 7 L 5 GF 21 GA 23 GD -2 Pts 19
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 18 W 5 D 11 L 2 GF 21 GA 19 GD +2 Pts 20
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