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Pub Talk: Undefeatable Evergrande?

The CSL is back after a short break for internationals, and this week in the pub B and S look back at said internationals and forward to said CSL. China’s unexpected success is touched upon – was it a big deal? In the CSL, as Evergrande swept aside Guoan, will the dog-eaters go undefeated? Elsewhere, the transfer window has not slammed shut, it has merely closed – the lads look at new faces. Meanwhile, ultra has a bee in his bonnet about some controversial happenings in Dongbei, what is going on there, your drinkers ask. And, a few thoughts on the next round of games – odd scheduling seems to be the other of the day. That is what’s going on in the pub this week, our thoughts, delivered via HTML.

S: Good to see you again in the Pub B. A lot to talk about this week after our absences.

B: Mate, it seems like forever since we were last in the pub together, I almost kinda missed you….

S: Heh heh. “Almost”! It has been too long indeed. So, what to talk about first?

B: Well, how bout last night’s big match?

S: That’s as good a place as any. I only caught the last 20 minutes or so as I was watching Shenhua. All I can really say from what I saw and looking at the result, is that the game did not tell us anything we didn’t already know.

B: I don’t know what to say, Guoan has been one of the few teams that has been able to go head to head against Evergrande. Beijing’s only loss against them was a tight 3-2 defeat last year. It’s going to be misconstrued, but Evergrande was both lucky and good last night.

S: Actually to be honest with you, and I hate to say this in the pub, but I wanted Guoan to win, even if it wouldn’t have changed much. Was 3-0 a fair scoreline in your view?

B: The first 30 minutes of the match was real back and forth, Evergrande had the better of the chances due to Guoan’s defense not being on the same page, but Beijing had plenty of their own chances. When Yang Zhi was shown red and Guangzhou went 2-0 up, that killed the match. I was actually on the phone with my boss ( doens’t pay me enough and so I have a day job), silently shouting what the fuck what the fuck when I saw Stanojevic take off Zhang Xizhe and bring on backup goalie Zhang Sipeng when Yang was given the red. Zhang was Beijing’s best player up to that point, whereas Shao Jiayi was pretty useless (looked old yet again), but in retrospect, it was Stano throwing in the towel.

S: I didn’t know Yang had been sent off. Getting your goalie red carded is almost always a prelude to things going downhill from then on in.

B: Yes, Zhang did an excellent job, despite his last match being in 2011 and only playing a grand total of 98 minutes in 5 years in the CSL. But 2-0 down, a man down, at the half hour mark against Evergrande spells doom. Losing 3-0 was probably a decent result, it could have been much worse.

S: Yeah from a sort-of neutral’s perspective, it was a disappointing outcome, Guoan – Evergrande is a game I always try to make a point of watching, previous matches have usually been a good advert for the CSL with Guoan taking it to Evergrande and then some.

B: It was unfortunate. Especially from my perspective. I guess the only question that remains is will Evergrande go through the season undefeated?

S: They are over the halfway stage now, and are looking stronger than at any point since they were taken over by Evergrande. There is a very good chance they may make it. I mean, they have only conceded 8 goals I think, that in itself is impressive, when we are what, 18 games in?

B: Yes, it’s been a great run…I guess I should give you the chance to offer thoughts on Shenhua’s performance last night.

S: It was a decent away performance by Shenhua, only for the game to end in very controversial circumstances with a very late equalizing penalty for Liaoning.

B: I saw a little of the controversy, tell our readers about it.

S: Well Liaoning played a long ball forward into the Shenhua box, Wang Dalei punched it out, it fell to an unmarked Edu who needed time to bring the ball under control. Wang then ran forward to try to block, Edu turned him a little, and as he was cueing up his shot, Wang turned and dived to grab the ball from his feet. But the ref said Wang had pulled Edu and awarded a penalty. The replay is not conclusive, but I suspect the award falls under the “soft” category.

B: Unfortunate for Shenhua, that was three points they could have used. Speaking of, all the relegation worried sides grabbed pints last night.

S: They did, which has happened a lot recently. I want to talk about another controversial incident from last night’s match, which has wider implications for the league. Last night Liaoning’s Zhang Jingyang was rightly sent off for an absolutely fucking ridiculous two-footed tackle against Dai Lin, who was lucky to still be walking after it. All I can say is, I hope Zhang receives a 5 match ban, because that is what Wang Shouting got for dragging Malky Mackay one metre off the pitch against Changchun a month or so back.

B: The way the league has been handing out punishments, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets something around that.

S: It was a far, far more “violent act” than Wang Shouting’s supposedly over-aggressive action, and if there is any consistency whatsoever in the CSL’s disciplinary policies, Zhang must get at least an equal punishment. Otherwise, it just a fucking joke. The tackle has to be seen to be believed, it looked like a deliberate attempt to injure Dai Lin.

B: Granted, an injury to Dai Lin and much of the league would rejoice, but if it was as violent as you say, I can’t imagine him avoiding further discipline.

S: Yeah Dai isn’t the most popular character, but I think anyone looking at the tackle would only wince.

B: Any thoughts on anything else from last night?

S: No real surprise results, the round was dominated by one game which we talked about already, Guoan v Evergrande. Tianjin’s win over Hangzhou leaves Greentown in danger of being dragged into the dogfight.

B: Yeah, Shenhua and Jiangsu also have to be looking over their shoulders, at least for the time being, but I don’t think we’ll see it get to that point. Wuhan still look set to go down, the only question is who will join them. Changchun and Tianjin did plenty of strengthening of their sides during the recently closed transfer window. Shenxin added experience as well.

S: Yeah I think the bottom of the table is where the excitement is going to be at from here on in. Wuhan are certs, although I read this week the club is offering a rather large bonus if they can stay up. Shenhua are by no means out of it, as you said some activity in the transfer market has boosted other teams. Shenhua for their part are weaker than they were at the start of the season, Xu Liang has been a massive player for us and he is basically out for the rest of the season. Huge blow.

B: Yes, that definitely has Shenhua hurting. So on the subject of the transfer market, what do you feel was the biggest move made? Or a few of the biggest at least…

S: It was a surprisingly quiet market really, Wagner Love obviously was the biggest name to feature in this window, Zheng Long from Qingdao to Evergrande I think was the biggest domestic move, it was interesting to see he came off the bench last night and almost scored with a header from close range.

B: You think Zheng’s bigger than Zhang Chengdong’s return to China?

S: Right that is sort of an international move, but sure that’s a significant one. He got some very useful experience in Europe, but he wasn’t really cutting it.

B: I don’t know, to me it’s a massive steal, he’s one of China’s top young strikers (not saying much considering the dearth of them). Zheng Long’s a decent player, but he’s certainly not worth RMB23 million and I’m not sure he has the same potential impact.

S: Yeah I think it is a great catch for Guoan. There are a lot of parallels between Zhang Chengdong and Yu Dabao, they both went to Europe at a relatively young age for a couple of years before heading back to the CSL. Yu Dabao I think has turned into one of China’s top attacking players, it will be interesting to see if Zhang can overtake him since they are on a similar career path.

B: Both Changchun and Tianjin picked up Brazilians as well as former Chinese national teamers, I think for this season, those moves will have the biggest impact.

S: The moves look good on paper I think. But signings at struggling teams are often the hardest to predict, fitting into a team down on their luck can be tricky. Plus we have seen plenty of shite Brazilians in the CSL. It’s an unpredictable old game really.

B: Certainly is…While we’re on the subject of thoughts regarding events from this past weekend, what did you think of China at the East Asian Cup?

S: Yeah I was just about to bring it up. A lot written online about this tournament, the interesting thing was how each team was coming at it from a different angle in terms of what it meant to them and the seriousness of it. In a word, for China, it was successful.

B: I made t his point in my write-up of the tournament, but I’ll make it again. Competitions like this or the Gold Cup need to be done away with.

S: You think so? No-one takes them seriously?

B: I don’t remember past the previous competition, but the other nations tend to send B sides or youth teams. China is the only one who regularly takes it seriously. It’s not during a FIFA sanctioned international break and it doesn’t serve much point.

S: That is a good point, it not being during a break, it makes it practically impossible to call up full strength squads if you have a lot of players based in Europe or outside of Asia somewhere. I think its unfortunate in some ways, it’s a vicious circle, one team doesn’t bring its best squad, others follow suit. Unless you are China….

B: Right, which is why I don’t want to get too worked up about China’s results.

S: Yeah, common sense dictates that one can’t get too excited about the outcomes. That said, China deserve credit, and the excitement in some quarters for their results is understandable. It’s all about perspective.

B: Haha, unfortunately when it comes to Chinese results, perspective is all too often missing.

S: Indeed, its a bit like England as you said before. Everyone is up and down. There are a lot of parallels between China and England I feel, both don’t have the talent to match the expectations of their general public, and both have leagues dominated by foreigners.

B: Indeed…So the matches are coming fast, with a full slate this weekend. Shenhua have a “local derby” while Evergrande have yet another tough task, visiting Guizhou.

S: Yeah Shenhua are playing Hangzhou on Monday night. That’s a very strange time for a game, I have no idea what is the thinking is behind the scheduling. But anyway, Greentown and Shenhua are very close in the league, it will be a typical Yangtze Delta Derby I think. Looking forward to it.

B: Will Guizhou be the mighty Cantonese side’s first loss of 2013?

S: I don’t think so. Just can’t really see it I’m afraid.

B: I’ll certainly be cheering for Guizhou, but they struggled last night and it’s certainly an uphill task. Perhaps they will be on the tired side after all the matches recently, at least one can hope.

S: Yeah I don’t want to see Evergrande go undefeated either. What a pair of spoilsports we are.

B: Haha, cheers! And with that, do we bring another pub to it’s close?

S: I think it’s perfect timing. Cheers B!

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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