It’s China Derby time again — can 2013’s CSL surprise story start an unlikely ACL race with victory away to the old enemy?
Last Time Out
Shanghai Shenhua pulled out yet another come-from-behind one-goal win with a 2-1 home victory over troubled local rivals Jiangsu Sainty — much as predicted by a certain preview column. A dream return from injury for dead-ball expert Xu Liang both stabilized Shenhua’s midfield and provided the ammunition for both goals — one deflected set piece nodded home by a well-placed Dady, the second slamming straight into the back of the net in front of a delighted North Terrace.
Beijing Guoan meanwhile ceded advantage to Guizhou in the race for third place with a surprise defeat at a Brazilian-styled Tiajin TEDA. With five games to play, Guoan are now a point behind Guizhou, and eight ahead of their visiting rivals this Saturday.
Causes for Optimism…
A fit Xu Liang makes a big difference to this Shenhua side, not least because it removes Patricio Toranzo from the firing line. A gifted attacking player, Toranzo is far from a natural a deep-lying central player, as illustrated by his habit of going up for headers eyes-closed.
Additionally, whether pleasing to the fan’s eyes or not, the Shenhua squad do appear to be behind new coach Shen Xiangfu’s methods of sitting deep and attempting to retain possession through a low-risk style while wearing down the opposition for a late-game push.
… and for Concern
For all the drama and passion, the China Derby is a strangely predictable beast — Shenhua get turned over at Gongti, and Guoan leave Hongkou with tails between legs.
For Guoan, the breakout-season Zhang Xizhe has been the standout performer in the league’s second-highest-scoring attacking unit, playing behind a potent combination of experienced guile in Fredy Kanoute and explosive pace in Joffre Guerron and mid-season addition Peter Utaka.
If Shenhua could beat both Beijing and Guizhou in their next two encounters, they would set up the most ridiculous shot at a Champions’ League spot in world football. With equal likelihood, if North Terrace Preview’s aunt was testicularly-endowned, she would be this column’s uncle.
It’s hard to see past Guoan taking this one — Shenhua will presumably sit very deep in their shells in a passable turtle tribute, fearing the pace of an in-form Utaka against a backline which, beyond Bai Jiajun, is disturbingly one-paced. With relegation well and truly out of the picture, Shenhua must already be far beyond their wildest hopes for 2013. Guoan will be out for revenge for both their customary Shanghai beating and last weeks’ slip-up against local rivals — a fired-up home side will take this one 3-1 to Beijing.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 25 W 11 D 7 L 7 GF 32 GA 33 GD -1 Pts 34
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 25 W 9 D 11 L 5 GF 29 GA 27 GD +3 Pts 32
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