Will Shenhua be brought back down to earth this Friday following a strong recent run? And does this game mean anything to anybody anyway?
Last Time Out
The hosts for Friday evening’s CSL clash, champions-elect Guangzhou Evergrande, suffered perhaps the biggest shock in a weekend of shocks, losing their first game of the season at the 23rd attempt — and away to relegation-scrapping Tianjin, of all teams.
Shanghai Shenhua meanwhile made it three wins from three winnable games, all-but-securing their top-flight status, by winning 2-1 at home to Wuhan Zall with an injury-time penalty slotted away amidst the most shocking scenes of the entire season, with Wuhan’s Zhu Ting suffering a mental breakdown fit to make the rest of the footballing world look like a perfectly grown-up, reasonable place in comparison.
Causes for Optimism…
Shenhua performed brilliantly in the first half of the reverse fixture this season, with the CSL’s surprise package of 2013 really upping their game against quality opponents — could a repeat be on the cards down at Tianhe, but this time backed up with a goal to make that dominance count?
Shenhua’s best hopes may lie in complacency from Evergrande — they sit on a massive 14 point lead, no longer have an “invincible” season record to protect, and will surely be resting players for next Wednesday’s key trip to Qatar to defend a first-leg lead in their ACL tie.
… and for Concern
A bit like the Wuhan game last time out, the earlier Shenhua-Evergrande meeting this season highlighted both the best and worst of the 2013 side — Shenhua’s lack of cutting edge in the first half was ruthlessly exposed following the break, with the lack of defensive pace and genuine midfield steel exploited by the Cantonese side and Shenhua’s paper-then squad unable to bring a telling contribution from the bench.
Watch Out For
An opportunity for the lesser-spotted Feng Renliang, perhaps? The former Shenhua man had a shocker at Hongkou in his first return to Shanghai earlier this season. Feng has struggled badly for game-time with Evergrande — hardly surprising given the wealth of talent available to the champions. He’s also struggled badly for form when playing — hardly surprising to anyone who’d seen Feng over the past few seasons with Shenhua. A great talent on his day, Feng has always been a very streaky player and perhaps not the most naturally resilient or hardworking footballer — this is a player who needs to be playing week-in week-out in order to get into a groove of form.
One the one hand, Evergrande almost always seem to turn Shenhua over 3-0 — barring the freaky-yet-entertaining 2-2 draw of last season. On the other hand, this is as close to a dead rubber as you can get with a quarter of a league season still to play — home side strolling to the title with big continental cup tie coming up midweek faces off against away side who have overcome points deduction to sit in sixth spot and surely have no remaining relegation fears.
As much as North Terrace Preview would take the point on offer for a 0-0 stalemate, your trusty correspondent is backing that 3-0 Evergrande win with some fired-up reserves both fighting to remind Marcelo Lippi what they can do, while looking to banish from the memory that recent slip up in Tianjin.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 23 W 10 D 7 L 6 GF 30 GA 29 GD +1 Pts 31
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 23 W 8 D 11 L 4 GF 26 GA 24 GD +3 Pts 29
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