Shenhua host a stuttering Jiangsu Sainty in their last Yangtze Delta derby of an eventful 2013 season. Can the Hongkou side pull one last big-game win out of the bag?
Last Time Out
Shenhua battled well but could have few complaints about going down 2-1 at Tianhe to a surprisingly full-strength Evergrande side. Another controversial penalty wasn’t enough against the champions-elect, and a questionable red card for Wang Changqing left the Shanghai side with too much of a mountain to climb.
Jiangsu meanwhile continued a season of struggle by going down 2-3 at home to Tianjin TEDA to remain very much in the relegation picture.
Causes for Optimism…
Aside from the debacle at home to Hangzhou, Shenhua have generally performed in the big games this season — a four-from-four record in city derbies attests to that.
After a quieter period Firas al-Khatib has looked back to his energetic best in recent weeks — perhaps no surprise that this return to form coincides with Shen Xiangfu reverting to a formation with the diminutive Syrian as his sole frontman. The sorely-missed Xu Liang also made a welcome cameo down in Guangzhou and will be pushing for a return to action here.
… and for Concern
Somehow Jiang Kun has wheedled his way back into contention — frequent first-sub appearances leading to a start last week. While Jiang may have been a solid call 5 years ago and still has some dead ball prowess, fielding a patently unfit middle-aged “athlete” whose sole contributions to 2013 have been comedic or even tragicomic in nature does not reflect well on a supposedly top-half side.
The regular positional musical chairs will return to cover Wang’s suspension here, too — without a right-back in the squad, will Shen shift Dai Lin back out wide into a position he has never looked comfortable in? Watching Wu Xi, Shenhua’s erstwhile full-back, turning out for the away side will be a particularly bitter pill for Shrnhua fans to swallow here.
Watch Out For
If Xu Liang is back to full fitness, Shen will have his full complement of midfield options available for the first time. The balance of the side will be an interesting insight into Shen’s philosophy — does Toranzo move out wide to allow for the playmaker’s return, or drop from the side altogether to have another try at the failing Dady-Firas experiment? And, surely, Jiang Kun can’t start again?
Local rivalry tends to make this fixture a spicy affair, but don’t be surprised if this game takes a while to get going — these are two of the CSL’s more natural counter-punchers, and both sides struggle at times to take the game to more passive opponents. Jiangsu’s 2013 blip — and next season will show wherever this is a blip or a regression to the mean — might well be largely down to Cristian Danalache’s lengthy absence along with Sainty’s lack of a plan B.
Expect a slow start and some second half fireworks here, with Shenhua once again rising to the occasion and winning a tight game — 2-1 Shenhua is your prediction this week.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 24 W 10 D 7 L 7 GF 30 GA 32 GD -2 Pts 31
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 24 W 8 D 11 L 5 GF 27 GA 26 GD +2 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