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Pub Talk: From Kashiwa to Beijing to Shanghai

This week in the pub Guangzhou Evergrande’s fantastic result in the Asian Champions League is firmly on the agenda, as your drinking pair look ahead to what might happen in the final presuming the second leg is a formality. Who are the favourites? Can GZ do it? Etc. In the CSL, its China derby time again as China’s two biggest cities go head-to-head, the Guoan v Shenhua match naturally occupies much of the pub time this week. Elsewhere, there’s time to talk about Guangzhou R&F’s leaky defence, as the pubsters ask “What’s going on Sven?”. Finally there’s time to take a quick look at the relegation picture, as the end of the season looms with Jiangsu Sainty in danger of finishing at the other end of the table than some predicted. That’s it folks, jump on in and get into the China derby spirit!

Shanghai Ultra: Pub time! I think I need a beer to wash down all these leftover mooncakes from the Autumn festival.

Bcheng: Yes, we’re finally in a festival fall mood up north as well. Lots to talk about this week with Guangzhou Evergrande’s crushing of Kashiwa, as well as the upcoming “derby” day.

S: Indeed! And what a result for Evergrande, looks like we will have China’s first continental finalist since Liaoning back in… I can’t remember, 1990 or something.

B: Yeah, the 2nd leg is pretty much just a formality, Evergrande is on their way to the ACL final.

S: It was a very impressive result, I was very surprised I have to say, I thought Evergrande would do well to come away with a draw.

B: I don’t think anyone would predict the performances put in by Muriqui and Conca to carry Evergrande through that match.

S: Yep. And interesting to see Cleo playing for the opposition, I had forgotten about him.

B: And he definitely had an impact on the match, but he couldn’t do enough to keep his side competitive. I will say that I heard the pre-match mood, at least among the Kashiwa faithful, was expecting defeat, they were worried they had no answers for Evergrande’s trio of foreign stars and they really didn’t.

S: It’s all very interesting. Do you think they can go all the way?

B: At this point its hard to see why they couldn’t, though FC Seoul is going to be a tough challenge for them.

S: Yeah it’s not going to be easy at all. But they’ve done most of the hard work by getting there, I’d imagine they would be favourites for the final. Assuming they don’t slip at home in the second leg of the semi, but I can’t see that nor can anyone else I don’t think.

B: You mean Seoul would be favorites I presume?

S: No I think Evergrande will be.

B: That’s an interesting choice, those two matches are certainly going to draw a lot of attention.

S: Yeah. I suppose it depends who you ask in terms of who will be favourites. It will be a tight contest. I will be tuning in to the remaining semi also, after reading the rather exciting report from our own Biffo.

B: I think that’s enough about Evergrande for now, let’s talk about the results from the past weekend, where, the forever changing picture at the bottom of the table now makes it look like Qingdao and Jiangsu are in trouble.

S: Yes as many of us predicted, Qingdao are now in the thick of it. But whilst we might have disagreed on whether Sainty would challenge at the top again, I don’t think anyone expected them to be in danger at this late stage.

B: Xu Liang really saved Shenhua against Jiangsu over the weekend, it certainly was a frustrating loss for Sainty.

S: Yeah it was, I don’t think anyone would have complained if it was a draw. It shows what an influential player Xu Liang has been for Shenhua even if he made a rather slow start.

B: He’s a great player and I can imagine you’re very happy to have him for the next few years.

S: Yeah I was a bit sceptical at first to be honest, a 31-year-old Guoan reject. But that was more because he was being hailed as our key signing and the other guys we picked up were nobodies. But yeah, he’s easily Shenhua’s most important midfielder bar none, including Gio Moreno.

B: I would hardly call him a “reject”, but anyways, guess you want to get into the derby spirit.

S: Hahah, you know how it is. Before we get to the big match, I’m not letting you get away without discussing your slip up against your local rivals. What went wrong there?

B: It was the typical Beijing-Tianjin derby match, especially one played in Tianjin — very physical, a lot of bullshit, and one play made the difference.

S: Yeah sounds about right. It’s not helped your ACL plans though, seeing as the other surprise result of the weekend was an 8-goal thriller and Guizhou victory. Good lord, what’s going on down there with Sven?

B: Good question, he’s sort of lost control lately, there’s something seriously wrong with R&F’s defense in that they’ve now given up 11 goals in 2 matches against sides that they were challenging for the final ACL spot.

S: Seem’s they’ve gone to the er, dogs, down there. They’ve even fallen behind Shenhua. I’ve no idea whats gone wrong but we have a very good take on the matter from our correspondent Donald.

B: It’s a real mess down there…You know what was brought to my attention recently? Even though Guoan is in 4th place, unless Dalian Aerbin wins the CFA Cup, neither Guoan or Guizhou should have much to worry about, they’re both going to get into the ACL.

S: Right, Evergrande you’d have to think will clean up in the CFA cup final. But I’m sure both Guoan and Guizhou will want to finish 3rd to make sure.

B: I’m not ready to concede the CFA Cup to Evergrande just yet, both sides will really want to win as that is the only way they’ll be guaranteed to get into the ACL, the team that finishes 3rd (or 4th, depending on who wins the Cup), may end up in qualifying.

S: Right. Well, I think its time to talk about this evening’s “China Derby”. Your thoughts please.

B: It should be a great match, tickets sold out in less than 5 minutes, so the atmosphere should be unbelievable. I’m confident only because it’s been a long time since Shenhua last took three points from Guoan at Gongti.

S: Yeah both our sides have pretty bad records at each others’ home stadiums, although Shenhua are not complete strangers to winning at Gongti. I don’t have any reason to predict three points for Shenhua to be really honest with you. I think Shenhua have rode their luck a bit picking up 12 points out of 15 from the last 5 games, I think this good run is surely due to come to an end before long and Gongti would be an unsurprising venue for such a thing to happen.

B: I’m not overly confident, but Guoan has been strong at home and I’m guessing it will continue, though Xu Liang has a tendency to play well against his former clubs.

S: Yes he’s not alone, Mao Jianqing springs to mind. I’m pleased to report the China Derby buildup is well underway online – the rhetoric is really flying. I think this is the last game of any real meaning for Shenhua this year.

B: The big question will be if Freddie Kanoute plays, he’s been practicing separately for much of the week, though he was involved in some short scrimmages, it would be good to have him as an option.

S: Why has he been training separately?

B: He’s been out injured the past few matches, hopefully he’ll be back against Shenhua, but even if he’s not Guoan still have plenty of threats.

S: Who should Shenhua most look out for, I mean, who is in form right now?

B: I don’t think you can look past Zhang Xizhe, arguably the best Chinese player in the CSL right now.

S: Yeah I thought you may mention his name. His recent success with the national team underlines his progress. Whatever happened to Piao Cheng?

B: Piao Cheng had a monster game against R&F and when things are going good, he’s usually a major reason why, though he’s been moved to a defensive midfielder position, so it doesn’t always show up on the score sheet.
I think his being out due to yellow card accumulation was one factor why Guoan struggled against Tianjin.

S: I saw some chatter on the site about Piao Cheng, there seemed to be a suggestion that he had lost his way a bit, is that so?

B: It’s hard to say. I’m a big fan of his so I don’t want to be too negative, his changed role means the goals aren’t there, but when Guoan is firing on all cylinders, it’s his passes that often start attacks and he’s a great threat to have. However, he doesn’t have your traditional defensive mid’s body and there are some questions about his commitment/professionalism.

S: It’s funny you know, we used to talk a lot about Piao and Shenhua’s Cao Yunding, how we both thought they were very promising Chinese midfielders. If its true there are some issues with Piao, its more clear cut with Cao, he has really went nowhere this season, it’s a shame for a player who is obviously very talented.

B: What are Cao’s issues? He seems to have fallen out of favor under the previous manager and that hasn’t changed now that Shen is in charge.

S: As with Piao, there are similar murmurings about his professionalism. He’s said to have had personal off-pitch problems this season, but I’m not aware what exactly. It is telling that his fortunes have not improved since Batista left. He seems to play much better when coming off the bench. When he’s started this season he’s looked lost and not sure of what his role is. That we can have some sympathy for, he’s an attack-minded midfielder but Gio Moreno’s wastefulness means the Shenhua midfield needs ball winners and water carries. And imagine being dropped at the expense of Jiang Kun? That’s enough to destroy anyone’s morale.

B: Yet another of these cautionary tales. If I were Wu Lei or Zhang Xizhe, I’d get the hell out of the CSL while I still could. Too many players develop bad habits over time.

S: Yeah that is something commonly heard isn’t it. Well, what’s your prediction for the game?

B: I’ll go with a 3-1 victory for the Beijingers.

S: I’m useless at predictions, but I will go for 2-2.

B: I know we haven’t talked about anything else, but this week really doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. I guess Changchun travelling to Shenxin might be interesting, though Mao Jianqing’s goal over the weekend helped Shenxin to another three points and likely mean they’ll be safe. Perhaps the disasters that are Aerbin and R&F going head-to-head could be entertaining.

S: Yeah that is the only good looking game really, Sainty Liaoning has a lot of meaning, the guys in Nanjing really need a win badly. For the rest of the fixture card though, it’s really all about Shanghai v Beijing this weekend.

B: It’s an odd work weekend and another odd weekend of matches, with three days of offerings, at least that takes the edge off the weekend. Here’s to a good weekend of football and a good “China Derby”, let the best side win, cheers!

S: Yes, it reflects the incredibly bizarre holiday schedule of late, 3 days on, 3 days off, 6 days on, one day off (tomorrow) two days on (Sunday and Monday) then its the national holiday.

B: Here’s to a good weekend of football and a good “China Derby”, let the best side win, cheers!.

S: Cheers to that mate

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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