Guangzhou R&F have taken just one point from their last four games, conceded eleven goals in their last two, face a tough away trip to Dalian next weekend and see their city rivals Evergrande playing in the ACL semis. Despite this your Guangzhou R&F correspondent believes there should be no panic at Yuexiushan.
Yes, R&F’s eight game unbeaten streak at Yuexiushan was ended in some style by Guizhou at the weekend after a drubbing away to Beijing which sorely exposed the lack of pace amongst the back four, especially Aussie centre-back Eddy Bosnar. And yes, part of the reason this was exposed was an absence of defensive midfield organisation turning what should have been a flat bank of four into a wavy line across the pitch.
There are problems going forward too as Zhang Yuan’s unsuitability to play on the right wing is becoming increasingly clear as is the general inability to cross amongst all the wingers and fullbacks which leaves the already relaxed looking Yakubu with little incentive to get into top gear and sprint into the box.
Last but by no means least in the eyes of owner Zhang Li, who was informed of the Guangzhou leader’s desire to see both sides in the city qualify for ACL football next year, or the fans is the runaway success of cross town rivals Evergrande who still have the chance of an unprecedented treble (obviously no desire for a commentators curse here).
The recent poor run of form has come against last season’s top four and whilst Jiangsu aren’t doing so well this year, the other three sides are as Evergrande, Guizhou and Beijing are all in the top four and look set to remain there. Losing to three of the best teams in China should not spark panic.
If, given the quality of the opposition, the recent results (three losses and a draw) are not unduly worrying, perhaps the score lines are. Losing 6-0 to Beijing was a chastening experience but this had its mitigating factors. Second choice centre back Xu Bo was sent in the first half so forced his teammates to play the majority of the match with ten men and for the final ten minutes, when Beijing scored twice, R&F were down to nine men as Davi went off injured but there were no substitutes left to replace him. Whilst this wouldn’t have altered the result, as Beijing played well and repeatedly exploited the lack of pace in R&F’s defence, had R&F played 90 minutes with 11 men Beijing’s free scoring would have been better kept in check.
Whilst shipping a further five goals at home to Guizhou is clearly unacceptable, the three that R&F scored in reply would have been enough to win any other CSL game that weekend and would have beaten Guizhou twenty three times out of their twenty five CSL matches this season.
In the previous two games, a 1-1 draw with Jiangsu and a 1-0 defeat to Evergrande, R&F got what they deserved as poor finishing ensured a draw against Jiangsu and Evergrande controlled the derby. Even so there are positives here as only Shandong Luneng and Shanghai East Asia conceded fewer goals in their trips to Tianhe.
Same as it ever was
The recent poor run of form has highlighted longstanding problems amongst the R&F team that have been exposed by the better sides in the CSL but that R&F have been able to cover up with victories over lower ranked sides. For example, the lack of pace amongst the back four is not new as even the most recent signing Eddy Bosnar has been at the club since July, it’s just that Beijing exploited it better than other opponents. Equally, the crossing and set piece defence has been always been awful since R&F won promotion to the CSL and this year 18 out of 41 goals conceded have come from crosses or freekicks so the four scored by Beijing and Guizhou like this don’t indicate a new weakness in the Cantonese side, just highlight an old one.
Similarly but in an attacking sense, wasting promising opportunities because of poor crossing is not a new phenomenon; R&F have only scored 6 of their 37 goals from set pieces or crosses so the under and over hit deliveries against Jiangsu and Guizhou were unsurprising. Part of this is a new issue as with Eriksson’s 4-4-2, which often looks like 4-2-3-1, Zhang Yuan has been the first choice right winger but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s not suited to playing on the wing. However, other than starting the ageing Cantonese legend Lu Lin or switching Rafael Coelho back to the wing and playing the promising Zhang Shuo upfront, Eriksson is not blessed with options here. The poor crossing isn’t solely down to Zhang Yuan, who rarely crosses anyway, and the other wingers and fullbacks who have been in the starting XI all season must take their share of the blame.
Always look on the bright side
R&F are currently sixth but when Sergio Farias was sacked they appeared to be serious relegation contenders. Caretaker Li Bing and now Eriksson have turned the fortunes of the club around and helped put together a magnificent mid-season run which saw the Cantonese side rocket up the table. It appears that R&F have now peaked, at least for this season, but barring a similar late season collapse as last year (which some say has already started), they have a real chance of improving on 2012’s seventh place finish which would be very impressive for a team in what, let’s not forget, is only their second year in the CSL.
Ultimately, whilst ACL football has again eluded the blue side of Guangzhou, that R&F were in with any chance of qualifying for the ACL after their shocking start to the season shows the quality of their players. Perhaps the club are at fault for increasing supporter expectation with their overambitious aim of ACL qualification but R&F fans shouldn’t panic because losing to three of the top clubs in China does not constitute a crisis. There are five CSL games left and Eriksson will hope his team can recapture their mid-summer spirit to end the season on a high note, starting with Saturday’s trip to Dalian.