Wednesday evening sees the final Hongkou fixture of 2013, as relegation-threatened Changchun visit. Will Shenhua end their home season on a high?
Last Time Out
Shanghai Shenhua lost an eminently forgettable game up in Dalian in CSL Round 28, with Aerbin showing a little more ambition and fight and walking away with all three points. A very lackluster Shenhua side got exactly what they deserved — nothing — although might perhaps feel a little hard done by with a very tight offside call leading to a disallowed Gio Moreno goal.
Changchun Yatai meanwhile took a big step forward in the tight, topsy-turvy relegation dogfight with a couple of very early goals prompting a 3-1 home win against Tianjin TEDA up in the Jilin smog. With two rounds to go, Changchun stand just one point and a couple of goals ahead of Qingdao Jonoon, current occupants of the final relegation spot — and, remarkably, only 7 points behind fifth place in the league.
Causes for Optimism…
First things first — although they may have beaten Shenhua in the corresponding fixture in the north-east, the 2013 vintage Changchun are a painfully limited side and shouldn’t give any half-decent outfit much to lose sleep over. Shenhua’s 2013 home record also makes for very pleasing reading with only two defeats, those coming to runaway champions Evergrande and in Shenhua’s one major home letdown of the year against Hangzhou.
This game could also be the final opportunity for a number of talented players to leave their mark on Hongkou — while all of a blue persuasion must be hoping to see Firas al-Khatib returning for 2014, it’s very likely that the standard Shenhua merry-go-round will see the remainder of their foreign contingent (save perhaps Moreno and his too-high-for-anyone-with-sense wage demands) and the perplexing sales of at least two first-team players along with their understudies to anyone who makes an offer.
… and for Concern
Shenhua’s two real blips of the 2013 season — the aforementioned reverses up in Changchun and at home to Hangzhou — came about largely as a result of complacency and sluggish starts from which the boys in blue never really recovered. There is plenty of scope for complacency here, and in real terms the visitors have a lot more to play for and to motivate them than Shenhua. One only needs to look back to the farcical Wuhan Zall visit to Hongkou to see how much havoc a less talented and further adrift side could cause by the simple dint of fighting for their CSL lives — it would be surprising to see Changchun not doing the same, even if their situation is perhaps less perilous than it might look due to Qingdao’s rotten form and tougher last two fixtures — Changchun could well lose their last two games and still stay up.
Watch Out For
Badge-kisser in chief Gio Moreno has had a much better second half of the campaign than his much-maligned early performances — the number of industrial-language curses hurled by your trusty Shenhua correspondents has been reduced to single-figures (per half), along with the Colombian chipping in with some vital goals. While it may seem a little churlish to suggest that the home side’s captain and most talented outfielder should be the man to watch in a fixture, it’s at least semi-inevitable that Moreno will slam home a game-winning 30-yard bicycle kick here, given his penchant for the dramatic.
Shenhua have a tendency of wrapping up at Hongkou with a big home win against a poor side to paper over the cracks and spark misplaced optimism for the coming year. Expect little different here: Changchun will start the brighter (you’d have to have all 11 men on horse tranquilizers to start slower than a Sheng Xiangfu side), but all their huffing and puffing will fail to blow Shenhua’s house down, with the home side roaring back to a feelgood 3-1 Shenhua win.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 28 W 11 D 7 L 10 GF 35 GA 41 GD -6 Pts 34
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 28 W 10 D 11 L 7 GF 32 GA 31 GD +1 Pts 35
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