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North Terrace Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Guizhou Renhe

The 2013 CSL season continues to peter out with Shenhua’s last weekend home game seeing the visit of fourth-placed Guizhou. Can the boys in blue bounce back on Saturday from defeat in the China Derby?

Last Time Out

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you ask for. Shenhua can have few complaints after sitting back at Gongti and inviting Peter Utaka to run at their one-paced backline for 90 minutes, with the stocky Nigerian scoring twice to continue the China Derby cycle — as sure as night follows day, a Shenhua victory at Hongkou is followed-up with a Guoan victory in Beijing. While the first Beijing goal did appear to wake Shenhua (and perhaps more importantly coach Shen Xiangfu) from their own-half hibernation, Guoan were the better side on the balance of play throughout the match.

Guizhou meanwhile became the latest victims of Tianjin TEDA’s resurgence — consecutive one-goal wins over last season’s top four to pull clear of the relegation scrap make TEDA this season’s Qingdao.

Causes for Optimism…

Great goalkeeper, solid defence, impressive home record… stop us if you’ve heard this before. 2013 Shenhua are what they are — a side bereft of stardust, but built on solid foundations and with a rarely-say-die attitude which has seen them scrape more than their share of tight victories and confound pre-season predictions of struggle.

… and for Concern

Paper-thin squad, lack of real quality in the final third, wasteful star player, overly-defensive coach… again, stop us if you’ve heard this before.

Watch Out For

Shenhua are safe and have proved their intra-city dominance for this season; is some experimentation in the last couple of dead rubbers too much to ask for? What North Terrace Preview would love to see is a move away from Shen’s reactionary tactics and the club’s traditional lack of long-term planning — this should be an opportunity for Shenhua to begin planning for 2014, and try taking the game to their opponents.

While Rolando Schiavi has made ‘s Shenhua correspondents eat their words and proved a welcome touch of class and leadership at the back, surely a second season in China for the soon-to-be 41-year-old is out of the question. Likewise, for all Dady’s graft and Toranzo’s, erm, being constantly played out of position, it would be no surprise if Firas al-Khatib were the only overseas player retained for next season. This, then, is the line-up Shenhua should play, in an achingly hip 4-2-3-1 of course: Wang Dalei; Wang Changqing, Dai Lin, Li Jianbin, Bai Jiajun; Wang Shouting, Xu Liang; Cao Yunding, Gio Moreno, Song Boxuan; Firas.

Expect to see Jiang Kun in the starting line-up before that happens, though.

The Verdict

Renhe are a quality side still fighting for third place, and Shenhua have a pretty rotten record against the former Xi’an franchise.  While their Bosnian-flavored frontline might lack the explosive pace which did for Shenhua in their recent visit to the capital, North Terrace Preview can see the home side struggling for possession here, particularly if they once again begin with an ultra-cautious mindset. Shenhua can’t keep getting away with belated fightbacks forever; despite a too-little-too-late second-half flurry, the points are leaving Shanghai on Saturday — the prediction is a 2-1 Guizhou win.

Reality Check

Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:

P 26   W 11   D 7   L 8   GF 33   GA 36   GD -3   Pts 34

Shenhua according to the CSL table:

P 26  W 9   D 11   L 6   GF 29   GA 29   GD +1   Pts 32

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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