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The Mads Davidsen Column: Shenhua are the comeback Kings for a reason

Shanghai East Asia v Shanghai Shenxin: Solid defense the key

Shenxin started the Derby with a direct deep ball towards number 8 Jailton and after a cross, number 18 Sun Kai scored an own goal to give Shenxin the lead after just 37 seconds. Bad defending by East Asia, who clearly were not ready for the early deep pass.

After this goal, Shenxin had only one game plan – to secure the three points, take no chances at all and only play long passes towards the fast Jailton and hope for the best. And looking back now – we can conclude that this destructive tactic won the game for Shenxin on Saturday night in Shanghai.

The Shenxin system looked like a 4-3-2-1 formation – also called the “Christmas three formation” due to its visual similarity to a three, but it was difficult to analyze as they also used a 4-2-3-1 in some periods with two clear defensive midfielders in number 6 Marrone and number 16 Yu Tao. These two players were key in the Shenxin organization by closing down the center of the pitch, not allowing any space in between, and to tackle or foul every player trying to get pass them.

The defense was, as always, structured by number 26 Johnny and the Brazilian is verbally very important for the defensive organization. Sometimes he is too aggressive breaking the defensive line too early leaving a big gap behind, but he has leadership potential and played a great game against East Asia.

The left full back number 11 Jiang Zhipeng had a difficult job closing down the East Asia number 7 Wu Lei, but the left back was clever and stayed close to the central defenders, so he never got in 1:1 situations with Wu Lei, who we barely saw in the match.

Shanghai East Asia’s main problem was that when you face an opponent standing very low closing down the center of the pitch, you have to bring up your full backs as the ‘new’ wingers and play on the outside of the opponent’s shape. In this game the two full backs number 18 Sun Kai and 2 Li Yunqiu started from a position that was too defensive, so they never managed to push forward as new wingers, which is crucial if you want to attack a defensive organization. You have to use the width of the pitch as the opponent closes down the center.

Second problem for East Asia was the tempo of short passing. Way too slow. East Asia did not play hard passes and used individually too many touches on the ball before they made the next pass. And two or three touches on the ball is enough for the opponent to regroup and reorganize their team, so you never give them trouble.

Remember that football is about catching the opponent off balance and most chances are created by creating a local majority somewhere on the last third of the pitch. A 3:2 or a 2:1 situation and when you are playing too slow – the opponent always stays in balance and you can never create majority situations.

So a disappointing and frustrating night for East Asia and a vital win for Shenxin, who seem almost safe now and ready for a new CSL season, all-in-all a good season for the three Shanghai teams.

Shenhua v Guizhou: mentality the key

The CSL’s fourth-placed team  Guizhou were in control against Shanghai Shenhua on Sunday night, but chose the wrong tactic and tried to defend and wait for the clock to run out. And that gave Shenhua momentum and a 2-1 win in the end.

Guizhou were clearly a better team in the first half and gave Shenhua problems in the predictable areas like set pieces and crosses to the far post area. Number 9 Muslimovic and number 11 Jorda are great headers of the ball with a physique difficult to handle for most Chinese defenders.

It looked like a secure away win was on the cards for Guizhou, also due in part to Shenhua not performing well. What is their offensive plan? What is their concept in the final third? I can’t see it. It just looks like the Shenhua players rely on their individual intuition and sometimes it’s a good solution – sometimes not. But this is just too random a tactic for professional team.

Guizhou could have put in a lot of energy in the second half into closing the deal so to speak, but instead the away team were extremely defensive with 10 men behind the ball looking at the clock to just secure their 1-0 lead. They tried to play on counter attacks which was a foolish idea with strikers like 11 Jorda and 9 Muslimovic. Good strikers as mentioned before, but lacking the necessary speed and flair. Number 21 Yu Hai literally stopped running in the second half, while number 4 Sally had more focus on responding to Shenhua fans’ chants than playing football and protecting the goal, so the Guizhou team fell apart.

Sometimes football is a cruel game and the two penalties gave Shenhua the win totally out of nothing, but as a professional coach, you have to find a way to give your team the best chance of winning, and I do believe the Guizhou head coach failed in this regard.

Shenhua were lucky of course, but they are also a mentally strong side, who take a chance if you give them one. This is not the first time this season that a bad home performance has ended with a Shanghai-win at Hongkou Stadium. And that is not a coincidence.

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