End-of-season dead rubber, or chance to consolidate being “the best of the rest”? Round 30 throws up a potentially interesting fixture as Shanghai Shenhua head down south to take on Sven’s men of R&F.
Last Time Out
As predicted, Shenhua began their last home fixture of the season very sluggishly against relegation-threatened Changchun Yatai and went into the interval 1-0 down to a very nicely-worked goal from Jan Rezek — a scoreline which could easily have been worse with the visitors dominating the chances count only to be frustrated by poor finishing and the customary superhuman goalkeeping of Wang Dalei.
Shenhua this season have somehow managed to turn the dramatic second-half comeback into a near-monotonous regularity, with the Hongkou crowd beginning to expect, rather than hope for, late late turnarounds. In-keeping with a much-improved second half of the season, captain Gio Moreno doing the damage with a soft opener followed up by a quite brilliant solo effort to win the game 2-1.
Guangzhou R&F, meanwhile, continued their late-season slump with a 1-1 draw at Tianjin TEDA following a familiarly inconsistent showing — following an impressive early start, Sven-Goran Erikssen’s reign is in danger of tailing off into mediocrity — a tale perhaps familiar to such diverse groups as the English FA, Notts County supporters, and a string of large-busomed secretaries across the world of football.
Causes for Optimism…
From a Shenhua perspective, R&F’s run of one win in nine games is perhaps the most encouraging omen here. The Yuexiushan side had an iffy start to 2013 only for Sven to ride into town and instigate a turn-around — recent results have seen a return to inconsistency. R&F also have, remarkably for a top-half side, the second-leakiest defence in the CSL — only the stranded Wuhan Zall have shipped more goals in 2013.
Shenhua should also have some motivation to do well in this one — a win would all but guarantee an incredible fifth-place finish and “best of the rest” status outside the ACL qualification spots for a side widely written-off ahead of the season and facing a six-point deficit. With a number of players likely to move on in the close season, this could be a fitting “once more unto the breach, dear friends” moment for the remarkably united Hongkou class of 2013.
… and for Concern
Perhaps the most worrying facet of this fixture is that Shenhua are somehow only one point ahead of “Shanghai” Shenxin and could feasibly finish the season in the standing below a team which can’t actually play football. Perhaps the fact that Shenxin are in mid-table at all is a more concerning feature for the CSL at large rather than Shenhua in particular — one of the darker linings in Shenhua’s fairytale season is that it highlights the mediocrity of every side not named Guangzhou Evergrande.
Shenhua also have a generally rotten record down in Canton, and R&F will be fired up to end the season on a high in front of their own fans.
Watch Out For
An interesting duel between R&F prolific but relatively one-paced frontline of Yakubu and Coelho and Shenhua’s solid but one-paced center-back pairing of Schiavi and Li Jianbin. And, hope upon hope, the last “performance” of Jiang Kun ahead of a possible close-season retirement?
It’s an end-of-season game between two sides with little other than where they finish in the upper half of the table to fight for — and no prospect of continental qualification for either. On the other hand, there’s a fair sprinking of attacking talent shared across the two sides, and dead rubbers are notoriously difficult to call — this could be a mutually-relaxing stroll around in the park or blood-and-thunder end-to-end encounter.
North Terrace Preview is casting aside the cynicism and buying into the 2013 fairytale having a happy ending — as is par for the course Shenhua will start out with a sluggishness to make old Nic Anelka proud (here’s a free betting tip — back the Frenchman to not score at home for WBA this season — he hasn’t netted a home goal for any side since 2011), before roaring back with one final comeback in a season of comebacks — with bad-touch-even-for-a-big-man Dady to score a point-blank range winner to seal a 2-1 away win and cement a fifth place which Shenhua would have long ago wrapped up were it not for the points deduction.
Shenhua according to North Terrace Preview:
P 29 W 12 D 7 L 10 GF 38 GA 42 GD -4 Pts 37
Shenhua according to the CSL table:
P 29 W 11 D 11 L 7 GF 34 GA 32 GD +2 Pts 38
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