The manager: A Shenyang native and former Liaoning standout, Gao Sheng will lead Liaoning in 2014. He has served as an assistant for many years, but this will be his first time in the top spot. Taking over for Ma Lin, he has some big shoes to fill, but Gao had a strong relationship with Ma, both playing and coaching with him, so he’s learned from one of China’s best.
The history: Before China established a professional league, Liaoning was the country’s most dominant club, winning nine league titles and developing a large portion of China’s footballing talents. Since professionalism, Liaoning’s “golden generation” of the late 90s came within a point of the crown in ’99 but then was broken up and the club has been mediocre in the 2000s, including a drop and yo-yoing back up to the top flight the next year.
The team: This is a side that always seems to manage to do a lot with a little, finding a way to band together and play as a team. New manager Gao is a bit of a wild card, but he has enough experience as an assistant and also has the support of Liaoning legend Zhao Junzhe and so should be okay. Edu, who scored 14 goals last year, is gone now and his replacements don’t inspire quite as much confidence, but the side should have a good enough defense to give them a chance in most matches.
The stadium: rallies against the trend of clubs relocating, but the one place where its acceptable is in Liaoning. Truly a club supported by fans all over the province, the team has moved throughout Liaoning, having played in Shenyang, Anshan, Jinzhou, Fushun, and Yingkou (just don’t bring up the fact they played in Beijing for half a year) giving fans across the province a chance to watch their favorite club. After playing at Shenyang’s Tiexi Stadium for the past few years, the club now moves to Panjin, where they will play in the 35,000 seat Panjin Sports Center, a beautiful, new venue built for last year’s National Games.
The changes: Liaoning seems to experience major changes every year. Last season it was the loss of its two key domestic stars, Yang Xu and Yu Hanchao, this season they’ve switched four of their five foreigners, have a new manager, and have relocated to a new city for the near future. This year they’ve been able to keep their domestic talent, despite strong efforts to sign away a couple players and added Yi Teng, Ding Haifeng, and Panjin native Zhang Yonghai, none are standouts but all are decent enough.
The foreigners: The only foreigner who remains on the squad from the year is James Chamanga, an excellent CSL player who contributed nine goals to Liaoning’s efforts last season. Last year’s key goal scorers Edu and Milos Trifunovic are replaced by Aleksandar Jevtic and Kevin Oris. After an excellent 2011 with Jiangsu, Jevtic’s scoring has continually gone down and he will likely be the odd man out if he can’t find his scoring boots right away. The Belgian Oris joins the CSL after two good seasons in Korea and should be able to pick up a portion of the scoring burden. Billy Celeski takes over for Pablo Brandan in the midfield and while he might not be as creative as the Argentine, he offers another option as the side will feature two Asian players, him and Uzbeki defender Artyom Filliposyan, who will be a solid addition in the back four.
The star: Chamanga has spent a number of years playing in China, originally with Dalian Shide from 2008-2012, when that club broke up, he moved across the province to join Liaoning last season and continued to be a standout goal scorer in the league. While all the other foreigners around him have changed, he will be a stable force and will be relied upon for many of the sides goals.
The youngster: When you play for a team that is famous for developing young talent (and equally famous for relying on it), there’s a lot of pressure, but 21-year-old Hu Yanqiang looks like one for the future. The speedy winger made his CSL debut and was used a handful of times last season, including getting four starts. Liaoning is going to need some of its younger players to step up in 2014 and Hu looks like one who will do so.
The X factor: Despite the efforts of multiple clubs to attract Jin Taiyan, the young, ethnically Korean midfielder will remain in Liaoning for at least one more season. Jin is a very creative player who featured heavily for the club last year and Liaoning fans are hoping he can contribute even more to the sides scoring in the new season.
The prediction: Somehow Liaoning always manages to get by and it seems like that is going to be the case in 2014. On paper it looks like there are considerably worse sides in the league so staying up shouldn’t be an issue, and Liaoning should finish around 10th this season.