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Guoan brush aside Shenhua to complete best-ever season start

Beijing Guoan easily overcome an insipid Shanghai Shenhua to win their third consecutive game in their best ever start to a season since professional football in China was launched in 1994.


Beijing Guoan 2

Zhang Xizhe 41′ (pen), Batalla 53′

Shanghai Shenhua 0

Attendance: 35,271


Zhang Xizhe scored a very soft penalty in the 41st minute, before Pablo Batalla made it two early in the second half, with a disjointed and haphazard Shenhua side barely able to offer a shot in goal as they suffered their fifth consecutive defeat at Gongti.

Indeed, it was a very predictable China Derby – the scoreline was exactly the same as last season’s fixture and Guoan were not troubled at any point by a toothless and ramshackle Shenhua.

The first real chance fell to Guoan midfielder Zhang Xizhe, following a botched clearance by Shenhua’s former Beijing midfielder, Xu Liang. However, Zhang could only fire wide.  Just a couple of minutes later Guoan continued to stamp their authority on the game, when some neat play in midfield released Zhang Chengdong down the right flank. Unfortunately for the home side, his accurate cross was headed just wide by Nigerian striker Peter Utaka.

It took until the 22nd minute for a clueless and disorganized Shenhua to muster any kind of attempt on their opponents goal – Xu Liang’s long set piece into the box was met by the head of Gio Moreno, but his header went just wide of Yang Zhi’s right post.

Guoan finally took the lead just a few minutes before the break when Zhang Chengdong, who had been causing problems for the Shenhua defence all match, went down with minimal contact from Shenhua defender Paulo Andre. Zhang Xi Zhe made no mistake from the spot.

In the second half, Shenhua came out with their tactical approach, if indeed there was one, equally as obscure as it was in the first half. Conversely, their ineptitude didn’t take long to re-emerge, when Piao Cheng’s incisive pass found Utaka at the edge of the box, who had lost his marker, Shenhua’s make-shift right back, Wang Changqing, who did a very poor job of keeping himself between his man and the goal. Utaka stroked the ball home nicely, but the effort was ruled offside. Replays show this decision to be incorrect.

What should have been a wake-up call to the visitors was instead a rallying one for the capital side who began to increasingly dominate the match, and it didn’t take them long to put the result beyond doubt with a very nicely worked second goal. Zhou Ting crossed the ball from the corner of Shenhua’s box to the far side of the area, where Zhang Xizhe, one of Guoan’s most dangerous players, was left completely unmarked by makeshift right back. Wang Changqing. Zhang neatly volleyed the ball into the path of Utaka, who’s close range first time effort was parried by Shenhua keeper Geng Xiaofeng. The ball fell to Argentinian midfielder Pablo Batalla who couldn’t miss and scored his third goal of the season so far.

For the rest of the match, Guoan were completely untroubled by Shenhua who failed to mount any kind of attack. Shen Xiangfu rang the changes, bringing on Firas Al-khatib for Cao Yunding, and Zhang Kaimu for Korean centrehalf Cho Byung-Kuk. Guoan later brought on Zhizhao Chen, freshly brought back to China after his Brazilian adventure,  for his debut performance. Also making a debut coming off the bench on the night was Taiwanese national captain Chen Boliang for Shenhua.

The final whistle saw Guoan comfortably wrap up the game to go top of the table. The Gongti side were barely tested by Shenhua but it was a workman like performance for the men in green, with Zhang Xizhe, Utaka and Zhang Chengdong the standout players for the home side as Guoan’s defence were basically given the night off.

As for Shenhua, the Greenland shenanigans and name-changing issue is just a smokescreen for the real problem, Shenhua’s team selection issues – players constantly played out of position and certain players picked regardless of their form. The same absurd and unprofessional criterion are being used to select players under Zhu Jun’s reign has continued despite Greenland’s take over.

The evidence for picking players for reasons other than their ability is clear. Shenhua signed experienced right back Li Wenbo from Guangzhou R&F in the close season. Yet Wang Changqing, a journeyman veteran right-midfielder, was still picked ahead of Li for the first two games. Yet in this game, Li made his debut, but at left-back, with regular left-back Bai Jiajun, a player with far more ability than Wang Changqing, benched, and Wang again appearing at right-back, and was at fault for one of the goals and the disallowed offside goal. So in other words, Shenhua dropped their regular left-back, replaced him with a right-back, and used an incompetent right-midfielder at right-back.

These on-pitch issues deserve at least as much scrutiny as Shenhua’s off-field dramas, and add up to a long hard season for the team.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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