Monday evening sees the first China Derby of 2014, with Guoan and Shenhua’s early seasons reflecting the diverging trajectories of the clubs in recent years. Do Shenhua have any hope of snapping the sequence of home wins in this fixture?
The toxic Hongkou atmosphere has been making the news again this week — with indications coming from coach Shen Xiangfu that he & his players were affected by the protest movement during last week’s game, and owners Greenland apparently considering an about-turn on the club naming issue in light of the passion demonstrated by Hongkou’s terraces. In what will be an unsurprising development to anyone either familiar with Shen’s preferred tactics or present for the shambolic performance against Hangzhou, defensive training has been a focus this week.
Last Time Out
In a match played out to a background of supporter protests, Shenhua lost once again against to their bogey side Hangzhou Greentown, with the Shanghai defence parting like the red sea to allow Greentown to take clinical advantage and romp to a 3-1 away win. Yet another Xu Liang free kick masterpiece was nothing more than a consolation for the home side, and bittersweet for Xu himself, whose slip to let Davy Angan in on goal started the rout.
Beijing Guoan meanwhile remain undefeated in the early Manzano era — an away win at Dalian Aerbin sees the capital side two-for-two in the league, and a midweek win at home to Central Coast Mariners keeps them in contention in a tricky-looking ACL group.
Causes for Optimism…
Not playing in front of their own fans may actually be an advantage for Shenhua right now. On the pitch, there hopefully remains some of the core of the 2013 side’s ability to respond to adversity, and Guoan have been solid rather than spectacular thus far under the new coach.
… and for Concern
Where to begin? First and foremost, it’s been many a year since a China Derby resulted in anything but a home win. It also appears that the season-opening win over Shenxin may have been something of a smokescreen — the same opposition were put mercilessly to the sword to the tune of five goals by East Asia the following week, with Shenhua crumpling and folding against the first half-decent side they have faced this year.
North Terrace Preview‘s pre-season worries were all borne out against Greentown — the side lacks leadership, quality, creativity and width, and that patched-up 11th-hour-signing backline looked as shambolic as one would expect against Hangzhou. They could be in for another long night, and constant pressure, when visiting Gongti — and it’s difficult to see them holidng out if Shen repeats last season’s tactic from this game of sitting deep and inviting the home side onto his backline. If a defence with Wang Dalei, Dai Lin, and two center backs who had actually played together before couldn’t repel Guoan, it’s hard to see beyond something of a massacre here.
Watch Out For
On the subject of Shenhua’s lack of width, Guoan must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of who to send up against makeshift right-back Wang Changqing. Wang and Xu are two returning former Guoan players here — and while it’s likely that Peter Utaka will be the forward given license to turn the journeyman Shenhua #7 inside out, this could also be an opportunity to make a mark in green for Song Boxuan, coming up against his former side early in the season.
Shenhua fans should watch this one from behind the sofa, if at all. Disorganized, dispirited and one-paced, the Hongkou side are lambs to the slaughter here — Guoan to win comfortably. NTP is going for a 3-1 home win, with Shenhua’s consolation coming from a set-piece (of course).
Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace Preview:
P 2 W 1 D 0 L 1 GF 3 GA 2 GD +1 Pts 3
Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:
P 2 W 1 D 0 L 2 GF 3 GA 3 GD 0 Pts 3