Shenhua’s first home fixture of 2014 throws up a second consecutive derby — but will fan protests overshadow the “greenest” Yangtze Delta Derby in years? Saturday evening at 19:45 will reveal all…
Once again it’s the off-field goings-on which dominate Shenhua’s pre-match preparations. Greenland chairman Zhang Yuliang is set to attend Hongkou for the first home match since his Greenland company bought out Shenhua and created a fan furore by changing both the club name and badge to reflect the new corporate branding. Rumors indicate a significant crowd (up to 20k, or double Shenhua’s recent average) are set to make their feelings on Greenland’s heavy-handed PR exercise known in no uncertain terms. Elsewhere, the news in the Shanghai paper’s is that the club has already paid the players their win bonuses following last weekend’s derby victory – that fact that this is news says a great deal. What is interesting is that the reserve squad will get win bonuses also – something is needed to motivate that lot. The players are also said to be delighted that abalone is now being served in the staff canteen. Let’s hope Greenland treats the fans as well as the players.
Last Time Out
Leaving this correspondent’s predictions of doom and gloom looking somewhat pessimistic, Shenhua lined up with a relatively familiar XI (all close-season upheaval considered) and played the typical Shen Xiangfu match — an atrociously attritional first half followed by an improvement after the break, with two headed set-piece goals from debutant Gao Di putting Shenxin to the sword and continuing Shenhua’s derby mastery. As messy as Shenhua’s situation may be, their cross-city “rivals” fared worse in the 2014 season opener, visibly wilting as Shenhua began to demonstrate some unexpected fluency and confidence.
Hangzhou Greentown meanwhile began their post-Okada era with a solid, if uninspiring, 1-1 home draw against Dalian Aerbin, the reliable Wang Song opening the scoring only to be pegged back by another debut goal, this one a Bruno Meneghel equalizer.
Causes for Optimism…
It would appear that 2013’s formula of a solid gameplan and team spirit, forged in the adversity of off-field melodrama, is still sufficient for this weakened Shenhua to see off some of the weaker teams in the CSL. The experienced Paulo Andre and, particularly, Cho Byunk-Kuk, had a mostly settled game marshalling the Shenhua defence, and some familiar sights from last season made a welcome return — sporadic quality from Gio Moreno, endless intelligent running from Firas al-Khatib, and sixpence-sharp dead-ball delivery from Xu Liang.
… and for Concern
First things first — Shenxin are a somewhat shambolic side, and might just make the Dog & Duck XI look like a solid side on their day. The hastily-assembled back line weren’t entirely perfect, and a couple of communication mishaps may have been more severely punished by a higher-quality side.
That both goals came from a new signing and domestic player were positive signs for Shenhua; that both came from set-pieces a little more worrying. Shorn of their last remaining winger in Song Boxuan, Shenhua can look very one-paced at times, and creativity may be at a premium — Cao Yunding’s cameo managed to encapsulate both his eternal promise (determined running and a willingness to look for the ball) and career regression (head-down running and an unwillingness to spot a team-mate once he does have the ball).
Greentown do have something of a hex over Shenhua, also — being one of the few sides to triumph at Hongkou last year, and rarely giving Shenhua an easy ride — an unlikely Anelka-inspired rout in 2012 being the sole exception.
Watch Out For
The last few journeyman South American forwards Shenhua have signed turned out to be very successful — Duvier Riascos remains a cult here for much of Hongkou, and Luis Salmeron remains a cult hero for North Terrace Preview. Luis Carlos Ruiz showed some willing running in a substitute appearance last weekend — depending on the severity of the knock which forced off his fellow Colombian Moreno, the new #9 may have a starting role here. If not, and if Shenhua discover they can’t solely rely on the dead-ball wizardry of Xu to break down Hangzhou’s defence, then Ruiz may still have a key role to play from the bench. The sooner the Colombian top-flight’s top scorer can get a CSL goal to his account, the easier those of a pessimistic Shenhua persuasion will be able to relax about the side’s 2013 prospects.
While the off-field events may again shadow the game itself, Shenhua have a good opportunity to continue their unexpectedly solid start here. Hangzhou appeared to lose their way a little in 2013, and are another side who may take some time to hit their stride. If the expected large crowd can get behind the team (as they undoubtedly will), Hongkou’s 12th-man effect should spur the side to a second consecutive victory — a 2-0 home win is the prediction here, although not without a slow start and some nervy moments.
Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace Preview:
P 1 W 0 D 0 L 1 GF 1 GA 2 GD -1 Pts 0
Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:
P 1 W 1 D 0 L 0 GF 2 GA 0 GD +2 Pts 3
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