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North Terrace News & Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Henan Jianye

Shanghai Shenhua return from their trip to the capital with tails firmly lodged between legs — this Saturday’s game against newly-promoted Henan already has the air of a six-pointer about it given both sides’ uninspiring starts to the 2014 campaign.

Club News

Off-field proceedings, specifically the name issue, continue to dominate the Shanghai football media regarding Shenhua. Owners Greenland have this week issues a written promise to include the Shenhua name in the club’s identity from next season, with fan groups remaining somewhat skeptical. In what may be considered a minor victory for the Shenhua fan protests, and an indication of how quickly change can be processed in the CSL, the permitted length of official broadcasting club names has been extended from 4 to 6 characters, the practical upshot of which is that ‘Shanghai Greenland’ can now be referred to as the slightly more palatable ‘Shanghai Greenland Shenhua’. For ‘s latest take on the name saga, read here.

Last Time Out

2-0 doesn’t tell the full story of Shenhua’s Monday night trip to Gongti — outplayed from first minute to last and dominated in possession and goal opportunity statistics, the Hongkou side spent ninety rudderless and clueless minutes chasing shadows in green — the benefits of a continuity policy and reasonable team selection painfully apparent for all to see.

Henan Jianye’s winless return to the top flight continued with the side throwing away a two-goal cushion to draw 2-2 at home to Dalian Aerbin. Losing away to Guangzhou Evergrande in the season opener may have been par for the course, but the Zhengzhou side will have been looking for more than two points from recent fixtures with Changchun and at home to Aerbin.

Causes for Optimism…

Whichever of Firas al-Khatib and Luis Carlos Ruiz is preferred in the striking role will have a point to prove here. With neither frontman having found the back of the net in 2014 thus far, coach Shen Xiangfu looks to be rotating his striking options in the hope that one of them can go on a scoring run and cement a place in the team.

Henan will not present the stiffest test for Shenhua this season, also — thoroughly mediocre in their last CSL stint, the squad appears to lack the quality for anything beyond another season of struggle at the top table.

… and for Concern

Shenhua mustered a barely-credible 33% of possession on Monday night — gutless and rudderless, the side seemed to lack any coherence, and Shen’s tactical changes — dropping last season’s top forward and Shenhua’s only left-back, while persisting with a clearly struggling Wang Changqing at right-back, can be most generously filed in the drawer marked ‘curious’. Shen’s propensity for overly-cautious football is being borne out by Shenhua’s inability to create any meaningful chances from open play this season, and the visit of Henan provide an untimely reminder that his previous coaching position saw Shenhua’s manager lead Saturday’s visitors to a rock-bottom position and relegation.

Watch Out For

The manager clearly doesn’t know his best side, and appears not to trust some of the close-season signings, rather keeping faith in experienced heads played out of position and willing runners such as Zhang Yilin — a willing runner who lacks the dynamism or creativity required in his position. With a chronic lack of pace in the side, Shenhua fans will be hoping to see Cao Yunding given another start, or even Firas and Ruiz paired together from the start. Will Shenhua’s manager take a gamble in a winnable fixture to kick-start a stalled early season, or resort to safety-first tactics and hope for set-piece situations to carry his side once again?

The Verdict

It’s a difficult time to be optimistic as a Shenhua fan — the smokescreen second-half of the opening game at Shenxin aside, 2014 has thus far been marked with off-field turmoil and on-field turgidity. What Shenhua probably need right now is a game against an attacking side open to counter attacks — what they find themselves with is a team who may well come to Hongkou happy to sit back and let the pressure build on a home side who look toothless in forcing a game. Expect plenty of nervous moments and another toxic atmosphere, with Shenhua convincing nobody on their way to a disappointing home draw. 1-1 is the call here for North Terrace Preview.

Reality Check

Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace Preview:

P 3   W 1   D 0   L 2   GF 4   GA 5   GD -1   Pts 3

Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:

P 3   W 1   D 0   L 2   GF 3   GA 5   GD -2   Pts 3

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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