Guangzhou Evergrande finally hit the road in the 2014 CSL after three consecutive home games, with their first stop being this evening in Nanjing where they face 2012 runners-up and 2013 trapdoor dodgers Jiangsu Sainty.
Muriqui and Zhao Xuri aggravated lingering injuries in warming up for the ACL fixture against Jeonbuk Motors ten days ago and remain on the sidelines. Feng Xiaoting and Zhang Linpeng have missed recent training sessions due to injury and are also said to be unfit to face Jiangsu. Zheng Long will not be available until after the World Cup (in case anyone was wondering).
Last Time Out
Changchun Yatai stunned the CSL last Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Evergrande on the champions’ own stomping ground. The home players could point to the gulf in the number of chances and the visitors’ offside second if they wanted to make excuses, but although Changchun did have the rub of the green for the evening, they deserved the points regardless. Guangzhou’s only goal came from a harsh penalty, and the team seemed lethargic, unfocused, and generally not up for the fight in anything like the way their opponents were.
Causes for Optimism…
This will be Evergrande’s seventh game since the Super Cup but only Jiangsu’s third of the season, with the latter having the second CSL weekend off after Shandong Luneng successfully got their scheduled fixture postponed. Striker Dejan Damjanovic open his account for his new club against Harbin last weekend, but while they claimed all the points they were far from convincing, reliant on some excellent saves at the death to win against a side Guangzhou had had little trouble overcoming a week earlier. The visitors have rested sufficiently from the initial battery of games with just one in the past ten days, and should be out to prove themselves.
… and for Concern
Whatever it was that caused last weekend’s lacklustre, limp display. Was it a one-off blip borne of complacency or an early symptom of a deeper malaise? Adapting to Conca’s absence is proving predictably problematic, and there were indications against Changchun that the new star may be having trouble settling in. Besides all the leaping about and moaning and haranguing of officials, there were a few exasperated interactions with Zheng Zhi and a curious moment late in the game, when Zhang Linpeng came over to take a throw-in Diamanti had won. The Italian quickly scooped up the ball, took the throw himself, and trotted back onto the field of play, without even a glance to acknowledge the teammate beside him on the touchline. Hopefully he was just having a bad day – with Muriqui hurt and Elkeson struggling to find the net, Evergrande could do without a sullen Diamanti.
Watch Out For
With Feng and Zhang unlikely to be available, Mei Fang will probably start at centre back alongside Kim Young-Gwon, and most likely with Rong Hao beside him at right back (though Rong hasn’t impressed this year, twice being substituted off at half time, so an alternative arrangement may be used). Mei has impressed since his arrival in the winter, usually playing in combination with Zhang Linpeng as they shuffle the more attacking role between them. This has been working well, but it would be interesting to see how he gets on in a different set-up.
After being five goals out in my prediction last week, I’m quite relieved I hadn’t started one of those comparison tables below. This one is equally hard to call – Damjanovic knows how to score against Evergrande (one in each leg of last year’s Champions League final), and it’s pretty much impossible to predict how the Cantonese team will react to last week’s loss. I’m going to hedge my bets and call a 1-1 draw.
Guangzhou Evergrande vs Jiangsu Sainty kicks off at 7:35pm, this Friday 28th March, at the Olympic Sports Centre, Nanjing.