Beijing Guoan travel to Shanghai East Asia on Friday evening, in their second outing against a Shanghai side in the space of a week. Following Guoan’s routine home victory over Shenhua on Monday evening, will East Asia fare better on their own turf against the current CSL leaders?
Joint top-scorer Wu Lei spoke this week of the desire to move on from last year’s two heavy defeats at the hands of Beijing Guoan. The attacking midfielder insisted that the Shanghai side would not dwell on these results, and look to go about their attacking game, which has served them so well thus far. Club captain, Wang Shenchao also urged caution, reminding players and fans not to get too carried away by their early lofty position, recognising the sizeable work still to be done if the team is to maintain it’s exceptional start. Manager Xi Zhikang talked of the increased strength in depth East Asia now possess, alluding to this as a factor in Lv Wenjun’s suspension. The winger will serve the second of his five-match ban for visibly insulting his own bench after their decision to substitute him against Shanghai Shenxin. Besides this, the home team should start with the same side as they did against Hangzhou, with no fresh injuries or suspensions to contend with.
Last Time Out
Last Saturday’s 2-1 win at Hangzhou Greentown was a game in which East Asia looked comfortable and largely in control. Ultimately, however, had the home side’s finishing touch not escaped them, the end result could have read rather differently. Nonetheless, East Asia again posed a constant threat going forward, thanks to a hard-working midfield and some moments of individual quality from the likes of Wu Lei and Tobias Hysen. Defensively, the home side have gradually improved over their first three games, although they will inevitably face their biggest test so far this season against the CSL’s top side. Against Greenland, Addo and Cuadrado appeared relatively comfortable throughout. Nevertheless, the defence will need to be more adept in their distribution from the back, particularly with such dangerous midfielders as Pablo Batalla waiting to pounce on any loose balls in the opposition half.
For Beijing Guoan, Monday night’s victory over Shanghai Shenhua proved to be a rather straightforward affair. Despite the visiting team being blighted by both off and on-field issues (not to mention some incredibly puzzling selections at full back), Guoan did all that was required of them in sealing a comfortable win. Shenhua rarely troubled the Beijing back line, although joint top-scorers Wu and Hysen will be looking to put them through their paces this time out. The Gongti side will be full of confidence after their unbeaten start to the season in both the CSL and Champions League, and hopeful of repeating last season’s 3-0 victory in the same fixture.
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Causes for Optimism…
East Asia currently stand alongside Guangzhou Evergrande in this year’s scoring charts, and have looked consistently dangerous in attack throughout the course of their first three games. Despite several inevitable missed opportunities to go along with those taken, the team will undoubtedly be lifted by their propensity to create chances. Furthermore, the performances of right back Fu Huan, and the increasingly impressive goalkeeper Yan Junling – praised this week by manager Xi Zhikang after an imposing display last weekend – will give Shanghai hope of keeping the visitor’s goal threats at bay. Add to this gradually improving defensive displays; and East Asia will have good reason to be hopeful going into this top of the table clash.
… and for Concern
Beijing have not conceded in each of their opening three CSL games this year, and their somewhat settled back four, as well as experienced international goalkeeper, Yang Zhi, will once more be out to keep a clean sheet. Still, the visitors have yet to be truly scrutinised – save for a late flurry of activity against Changchun Yatai – and on the pitch where East Asia tore apart a woeful Shenxin side, will surely face their toughest test to date. In addition to this, Beijing’s creative and dangerous midfield is guaranteed to cause problems for the Shanghai side. Central midfielders Cai Huikang and Wang Jiajie must ensure they do not allow Batalla and exciting youngster, Zhang Xizhe space to manoeuvre in the middle.
Watch Out For
The performance of Wang Jiayu last week was greatly encouraging, as the midfielder – re-signed from Shenxin at the start of the season – was a key figure in much of the positive attacking play against Hangzhou. With Wang and Wu Lei both driving from midfield, East Asia now have much greater creative, and goal-scoring, capabilities from the centre of the park. If the two can perform again this week as they did last time out – switching flanks and supplying effective service to the front men, they should pose some interesting questions of the Beijing defence.
This will undeniably be East Asia’s biggest challenge so far, although with confidence sky-high, the second-placed side will want to impose themselves on the game in the first half, just as they did last week. If they can control the tempo early on, stopping Guoan’s midfield threat in the process, then a home win – reversing the fortunes of last season – would certainly be attainable. Guoan will unquestionably test the East Asia defence, but I believe the hosts will simply have too much in attack not to respond successfully. Flying the flag for Shanghai, and regaining top-spot (again, ever the optimist) – 3-1 to East Asia.
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