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North Terrace News & Preview: Shanghai Shenhua v Dalian Aerbin

Sunday evening sees two sides looking to bounce back from late-game disappointments last round. Will Shenhua get a first win of the second Batista era when Dalian Aerbin come to Hongkou?

Club News

Sergio Batista has wasted little time re-organizing the backroom staff at Shenhua following his re-appointment, with the former Argentina manager bringing in his own backroom team. With some of Shen Xiangfu’s men still in place, reports in the Shanghai media suggest that the team bus is filled to bursting with all the technical staff — perhaps a new form of transport is needed?

Last Time Out

Shenhua enjoyed perhaps the better of an open game at Changchun Yatai, only to see an inexplicable 94th-minute goalkeeping howler let the home side sneak a share of the points in a 2-2 draw.

Aerbin meanwhile gave almost as good as they got in a pulsating game down in Guangzhou — Yu Hanchao and Elkeson both scoring braces in a match which ended with Evergrande’s superior firepower sealing a 4-2 win for the reigning champions.

Causes for Optimism…

As hoped for, the return of Sergio Batista saw Shenhua attack with much more impetus and fluidity, having removed the handbrake of Shen Xiangfu’s safety-first approach. While it was difficult at times to discern the tactical shape of the team, there was some very positive and fruitful interplay between a front-line of Luis Carlos Ruiz, Gao Di, and Cao Yunding — with the former two bagging a goal and assist each.

Gao looks much more comfortable when allowed to play further forwards and not restricted to a wide midfield role, and Ruiz showed signs of the Colombian league’s top-scorer which Shenhua had signed — the simple tactic of letting your #9 see more of the ball in the opponent’s penalty area and providing runners to support him may have escaped Shen’s football brain, but worked well in Changchun.

… and for Concern

The quality and quantity of defensive players who’ve slipped through Shenhua’s fingers in recent transfer windows is coming home to roost this season. While it’s easy to point fingers at Geng Xiaofeng for his dreadful error of judgement in stoppage time, the Shandong man remains the best possible replacement for Wang Dalei who Shenhua could have picked up in the close-season. The issue with losing the best goalkeeper in the league is that Shenhua will almost certainly drop 10-15 points over the course of a season which Wang would otherwise have won for them.

While it’s very early days yet, North Terrace Preview remains unimpressed by right-back Li Wenbo also. Li’s main strength at present is simply not being Wang Changqing — the Shenhua #6’s positioning and defensive solidity have left a lot to be desired thus far, although fitting into an all-new defensive unit which speaks three different languages can’t be an easy task.

Watch Out For

There will likely be goals in this game — Aerbin have netted twice in each of their past three games. With the possibility of an open game and Batista looking to rekindle the “comeback kings” spirit of last season, the key factor here won’t so much be who scores first, but who scores last — expect plenty of attacking an some second-half drama.

The Verdict

Let’s all party like it’s 2013 again — Aerbin to edge the first half, and Shenhua to come back in the second. Batista’s return to Hongkou has to end in a 2-1 Shenhua win, right?

Reality Check

Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace Preview:

P 5   W 1   D 1   L 3   GF 5   GA 8   GD -3   Pts 4

Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:

P 5   W 1   D 2   L 2   GF 5   GA 7   GD -2   Pts 5

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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