Guangzhou R&F succumbed to their first defeat of the season on Monday night when they lost 2-0 away to Beijing Guoan. The Cantonese side improved greatly after two half-time substitutions which indicates that manager Sven Goran Eriksson got his initial line-up wrong.
R&F played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Hamdallah as the lone striker supported by Zhang Yuan on the right, as normal, but the other two attacking players were something of a surprise. Despite Lu Lin’s goal and other contributions from the subs bench last week and hints from Sven that he would consider starting Lu, the Swede instead handed youngster Chang Feiya only his third CSL start. In his previous two appearances Chang showed plenty of pace but little else and his naivety was exposed by Guoan on Monday night.
More surprising was the decision to drop Davi to the bench and keep Ken Ilso in the starting side to allow Jang Hyun-Soo to return at centre back. Davi’s natural role is as an attacking midfielder and he’s had two strong if not always consistent seasons in the CSL with R&F. Ken Islo on the other hand had one ineffectual start against Shenxin as a striker and a not particularly inspiring display against Hangzhou, in what admittedly was a terrible day and pitch for playing football. It allowed none of the midfielders to shine, save perhaps Lu Lin.
Despite the pair’s lack of form they were thrown into the cauldron of Gongti and were part of an R&F side that were utterly dominated by Beijing in the first half. R&F’s midfield couldn’t close down the men in green quickly enough whilst when roles were reversed they found themselves with little time or space in possession.
Of course the poor first half performance wasn’t all down to Chang and Ilso but the game changed after the break when the pair were replaced by Davi and Lu Lin and R&F greatly improved as the subs linked well with Zhang and Hamdallah on the counter. Perhaps Beijing took their foot off the pedal after Guerron somehow beat both Jang and Zhang in the air to open the scoring, but both Davi and Lu were more influential than the players they replaced. Had Sven decided to start the more experienced pair the outcome of the game may well have been different.
As it was however, R&F could have no complaints about losing given that Beijing were much the better side on the night and enjoyed 60% of the possession. They will still, though, feel aggrieved that Shao Jiayi’s goal was allowed to stand despite being offside and Cheng Yuelei will be disappointed he didn’t keep the shot out regardless. Of more lasting impact could be the red card (and future suspension) picked up by Park Jong-Woo for what was a relatively innocuous second yellow card given the nature of some of the other tackles by both sides on the night that went unpunished.
Overall the performance was a great improvement over last year’s six-nil drubbing, but Sven will be left to reflect on how costly his selection decisions had been. Beijing were allowed to impose themselves on the match from the first whistle without as much resistance from the Blue and Whites as your correspondent believes they could have offered.
Guangzhou R&F are next in action when they face Henan Jianye at 4pm on Sunday afternoon at Yuexiushan