Despite Shanghai Shenhua’s recent Batista-inspired resurgence there were to be no surprises at Tianhe Stadium this weekend, as last season’s 2-1 win was replicated by a Guangzhou Evergrande side absent several usual starters.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 7
Guangzhou Evergrande 2
Feng Junyan 41′, Gao Lin 52′
Shanghai Shenhua 1
Firas Al-Khatib 82’ (pen)
Last year’s bad-tempered game had featured the Cantonese side’s top players, but the nightmare of Zhu Jun’s fire sale prior to his exit meant the visitors were equally weakened here. Despite managing more shots and possession than the Cantonese team, serious threats on goal were few and far between, particularly after the pivotal Moreno was stretchered off early in the second half.
Lippi rotated heavily with an eye to Tuesday’s enormously important ACL group decider against Yokohama F-Marinos; Feng Junyan, Feng Renliang, and Zhao Peng made rare starts and Liu Jian finally got a chance to line out for his new side. Shenhua by contrast started the same team that had so convincingly beaten Dalian Aerbin the previous weekend, meaning there was no room for fan favourite Firas Al-Khatib, with the statuesque Luis Carlos Ruiz preferred as the lone front man.
A stunning Liao Lisheng free kick hit the junction of post and bar from a difficult angle twenty minutes in, but it was Shenhua who had more of the chances in the first half hour or so. Moreno and Xu Liang combined regularly to good effect, most notably when the ex-Guoan man sent the Colombian’s blocked shot just wide of the left post.
As the break drew near, Evergrande upped the ante with the previously invisible Feng Junyan suddenly pushing his team forward in attack. The captain set Gao Lin up for a shot that Geng Xiaofeng saved and minutes later combined again with the Henan native, this time slipping between Cao Yunding and Paulo Andre and finishing with style.
With the exception of Gao Di’s cross that skimmed the bar, all of Shenhua’s other shots in the half came from Moreno, so his loss just six minutes into the second was a major blow – one made all the more painful by the selection of the much-derided Jiang Kun as replacement (though to be fair to the old workshyhorse, he did sting Zeng’s palms in one of his side’s better efforts).
The scale of their task was increased just a minute later when Gao Lin blasted in from long range after excellent work to tee him up by Zhao Xuri, brought on at the break for the mostly anonymous Feng Renliang as Lippi decided to experiment with an old-school 4-4-2. Having shot just wide five minutes earlier, Zhao was clearly out to make up for his poor showings against Tianjin and Melbourne (when he was withdrawn after just 22 minutes) and was influential throughout the half.
Batista went as all out as he could soon after, withdrawing a centre-back and throwing on Firas. The Syrian’s first touch went way over the bar and while he did inspire an initial flurry of attacks and forced one good save, the momentum didn’t last long.
Huang Bowen replaced Rong Hao as Evergrande coiled back to play on the counter, and substitute Elkeson had three good chances to extend the lead before the end. By contrast, the only shot Shenhua had in the last twenty minutes of playing time was from the penalty that Liu Jian conceded with a bizarre diving handball in the 81st minute. He had had a strong debut covering the defence, but this was the action of a man tired and disorientated, and he was lucky not to have seen a second yellow card.
Firas converted the spot-kick but it made zero difference to the pattern of the contest, with Evergrande looking more organised and coherent in defence than in recent matches. The performance and result gives the defending champions a much-needed boost heading into Tuesday night’s ACL showdown at Tianhe.
Guangzhou Evergrande: 19 Zeng Cheng; 3 Mei Fang, 4 Zhao Peng, 5 Zhang Linpeng, 33 Rong Hao; 17 Liu Jian, 2 Liao Lisheng, 7 Feng Junyan; 14 Feng Renliang, 29 Gao Lin, 18 Dong Xuesheng
Subs: 37 Zhao Xuri (for 14 Feng Renliang 46’), 9 Elkeson (for 29 Gao Lin 65’), 16 Huang Bowen (for 33 Rong Hao 71’)
Shanghai Shenhua: 1 Geng Xiaofeng; 12 Bai Jiajun, 13 Paulo Andre, 5 Cho Byong-Kuk, 6 Li Wenbo; 36 Wang Shouting, 20 Xu Liang, 28 Cao Yunding, 10 Gio Moreno, 18 Gao Di; 9 Luis Carlos Ruiz
Subs: 21 Jiang Kun (for 10 Gio Moreno 51’), 11 Firas Al-Khatib (for 5 Cho Byong-Kuk 78’), 17 Chen Po-Liang (for 22 Gao Di ’84)
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015