Fresh from their third loss of the season away to Melbourne Victory midweek, Guangzhou Evergrande this evening host a Shanghai Shenhua side revitalised by the return of Sergio Bastita to the dugout. With the make-or-break final ACL group game against Yokohama F-Marinos coming up on Tuesday, Lippi will rest some key players – can Greenland’s men take advantage and keep the spotlight from their owners? WEARE CANTON and North Terrace Preview look ahead to the clash of the real estate giants.
Lippi has signalled his intention to start a largely second string team, with players like Feng Junyan and Zhao Peng expected to feature. Diamanti remains on the sidelines with injury anyway, and it is uncertain whether he will even be back for the Yokohama showdown. Liu Jian is finally in the squad, despite Qingdao Jonoon’s continuing farcical claims that he is still contracted to them. Between Rene Junior’s ban (two more games still to serve) and Zheng Zhi and Zhao Xuri’s struggles to return from injury, Liu’s cover in the core of midfield is badly needed.
NORTH TERRACE PREVIEW (by Steve Crooks)
The reinvigorated Cao Yunding revealed he is knuckling down and spending all his time focusing on either his new wife (following a low-key private ceremony) or establishing himself as a top midfielder at the boyhood club he has reaffirmed his commitment to.
Last Time Out
Sergio Batista’s triumphant Hongkou return saw Shenhua put a flat Dalian Aerbin side to the sword, with captain Gio Moreno putting in perhaps his best and most energetic performance in a blue shirt to rifle home both goals.
For all Shenhua’s recent resurgence and Evergrande’s ACL struggles, there remains a substantial gulf in class between these two sides — expect Shenhua to receive their customary Evergrande beating, going down 3-0 here.
Also, a slightly wistful goodbye this week to forgotten man Cleo, in limbo since the end of his year-long loan spell with Kashiwa Reysol. Brasileiro Serie A club Atletico Paranaense, who he had a spell with eight years ago, reached an agreement with Evergrande this week to secure the forward’s move home after superstar-turned-waster Adriano left the club “by mutual consent” just prior to this weekend’s league opener. Cleo sparkled initially for the Cantonese club, but a combination of long-term injury problems and the ill-fated arrival of the much-hyped ‘Terminator’ Lucas Barrios, pushed him to the margins and eventually out of the squad.
Last Time Out
Yet more sloppy defending saw an attack-minded Evergrande pulled back twice before a red card and penalty combo flattened Tianjin Teda and allowed the visitors to stroll to a 5-2 win. However, this was followed up five days later by an insipid display in Melbourne where the team seemed low on confidence and motivation, despite a very substantial and vocal portion of the crowd consisting of bussed in Chinese supporters.
Causes for Optimism…
This is Shanghai Shenhua Greenland that Guangzhou Evergrande are facing. The threadbare squad asset–stripped by departing owner Zhu Jun and taken over too late for the new megabucks property developer owners to replenish. The team buffeted into submission on their own ground by the storm over the new owner’s rebranding plans. The strike force that couldn’t score against Henan Jianye. What could go wrong?
… and for Concern
Except that was a couple of weeks ago. Now this the Batista-led Shanghai Shenhua Greenland who are apparently pleasing their fans with attractive attacking football and putting away Dalian Aerbin with greater ease than Evergrande did the week before.
More worryingly, this is the first time Guangzhou have lost three competitive games in six (that weren’t against Bayern Munich) in the Evergrande era. The clubs’ goal difference over all 11 ACL and CSL games this year is half of what it was at the same stage last year; 27 scored and 15 conceded to 33 and 9. Conca is sorely missed and something is very wrong in the heart of defence. And we’re going to be playing Feng Junyan and Zhao Peng.
Watch Out For
Gao Lin and surprise package Dong Xuesheng have impressed up front so far with three apiece (and two more for Gao in Asia) and neither was in the ACL squad last week, so we can expect them to feature tonight. If they can keep up the offensive form shown against Dalian and Tianjin, Shenhua could well have problems. Support will be weaker though.
While I could easily see a repeat of last year’s 2-1 win with more first team players starting, I’m not so confident under these circumstances. A Shenhua on the upswing are fortunate to be visiting at this time; I’d be happy enough with a 1-1 draw.
Guangzhou Evergrande vs Shanghai Shenhua kicks off at 8:00pm, Saturday 19th April, at Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou.
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