Guangzhou Evergrande’s second away game of the season is a repeat of the only fixture they lost in the 2013 Chinese Super League: a trip to the Olympic Center Stadium to face Tianjin Teda. Initially met with cynical mutterings, last year’s unexpected 1-0 victory turned out to be the start of a late purple patch of five straight wins – with Beijing Guoan and Guizhou Renhe among the other casualties – that saved Tianjin from apparently certain relegation. That shock result came on the heels of an embarrassing loss to rock-bottom Wuhan Zall – could last week’s humiliating four goal rout by Jiangsu Sainty be the catalyst for something similar?
The protracted saga over Liu Jian’s move to Evergrande continues to dominate headlines. It seems that even though the CFA arbitration board have determined that Liu’s signature on the Qingdao Jonoon contract extension (that blocked his free transfer in the winter window) was forged , the seaside club may still escape punishment for this apparent criminal offence. There’s nothing official yet, but sources claim the two clubs will “reconcile” with the CFA’s blessing, in a deal which will see two Jonoon players, wideman and Guoan target Zou Zheng and highly regarded young forward Wang Xiufu, move to Evergrande in the summer. I’ll hold my tongue until there is confirmation, but considering that Jonoon have been accused of breaking contracts illegitimately by other players, it’ll be tragic if they get away with this.
In other news, Diamanti’s withdrawal against Dalian Aerbin was apparently just precautionary and he should be available for this tie, but there is no word yet on whether Zheng Zhi or Feng Xiaoting will be back in contention.
Last Time Out
With captain and rearguard organiser Zheng absent and horrific defending seeing the team behind within three minutes, I feared Evergrande’s recent slump was set to continue against Dalian Aerbin last Sunday. Instead the home side rallied to eventually win 4-2, though Bruno Meneghel came close to equalising with a free kick on ninety minutes before Elkeson made certain of the points. The reignited Brazilian was again the star of the show for the champions, scoring two and forcing the save that led to Dong Xuesheng’s goal against his former club.
Causes for Optimism…
Defensive lapses aside, last week’s performance was the most encouraging for a while, with the team showing more attacking purpose and cutting edge than expected after their midweek exertions. Tianjin should be weaker than Dalian, a very capable side, and the aforementioned 4-0 loss to Jiangsu (a team Evergrande beat in Nanjing in the previous round) is more likely to sap confidence than inspire resolve at this stage of the season.
… and for Concern
Tianjin are unbeaten in their three home games so far this year, having seen off whipping boys Harbin Yiteng 3-0 in their previous fixture there and held Shandong Luneng and Guangzhou’s neighbours R&F earlier. 31 year old Tianjin midfielder Du Zhenyu at no. 4 has shown signs of an Indian summer this year, with his hat-trick against Harbin harking back to the goal-scoring form at Changchun Yatai that saw him named MVP for the 2007 CSL. Evergrande have been surprisingly inconsistent so far this season, and if they have another off-day or Zheng Zhi remains unfit he could cause problems.
Watch Out For
The home side’s no. 14 Carmelo Valencia scored sixteen goals in his debut CSL season last year, the second highest tally behind Elkeson. He hasn’t quite got into his stride yet, but the speedy Columbian is always a threat up front, and the one goal he has scored so far was the excellent last-minute equaliser against Shandong, so it’s fair to say he’s up for the big games.
If Tianjin get a win here, it’ll be the start of a bogeyman legend. 2013’s loss came with the complacency engendered by a long unbeaten streak – Guangzhou have already had a wake-up call this season in their home loss to Changchun and responded with wins against two stronger sides than Tianjin. Even a point looks unlikely, assuming Guangzhou don’t regress from their last showing. I’m going for a 1-2 away win.
Tianjin Teda v Guangzhou Evergrande kicks off at 7:35pm, this Friday 11th April, at Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium, Tianjin.