This weekend the Evergrande squad go on probably their least favourite CSL road trip, to the home of Liaoning Whowin. They worked up enormous enmity with the Shenyang crowd over three seasons of fractious games, but now that the Liaoning franchise has been lured to oil-rich backwater Panjin, will the champions experience the same remarkable hostility?
Diamanti should be available to start, having sufficiently recovered from his injury to make a substitute appearance against Yokohama on Tuesday. Zheng Zhi will probably be out quite a while longer with the thigh strain he picked up back at the start of April in Korea (and aggravated in Australia two weeks later), while Rene Junior will serve the last game of his four match ban for a middle finger salute to Jiangsu’s Liu Jianye.
Last Time Out
Last weekend Canton’s finest hosted Shanghai Shenhua and despite playing a half-strength side ran out much more comfortable winners than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. The first team carried this uptick in form into Tuesday’s night’s ACL decider, but despite their best performance of the season could only manage the same final score.
Causes for Optimism…
The last two performances and finishing top of ACL Group G have given the club a huge boost just when it seemed ‘Crisis!’ headlines might be lurking around the corner. It’s difficult not to be optimistic after those displays, though you could point to the number of missed chances if you wanted to find fault.
A fortnight ago Gao Sheng resigned as Liaoning manager, only five games into taking over upon Ma Lin’s departure to Dalian. Replacement Chen Yang has overseen a draw with Jiangsu and a 2-0 home loss to Tianjin since; it’s fair to say that the relocated side are finding this year of transition difficult.
… and for Concern
With qualification for the next round of the ACL, Evergrande’s already hectic fixture list is going to get even worse and fatigue more of an issue. Six games in the next 18 days means vital players like Elkeson, Gao Lin, and Zhang Linpeng (who has played every minute this season so far) are going to need rests, so with the visit of high-flying Shanghai East Asia coming up four days later, we can expect a number of Tuesday nights’ heroes to be rotated out here.
And then of course, there’s the recent history of this fixture…
Watch Out For
Liaoning are unsporting enough at the best of times, and Evergrande visits have certainly not seen them at their best in recent years. In 2011 Muriqui ended up with a five match ban for briefly trying to pull Zhao Junzhe away from a teammate (admittedly by the hair) after the Liaoning captain had instigated a melee with three consecutive fouls.
The bad-tempered game finished 1-1 thanks to a late Gao Lin equaliser, and the Henan man was on target again in 2012 when Evergrande ran out 3-0 winners. Both times he courted controversy with taunting celebrations, the second to an abusive crowd that had already forced the game to be halted twice, and both occasions saw filthy challenges aplenty, with then Whowin player Yu Hanchao seeing red in their loss for a wild lunge on Qin Sheng.
Last October was much the same story, with Elkeson dismissed for shoving Ni Yusong after a dreadful tackle on Conca that saw the Liaoning man also sent off. Although the back four in that fixture included Huang Jiaqiang, Zhang Hongnan, and Yi Teng (none of whom are at the club this season, with Yi on loan at Liaoning), all the foreign firepower started so the 1-1 draw was a result for the home side.
If the game I saw them play against Guangzhou R+F at Yuexiu Park back in March is anything to go by, not much has changed in the team mentality, so we can expect more of the dark arts this year. Evergrande’s players must take care not to get sucked into these games again, and parents should ensure their children are safely tucked up for an afternoon nap, far from any TV.
Evergrande will likely be without a few regulars but if the performance against Shenhua last weekend is anything to go by, that may not be such a bad thing. I expect them to be out to avenge last year’s injustices, and hopefully they’ll manage to avoid picking up any injuries or suspensions along the way. I’m going for a 3-1 away win.
Liaoning Whowin v Guangzhou Evergrande kicks off at 3:35pm, this Saturday 26th April, at the Liaoning Panjin Sports Centre, Panjin.