The CSL’s form team visit struggling Henan this weekend, looking to continue their excellent early season run which has brought them three wins and one draw from the first four games. With the hosts still in search of their first victory of the campaign, this should be an intriguing game between two sides with rather contrasting fortunes.
Shanghai are expected to stick with the winning lineup that has catapulted them to the top of the table against Henan Jianye, with the still-suspended Lv Wenjun the only notable absence amongst the first team squad. This week’s press conferences again focused on the impact of valuable CSL experience and deeper tactical understanding in underpinning East Asia’s superb start. Captain Wang Shenchao spoke confidently of the greater maturity within the side compared to last year, adding that they should “strive to sit in the top position a little longer”.
Last Time Out
East Asia were unquestionably fortunate in the manner in which they went ahead last week against Beijing. Top scorer Tobias Hysen was clearly lurking in an offside position when Wu Lei fired his shot towards goal, although with the visitors devoid of any semblance of an appeal, the referee saw fit to rule in Shanghai’s favour. Regardless, the home side looked more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the Champions League outfit throughout the majority of the game, although they would be remiss not to heed the warnings that came with a number of Beijing missed chances. Were it not for the fine work of Yan Junling between the posts for East Asia, Guoan could well have found themselves returning to Gongti with at least a point.
As for Henan Jianye, last Saturday’s clash with Shanghai Shenhua ended in a goalless draw, with both sides spurning several opportunities to seal victory. Foreign trio Ryan Johnson, Rafael Marques and Nando Rafael all went close to taking the lead – the Brazilian’s chipped effort in the 70th minute being perhaps the most clear-cut, however despite their efforts, Jianye could not find a way past Geng Xiaofeng. At the other end, Shenhua saw a succession of promising opportunities in front of goal go to waste, after some decidedly sloppy midfield play by Henan. The game ended in a stalemate – not a bad return for the newly-promoted side travelling away from home, although Henan will be disappointed not to have made the breakthrough in a remarkably open game against a side with such well documented issues as Shenhua.
Causes for Optimism…
Much has been said (not least amongst these pages) of East Asia’s greatly-enhanced attacking credentials this year; with outstanding attacking midfielder Wu Lei continuing to attract the plaudits of commentators and rival players alike, and new signing Hysen firing on all cylinders to put him second in the scoring charts. With the hard-grafting Daniel McBreen providing a solid link between creative midfielders Wu and Wang Jiayu – himself also in fine form – East Asia now have options going forward that they were so evidently lacking last year. Wu himself appears liberated by both the arrival of this new foreign aid and the all-round improved offensive displays, and there is now a febrile sense of excitement and anticipation amongst East Asia supporters each time the young maestro makes one of his forward bursts.
… and for Concern
Henan have still not registered 3 points in any of their opening 4 fixtures, and will be determined to do so in front of their own fans, particularly after some flashes of promise away at Shenhua last week. Despite their gradually improving defensive performances, the East Asia back line still faced some nervy moments and were maybe slightly lucky to escape punishment, as Peter Utaka – spearheading the visitor’s attack – failed to really test Yan Junling in goal. Henan possess the ability to create problems for Shanghai, and centre backs Addo and Cuadrado will need to remain vigilant in order to keep the host’s attacking unit at bay.
Watch Out For
Much to the delight of both East Asia fans and coaches, Yan Junling has cut an imposing figure in goal so far this season. The Shanghai-born stopper has certainly benefitted from the knowledge and experience of goalkeeping coach Ian Walker, and has made the number 1 jersey his own this term with a string of impressive showings. Last week brought about the first clean sheet the 23 year old has managed to produce this season, and Yan will want to notch up a second at Henan against a side who have failed to find the net in 3 of their first 4 matches.
On paper, this appears to be a relatively straightforward tie for East Asia. However, with expectations inevitably heightened following their success over Beijing, East Asia must ensure complacency does not get the better of them if they are to retain their newfound mantle of outside contenders. With that being said, Shanghai clearly have both the ability and the confidence within their camp to keep a firm grip on first place this week. If they can build on their improving defensive performances and sustain their attacking prowess, a comfortable win should be well within their reach. 2-0 East Asia.