It’s yet another long trip north for Sergio Batista’s Shanghai Shenhua. Will Sunday evening see further away-day misery heaped on the Hongkou side?
Head coach Sergio Batista has claimed not to be thinking about transfer plans, and focusing solely on preparations for this game and the upcoming visit of Jiangsu Sainty ahead of the World Cup break. Batista claims that Shenhua have sufficent quality to have higher aspirations than merely staying up — a claim those familiar with Shenhua’s current league position or performances for much of this season may find difficult to agree with.
Center-back Paulo Andre may well miss this game, with the lanky Brazilian struggling for both form and fitness.
Last Time Out
In an entertaining but ultimately frustrating game for both sides, Shenhua conceded a late penalty to tie 3-3 at CSL seasont-trippers Harbin — a game featuring calamitous defending at both ends, and lit up by rare flashes of quality from captain Gio Moreno and, more surprisingly, Jiang Kun.
Arie Haan’s Tianjin have been productive of late, winning three straight fixtures to sit in the top half of the table — the one-goal victories against Henan, Changchun, and Dalian Aerbin proving the perfect tonic to home defeat by bitter rivals Beijing Guoan.
Causes for Optimism…
Shenhua will potentially be a little fresher than their oponents, having not played midweek due to Hongkou stadium being put to more political uses. The boys in blue will visit the leakiest defence in the top half of the table, having finally broken their no-goals-from-open-play duck in some style in Harbin.
Shenhua have also tended to struggle much more against sides with standout performances from one or two strikers this season (the home horror show against Hangzhou springs to mind, along with Dori’s virtuoso performance last week) — Tianjin tend to share the goals around in midfield and star forward Carmelo Valencia has just one goal to his name in 2014 in a tricky second season.
… and for Concern
Shenhua are sweating on the fitness of a very average center-back in Paulo Andre — partly because they barely have a single domestic center-half in the squad. Wang Shouting slotted in as a deputy to limited success up in Harbin, and Batista seems unwilling to trust Zheng Kaimu in a position for which the destructive midfielder looks a feasible option.
Problems remain in wide positions also, with right-back Li Wenbo consistently showing why Guangzhou R&F were quite happy to get rid during the close season, and Wang Changqing’s stupid penalty giveaway in Harbin the latest incident in a truly shocking season from a player who looked reasonable for much of 2013.
Watch Out For
In terms of getting a result, much as ever will rest on the shoulders of Moreno, Shenhua’s one true CSL superstar. The selection posers facing Batista at both #1 and #9 also continue — despite conceding three goals, Qiu Shenjiong didn’t do an awful lot wrong last weekend, and up front a barely-fit looking Luis Carlos Ruiz struggled for much of the game, only to set up Moreno’s goal with a piece of real class. In the absence of Andre, might Batista finally opt to pair up Ruiz and Firas al-Khatib if fit and available?
Tianjin are on a decent run and should have a little too much in the locker for this creaking Shenhua side. The two-year wait for a victory outside Shanghai is set to continue — quite possibly for some time to come, as there’s no guarantee that a side quite as limited as Harbin will feature in the 2015 season. 2-0 to Tianjin is the verdict here.
Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace Preview:
P 12 W 4 D 1 L 7 GF 11 GA 17 GD -6 Pts 13
Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:
P 12 W 3 D 5 L 4 GF 13 GA 16 GD -3 Pts 14