An unfamiliar lineup is featured in the pub this week, with the raucous Guangzhou crowd having shooed out the regulars ahead of what is set to be the biggest Guangzhou derby yet. With Evergrande in fine fettle and R&F having started the season beyond expectations, it should be a game to look forward to. Joining Pub Talk semi-regular Christopher Atkins, we have our two Guangzhou-based club experts. In the red corner, we have GZ Biffo and Guangzhou Evergrande. In the blue corner, meanwhile, Donald Ross and his Guangzhou R&F allegiances. Let the battle commence!
C: Wild East Football’s pub talk heads south this week to the province of Guangdong, leaving those northerners to their (now banned) lamb kebabs and baijiu. Ahead of the Guangzhou derby this weekend, I’m joined by our resident experts from the city, GZBiffo (Evergrande) and Donald Ross (R&F). Hello chaps, how are we keeping?
G: Not bad at all Chris, especially after last night’s incredible display from the boys in red.
C: I bet, it was mightily impressive fare that we’ll come to in a minute. Donald, how’s things across the city?
D: Much better than I expected before the season, sitting in third after ten games and I’ve finally dried out after the drenching I got coming back from the East Asia game on Sunday night.
G: It’s been pretty torrential weather alright. Not the best football weather.
C: The weather has indeed been poor recently. Let’s hope it doesn’t play a major role on Friday. I guess, as it has been mentioned, we should start with Evergrande’s game against Cerezo Osaka on Tuesday. A win was not altogether surprising, but 5-1 was beyond even Biffo’s wildest dreams. Are you quaking in your boots, Donald?
D: Evergrande look in ominously good form. I thought Diamanti played very well on Tuesday and with Park Jong-Woo being injured I’m worried about who in the R&F midfield can stop him.
G: Yes, Diamanti has certainly come back after his spell on the sidelines looking more engaged and enthusiastic. He was a very strong presence on the pitch against Cerezo, with only wayward finishing and a bit of holding on to the ball too long to complain about.
The fact that he was left out of Italy’s latest friendly squad has been played down as just because it’s too far to travel or something, but I think it’s probably had an effect on his game. He looked very much out to impress.
C: There were many doubts over the form of Elkeson, but more so Muriqui earlier in the season. They both have come back strongly, though, with Muriqui particularly influential in the last fortnight. 14 of Evergrande’s 31 league goals have come from Chinese players this year, but do the foreigners still hold the key?
G: Well, it’s hard to claim with a straight face that our foreign players aren’t our strongest, but as you point out there have been many more goals by Chinese players so far this year, with Gao Lin having stepped up yet another gear and Dong Xuesheng appearing out of nowhere to bag five. It was a real pity to see him get injured at the weekend. A nasty challenge too.
D: Not quite as nasty as Jiang Ning’s attempt to rearrange Wu Yuyin’s facial features using the sole of his boot but more on that later no doubt. As for the foreign players, given that clubs usually sign foreigners as creative midfielders and strikers (as well as a few solid centre backs) I think its inevitable that they’ll hold the key for most sides in the CSL. That’s not to say that they aren’t ably assisted by some dometic talent though, Wu Lei’s partnership with Hysen and McBreen at Shanghai East Asia springs to mind.
C: The big win in Japan certainly adds more interest to this game. I bet you’d have preferred Evergrande’s focus to be more on matters elsewhere, Donald.
D: Yes! I was initially surprised that Evergrande asked to move the derby forward to Friday night, but now they’ve got a four goal cushion Lippi won’t need to be so cautious with how he uses his players. I see Zhang Linpeng played the full ninety minutes again. Do you expect many changes for the derby?
G: I’m slowly becoming convinced that Zhang Linpeng is some kind of bionic experiment, so I fully expect to see him line out yet again against Fuli. The loss against Changchun has proven a one-off and Evergrande are already building a gap between themselves and the herd, but since ACL progression is almost assured we might see a fairly full-strength team. Face is face, after all, and Fuli are also looking like strong contenders for an ACL place this year.
C: They do, indeed. Donald, there’s been an element of luck in some of the results of your boys this year, but to sit so high after 10 games is no fluke. What’s going right at the Yiuxiushan?
D: It’s true that a lot of dodgy penalty decisions have gone R&F’s way but I think the fixture list is a large part of why R&F are currently so high. So far R&F have played all the teams in the bottom half of the table apart from Harbin so they’ve had it easy. With games against Shandong and Guizhou away following the derby, the fixtures in May are not kind. However, Abderazzak Hamdallah’s work rate in attack has been a revelation after Yakubu’s more one paced aproach to playing up front. The defensive improvments have impressed me the most though and both of the young Koreans, centre back Jang and midfielder Park, have made great starts to their time in the CSL
C: Biffo, other than Davi from the spot (sorry, Donald), what has you most worried?
G: Well, that depends on whether Hamdallah is back from injury or not! Any word Donald?
D: In the press conferences after each of the last four games Sven has said he “hopes” Hamdallah will be fit or that he “should” be fit for the next game. I think he’ll be back on Friday but Park is in Korea having treatment, Jang is also a doubt and Jiang Ning will be suspended.
C: That doesn’t sound promising for your boys…
G: Both Koreans out too? I reckon I’ll be most scared of Ken Ilso then, not only for the goals he scores but also for plays he facilitates from the midfield as well as offensively. Lu Lin has been playing very well this season too, right Donald? Is he out at the moment?
D: No, he’s fit. Lu Lin has been occupying his regular spot on the bench for most games this season and then coming on in the second half to make an impact. I’d like to see him start more often but however good his substitute appearances are they’re somehow never quite enough to persuade Sven to start him.
G: Ah, thought he was getting the odd start for a change.
C: On a similar note, given that Lu may come in, has there been any reaction to Jiang Ning’s stamp? I’m guessing a hefty ban is on its way in his direction.
D: The CFA have just announced that both Jiang and Wu will get three game bans. This seems strangely long for Wu and ludicrously short for Jiang given the recent suspensions for middle finger salutes.
G: Suspension policies in most football leagues aren’t exactly models of sense, but when hand gestures garner harsher penalties than attempting GBH something is very messed up. What does everyone think of the recent suspensions for whinging on weibo handed out to Dejan Damjanovic and ?
C: I think punishments are truly arbitrary at times. Damjanovic’s comments would be punished elsewhere also. As much as I agree with his points about the referees, you can’t criticise them in public. To be honest, I’d like to see a lot more respect shown to the referees—they might just do a better job if they weren’t hounded so much. The crackdown of last year on violent conduct seems to have slipped away.
G: I agree on the respect to referees angle in general, but in most league wouldn’t the punishment for criticising a referee be a fine rather than a suspension for players? I think that makes more sense myself.
C: Probably right there, to be honest. I don’t see that punishment as a big issue, though, if it’s consistently applied. Right then chaps, I think it’s prediction time…
D: R&F have got a few injuries and with Evergrande looking in such good form and not having the pressure of a close second leg next week to worry about I can’t really see anything other than a home win
C: Think you’ve called it about right there. R&F will be determined, but I don’t see it.
G: Who do you think will score the goals, Chris?
C: Probably a hat-trick for the “Chinese Beckham”, Liao Lisheng (not entirely serious). Any other suggestions?
G: I think Muriqui will score if he plays – it looks like the floodgates are about to open for him. But anyway, I concur with the home win predictions. Probably a closer scoreline to the 1-0 away at Shexin than the other four and five goal romps of late I’d say. They’re bound to be getting tired.
C: So, elsewhere last weekend then (can’t ignore the rest of the country entirely). I guess the big story is Shandong losing again. They’re in a pickle at the moment.
D: That was an odd result. Dalian have been inconsistent as well, they were terrible against Shenhua and poor against R&F, but winning away in Shandong is a sign that they can play when they want to. Shandong clearly haven’t performed as well as they’d have liked but I was very impressed with their 3-0 win in Beijing a few weeks ago.
G: Dalian were a couple of inches away from leaving Tianhe with a point, so I was surprised that they’ve played so badly since. Wonder if they’ll gain any consistency under Ma – Liaoning were nothing special under him the past couple of seasons. Shandong did very well in Beijing, but going out of Asia in their next seems to have knocked the stuffing out of them. We’ll see by the break whther R&F can seriously challenge them for that ACL place.
D: Henan winning away in Jiangsu was a shock too.
C: Yes and Gao Hongbo is coming under pressure. There were protests and the suggestion is he has scrapped his 3-5-2 formation (sadly, in my opinion).
D: We can’t move on without mentioning Harbin’s first win in the CSL either.
G: Well done to them – and now we can make a full circle of CSL teams who’ve beaten each other this season only 10 games in! Quite an even league outside of the two extremes, and there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way either – many have said Harbin should have picked up a number of points before now but lost games through naivety at this level. Think they’ll turn their season around?
C: I’m delighted for them, but I don’t see it. Dori, who Donald will know well, looks a cracking signing though.
D: Dori was one of the top scorers in China League One last year when he played for Sunray Cave and I’m pleased he’s doing well in the CSL now. Sadly his old side aren’t looking too good without him this season. They blew their chance of promotion on the final day last year and are in relegation form so far this year. They’ve not won in eight matches and have already changed their coach.
C: Before we get dragged into a League One discussion, it’s almost time to wrap up. Any standout games this week?
D: There is another of the seemingly endless derby matches of the teams based in and around Shanghai with Shenxin making the short trip to play Hangzhou. Staying in Shanghai, East Asia played well against R&F and it’ll be interesting to see how they get on against Guizhou as both sides chase an ACL place.
G: Shenxin were much better than I expected when we played them. Not just in defence (3 goals conceded in 7 games) but their Brazilian forwards looked dangerous too. I had them down for relegation favourites, but not anymore. Can you see Shandong get back to winning ways at Shanghai Shenhua? They got pummelled by Guizhou last time out.
D: Shenhua haven’t won in four and if Shandong can keep key man Moreno quiet then they’ve got a great chance. They need to win as well as it looks like they’re in danger of slipping out of the title race. Speaking of which, Beijing host Liaoning. Should be three points there, right?
G: Probably, Guoan gave them quite a hammering when they visited Gongti last year, and they haven’t looked great this season under new management and in a new town. They might be inspired by their last-gasp win against Hangzhou last weekend, but I doubt it.
D: When R&F played away in Beijing they were blown away at Gongti and not just by the atmosphere which watching on the TV really doesn’t do justice to. I expect Beijing to beat Liaoning and with Shandong looking a bit shaky so far, Beijing will probably be Evergrande’s closest challengers for the league title. Evergrande seem to have hit their stride now though and I think Beijing will find it hard to stay in touch with them. Are you more worried by Beijing or Shandong?
G: I thought Shandong would provide the greater challenge this year again but it’s not clicking into place for them yet and Guoan are looking the stronger. It depends how well they do up to the break and if they can beef up the squad in the summer. It’s hard to see them overtaking Evergrande, but there’s only a third of the season gone, so too early to start getting smug just yet!
D: The World Cup break gives less scope for Evergrande’s fixtures to be moved to suit their ACL games compared to last year so their stregnth in depth will be tested even more this year but I still think they’ll retain the CSL title. Chris appears to have fallen victim to the rising water in the pub and it’s about time I rushed out to buy my inflatable life vest for the uncovered away end at Tianhe so we’ll save the next round of drinks until after the derby. May the best team win!
Some distance away, being carried by the rising floodwaters…
C: Guys! HELP!
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