Tianjin Teda go into the mid-season break as the form team of the CSL after four straight victories, the latest coming courtesy of another toothless Shenhua performance away from home.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE ROUND 14
Tianjin Teda 1
Li Benjian 43′
Shanghai Shenhua 0
The game’s only goal was it’s only real standout moment – Li Benjian hitting an unstoppable drive into the top corner from distance, giving rotund goalkeeper Qiu Shengjiong no chance.
Tianjin had many first-half opportunities to put the game to bed, and only some exceptionally wasteful finishing from striker Valencia prevented the victory from being a more assured one. As half-time approached it looked as if the home side would rue their missed chances, until the deadlock was broken by a moment totally out of keeping with the game around it – a worthy differentiator that proved to be decisive.
Both sides toiled to little effect in the second half, but Tianjin’s inability to kill off the tie almost came back to haunt them as Shenhua enjoyed a late period of pressure that could easily have yielded an equaliser. It was not to be, as even the away team’s ability to threaten from set pieces seems to have deserted them – Xu Liang’s place in the side as a barely mobile dead-ball siege weapon is difficult to justify when misfiring on this scale.
Up front, Valencia was busy missing guilt-edged opportunities for the home side, but was at least getting into the positions needed to miss them. His opposite number Ruiz continues to confound as to how he ever scored all those goals in Colombia – while perhaps not suited to the role of lone striker dining on scraps, more was expected of an expensive import who goes into the summer with question marks over his future. Behind him, Gio Moreno looks increasingly frustrated by the team he finds himself surrounded by, resorting more and more to solo slaloms through packed opposition ranks. As an individual player, the Shenhua captain is a cut above just about anyone else in the CSL, and should really be regarding this summer’s World Cup taking place without him as a missed opportunity for someone of his talents.
Both sides will now look towards the mid-season break with very different eyes. Tianjin sit comfortably in the top six after a good run of victories – admittedly not against sterling opposition, but consistently beating poor sides is a valuable talent in a tightly contested CSL. Shenhua have one more make up game against Jiangsu Sainty to play this week before the break, but, as ever, the Hongkou side will look to take the conversation away from the football pitch and into the boardroom. Talk of a new foreign signing is awash in Shanghai, with 68% of locals recently polled wanting to see the back of Ruiz in order to make room on the roster. More quality is certainly needed on the pitch to avoid being sucked into a genuine relegation battle when the season re-starts.