Guangzhou Evergrande’s much-anticipated final CSL fixture before the extended summer hiatus is a top of the table clash that sees them travel to the capital to take on Beijing Guoan. The Cantonese beat Guoan home and away in last November’s CFA Cup semi-final 7-3 aggregate victory but have struggled with fatigue of late, while Guoan recorded an impressive 4-0 victory over Hangzhou Greentown on Wednesday to leave them one point off tomorrow’s opponents. Can they maintain this sudden burst of goalscoring form to outgun the champions and secure top spot for the next two months?
For his criticism of the match referee after Wednesday’s home draw against Guizhou (the worst he’s seen in China apparently), manager Marcelo Lippi will spend this fixture in the stands. Also absent will be first choice centre-back Kim Young-Gwon, who is travelling with his South Korean national teammates to Brazil. Forward Muriqui and goalkeeper Zeng Cheng enter the break still in the treatment room, while Zhang Linpeng is apparently also likely to miss out through injury.
As for transfer rumours, some of the more notable ones this week are Napoli and Internazionale’s reported interest in top scorer Elkeson, and the desire to replace him with free agent Samuel Eto’o, who apparently wants ten million Euros a year to leave London for Guangdong. The previously youth-focused transfer policy would have ruled out the aging (by any measure) Cameroonian, but the winter signing of 31-year-old Alessandro Diamanti indicates that Lippi does not see the age policy as binding.
Last Time Out
Defender Mei Fang, signed in the winter from Wuhan Zall, scored his first goal to equalise for Evergrande in the 1-1 draw with Guizhou Renhe on Wednesday last. This correspondent was/is up north and couldn’t catch the game, but by all accounts it was very much one of Guangzhou’s Mr. Hyde performances, sloppy in defence and misfiring up front, with Liu Jian at centre-back apparently particularly poor.
Causes for Optimism…
While Evergrande have not yet beaten the capital’s premier club at home in the CSL, the only victory Guoan have registered in these fixtures was on the last day of the 2012 season when the title had already been sealed. Over the eight games between the two in all competitions since the Guangzhou’s club rebranding in 2010, this sole 1-0 victory stands against four wins for the Cantonese. In addition, Beijing will be absent their own star Korean, central midfielder Ha Dae-Sung, also called up to the South’s World Cup squad.
… and for Concern
With a game less than every four days on average over the past two months, tiredness has seen the champions’ performances become increasingly ragged in the build-up to this pivotal battle. Guoan by contrast have spent much of the season scraping out low-scoring wins by the odd goal, but ran rampant against a defensively weak Hangzhou Greentown in their last game, with four different players making the scoresheet. It’s no more than Evergrande scored when they visited Hangzhou a few days earlier, but with their two best defenders, Zhang and Kim (for real this time), and the first-choice goalkeeper unavailable against Beijing, they will be hoping that Wednesday’s performance was a one-off.
Watch Out For
In last November’s cup encounters, Beijing at times gave the impression that they were Liaoning Whowin in disguise, launching into dangerous challenges on their opponents one minute and rolling about pretending to have been victims of such assaults the next. The crowning of Evergrande as ACL champions just the week before and the final CSL points gap between the two probably had Guoan’s players feeling insecure about their ability to get a result in a fairly-fought contest. With matters tighter this time round, it will be interesting to see whether Guoan will make more of an effort to play within the rules.
A tough one to call, but with Elkeson, Gao Lin, and Rene Junior likely to start, Evergrande should have enough firepower to match Guoan for goals. I’m going for another hard fought draw at the Worker’s Stadium, 2-2.
Beijing Guoan v Guangzhou Evergrande kicks off at 7:35pm, this Monday 26th May, at the Workers Stadium, Beijing. Away fans are required to be at the stadium by 4:30pm, for ‘security’ reasons.