Following a disappointing defeat in Jiangsu on Sunday evening, East Asia face one more game in front of their own fans before the CSL closes shop for the summer as they welcome CSL debutants Harbin Yiteng to Shanghai Stadium. Can Xi Zhikang’s side send their supporters into the break with a smile on their face, against a Harbin side whose cruel fixture list has seen them register only 1 point on the road?
Wu Lei has been back in training this week, and looks likely to feature in Shanghai East Asia’s final fixture before the mid-season recess. Whether or not he will start is still unknown, but with 11-goal top scorer Tobias Hysen away on international duty with Sweden, East Asia will certainly do all they can to make up for the loss of firepower. Wang Jiayu will also return to action following his automatic one-match suspension, another source of great relief for Xi Zhikang, whose team registered 12 attempts on goal in Jiangsu, only 1 of which managed to test the goalkeeper.
Last Time Out
Shanghai’s issues on the road continued on Sunday evening, as the reds stuttered to a 1-0 loss against Jiangsu Sainty. In a game lacking in any real attacking flair or class – save for Dejan Damjanović’s delicate chip over Yan Junling for the goal – East Asia, despite having plenty of possession in the final third, effectively gave Jiangsu goalkeeper, Deng Xiaofei, the night off – registering only one shot on target throughout the entire game.
Harbin, meanwhile, played out a 2-0 defeat at home against Guangzhou R&F, thanks to a five-minute first half brace courtesy of Jiang Ning. The hosts did have chances to get themselves back in the game, however, it was only thanks to the profligate finishing of R&F striker Abderrazak Hamdallah that the scoreline was not even more comprehensive, as Harbin struggled to cope with their guests’ attacking movement.
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Causes for Optimism…
Thanks to some callous fixture scheduling on the CSL’s part, Harbin were forced to play their opening 7 matches away from home in their first ever top flight season. The authorities cited inclement weather conditions as the reason behind this abnormal arrangement, although with neighbouring city Changchun unaffected – despite existing in an incredibly similar climate – it seems as though the Heilongjiang side were not getting any favours from the league’s top brass. Consequently, their early season form was expectedly dismal, travelling the length and breadth of the country to take on teams with vast amounts of experience in the CSL. Results have improved somewhat in the last month, however, the fact still remains that Harbin have amassed only a solitary point and 5 goals in 9 games away from their own ground so far. At the same time, East Asia’s home form has been as impressive as any this year, only dropping points against rivals Shanghai Shenhua in a hard-fought 1-1 draw. If they can keep this up, Harbin can expect another painful away day.
… and for Concern
Of the 22 goals scored by East Asia in their 2014 CSL campaign, Swedish striker Tobias Hysen has been crucially involved in 13 (scoring 11). Undoubtedly, his departure to join his international colleagues, as they take on Denmark on Thursday, will be be felt by Shanghai, who have been guilty of relying on their top scorer a little too much at times throughout their opening 13 games. With their next two top scorers, Wu Lei (who may yet start the game on the bench) and Daniel McBreen having only notched up 3 goals each, the hosts will need such players to up their game in order to fill the considerable void left by Hysen.
Watch Out For
If Wu Lei can finally rid himself of the shackles of injury then he might fancy his chances of returning to the scoresheet for the first time since March against a side that has shipped 20 goals in 9 away matches in 2014. East Asia have missed the immense impact that the 22 year old can have on games in recent weeks, as he has either sat out important clashes, or played when clearly not at 100%. No doubt the midfielder will be looking forward to the extended break, in which he can fully recuperate, however, a game at home against the bottom side presents Wu with the chance to remind fans exactly what he is capable of before the summer interval.
Despite missing their top scorer, East Asia have more than enough quality amongst their ranks to see off the challenge of Harbin. Their home form has been second to none this season, and with their loyal and vocal support behind them, I have no doubt that they will be able to produce what is required to put them back in contention for an ACL spot. After a rather slack defensive display in the first half against Jiangsu, the Shanghai back line dramatically improved in the second, and Xi Zhikang will be confident that his men can keep a clean sheet for the first time in 7 games. 2-0.