Gao Hongbo will take on a number of familiar faces on Sunday evening, as Shanghai East Asia visit Jiangsu Sainty. Can the man who led East Asia to an impressive 9th placed finish in their debut CSL season put one over his previous employers?
Wang Jiayu will miss out this week, having collected 4 yellow cards so far this year and thus incurred an automatic one-match suspension. In addition, Xi Zhikang has admitted that Wu Lei’s injury troubles are still not behind him, and his inclusion now seems unlikely given Wu’s lack of training this week.
Last Time Out
East Asia faced off against a Shandong Luneng side well versed in inconsistency last Sunday. Despite chasing possession for long periods, the visitors again showed their ruthless attacking capabilities by playing on the break to devastating effect. The team’s ability to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye has been demonstrated on several occasions this term, and in Jinan, it was no different. Xi Zhikang’s side appear to pride themselves as much on their quick build-up play as their quick thinking – an attribute that was instrumental in their first goal, as Wang Jiayu and Tobias Hysen took advantage of the Shandong defence’s lacklustre response to a free kick given on the edge of the box.
Sunday evening also saw Jiangsu welcome Dalian Aerbin to Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre. The home side kept their second clean sheet in two weeks, as Ji Xiang’s goal was to be the only thing separating the two sides. Brazilian striker Elias appeared lively, if ultimately rather ineffectual, while defensively the Jiangsu back line remained tight, restricting their guests to a total of just 5 shots over the course of the 90 minutes.
Causes for Optimism…
Since the 5-0 humbling at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande, East Asia’s away form has improved considerably – although leaking goals away from Shanghai Stadium is still very much a concern. Vastly improved performances at Guangzhou R&F and Shandong Luneng will give the reds some much-needed confidence in taking on a Jiangsu team which has only lost twice in nine home games so far this season. Since that evening to forget, the attacking partnership of Daniel McBreen and Tobias Hysen has been in lethal form – the pair responsible for 9 of the 10 goals scored in the reds’ last 3 games.
… and for Concern
As mentioned above, Jiangsu’s home form has been highly commendable in 2014, with 4 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats (one of those to CSL and ACL holders Guangzhou Evergrande). Thanks to a fixture list that fans of Harbin Yiteng could only dream of, the Nanjing-based side played their first 6 games of the season in front of their own fans, amassing 11 points in the process. Results did begin to tail off for a brief period, although successive hard fought 1-0 victories at Changchun Yatai and at home to Dalian Aerbin in their last two outings have put Jiangsu very much back in contention for an assault on the final ACL spot.
Watch Out For
The combination of McBreen and Hysen up front for East Asia has shown dramatic improvements in recent weeks, and has been instrumental in turning results around in the weeks since the trip to Tianhe. Even with the potential absence of Wu Lei (coupled with the confirmed absence of Wang Jiayu), Shanghai remain consistently dangerous in attack, and sit third in the scoring charts – almost two thirds of those coming courtesy of the foreign pair.
On recent form, Shanghai will do well to find a way past Jiangsu on Sunday evening. However, with Daniel McBreen now amongst the goals, alongside the CSL’s joint top scorer Tobias Hysen, the visitors will arrive in Nanjing optimistic of ending their hosts’ burgeoning streak of clean sheets. In contrast, it has now been six games since East Asia last succeeded in keeping their opponents out. I can see goals at both ends here, and with little to separate the two teams, a draw seems the most likely outcome. 1-1.