East Asia travel to Shandong in round 12 to take on a Luneng side struggling for consistency this year, in the first of two consecutive games on the road. Having seen off a dismal Guizhou side in front of their own fans last week, the reds should face a much sterner test this time out against a Champions League-chasing rival.
Shanghai East Asia were boosted this week by the news that goalkeeping coach Ian Walker has put pen to paper on a new three year contract, in a move described by Xu Genbao as a “pre-emptive strike” aimed at preventing the ex-England international goalkeeper from being poached by one of the league’s bigger sides. The impact of Walker has been abundantly clear this year, as East Asia ‘keeper, Yan Junling has flourished under the guidance of the former Tottenham Hotspur stopper. In fact, it is testament to his coaching abilities that Yan has now been called up to Alain Perrin’s 50-man national training camp – the second goalkeeper to have done so in the space of a year under Walker’s guidance, following Wang Dalei’s rise to prominence last year. Also included in the squad was regular Wu Lei, and there were also first-time nods for Lv Wenjun, Cai Huikang, and the impressive, if still somewhat naive Fu Huan.
Last Time Out
Guizhou Renhe were the visitors to Shanghai Stadium last week, and left the city with very little to show for themselves (save for an unwelcome slump in goal difference). Last year’s FA Cup winners looked unusually disjointed and one-paced at the back, whilst the Shanghai attacking partnership of Tobias Hysen and Daniel McBreen clinically put their guests to the sword with some intelligent and nimble exchanges. Even without the creativity of Wu Lei – who started on the bench as a result of his recurring knee injury – the hosts posed an ever-present threat to a defence that had held the 3rd best defensive record in the league prior to kick off.
Shandong were also in Shanghai last weekend, taking on an out-of-form Shenhua side, who themselves had gone down 3-0 to Guizhou in the previous round.Whilst Cuca’s men largely controlled proceedings in the first 45 minutes, a debatable second half Gio Moreno penalty put Shenhua in front, before Luneng found themselves with their own spot kick only minutes later. Argentinian Walter Montillo was the man tasked with levelling the tie, but his shot bounced off the post to safety, and ultimately sent the men in orange back to Jinan empty-handed.
Causes for Optimism…
Shandong are without a win in 3 games, having slipped to defeats at the hands of Shenhua, Dalian and Changchun in their last 3 outings. The Jinan side have yet to hit top gear so far this year, and after a disappointing showing in the ACL leading to an early exit at the group stage, their subsequent struggles in the CSL have ramped up the pressure on manager Cuca. Nonetheless, with high-level officials at the club said to be in full support of the Brazilian coach, and senior players publicly backing their manager in the wake of the recent ‘coffee-gate’ saga, it seems the boss will be afforded the time to turn things around. With top scorer Wagner Love sitting out last week’s clash through injury, a positive result could well hinge on his availability this time around.
… and for Concern
East Asia’s less than desirable away form has seen them only win once on the road so far in 2014, and it has now been 4 games without a win away from Shanghai Stadium for Xi Zhikang’s men. Indeed, the club have yet to register a clean sheet outside of Shanghai, and must improve defensively if they are to keep out a Shandong team which has not failed to find the net in front of it’s own fans this season. The 2-2 draw at Guangzhou R&F will have restored some confidence in East Asia’s away performance’s, however, as the visitors were unlucky not to have come away with three points, following some questionable refereeing decisions.
Watch Out For
The partnership of Daniel McBreen and Tobias Hysen sprung into life last week, albeit against a slow and rather immobile Guizhou back four. Nonetheless, the East Asia faithful were left delighted at seeing the strong understanding between their foreign forward line blossom, yielding 3 goals from Hysen, as well as a brace and double-assist for McBreen. Without the creativity of Wu Lei behind the two front men, it was suggested East Asia might struggle for chances, but the pair’s smart interplay blew any concerns of this ilk away with ease. Provided the two can continue this impressive form in Jinan, Shanghai might well be able to take the upper hand against another rival in pursuit of a coveted ACL spot.
A very difficult contest to predict, given Shandong’s astoundingly indifferent form. The hosts have had impressive wins this year against the likes of Hangzhou and Beijing, but have also slumped to shocking defeats in matches they should have been controlling, going down to Shenhua, Dalian, Changchun and Jiangsu. Add to this East Asia’s poor, if not terrible away form (the 5-0 hammering at Guangzhou Evergrande aside), and it becomes an even more thankless task trying to determine which way this fixture will go. However, with the renewed optimism of last week’s 5-2 victory, and the much-improved performance at R&F in their previous away outing, combined with Shandong’s worrying recent run of results, I’m tipping Shanghai to edge this one. 2-1.