It’s Shanghai Derby time again this Sunday — will Shenhua be able to continue their proud derby run, or is it time for an in-form East Asia to seal their place as the city’s top dogs?
The Weeks That Were: Tuning Up
Shenhua were out of action this past weekend due to their re-scheduled fixture against Evergrande having been played during the World Cup. The preceding week saw the welcome end of a long-running record — while scant consolation for letting the Guoan Hongkou Hoodoo slip in the previous round, Shenhua clung on for a 1-0 victory at Dalian Aerbin which gave the blues their first win outside Shanghai in almost three seasons. Paulo Henrique netted the winner with a dipping, instinctive finish from outside the box — the rare moment of quality settling a very workmanlike game.
East Asia put this huffing and puffing into some context by putting a weak Aerbin to the sword last weekend — the Xuhui side are in swashbuckling form, and 2-1 and 2-0 wins against Changchun and Aerbin fail to truly reflect how dominant the reds have been — but for some poor finishing, they could and perhaps have racked up 10 goals in the past fortnight.
The Big Issue: Noisy Neighbors Take Center Stage?
East Asia seem to get preferential billing over Shenhua when it comes to media coverage and slots on local TV these days — and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for supporters of the much more storied Shenhua to deny that the young upstarts are Shanghai’s premier football team — and football club — at present. The young side come without the taint of ownership controversies, match-fixing scandals, and increasingly turgid football and inexplicable transfer dealings. Xi Zhikang’s young side — even if we all know who really calls the shots — play open, attractive football and have strengthened well. The flowering partnership between the young prodigy Wu Lei and seasoned stager Tobias Hysen is a textbook example of how to use foreign player slots, and the pair are sure to keep Shenhua’s rearguard occupied throughout Sunday’s encounter.
And yet — and yet there may well be life in the old dog yet. Still in with a chance of silverware and ACL football due to their unexpected cup run, Shenhua are yet to lose a Shanghai derby in recent years, and have shown their refusal to lie down in difficult situations over the past two years. Likely to be backed by a large fan base who frankly deserve better, Shenhua remain difficult to write off even when cold logic would insist they have no chance.
Coming Up: Shanghai Derby Day
East Asia are flying, but have shown some brittleness in high-stakes games — particularly past iterations of this fixture. They were on top of the Hongkou leg last year until a contentious Wu Lei red card broke their spirit and saw Shenhua surge to a win. This season’s Xuhui reverse fixture saw Shenhua arguably the more threatening of two sides struggling with difficult conditions — with that game having ended in true derby style with a horror tackle and bout of shoving, tempers are likely to be running high as the sides lock horns once again.
This is Shenhua’s last chance to assert any kind of local pride — Shenxin don’t really count, and are routinely beaten by both their city neighbors. It’s all but mathematically impossible for Shenhua to overhaul their local rivals in the league standings — a sorry state of affairs with almost a third of the season remaining, but one which leaves this fixture alone as an opportunity to keep some bragging rights. Whatever the result, expect to see passions running high both on and off the stands, as a new Shanghai rivalry worth of its name continues to develop. Chickens need not apply.
Prediction & Reality Check
On paper, East Asia are clear favorites — but thankfully NTN’s Bumper Book of Football Cliches assures us that not only are football matches not played on paper, but also that the form book goes out the window for a local derby. In light of this — and some suspicions about East Asia’s maturity and the ever-present threat of Shenhua’s South Americans — don’t be too surprised to see a 1-1 draw and some pride maintained.
Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace News:
P 22 W 8 D 2 L 12 GF 21 GA 32 GD -11 Pts 26
Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:
P 22 W 6 D 8 L 8 GF 25 GA 30 GD -5 Pts 26