Changchun Yatai have finally clawed their way into the Top 10 of the Chinese Super League after claiming a 1-1 draw at home to Dalian Aerbin and will be looking to win their crucial away match against Shanghai Shenhua tonight.
The dongbei side head to Shanghai for a battle of 9th vs 10th and with much on the line. Shenhua have played a game more than Changchun and currently sit just 2 points above them in the table.
Should Changchun leave Shanghai victorious then it will place them 1 point above Shenhua with a game in-hand, making their push further up the table much easier.
The issue facing Changchun at the moment is the inconsistency of their results with a 2-1 victory against Guangzhou being surrounded by draws against Dalian (1-1) and Henan (0-0), two teams lower in the table than Changchun, as well as a draw against Beijing (2-2) and a loss to Hangzhou Greentown (3-2).
All three draws could easily have been victories for Changchun with them leading Dalian 1-0 right up until the 90th minute, leading Beijing 2-0 until just before half time and having a clear chance to snatch a 1-0 victory at Henan. They should have even claimed a point from Hangzhou who also stole the winning goal in the 90th minute.
Changchun’s defense has recently allowed easy goals, except for the scorcher scored by Dalian, and has prevented Changchun from really pushing up into the higher echelons of Chinese football.
By all means it is much better than the relegation battle they were involved with last season, but with the team showing their ability to beat the biggest teams it is making fans in the North-East a little bit frustrated.
Despite the inconsistent play in recent weeks, Changchun have markedly improved as a team since the CSL’s summer break. Serbian manager Dragan Okuka has brought in three high-profile loan signings in Zhao Peng and Feng Renliang from Guangzhou Evergrande as well as Shandong’s Yang Xu.
Zhao Peng has yet to feature for Changchun but Yang Xu and Feng Renliang have started at least the last two games in a row (Feng has started around 4 games so far).
And to top off the list of impressive additions to the side is former Hungarian international, Szabolcs Huszti. Huszti joined Changchun this summer from German side Hannover 96 and has already made a big impression on the team and the fans.
He has had a hand in a number of goals for Changchun in recent games, topped off by the game-winning goal against Guangzhou.
He provided the perfect cross for Yang Xu’s headed goal against Dalian and has made a number of key runs along the left and right wings, causing the opposition a number of headaches as he shows his class and experience in getting to attacking positions well.
Every team has a player that stands out and puts in decent performances week-in week-out, and Changchun Yatai is no different. For them, this player is Brazilian Forward/Midfielder Eninho.
Eninho has shown a keen ability to score from set-pieces (most notably his free-kick goal in the 2-1 victory against Guangzhou) and has even scored directly from a corner kick, in the 2-0 home victory against rivals Liaoning.
The Brazilian joined the team last season from Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and has quickly become the focal point of the team and has registered 7 goals already this season (though the official CSL website does not list him with/above players with 5 goals).
With Eninho providing strong attacking moves through the centre, playing behind Yang Xu or Fatos Beciraj, with Feng Renliang supporting on the right and Szabolcs Huszti on the left then Changchun has a lot of things to be positive about the potential of their attacking options.
Problems at the Back?
Their defense is consistently the following players: Zhang Xiaofei (LB), Anzur Ismailov (CB), Wang Wanpeng (CB), Lü Jianjun (RB) with Sun Jie playing as a Central Defensive Midfielder.
This consistency in player selection has made Changchun predictable, with teams able to watch video footage of them playing together and able to discover weaknesses in their abilities. A player that I personally believe should be given a chance either as a Centre Back or Central Defensive Midfielder is #6 Pei Shuai.
Pei is a young player, only 21 years old, and has represented China at Under-21s level. In the summer break match against Werder Bremen Pei played half the match and was excellent at distributing the ball from the CDM position. This flair from the young player could be a spark that Changchun needs to improve on their recent abundance of draws.
Zhao Peng is seemingly suffering from an unknown ailment as he has yet to even feature on the bench for Changchun since signing on loan from Guangzhou but should both Zhao and Pei be rotated in and out of the starting line up (when Zhao is fit again), this could provide Changchun with some options to keep opposing teams guessing.
A Look Ahead
Changchun face Shanghai Shenhua on Thursday with the chance to leapfrog them into 9th place with a game in hand. Should Changchun capitalise on this opportunity then it will pay dividends for the team for the rest of the season should they continue to play attacking football and remain injury-free.
Most Recent Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
Mi Tianhe (GK)
Lü Jianjun Wang Wanpeng Anzur Ismailov Zhang Xiaofei
Sun Jie Walter Iglesias
Feng Renliang Eninho Szabolcs Huszti
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015