Having rediscovered their groove of late, Shanghai East Asia’s next three fixtures could make or break their push for third place – facing three of their biggest challenges so far this season in travelling to Shenhua, before hosting both Guangzhou sides. Xujiahui News takes a look at their recent endeavours, and how the reds will fare in their quest to hold on to the final Champions League spot.
The Week That Was: Unbeaten at Home – But for How Long?
Last Saturday evening saw East Asia face off against a Dalian Aerbin side whose recent form suggested that their the hosts’ unbeaten record at Shanghai Stadium would remain intact. Indeed, this is exactly how events transpired – a routine 2-0 victory over their North-Eastern visitors could in fact have ended in an even greater scoreline had Wu Lei converted his 59th minute penalty. East Asia controlled the game, as the Dalian defence seemingly forgot how to do their job – their defensive line so high and disorganised, they were simply unable to deal with the pace and vision of Wu, Wang Jiayu and Tobias Hysén.
However, in both the game against Dalian, and in the previous week’s clash at Changchun, East Asia’s defence showed some glaring vulnerabilities. In Changchun, there were moments of truly schoolboy defending; organisation going out the window and players simply crowding around the ball, allowing space for opposition forwards to attack. Such basic errors must be imminently addressed, as they will undoubtedly prove costly against the CSL’s top sides. Following a trip to Shanghai Shenhua this Sunday, the reds then return home to face off against the two Guangzhou sides; Evergrande and R&F – the former they were torn apart by in the reverse fixture earlier this year. Xi Zhikang’s side will need to sharpen up at the back if they are to come away from these fixtures with their undefeated home track record still standing.
The Big Issue: Selection Headaches Up Top
Much was made last year of East Asia’s over-reliance on the talents of Wu Lei in leading the forward line and supplying the goals in their debut top flight season. Nevertheless, Xu Genbao has worked shown some shrewd transfer nous in bringing in 15-goal Tobias Hysén in a deal worth around €1m. The Swede has been a revelation this year, bagging 15 goals in 21 appearances, putting him third in the CSL scoring charts (and joint first in goals scored from open play). His forward pairing with Daniel McBreen has continued to improve throughout the campaign, and this raises some interesting questions as to the roles of new signing Imad Khalili, as well as academy graduates, Zhu Zhengrong and Lin Chuangyi.
Khalili was the Allsvenskan’s top scorer in his last season in Sweden and will have been brought in to provide immediate competition up front. However, the settled partnership of Hysén and McBreen has meant that match time has been limited for the summer recruit, starting only one game and finding the net just once since his arrival. With McBreen missing out on last week’s tie against Dalian, it came as some surprise to see Lin Chuangyi in the starting lineup ahead of Khalili, whilst Zhu Zhengrong once again came off the bench to feature (before Khalili, who himself was only introduced 5 minutes from time). With so many options up front, chairman Xu and coach Xi will have some tough calls to make with regards to team selection.
Coming Up: Derby Day
East Asia make the short trip to Hongkou Stadium on Sunday evening to face rivals Shenhua in their final Shanghai derby this year. April’s clash at Shanghai Stadium proved to be a closely-fought, fiery encounter, with tensions boiling over in the final stages of the game as the scoreline ended 1-1. Both sides saw red that day, and we can expect a similar atmosphere this time round as Shenhua look to salvage some local pride in a campaign that has seen them undeniably overtaken as Shanghai’s top team.
Hongkou used to be renowned as a tough place to collect 3 points from, however their 3-2 defeat at the hands of Changchun last time out in front of their own fans will leave the East Asia faithful hopeful of victory on their neighbours turf for the first time in their history. Nonetheless, with Shenhua bringing a vast away contingent to Shanghai Stadium in April, their fans will surely be out in full force again to prevent what would be a painful derby defeat.
East Asia have more than enough about them to show their superiority against their struggling city counterparts. However, much will depend on their defensive display, as in foreign trio, Gio Moreno, Lucas Viatri and Paulo Henrique, Shenhua possess the ability to punish any lapses in concentration or organisation that their guests have shown themselves to be capable of. This should be another intense and tight encounter, but I’m backing East Asia to scrape by with a win. 2-1.