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North Terrace News: Tuning up for the Cup?

Shanghai Shenhua continue their late-season dead-rubber run-in with a Hongkou visit of Guizhou Renhe this Saturday. With the side’s form having tailed off alarmingly of late, can the boys in blue lay down a marker in their last home run-out ahead of the cup semis?

The Week that Was: Yet Another Yuexiushan Hiding

As predicted, a shambling patched-up Shenhua side were no match for their hungry hosts down in Guangzhou, with R&F getting ahead in the race for third with an utterly comprehensive dismantling of Sergio Batista’s side. The final scoreline of 4-0 was if anything flattering to the visitors, with R&F carving out chance after chance against a distinctly one-paced and uninterested Shenhua backline. A red card for midfield lynchpin Wang Shouting capped off Shenhua’s woes. While few will have been surprised by the result — simply put, R&F have a much stronger side than the Zhu Jun-ravaged Shenhua squad, and had an awful lot more to play for — the manner of capitulation and paucity of ideas, leadership or quality in the Shenhua ranks made for uncomfortable viewing.

The Big Issue: Formless, Shapeless

While their CSL safety still looks to be in little reasonable doubt, Shenhua have embarked on a thoroughly rotten run since their early-August cup quarter-final win against neighbors Shenxin — played five, conceded ten, won one is their record, with that win coming away to the equally-troubled Dalian Aerbin. While the difficulty of maintaining that mythical cliche of 110% motivation and effort in essentially meaningless league games is understandable to a degree, the sheer nature of Shenhua’s regression makes for behind-the-sofa viewing for fans, and leaves little hope for the upcoming cup semi-finals against Jiangsu Sainty. Turning around the poor form of such a chronically dysfunctional club as Shenhua is a task akin to turning an oil tanker — something which happens at the turning speed of wardrobe-on-legs Paulo Andre whenever faced with an opponent boasting any semblance of pace or trickery.

Batista has two games to get his side back into shape ahead of the semis, with “shape” being the operative word here. A side with no forwards, no width going forward, and an ageing deep-lying playmaker and center half swapping positions certainly has some kind of shape, but not one seen winning many games on football pitches. While Shenhua have been a little unlucky with injuries, the threadbare nature of their squad — and unwillingness of Batista to rotate meaningfully — continues to be highlighted. The Xu Liang at centerback experiment has some logic to it — Xu is a masterful reader of the game, and a rare calm presence with the ball at feet in Shenhua’s backline. Nonetheless he has been responsible for some comical rushes of blood and heavily-punished slip-ups in recent matches. With their foreign forwards frequently out injured and Paulo Andre thus guaranteed a place in the team, the continuing decision to deploy the lumbering center-back in the middle of the park has even Batista’s biggest fans in the Hongkou crowd scratching their heads.

Two small beacons of hope from the R&F game were the returns from injury — as impactless substitutes — of Paulo Henrique and Gao Di, with both strikers needing minutes and sharpness under their belts ahead of the upcoming cup double-header against Sainty.

Coming Up: One for the Conisseurs

While Guizhou are riding relatively comfortably in the top half of the table, they have little realistic chance of breaking into the Asian qualification spots. Renhe dismissed Shenhua somewhat comfortably 3-0 earlier in the season, but don’t have a great record at Hongkou — furthermore, they’re coached by anti-football’s Zhu Jiong (last seen boring crowds of dozens of people in Pudong & Jinshan into submission in Shenxin’s eternal quest for lower-table mediocrity) and bring a goalscoring record almost as anemic as Shenhua’s to the table — both sides scraping in at barely more than one goal per game averaged at this late stage in the season.

An end-to-end feast of football is thus unlikely to say the least particularly with major question marks surrounding the match-fitness of Shenhua’s brittle strikeforce.

Prediction & Reality Check

There is undoubted class in the Guizhou side, with a combination of experience (Misimovic, Salley, Mike Hanke and Sun Jihai) and  and youthful promise from Brazilian forward Hyuri. How much of that class or dynamism will be seen at Hongkou on Saturday is very much open to debate; Shenhua continue to sleepwalk towards their biggest cup-tie in years, and Guizhou may lack the firepower and forward ambition to punish them as ruthlessly as Sven’s men did last week. 1-1 and a great chance to catch up on some sleep for those having a big Friday night out.

Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace News:

P 24   W 8   D 3   L 13   GF 22   GA 36   GD -14   Pts 27

Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:

P 24   W 6   D 9   L 9   GF 26   GA 35   GD -9   Pts 27

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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