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Worker’s Stadium Ramblings: Rare come from behind win leads into derby day

After a few weeks away, I’m back with my weekly take on the goings on at Worker’s Stadium, this week there’s a lot to deal with, a big away win at Nanjing Zhenjiang and of course the big rivalry match against Tianjin on Saturday night. Though the title looks out of the picture still, Guoan has to focus on their own matches, getting the needed results to keep things even. Here goes…

Three the hard way
Guoan doesn’t come from behind. Guoan doesn’t win on the road. That’s the reputation the Beijingers have over the past few seasons, but Gregorio Manzano has turned things around this year as the club has produced six wins away from Worker’s Stadium and a total of 20 points in 12 road matches. Of course it’s losses like the ones at East Asia, Shenxin, and Henan that the players will be kicking themselves about, but I digress. On Saturday, Guoan went down twice and fought back to equalize twice, eventually adding a third to win this crucial match. The match shouldn’t have been as close as it was, Guoan was the better club from the start and clearly outplayed Sainty but a bad deflection on a free kick saw the home side get on the board first. The second came in a similarly flukey fashion, the referee calling Darko Matic for a handball in the box when he ball appeared to clearly hit his chest. Dejan looked tired after playing in two European qualifiers and was carrying a niggling injury but was able to score with his head against his former side. For the first time since Dejan and Erton’s arrival in the Chinese capital, Guoan couldn’t find a way to break down their opponent’s defense in any meaningful way. It was a tough fight, but the Beijingers did what they needed, they came back to the capital with all three points, maintaining the six point deficit between them and first place Guangzhou Evergrande.

The “Bao zi” are coming
Tianjin comes to Worker’s Stadium this weekend for what is always a very interesting clash, befitting of this traditional rivalry. After Guoan won at Tianjin, Teda went on a run of six straight matches without a loss, following that up with six straight matches without a win. It’s that kind of inconsistency that sees them sitting in the middle of the table and it makes it hard to figure out which Tianjin side will show up. Tianjin hasn’t won in Beijing in nine years, but they have come away with a point out of this fixture five times since 2005.

As to how the team will look, it will be interesting to see if Manzano keeps Zhang Xinxin in the lineup on Saturday. In his first game back, Zhang looked far from his best. Darko will be missing from the lineup due to yellow card accumulation and so it’s likely we’ll see an all Korean defensive midfield with Piao Cheng and Ha Dae-sung featuring for the Men in Green. I wasn’t a fan of the Chen Zhizhao signing, but he’s been a spark plug off the bench this season. I’m not sure if I’d start him over Zhang Xizhe or Zhang Chengdong, however he’s a great option to have come the second half. The other big lineup question is who gets paired with Xu Yunlong at center back. Manzano has been switching off between Lang Zheng and Lei Tenglong a lot lately, but neither has placed a solid claim on the spot. Lang has the physicality to deal with some of Tianjin’s tougher players, but Lei is probably a step or two faster, important when dealing with Tianjin’s Valencia, the main part of their attack. Pablo Batalla has returned to training, but hopefully Manzano won’t go to him too quickly, while it would be interesting to see how his “crutch” combines with Dejan and Erton, he hasn’t really been missed.

Keeping the momentum
When these two sides meet, it’s always physical and almost always tight. Guoan has been impressive as of late, winning three of their last four matches, but with only five matches to go after Saturday night, there isn’t a lot of time to make up their six point deficit. While Asian football is all but guaranteed in 2015, there is still something larger than that the club can at least fight for. The club can’t control what Evergrande does, but maintaining their win streak makes a statement and if the club can keep Erton, who has expressed his desire to stay, and make a few key signings, they may finally have a side that can mount a serious title challenge.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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