Fresh from their cup elimination, Shanghai Shenhua face their final home fixture of 2014, with Tianjin Teda coming to town. Can Shenhua end a forgettable year with a performance to remember for their home crowd?
A Gulf in Quality
Shenhua’s two trips to Nanjing resulted in entirely predictable failures to win — a 1-1 league draw being followed-up by a second chastening cup semi-final hiding. By going down 3-0 on Thursday night, Shenhua lost their semi-final 5-0 on aggregate. While the side is — perhaps against expectations, given some pre-season predictions — safe from relegation worries and capable of grinding out results against equally poor sides, their record against teams in the top 6 of the table has been particularly shabby in 2014. The Zhu Jun asset-stripping policy has finally left Shenhua too threadbare to be able to compete against even the moderately-sized bigger boys of the CSL table, and substantial close-season investment will be needed.
That 3-0 cup defeat featured a Shenhua back four featuring youngster Liu Jiawei and the rarely-spotted Tao Jin in addition to midfielders Xu Liang and Wang Shouting. “Makeshift” is almost being too complementary for such a line-up; defeat was almost inevitable given the impact of injuries and suspensions on the back-line. Roly-poly goalkeeper Qiu Shenjiong will at least have been heartened by recent noises emanating from the club which suggest that, short of a only-in-your-dreams return for Wang Dalei, the club will not be purchasing a goalkeeper in the coming close-season.
Where Are The Goals Coming From?
In three games against Jiangsu Sainty in October, Shenhua managed a total of one goal in 270 minutes of football, an out-of-the-blue thunderbolt from captain Gio Moreno. The South American trifecta of Moreno behind Paulo Henrique and Lucas Viatri misfired badly midweek — while they can be a potent strike partnership, Shenhua are only ever a bad day at the office away from seeing Henrique’s dynamism turn to wasteful flakiness, and Viatri’s line-leading presence look more like a game of musical statues. Tianjin’s record this season is almost identical to Shenhua’s, so there is some hope of a fellow mid-table side proving more accommodating than recent struggles against near-neighbors Sainty.
The Game Nobody Should be Watching
Those eyes which aren’t focused on title-deciding events at Tianhe this Sunday may instead turn to one of the many relegation-permutation fixtures, or even to seeing if R&F can wrap up their first-ever ACL qualification. Shenhua – Tianjin is one of the very few completely meaningless games on this week’s fixture card; the very definition of a dead rubber. Shenhua come into this one hoping to bounce back from a season-ending week in Nanjing, whereas Tianjin are unbeaten in three and recently climbed above their hosts into the top half of the table. It’s difficult to hype up a battle for 8th place in the table, though.
Preview & Reality Check
Logic and defensive concerns would have Tianjin as marginal favorites here; Shenhua don’t necessarily do logic, however, and will give their long-suffering fans something to cheer at Hongkou with a 2-1 home win — flattering to deceive at better prospects for 2015.
Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace News:
P 28 W 9 D 4 L 15 GF 26 GA 42 GD -16 Pts 31
Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:
P 28 W 8 D 10 L 10 GF 30 GA 39 GD -9 Pts 34
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