Following a week’s break to recover from their CFA cup semi-final first-leg collapse, a Shenhua side with little realistic hope of anything to play for head to Nanjing twice in a week to face-off again with Jiangsu Sainty in both league and cup.
Exercises in Futility
Just been effectively eliminated from the cup by almost-local rivals with a little-brother inferiority complex? Have horrendous memories of their home ground due to having two inexplicable penalties handed to them on both of your last two visits? Great, we have just the cure — head over there to play them twice in a week. In theory, this could be the most cathartic week of Shenhua’s last couple of years — win both games and they will be in the cup final, sitting above Jiangsu in the league, and having put to bed that awful away record once and for all. Thursday night (October 26th) sees Sainty defend their 2-0 cup lead, and is preceded on Saturday by the definition of a late-season dead-rubber in the league.
The Center-Back Problem
With Korean veteran Cho Byung-kuk signed-up for 2015, Shenhua’s remaining games of the season may offer some hints to his future partner. While signing at least one first-team quality domestic center-half must be at the top of the close-season transfer priorities, Shenhua aren’t a side often associated with sensible transfer policy. Sergio Batista’s current choices are the statuesque Brazilian Paulo Andre – the only other experienced center-half at the club, but a selection which would mean leaving out one of the Moreno-Henrique-Viatri triumvirate up top – or a makeshift stopper in Xu Liang or Zheng Kaimu. The Xu-at-CB experiment hasn’t been a complete failure, with the playmaker retaining a strong commitment and reading of the game, but a couple of positional lapses have proven costly in the second half of the season. NTN was a strong advocate for trying out Zheng – a youngster who broke through as a defensive midfielder – for conversion to a regular center-half, but the results haven’t been promising. While Zheng would appear to have the physical and technical attributes required, he has rarely looked comfortable at the heart of defence – whether this is due to a crisis of confidence or lack of sharpness stemming from infrequent first-team opportunities, or a genuine unsuitability for the role, is difficult to confirm. To further complicate matters, Zheng put in a mostly solid shift at right-back in Shenhua’s last league fixture – with the famous positional musical chairs also extending to starting regular left-back Bai Jiajun as a right-sided midfielder.
Preview & Reality Check
As we learned with the first leg, it’s not the defeat which hurts — it’s the hope and expectation. There’s a lot less of that this time around — expect Sainty to stroll through both games, 2-0 and then 2-0 again to complete a clean sweep of wins over Shenhua in October.
Shenhua in 2014 according to North Terrace News:
P 27 W 9 D 4 L 14 GF 26 GA 40 GD -14 Pts 31
Shenhua in 2014 according to the CSL table:
P 27 W 8 D 9 L 10 GF 29 GA 38 GD -9 Pts 33
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