This weekend sees the biggest match of the 2014 Chinese Super League season take place at Tianhe, as Beijing Guoan travels to Tianhe to take on three time champions Guangzhou Evergrande. If you’re here though, you probably know all about that, so let’s move on…
Team of Destiny?
I was “THAT” fan during halftime on Sunday night at Huanglong. Talking to a friend, I cursed everything we had just seen — Guoan’s slow reaction on the attack, their dominant possession which led to very few offensive threats, Hangzhou’s one shot on goal going in, Guo Baolong’s refereeing. This was classic Guoan, a week before the big match they shit the bed against a side they are clearly better than. There was a lot of negativity in my voice, but that all changed with Batalla’s penalty, giving the Beijingers all three points and keeping them six points back of Guangzhou. A previous Guoan side would have faltered (just like previous sides would have screwed up against Jiangsu or Tianjin or…), but this side was different, it gives one hope and feels like this year everything is different.
Or is it?
This is still a lot like Guoan, the hope they’ve given their fans is the narrowest of narrow. The side needs to win at Tianhe (something they’ve never done) and even if they achieve that, they still need Evergrande to lose at Luneng (something they’ve never done). A win at Tianhe would be huge, making the last round all the more interesting and would allow Guoan to brag that the champions never defeated them this season (although Changchun can also claim that, oh well). It would also ramp up hope and lead to a likely even greater letdown on the final day of the season.
How can they win?
Beijing should have its strongest possible lineup available, though Zhang Chengdong may be left out with a niggling injury, all other key players will be out there. Without Zhang in the lineup, it will likely be Chen Zhizhao on the wing, however he also picked up a minor injury in last weekend’s match. The question will be if Manzano goes for the Dejan-Erton-Batalla triumvirate that produced two late goals against Hangzhou or if he leaves Batalla on the bench, instead choosing a more defensive lineup with Darko Matic. I’m guessing Darko is in the starting lineup, the alternatives at defensive mid (Piao Cheng, Zhang Xiaobin) are a scary prospect, especially against Evergrande. Since Lei Tenglong is in the good graces of national team manager Perrin and played well against Hangzhou, he’s likely to get the start in this one, though there’s a chance Manzano goes with Lang Zheng, a more powerful presence to deal with the likes of Elkeson.
The longer the game goes without a goal is favorable for Guangzhou, so Guoan must jump on them early and get on the scoreboard to guarantee that we’ll see open football. The defense also needs to be very careful about getting caught out, even at Tianhe Guoan has done well possessing the ball, but have gotten stunned by Evergrande’s counter attacking abilities, which is why having Darko on the pitch is even more important as he will regularly drop back into defense as Zhou Ting pinches forward on the wing.
I’m not going to make any predictions, this is too much a head vs heart contest, but it’s certainly a match well worth watching, a showpiece of Chinese football.