As Shanghai East Asia’s second year in the CSL draws to a close, the club can look back upon eight months of steady, sustained progress, tinged by more than a faint sense of disappointment over what could have been. Having dropped 14 of the last 18 points on offer to them, East Asia’s season has tailed off in alarming fashion, leaving fans unarguably disappointed not to be going into this weekend’s final home game of the current campaign with an Asian Champions League spot still in reach.
The Future’s Bright?
East Asia take on Yangzte Delta neighbours Jiangsu Sainty on Sunday in what is set to be a momentous occasion for the club, as chairman, owner and head coach Xu Genbao prepares to step aside at the end of the season, as sponsors the SIPG group look to increase their stake in the side. Online fan forums from both of East Asia’s main supporters’ groups have called on the so-called “keyboard party” of stay at home fans to get down to the game this week and pay their respects, with tifos and other large-scale tributes set to feature.
Fans certainly owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Xu, who has built the club up from nothing into a side competing at the top end of the CSL. In only their second top-flight season, a formidable home record – along with some consistently pleasing performances from the likes of Tobias Hysén, Wu Lei and Wang Jiajie – gives East Asia a solid platform from which to build on in 2015. Nonetheless, with rumours abound at the club following the recent takeover talks, uncertainty lurks around every corner of Shanghai Stadium, as question marks linger over the futures of not just the manager, but also several members of the first team. East Asia certainly have issues on the pitch; defensively they have looked vulnerable on the perimeter of their own area all year long, whilst in attack the early season goal glut has dried up of late, despite the feted arrival of Allsvenskan top scorer, Imad Khalili.
Despite some encouraging early season performances, Fu Huan has seemingly fallen out of favour at Shanghai Stadium lately, meaning that the East Asia back four has differed in each of their last 6 games. Coming into the side; Wang Jiajie, Wu Yuyin and Zhang Wei have all struggled to make a lasting impression, whilst the all-too-regular defensive exposure raises doubts over the extended futures of a large proportion of the defensive unit. Last time out, East Asia laboured to a 1-1 draw against bottom-placed Harbin Yiteng (admittedly fighting for CSL survival), allowing their hosts almost 60% possession in the process. Once more, the visiting side were crying out for an experienced head in the centre of the park to recycle possession, and provide some effective cover for the defence.
Up front, on the other hand, East Asia do have options – perhaps too many when it comes to foreign players – as Imad Khalili and Daniel McBreen continue to battle it out to accompany the excellent Hysén in attack. Meanwhile, Lv Wenjun, Lin Chuangyi and Zhu Zhengrong must all be wondering where they will be plying their trade next season, having all been in and out of the side in the second half of the year. The remaining two games, therefore, present a final opportunity for some players to present a case for themselves, particularly with significant investment and a change of coaching staff on the horizon.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s tie, it will be intriguing to see how East Asia line up in what is an effectively meaningless tie, as both sides lie firmly in the top half of the CSL table, without threatening Guangzhou R&F’s grip on third place. Whilst Jiangsu will doubtless want to take some form into their CFA cup final against Shandong Luneng once the CSL curtain comes down, Shanghai must not let their guests inflict on them a third home defeat of the season, further blighting what once was an impeccable home record before the Guangzhou sides came to town.
If the online calls to arms are heeded and Shanghai Stadium does fill out with those wishing to send their regards to the club’s founder and ‘Godfather of Shanghainese football’, then this should hopefully set the stage for a return to winning ways, and a final positive note to end on in Shanghai, after the anticlimactic end to the campaign that has unravelled in recent weeks. Prediction: 2-1.