After an easy victory at neighbours Shenxin last week, there will be more familiar faces amongst those taking the field – and those off it – this Sunday, as Guangzhou R&F arrive at at Shanghai Stadium looking to kick start their season. Can Sven’s men keep up their 100% start at the expensive of his former employers?
The Week That Was: Shenxin seen off in routine fashion
SIPG FC maintained their winning start to the season with a comfortable 2-0 away win against Shanghai Shenxin on Sunday afternoon. In truth, the game felt almost like a home tie for SIPG, with a packed away contingent creating all the noise, in contrast to the handful of seemingly genuine Shenxin fans tucked away in the opposite corner.
Despite the relative weaknesses of their hosts, this was a much improved defensive performance from SIPG, with head coach Sven-Göran Eriksson naming the same starting lineup as that which had seen off Jiangsu in their opening fixture. New signing Yang Boyu did make it on the bench, but although clearly he was not deemed fit enough to take to the field in place of stand-in centre back, He Guan, the young right back turned centre half performed admirably. Indeed he was required to cover for fellow centre back, Kim Joo-Young after the Korean had painfully mishit backpasses on two separate occasions.
New signing Davi made his debut for the club, having missed out last week through injury. The Brazilian was magnificent in the middle of park, working alongside the increasingly impressive Cai Huikang, and his team visibly struggled to get anything from the game following his withdrawal following another injury concern in the 71st minute. The new man received a rousing reception from the travelling support – who will be relieved to have received confirmation this week that the midfielder will be fit to face Guangzhou R&F on Sunday.
In the end, goals from Tobias Hysén and Lv Wenjun were enough to put their hosts to the sword, and whilst in reality this was nothing like what you might term a ‘derby’, the affair was punctuated by a number of full blooded challenges, which – had the game itself more competitive – may have led to more than just the one yellow card being shown.
The Big Issue: Finding their stride
Although two victories from two games is in itself obviously no cause for concern, in reality this new look SIPG have really yet to be tested by a top CSL team this year. The second 45 minutes against Jiangsu suggested a nervousness in defence – something He Guan admitted to this week (and perfectly understandable given his inexperience). Whilst this was addressed at Shenxin; both in the form of He’s markedly improved display and Davi’s metronomic control in the middle of the pitch, their neighbours are hardly a side capable of exposing a team’s flaws.
The spotlight was cast upon this issue this week, causing Eriksson to state at the club’s weekly press conference that he was unconcerned by the lack of goals from both Wu Lei and Dario Conca. The Swedish boss explained that he had been very impressed by Wu’s performances, suggesting that in fact it was perhaps his teammates who had to adapt. The winger made several smart runs which were not picked out by those around him, however his manager emphasised that would surely come with time.
Coming Up: A first real test?
Last year’s 3rd placed side, Guangzhou R&F visit Shanghai Stadium this weekend, in a fixture which offers plenty of interesting sub-plots and back stories this time around. In addition to Jiang Zhipeng’s return to his boyhood club, this year there is the added intrigue of both head coach, Sven-Göran Erikkson and Davi’s first game against their former team.
The pair were instrumental in taking R&F into the Asian Champions League last year, and have naturally been charged with emulating that in Shanghai. The Brazilian scored against his current side in the tie at Yuexiushan in 2014, whilst the clash at Shanghai Stadium ended in a 2-1 victory for R&F – a loss that set about derailing Shanghai’s push for an ACL position. With two individuals so key to those victories now on the opposing side, a win is vital on Sunday.
R&F themselves have had a mixed start to 2015. Having amassed 3 successive impressive Champions League wins in February, they then lost 2-1 t home to Thai outfit, Buriram United the Tuesday before the 2015 CSL season kicked off. Their opening game saw them leave Hangzhou with 3 hard earned points, but the team followed that with a disappointing 1-0 loss at home to Shanghai Shenhua. Coming off the back of another 1-0 home defeat in midweek to Korean side, Seongnam, it remains to be seen whether or not R&F can pull themselves out of this early season blip.
Erikkson confirmed he was naturally looking to take advantage of his former club’s potential fatigue, although he did warn that the game would not be like R&F’s clash with Shenhua (if not simply for the fact that the pitch will not resemble a farmyard).
With Jang Hyun-Soo injured in training this week, the visitors may well be left exposed at the back; an area Shanghai’s rich array of attacking options should really look to exploit.
Their current starting front four of Hysén, Conca, Yu Hai and Wu Lei (with further support provided from Davi in the centre of the park), combined with the exciting talents of Lv Wenjun and Jean Evrard Kouassi coming off the bench are still finding their way. Nevertheless, they have shown enough in two games to suggest that they will cause problems for the majority of defences in this league, and should subsequently do enough to take another 3 points away from this fixture. 2-1.