SIPG FC travel across the city to Shanghai Shenxin this weekend for the second Shanghai derby in a week. The first didn’t end so well for Shenxin, and it seems things might not get any better this week.
The Week That Was: A Win is a Win
Shanghai Stadium was a sea of red last Saturday, as SIPG FC kicked off their 2015 CSL programme with a hard fought and at times exasperating victory over Yangtze Riva Delta rivals, Jiangsu Sainty. A club record 31,625 spectators turned out to witness the tie – a 35% increase on their previous CSL best of 23,286 against Shanghai Shenhua in 2014 – creating an electric atmosphere seldom matched in this often overbearing arena.
For their part, the home side seemingly responded to the rousing support, as a first half of attacking guile saw a front three – spearheaded by Tobias Hysén, with support out wide from Yu Hai and Wu Lei – pressing high up the park and imposing themselves upon the visitors, with their headline signing Dario Conca providing the creativity from behind. SIPG were duly rewarded for their endeavours via two excellently taken goals inside the first 16 minutes.
The first came after Wang Shenchao – now filling the right back position after veteran left back Sun Xiang replaced him as first choice left back and captain – combined with Conca down the right wing. Wang fired in a cross to the near post, which found the advancing Yu Hai, who finished with a sumptuous flick of his left boot past the despairing Zhang Sipeng. The second was the product of two exquisite pieces of individual skill from both Conca and Hysén. The Argentinian playmaker found his colleague with a pinpoint lofted through ball that Hysén rifled into the top corner to fire his side into a comfortable lead.
The home side’s forward momentum wasn’t to last, however, as Jiangsu pulled themselves back into contention 5 minutes before the break. Ren Hang swerved the challenge of Wu Lei before being afforded the time and space to whip a ball between Shanghai centre backs, Kim Ju-Young, and the stand in He Guan. He made a mess of dealing with the incoming delivery, allowing Icelandic striker Vidar Kjartansson to ghost past him and find the back of the net.
The second half did not make for such pleasurable viewing for the home faithful, as Shanghai sat back and afforded their guests far too much space and possession inside their own half. Central midfielder Wang Jiajie (with new signing Davi unavailable through injury) was given the runaround on more than one occasion, whilst the aforementioned He was also given a torrid time by Kjartansson in a nervy second half display.
The are positives to be taken from the game for sure, but Shanghai will be eagerly anticipating the return to fitness of both Shi Ke and Yang Boyu, who will be competing for a starting berth alongside Kim in a new look (and subsequently understandably somewhat disjointed) back line.
The Big Issue: The Back Four
With injuries preventing new centre back pair Shi Ke and Yang Boyu from making their respective debuts, inexperienced right back, He Guan was charged with filling in and partnering Kim Ju-Young in a defence that by the second half looked vulnerable during every Jiangsu opportunity.
With the capable, but not entirely mobile, Cai Huikang alongside the far-too-often ineffective Wang Jiajie, tasked with protecting the defensive line, SIPG have on too many occasions in the past, been guilty of offering up space to the opposition on the edge of their own penalty area. Whereas Kim showed a good sense of positional awareness, He visibly struggled to cope, too many times being pulled out of position by the combination of Kjartansson and Sergio Escudero.
Given last Saturday’s second half display, in which Shanghai’s reluctance to push forward having gone ahead in the game, caused their freshly-assembled defence to be tested to their limit, it is important that the side do not rely too much on their questionable ability to protect a lead.
Coming Up: The (Lesser) Shanghai Derby
On Sunday, SIPG make the short trip to Pudong to face Shanghai Shenxin, in a fixture that rather routinely turns out to be an thoroughly enjoyable occasion for SIPG. Their current CSL record reads P4, W3, L1 – those 3 wins amassing 14 goals in the process – and there is little to suggest this trend will not continue this weekend.
Shenxin’s opening game came at the newly reassembled Shanghai Shenhua, and despite shipping 6 goals to their city rivals, the two goals they did score were in fact well taken. Shenxin did appear capable of creating chances, albeit only in those brief periods in which they were not contriving to plunder themselves into defensive meltdown.
Despite their defensive frailties, for SIPG, 3 points can be the only expectation from the trip to their neighbours. However, more than that, it is important that Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side put on an emphatic attacking display. Another new signing, Ivorian winger, Jean Kouassi played the final half hour in place of Wu Lei last week, and looked like his side’s best creative outlet. If he gets a chance against the same profligate defence as we witnessed in Hongkou last Sunday, his pace and crossing could wreak havoc.
This should be a straightforward fixture mirrored by a suitably comfortable scoreline in the visiting side’s favour. Nonetheless, SIPG fans will be expecting a vastly improved defensive display, along with a discernible desire to keep attacking once in front. Thanks to the question marks over both defences, expect goals, but SIPG’s quality will show in the end. 3-1.