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Pub Talk: A tale of two cites – Beijing v Shanghai

The first big game of the season is here, and they come much bigger then Beijing Guoan v Shanghai Shenhua. Your correspondents BCheng and Shanghai Ultra (who is travelling north for the game) have been waiting patiently for this one, so without further ado, let the baiting begin! Please let us hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

S: Pub time! How’s it going today B?

B: I’m (9) doing (-) great (1)! The weather’s great here in Beijing, we have a holiday weekend coming up, and footie’s back. 9-1.

S: Hhahah! And the banter gets off to a flying start! Well, I was looking through the stats for a certain match taking place tonight, seems Shenhua have the edge at W16 L15 D11. Will Guoan finally draw level tomorrow?

B: Guoan is pretty banged up going into this one, but I think it’s a pretty fair bet.

S: Usually this is a game which is pretty easy to predict, a poor performance from Shenhua and an easy win for Guoan. However this time Shenhua are in great form and playing their best football for years. Whether that will have any bearing on the outcome, I can only really say we will have to wait and see.

B: This will certainly be the first real test for Shenhua this season and while they look improved, they don’t appear ready to take on a side like Guoan. Also, while Guoan are dealing with some pretty serious injury issues, I hear Shanghai have some problems of their own, is it true Paulo Henrique and Lv Zheng are unlikely to be taking part?

S: Yes that is true, North Terrace News is on the case. Incidentally Steve seems to agree with you, he’s predicting a 2-1 victory for Guoan. Not an unreasonable prediction. You’re definitely right, this is Shenhua’s sternest test so far. I can’t really see Shenhua winning this one either, but I’m plumping for a 1-1 draw, since it would be boring to make no prediction.

B: While it doesn’t match the curse of Hongkou (died 2014), Shenhua have had serious issues when they travel to Gongti.

S: They have indeed. I’m just cautious, I like what I see on the pitch with Shenhua so far, fluent football and a clear tactical plan. But, we’re only three games in here, as far as I’m concerned, that’s really of limited use for saying much about what lies ahead this year. Gilliot himself said that he wont’ draw any conclusions about his own team until they’ve played ten games. Guoan on the other hand are in even better form than Shenhua, in real terms. What we can say about this game is that it has the ingredients to be the most interesting China Derby at Gongti for quite some time.

B: Indeed it does, for my money, this is the first “big” match worthy of our attention so far this season.

S: There’s no doubt about that. What is the mood in Beijing? Are people really up for this game? Or is there a feeling Shenhua still have something to prove?

B: Whenever Shenhua come up on the schedule, there’s always an extra bit of excitement, but I don’t think it reaches the level of Shandong or Evergrande the past few seasons. There’s a lot of wondering how serious Shenhua are.

S: Right, that’s what I would be thinking if I was a Guoan fan – Shenhua have just been so rank rotten for the past few years, especially in their appearances at Gongti.

B: Unfortunately outside of the “derby”, there isn’t a lot to talk about this weekend, eh? All the more to keep us focused on this one.

S: I think we’re within our rights to indulge ourselves this week B. We’d only disappoint our readers otherwise, I feel.

B: To be honest, I must be off my game, Shenhua always leaves me with a bit of added nerves, especially because I know what I say on here will be fed back to me in a weeks time if it goes pear shaped tonight.

S: Hahah, I think we have mellowed a bit in recent seasons as regards winding each other up on the China Derby – the shared dispair of following Chinese football teams does that.

B: Yeah, and despite two big defeats over Shenhua last season, Guoan has been the much better side for a number of seasons now and yet still finds ways to embarrass themselves and not win (at least when it comes to going on the road). Not that there is talk of another 9-1, but there’s talk up here that we’ve resurrected the “three pronged attack” now with Dejan, Erton, and Batalla

S: I think last year’s ending of the Hongkou Hoodoo was the making of Guoan’s season to be honest. If you hadn’t beaten the most shambolic, shite and disorganized Shenhua team ever last year, you never would have. It was interesting to see Dejan on twitter last year picking up on some chatter about the game and how its one of the biggest fixtures in China. He’s surely a key man in tonight’s match.

B: Indeed, to be honest, we’re unlikely to see those three foreigners on the pitch together during the match. Dejan has been big for us so far, he’s scoring goals at will lately. I’m a little worried about him and Erton, who both had long flights, but due to that whole Montenegro fiasco, he won’t be tired out from playing.

S: What happened there?

B: Idiotic fan misbehavior, throwing flares at the Russian keeper, then continually throwing things on the pitch…For as much as we complain about the quality of fans in China, they aren’t all that bad.

S: Ah of course, yes I did see that, game re-arranged. A wasted journey for Dejan then?

B: Its too bad he wasn’t practicing with the squad a few extra days, but oh well…On the subject of national teams, I don’t think either of us expected we wouldn’t have a win to talk about…

S: Right. Two scrappy draws against teams which should have posed not too much trouble. I’m not sure these results mean anything, but, it would have been nice to see China continue momentum.

B: To me the results were disappointing, but most of all it was the performances that they put in, very half assed especially considering China was playing many of their top players against relatively young sides from weak national teams. Both matches saw Wang Dalei make mistakes (the Haiti one unforgivable), though he made up for it with a huge double save on a Tunisia penalty kick.

S: I saw that, it was fantastic. I think China slipped back into meaningless friendly mode, and gave a performance to match. Disappointing, but I don’t think these results were damaging to morale as such, at least I hope not.

B: I think if you’re looking for anything good, it was the return of Yu Dabao in the national team setup, he came off the bench and scored in both matches, nothing fantastic, but poacher/right place, right time style goals. Here’s hoping it will continue now back with Guoan.

S: I think Yu Dabao is about as good as it gets upfront for China. Is he going to get a regular game with Guoan though, as striker?

B: So far it seems he’ll be used similar to Gao Lin at Evergrande or even Zhang Chengdong, as an attacking wing instead of a striker.

S: That’s the same kind of role Gao Di has at Shenhua. Chinese strikers reallly have a hard time of it in China.

B: Most sides are playing with a lone striker and in that case it’s reserved for their foreign player.

S: It is. How are Chinese strikers ever going to get the chance? Interesting that there are no foreign goalkeepers allowed, yet China now has at least three excellent keepers. Not sure we could say the same of their strikers.

B: I just can’t see it happening, every club has at least one foreign striker and that’s universally who is relied upon, as a Chinese striker you have to find an alternative position because if you can’t, you’ll have a very short career.

S: I can’t see that happening either, plus it would be much harder to enforce, outfield positions are of course much more fluid than that of a goalkeeper. Well, what else on the fixture card attracts your attention, if anything?

B: Outside of our sides it gets pretty hard, perhaps Jiangsu against Shijiazhuang, I’m interested in seeing how that side will do against a weaker team.

S: Yeah I can’t see anything on the fixture list which jumps out, without the big match itself it would be a very unremarkable round.

B: Haha, you heard it here folks, if you watch one CSL match this weekend, make it Guoan’s defeat of Shenhua. Well, since one of us will be crying in our beer later tonight, here’s an image that will put a smile on your face:

S: Hahha you’re a brave man, you clearly haven’t learned your lesson from past under-estimations of Shenhua. What’s the story behind the rude gesture being made in this pic?

B: To be honest, I have no idea why Gao is happily flicking someone off, but the CFA’s policy means he’s suspended for four matches.

S: Seems like a very strange state of affairs there.

B: I don’t want to ask too many questions, I just want to enjoy the image….

S: It certainly made me chortle. Speaking of which, I’ll be at the game tonight and looking forward to some traditional away match banter on the road with fellow Shenhua fans.

B: I hope you have a good book for the hours of boredom in Worker’s Stadium, either that or lots of plastic cups filled with alcohol.

S: Yeah, we have to enter three hours before kickoff. That’s really unnecessary. I plan on bringing some reading material.

B: I’m sort of understanding of these police issues after all these years, its actually starting to make sense, though there have been some extremes.

S: I can understand the need for security, and I’ve witnessed myself the hostile reception away fans can get in and around Gongti. But, it’s Beijing, it’s Gongti, Guoan fans are milling around there constantly. Making people enter three hours in advance is overkill.

B: I think its unfortunate China doesn’t have better away policing, but the reality is that gates open two hours before the match and unlike overseas when plenty of fans are still in the pub, the first come first seated policy means that there are plenty of people lining up to get in when the gates first open. The incident quotient would skyrocket if the away fans were out and about when the gates open up. There is no nuance or thought to it, admittedly.

S: I think that’s a fair point. And this time there’s around 500 Shenhua expected to make the trip, according to word on the Lanmo channels. As a side note, we have been told not to wear colours or at least to keep them well concealed until in the ground itself.

B: Yes, that’s always what is advised (and has been advised on more than once), though more than a few fans ignore it and usually are okay. My biggest issue is that you are expected to arrive so early, but then you get there and a lot of the time you’re just standing around for an hour or more (or perhaps sitting on the stand), but there is no organization beyond that, no food, often no drinks. My biggest gripe is the lack of basic comforts in the away end. Fine, I can understand forcing me to get there 3 hours ahead of time, but at least let me buy a beer, I won’t even complain if I have to pay 10 kuai for it.

S: Absolutely. And on my last trip to Gongti, I wasn’t even allowed to take food in, which was just plain illogical.

B: Indeed, well here’s to a good lad’s weekend in Beijing, hopefully we’ll meet up for some actual beers at some point. Cheers mate!

S: Yes, I think some real beers need to happen and how knows we may even be able to do a Pubcast, I’ll be up there all weekend for general shenanigans. See you soon!

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.



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