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North Terrace News: Shijiazhuang to Continue Shenhua Suffering?

Shanghai Shenhua’s slide down the table sees them looking up at their newly-promoted visitors this Saturday – will the blue faithful’s suffering continue against Shijiazhuang?

Surrender Mk. IV

The trip to a resurgent Shandong provided yet another example of Shenhua’s place in the current CSL pecking order; a valiant first half falling apart with Shandong creating a number of chances and strolling to a 2-0 win courtesy of some second-half defending veering between the slack and the comical. Yet again the Hongkou side struggled to trouble a top-four side’s defence; their combined record against the CSL’s elite is now a sobering 0-12 in 2015.

Trouble off the pitch

It’s been quite the week for dramatic football administration corruption investigations; with the removal of anonymously-posted details of Shenhua official Zhou Jun’s alleged behavior, the club are apparently soldiering on in solidarity with their big brothers in Switzerland.

Fans have also begun turning on a couple of imports who’ve been questioned lately by NTN — frustration with coach Francis Gillot is beginning to mount, along with a wish to see the hapless Avraam Papadopoulos replaced by a higher-caliber foreign player in the summer. While Papa is more of an open-and-closed case, there is some defence for Gillot given the circumstances he inherited — there is little evidence of the Frenchman’s ability to graft Shenhua out of their slump however, either by bunging up a leaky defence or exploiting the weaknesses of opponents — this is a side which look like they can barely buy a win at the moment.

Trouble on the pitch

Paolo Henrique is expected to continue to be absent; in his stead either a misfiring Gao Di or out-of-role Tim Cahill will be expected to continue to lead a limp forward line. While Shijiazhuang’s impressive start to CSL life has been built primarily on a safety-first approach, the side are almost guaranteed a goal at Hongkou, with the returning Mao Jianqing likely to once again put in the effort against his former side which has been a hallmark of an otherwise inconsistent journeyman career. Question marks remain also over the defence — while options may be limited, Li Jianbin and Stoppila Sunzu fail to convince as a center-back pairing, potentially being two players who are too similar. While both are committed and win plenty of body-on-the-line challenges, they have a tendency to over-commit and get turned — and, in Li’s case, increasing question marks over his temperament following anohter hot-headed display in Jinan. The days of the boy turning into a man alongside the regal, more experienced sweeper figure of Rolando Schiavi in 2013 feel a long time ago.

Players Returning

Zhang Lu made a welcome substitute return last week, and Cao Yunding has returned to training — whether either are fully fit to start remains a question mark however, and Gillot may be cautioned by his experience of rushing back a patently-unfit Henrique earlier in the season. The temptations are obvious — Shenhua’s early-season first XI looked markedly stronger and more coherent than any of their deputies have since managed, with Cao in particular excelling on the left and demonstrating a great understanding with his fellow former Shanghai East Asia youth product Bai Jiajun.

Prediction & Reality Check

On the one hand, facing a newly-promoted team should be exactly what the doctor ordered for an ailing Shenhua, with an opportunity to emerge from their tough recent run into some more winnable fixtures. However, this is also the type of game in which Shenhua have habitually struggled of late — expect Shijiazhuang to be happy to sit deep and hit a flaky Shenhua defence on the break. The blues struggle to break down massed defences, often relying on moments of brilliance from the talismanic Gio Moreno to break the deadlock. Expect a fraught game, with something of a competition to see if Shenhua’s squad or their supporters look nervier and more frustrated as the first half wears on. While Shenhua should have enough in their locker to see this one through, the visitors enter this match on a better run of form, higher in the league table, and much happier with their season to date. A 1-1 draw as the wait for the next win continues.

Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:

P 11   W 5   D 1   L 5   GF 16   GA 13   GD +3   Pts 16

Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:

P 11   W 4   D 2   L 5   GF 14   GA 19   GD -5   Pts 14

Steve Crooks is ’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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