Sunday evening sees one of the few teams in a more self-pitying state than Shanghai Shenhua come to Hongkou. Will Guizhou provide obliging guests for a team looking to recover from recent self-destruction, or does yet more misery await the Shenhua faithful?
This is a Low
Much of what needs to be said about the Shanghai derby massacre has been said both here and here – even more so than the on-pitch implosion and surrender, what should really concern Shenhua fans is that this reflects an increasingly familiar pattern. With Beijing Guoan leaving Hongkou with three points last season, the Shanghai derby record reflected Shenhua’s last real bragging rights – in losing these bragging rights, Shenhua wrapped up a truly miserable CSL week. Playing two of their biggest games of the season back-to-back, the hard truth is that less than an hour of the 180 combined minutes of the Shenhua-Evergrande and SIPG-Shenhua matches could be called competitive football games. Through a combination of awful defending, a non-existent midfield, and clear discipline issues, Shenhua threw away both of these games early. Their combined record against Guoan, Hengda and SIPG now stands at a sobering 0-10 from three games.
Shenhua have at least acted fairly swiftly to punish some of those who lost their heads even more spectacularly while all around were losing theirs – red-carded defenders Bai Jiajun (his second consecutive dismissal at his former club) and Li Jianbin each being fined 20,000RMB by the club – and translator Zhou Xin fined an eye-watering 50,000 for his early contender for the hotly-contested CSL dive of the season award. In addition to the suspensions of Bai, Li and Lv Zheng, Shenhua may also be without the injured Cao Yunding and Zhang Lu, with doubts also surrounding the match-fitness of Avraam Papadopoulos and Paulo Henrique. A number of the remaining fit players are also struggling for form or confidence given Shenhua’s recent run – coach Francis Gillot will have some work to do in picking up his troops for Sunday’s game.
While emotions were understandably running high last Saturday – and the refereeing standards applied strictly – it’s worrying that any of Shenhua’s number of experienced players were unable to step up and focus their team-mates. Captian Gio Moreno, marquee signing Tim Cahill, experienced internationals Stoppila Sunzu and Papadopoulos – along with CSL veteran Wang Yun – were conspicuous by their absence in showing their experience or class when their team-mates needed it most.
It’s difficult to read too much into a 2-0 midweek win at third-tier Meizhou Wuhua in the CFA Cup. While this was a banana skin averted, and a cup run may be all Shenhua fans have to really look forward to for the remainder of 2015, memories of last season are still raw – a cup run in which Shenhua flattered to deceive against weaker sides, only to throw away their good work by being outclassed in the first 45 minutes of their two-legged semi final against the first half-decent team they faced; the parallels with 2015’s league form are all too easy to draw. Qiu Shenjiong put in a solid performance between the sticks, and Jiang Kun remarkably scored an acrobatic volley – neither of these men are the answer to Shenhua’s short-term issues however, let alone their longer-term malaise. The root cause of Shenhua’s current squad issues remains the asset-stripping fire-sale approach of Zhu Jun’s final couple of years at the club – a couple more transfer windows may be required to fully undo the damage which Greenland have inherited.
Prediction & Reality Check
Guizhou Renhe are having an awful start to the season; following a disappointing 2014, the memories of recent ACL football must be fading fast for the club relocated from Xi’an. Guizhou sit second from bottom, having a better record than only Shanghai Shenxin – and having scored the fewest goals of any CSL side. Even a Shenhua side at a low ebb and missing a number of players should have enough about them to see off Guizhou, and continue the pattern of recent times. Tim Cahill will still not be a striker, Gio Moreno will still not work in a 4-4-2 against decent opposition, Avraam Papadopoulos will still not look like a footballer, and the side will still have makeshift width – but individual quality will carry Shenhua past weaker opposition regardless. 2-1 Shenhua.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 9 W 4 D 1 L 4 GF 14 GA 10 GD +4 Pts 13
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 9 W 4 D 1 L 4 GF 13 GA 16 GD -3 Pts 13
Steve Crooks is ’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.