With Shanghai Shenhua in something of a flat spin after recent disappointments, Francis Gillot’s men now face a trip to Shandong Luneng, a side currently in 4th place and challenging the best of the best at the top of the table.
Crashed and Burned?
Reviewing the match highlights and statistics, Shenhua’s 1-1 home draw against struggling Guizhou Renhe last week could be viewed in a more unlucky light – the visitors created little and wasted a lot of time, and Shenhua had the better opportunities and played more positively. The experience, and result, were undoubtedly disappointing however – even with up to half their first team injured or suspended, Shenhua would have expected to put a team in the relegation zone to the sword at Hongkou and restore some of that long-lost loving feeling of the early-season string of victories.
You can be my wingman anytime
The Cahill conundrum reached a new level against Guizhou. Having perhaps realized that his best header of the ball, a marquee signing known for his surging runs from midfield and explosive finishing prowess, was being somewhat under-utilized as a makeshift #9, Gillot opted to mix things up and give Tim Cahill a chance… on the wing. While the veteran midfielder approached his latest out-of-position assignment with typical gusto, and managed to make a couple of dangerous incursions into the box, it’s unlikely that the Australian was signed to be the man providing the crosses – there’s more of a need for speed in Shenhua’s wide play, which an ageing central player is unlikely to fulfill.
Playing with the boys
Gillot’s maverick team selection did not end with Cahill on the right flank, however – the midfield selection also lacked balance, with Gio “Hollywood” Moreno sitting very deep at the base of midfield, and Jiang “Jester” Kun favored further forwards, at the tip of a very blunt diamond. While it’s understandable that the coach wants to deploy Moreno in a position where he can see more of the ball, the Colombian captain was situated too deep for much of the game, and his main contribution once again came from an acrobatic volley when forward for a set-piece. How to best arrange the multitude of attacking midfield options available, while covering for shortages out wide and up top, remains a question which Shenhua are no closer to answering satisfactorily.
Plaque for the Alternates
Perhaps the greatest issue facing Shenhua – and one which has been cruelly highlighted by early-season form tapering off once injuries and suspensions hit – is that while the first XI has been strengthened by close-season transfers, the squad remains genuinely shallow and lop-sided. A number of back-up players once again failed to take their chance against their relegation-threatened opponents – Gao Di failing to take the few chances which came his way, Li Wenbo and Fan Linjiang providing little support from full-back, and Wang Fei looking lively in a cameo appearance before getting sent off and adding himself to the suspension list. Xiong Fei at least put in a solid deputy performance as center-back, his lack of pace and ball-playing ability being less sharply highlighted here than in his previous full-back role. The return to availability of key players – particularly Cao Yunding’s creative spark and Zhang Lu’s running down the right flank – can’t come soon enough.
Prediction & Reality Check
Don’t expect a game to take your breath away; Shandong continue to misfire and fail to truly convince despite the undoubted quality in their squad. Results and performances thus far back up pre-season predictions that Shenhua have too much individual talent to go down; this is a squad unlikely to trouble the danger zone at either end of the table, and who have lost their ability to stay in the dogfight against teams better than them. Expect a relatively routine 2-0 home win, extending Shenhua’s winless run another week.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 10 W 5 D 1 L 4 GF 16 GA 11 GD +5 Pts 16
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 10 W 4 D 2 L 4 GF 14 GA 17 GD -3 Pts 14
Steve Crooks is ’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015