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North Terrace News: An Unwanted Record to Continue in Changchun?

Following another limp performance at home to promoted Shijiazhuang on the weekend, Shenhua head north to one of their unhappier hunting grounds — will a well-rested Changchun Yatai continue the Hongkou side’s hurt?

Predictable

Another low-scoring, frustrating home draw was always on the cards last Saturday. Following a dramatic end to 2014, Shijiazhuang Everbright may well be pinching themselves to find out they’re actually a CSL side — but they’ve wised up to the top flight quickly, and followed a tried-and-true tactic of sitting deep at Hongkou and letting the home side frustrate themselves, while threatening to nick the game on the break. While they may be thankful to goalkeeper Guan Zhen for a couple of smart saves (and some flagrant timewasting), Everbright had chances of their own; only a desperate Bai Jiazhun block stopping Mao Jianqing from registering against Shenhua yet again.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

When is a squad not a squad? When the absence of one or two players shears all attacking flair from the side.

When is a lone striker not a lone striker? When he’s a 35-year-old who has played the bulk of a distinguished top-level club and international career in attacking midfield positions.

When is a capped international not a real footballer? When his control is such that his second touch is literally a tackle, and his entire contribution consists of shinning the ball sideways or arriving late into clumsy challenges.

When are two wingers not wingers? When one of them couldn’t pull out a decent cross at a seminary, and the other is a penalty-box striker being played wide on his wrong foot.

When is a manager not a manager? When, despite all evidence to the contrary, he continues to pick the above side week-in-week-out and presumably cross his fingers really hard that somehow it’s going to work out this time, rather than try any change of tactics or personnel.

Plan A?

In the absence of a Plan B, Shenhua arguably struggle for a Plan A when Cao Yunding and Paulo Henrique are missing due to injury. It’s not entirely clear how the side aim to score goals when they’re so ponderous, one-paced, and lack outlets or runners up top. Wang Yun is an admirable midfield general, and has proved a cracking signing, but an attacking playmaker he is not — and his dead-ball delivery is little short of an insult to the previous wearer of Shenhua’s #20 jersey. Remember the start of 2014 when the only way Shenhua could scrape a goal was through Xu Liang’s set-piece mastery? The middle of 2015 is turning into a reminder of that, only without Xu Liang.

Short of some intelligent running from Cao or Paulo, the only time Shenhua truly threaten is through moments of individual brilliance from Gio Moreno; the lanky Colombian captain twice coming close to scoring with yet another acrobatic volley against Shijiazhuang. The players on the pitch should still have enough quality to be able to create without depending on a hail Mary from their talismanic leader; they appear to lack confidence in themselves at the minute, however. Either coach Francis Gillot had an extremely dark sense of humour when he announced after a couple of vibrant early-season wins that the true level of this team would only be seen after another ten or so games, or he’d seen something in training that suggested that even back then Shenhua didn’t believe they could keep it up.

A Record to Forget

Shenhua’s recent travails outside Shanghai are well-known and widely reported here; fail to win in Changchun on Wednesday evening however, and it next season will make it ten years of hurt in the north-east, with 2006 marking their last win in Jilin. The omens are not great either; Shenhua are in rotten form and huffed and puffed their way to a tired draw on Saturday, and their hosts haven’t played in a month — winning their two games before that. Changchun have a couple of experienced Hungarians in midfield — Szabolcs Huszti should be familiar to Shenhua fans after scoring in a 3-2 win at Hongkou last year — and a goalscoring Moreno of their own, with Bolivian Marcelo Martins Moreno making a decent start to life in China after bouncing around Brazil and Europe in recent years.

Prediction & Reality Check

The only way is down. While Cao made an immediate impact as a substitute on Saturday, it may be expecting too much to put the #28 back into the starting XI this early — and little reliable word on Henrique’s return date is available. Without the only two men in the squad who can beat a man at pace, Shenhua will continue to look one-paced and zero-dimensional, and their well-rested hosts will simply have too much for them. NTN would be tempted to ring in the changes — is it asking too much to give Gao Di a full 90 minutes up top, or to switch Cahill and Moreno’s positions? — but don’t be surprised to see the same side make the same mistakes again. 2-0 Changchun, and Shenhua to potentially end the gameweek as low as 12th. Anyone know the French for “early season flash in the pan?”.

Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:

P 12   W 5   D 2   L 5   GF 17   GA 14   GD +3   Pts 17

Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:

P 12   W 4   D 3   L 5   GF 14   GA 19   GD -5   Pts 15

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

Steve is WEF's Shanghai Shenhua correspondent, having followed the side since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve can now be found enjoying/enduring matchdays on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the rest of the (in)famous Shenhua Element Crew.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Yenster

    03/06/2015 at 22:18

    This is the worst performance I’ve seen from Shenhua all season, worst then the 5-0 thrashing from Shanghai SIPG because at least in the first 20 mins it was a contest, however today was just awful throughout and they can’t blame the ref brandishing reds cards this time out.

    Steve Crooks called this game to a tee Moreno and Cahill do hot work together at all. Francis Gillot might of mixed up the formations a bit today but the simple fact is without Henrique its down to Moreno and Cahill to get the goals again. Too bad Moreno is all about the Hollywood passes and the only person within a 5-mile radius is Cahill who has never and will never be the one who will run in behind the defence. As for Cahill he’s tries but today was the first time I’ve seen him give up. I do have sympathy for him, he’s built a reputation as an attacking mid whose late runs into the box always saw him nab a goal or when he’s played as a striker it was always with wing forwards next to him to pick up his headers but at Shenhua he’s often the lone striker winning headers for no one making him statistically worst then Mathieu Manset, remember him?

    Francis Gillot has to change things, the team can’t revert back to a 4-4-2 with Cahill and Moreno leading the line, it doesn’t work and now were in a situation where all confidence is out of the team relying purely on them. Gillot has to play his best players in their best positions. That means changing the formation to a 3-5-2 where Cahill has a striker partner to run behind the defence while he wins headers and while Moreno is given freedom in midfield or 4-3-3 that unitized Cahill to good effect for Australia in the 2015 AFC Cup. Anything has to be better then what’s been going on lately.

    • Steve Crooks

      04/06/2015 at 12:56

      Grim stuff indeed; Cahill’s record at this point is comparable to either Manset or Nic Anelka — hardly the watermark we’d have hoped for.

      3-5-2 would actually be an interesting shout; it solves the winger issue (Bai & Zhang could be handy wing-backs) and allows playing Cahill and Gao Di up top together. Gao does need a strike partner, I feel — lacking the strength to hold the ball up reliably. Also allows for dropping Wang Yun further back; he’s been a bit less effective in a more advanced position recently.

      Switching suddenly to 3 at the back is generally tough even on well-drilled, tactically-sound defensive units; how that would translate to Sunzu, Li Jianbin and Papadopoulos is anyone’s guess. Still, it’s clear that something has to change, and quickly — Shenhua have a winnable series of games after the break, but if they can’t snap this rotten form quickly then they’ll be in all kinds of trouble come the autumn.

    • Cameron Wilson

      05/06/2015 at 08:51

      Agree with you Yenster, except I would say Gilliot has tried to change things up. But trying to make a formation with this Shenhua squad which does’t necessitate players being out of position is like trying to solve a six-cornered jigsaw puzzle.

      It simply doesn’t work. Really I strongly feel the board has to blame for this – it is they who made almost all the signings, and they indicated that they clearly know fuck-all about football. Cahill can’t be faulted for effort or professionalism. But his signing was clearly a mistake – Moreno, Cao Yunding, Deng Zhouxiang are all attacking midfielders and Wang Yun has played that role too for almost all his career. It’s like schoolboys are in control of the transfer policy – just buying up all the skillful attacking players and forgetting you need guys who can tackle and run and track back all the time in midfield.

      Manset? Just another example of the Shenhua board being fucking clueless – they paid 900k Euro to loan him? That just sounds so dodgy it’s unbelieveble. Then we’ve got Ruiz last year – 3 million Euro – for what? He also scored one goal. Anelka was pretty crap as we all know. Do you see a pattern here?

      Gilliot is pilot of an weird experimental airplane designed by madmen. It looks good but can’t ever fly right. I have reservations about some of his decisions, but I don’t think anyone could do an awful lot better.

      For what it’s worth I’d have a 4-2-2-2. Defence of Geng in goals,Liu Jiawei (youth from last year) at right-back, Bai at left, Sunzu and Li Jinbian in the middle. Zhang Lu and Wang Yun shielding midfielders. Moreno and Cahill or Cao Yunding (pick according to who is fit, both are impact subs), Henrique playing just off Gao Di upfront.

      Bench would be Da niu, Lv Zheng, Zheng Kaimu. Then fill it up with youth players. The rest of the reserves aren’t worth a shit, except Wang Fei and Xiong Fei are useful subs.

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Shanghai Shenhua

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Established: 1993

Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai

Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)

Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995

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Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998

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