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?
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.
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.