WEF founding editor Cameron Wilson deputizes for Steve Crooks again on North Terrace News as Shenhua face two short away trips this week. Following last weekend’s handsome victory, are Shenhua back on track or are they only good at beating inferior teams? This week’s matches against Jiangsu Sainty tonight, and Shanghai Shenxin on Sunday evening will go a long way to answering that question.
Last time out
After a winless streak of seven games, Shenhua knocked up a fine 3-1 home victory against Liaoning in a performance reminiscent of their early season success. It took until the 89th minute for Gao Di to score the winner before ripping his shirt off in celebration in front of the North Terrace, quickly followed by an opportunistic effort from a fit again Henrique, but that didn’t change the fact that Shenhua were in control of the game from start to finish and the score should have been higher.
Cao Yunding is a player who was highlighted years ago when he first broke into the Shenhua team. Since then his career had mostly stalled, however last year he showed signs of fulfilling his promise. This season, he’s one of Gilliots most important players and has pretty much been on fire all year. Against Liaoning he was man of the match, his linkage down the left flank with Baijia Jun and general trickery saw him beat man after man to deliver dangerous crosses and passes into the box. Whilst not a natural winger, he’s the best Shenhua has in this position.
Speaking of wingers, the performance of Lv Zheng was a minus point. His completely awful finishing ability exposed twice – a dreaful schlaff high into the sky when he had all the time in the world to hit the ball on target, and a poor effort right at the keeper with Henrique unmarked and waiting to tap it in. Fortunately the Brazilian scored on the rebound.
Li Jianbin’s own goal was also another sign that Shenhua’s defence still has a communication problem. But let’s not dwell on that, it was a fine victory and the first genuinely thrilling win of the season – late winners are hard to top.
Next up: Cahill set to play in Yangtze Delta double header
Shenhua head to Nanjing tonight to take on Jiangsu Sainty in a Yangtze Delta derby. Always one of those games where one side hates the other much more, Sainty will be hurting after the big money departure of Sun Ke. Traditionally always a close game, Gilliot will look to use the momentum he has on his side following last Saturday’s handsome victory, and a squad with an almost clean bill of health for the first time in ages.
There’s continuing uncertainty over Tim Cahill’s future. Local media continue to happily discuss Shenhua transfer targets, with Demba Ba back in the picture and the club looking at a few defensive midfielders. The local headlines said Cahill’s final game at Hongkou would be last Saturday. His throwing of his boots and shirt into the crowd, as well as being seen shaking hands with club chairman Wu Xiaohui pitchside, didn’t do much to contradict this. His goal and manful performance did however.
Despite all this, Cahill, his agent and Shenhua coach Francis Gilliot all say they’ve heard nothing from the club about any plan to let him go. This is Shenhua though, where non-football people constantly make football decisions without telling the football people, so this doesn’t mean Cahill will stay. As it stands, he’s guaranteed to play tonight against Sainty, and with the “derby” against Shenxin just four days later, he’ll most likely appear in Pudong too. Cahill has vowed to do his best despite the speculation, and the Shenhua fans made their feelings clear at the end of the match with a “Zhou Jun fuck your mum” chant in reference to Shenhua’s dodgy CEO and the man behind the team’s incredible turnover of foreign signings.
Gilliot faces the right kind of dilemma
With the squad almost at full strength, Gilliot for once has options at his disposal. Number one dilemma is Gao Di – the penalty box striker reminded us that he knows where the net is against Liaoning – he played an exquisite 1-2 with Gio Moreno before controlling the ball well and slotting a low shot home beneath the keeper for Shenhua’s 89th minute juesha (literally total kill, a mandarin term used to describe last minute winning goals). Sadly for Gao, his chances have been very limited this season, stuck out on the wing. For these matches, expect him to be on the bench again but he’ll be first to come on if things don’t go to plan – especially if Gilliot indulges in penchant for half-time substitutions. Sunzu is still out – Papadopoulos continues to deputize, but not inspire confidence.
Double tonic and youth
Good news this week came as local lads and solid first-team picks Cao Yunding and Bai Jiajun signed contract extensions to keep them at the club until the end of 2018. The former SIPG pair have now made 112 and 69 first team appearances respectively – these figures look like they will be greatly added to and rightly so.
Shenhua’s under-21 team returned from playing a half season in a semi-pro league in Spain recently. With the Shenhua reserves lacking any real quality, the club has promoted seven youngsters into the full squad. Winger / attacking midfielder Xu Junmin is said to be the pick of the bunch. He’s joined by centre-half / defensive midfielder Li Xiaoming, Winger Xu Jun, Attacking midfielder Chen Tao, Midfielder / forward Gao Shipeng, centre half Cao Zhuanyu, and fullback Xu Yougang.
Obviously there is a need for this new blood to get direct first team experience at least on the bench first. But they may face a wait until those higher up the clearly visible pecking order have left the club – aging midfielder Jiang Kun came off the bench on Saturday. Your correspondent can’t think of any reason whatsoever why the likes of past it Jiang should keep promising players from getting an opportunity, especially when this season Shenhua effectively have nothing to play for, clearly too good to be relegated but nowhere near good enough to make the ACL spots.
Prediction and reality check
These two forthcoming games both tend to have very predictable results historically and NTN is not going to stick its neck out. Tonight’s game against Jiangsu Sainty will be a mid-table battle. Shenhua have the initiative and go into the contest with renewed confidence – but the hostile crowd and Shenhua’s dismal record makes an away Yangtze Delta Derby victory in Nanjing too big an ask . This game has 1-1 written all over it.
Meanwhile on Sunday evening Shenhua will once again outnumber another Shanghai team’s fans in its own stadium to create a virtual extra home fixture. This year it is increasingly looks like the year space-wasters Shenxin go down. Therefore gazing into the NTN crystal ball reveals a 0-2 win over Shanghai Shenxin.
Rain is again forecast this week across the region so it’s worthy of an umbrella reminder, as is the fact that Shenxin are playing at Yuanshen Stadium in Pudong this season so if you fancy going take line 6 to the station which bears the stadium’s name. This match will not be sold out, pick up a ticket on the street for around 50-80 RMB. Kick-off is at 19:45.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 14 W 5 D 3 L 6 GF 18 GA 17 GD +1 Pts 18
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 14 W 5 D 3 L 6 GF 18 GA 23 GD -5 Pts 18
Steve Crooks is WEF’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.