Following a couple of morale-boosting performances and victories, can Shanghai Shenhua make it three in a row with a rare win in the north? An out-of-sorts Tianjin may give the Hongkou side a chance to build more momentum after a season of more “stop” than “start”.
Picking up the Pieces
It’s been a good week for Shenhua, following on from a stuttering couple of performances and poor results against mediocre local rivals in Jiangsu Sainty and Shenxin. A 1-0 home win against Guangzhou R&F — remarkably the first points all season which Shenhua have picked up against a side above them in the table — was delivered through a performance more commanding and comfortable than the scoreline suggests. Another goal from the rejuvenated Tim Cahill — and assist from Lv Zheng, who is likewise finding more consistent form — was enough to see Shenhua do the 2015 double over Guangzhou’s second side.
This was followed up by a comfortable midweek, mid-afternoon cup win at Qingdao Jonoon — the rare combination of an away clean sheet and multiple domestic players getting on the scoresheet. Lv, stand-in captain Wang Yun, and utility reserve player Fan Linjiang completed a comfortable 3-0 victory. Fan in particular was afterwards singled out for his commitment and performance in training — an all-too-rare instance of a Shenhua squad player getting and taking their chance in first-team action.
Transfer News: Two Out, More to Come
Following the completion of their recruitment business — Mo Sissoko putting in a classy performance to dominate the middle of the park in his home debut — Shenhua have begun the business of trimming their squad. In one of the brighter news moments of recent weeks, Wang Changqing has finally left the club, signing for Beijing Beikong. The much-maligned former Guoan veteran is unlikely to be missed at Hongkou. Fringe player Wang Fei has also been given the opportunity to get some regular first team action with a loan move to inner Mongolia — NTN remains a fan of Wang, and hopefully some regular gametime will build up his confidence and physical capacity ahead of a chance to push for more frequent first-team action in 2016.
The big mystique however surrounds the identity of the two overseas players who must be de-registered ahead of the July 16th deadline. With Sissoko and Demba Ba coming in, Shenhua’s foreign contingent may all be looking over their shoulders. It seems likely that the injured Stoppila Sunzu will be one of the two — not necessarily a huge loss in this correspondent’s eyes, although it does leave the rather terrifying prospect of Avraam Papadopoulos as a starting center-back — with wild rumours flying regarding the second player to leave. It currently seems likely that Tim Cahill will stay — something which looked rather unlikely following previous media speculation — with an exit for either Paulo Henrique or even Gio Moreno being hotly tipped online.
Losing Henrique would be unfortunate — rather than providing more options up front, it would essentially make the Demba Ba transfer a slight trade-up on one injury-prone striker signed from Turkey for higher-profile, more natural goalscoring version — Greenland selling their talismanic Colombian captain would be unthinkable.
Bumper Derby Week on the Horizon
Shenhua’s cup win raises the tantalizing prospect of a two-for-one week in which local rivals Shanghai International Port Group Football Club will twice visit Hongkou in mid-August. Still smarting from a humiliating defeat in the Xujiahui leg of the 2015 derby, Shenhua must be relishing the opportunity to make up for that loss, and also to try to make up for last season’s disappointing cup exit at the hands of another local rival. In addition to the upcoming China Derby, Shenhua now have a couple of pride-based rivalry games to define the second half of an otherwise forgettable season.
A Ripe Time to Take on TEDA
In a situation familiar to Shenhua fans, Tianjin have been on a forgettable streak of their own lately; a streak of winless games, including four straight defeats recently, leaves them sitting in 12th — a position which would be more precarious if it weren’t for the abject nature of Shenxin and Guizhou propping up the table. The CSL mid-table remains as volatile as ever; Shenhua’s last win leaves them in a slightly incredulous seventh spot. While relegation may not be a serious concern, Tianjin will nevertheless be looking to stop the rot as the league is all they have to focus on this year; in a season of cup upsets, TEDA surrendered a 1-0 defeat to second-tier Xinjiang Tianshan midweek, leaving their season already effectively over.
Prediction and Reality Check
Although Shenhua are notoriously bad travellers, it’s not a bad weekend to be leaving the city — out-of-form opponents provide an opportunity for some rare away points, and heading north should put Shenhua beyond the reach of the latest typhoon set to hit the Yangtze Delta. There are rumors that Demba Ba will start, although he may still be lacking the match fitness for a full 90 minutes; saving his legs for the upcoming visit of Guoan may be a wiser move. Predicting an away win for Shenhua is always a dangerous game; recent flourishes and their host’s struggles do mean that Shenhua might enter this game as marginal favourites, but it’s easy to picture a fairly tame match in what is essentially a meaningless fixture for both sides. 1-1 should not come as a huge surprise.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 17 W 6 D 4 L 7 GF 22 GA 20 GD +2 Pts 22
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 17 W 6 D 4 L 7 GF 22 GA 27 GD -5 Pts 22
Steve Crooks is WEF’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