Following a derby double-header against two of the leagues weaker teams which saw Shenhua take one point out of a possible six, the club welcome Guangzhou R&F for a home fixture this Saturday evening. With poor form, injuries, fitness questions over two big new signings, and mystery over who is leaving to make way for them, confusion is once again the order of the day at Hongkou. Cameron Wilson takes a stab at making sense of it all.
Last time out
NTN covered two games in its last edition, neither of which ended in satisfactory results for Shenhua. Last Wednesday Shenhua traveled to Nanjing, a traditionally unhappy hunting ground, to meet Jiangsu Sainty. Shocking defending saw the hosts race into an early two-goal lead, as Avrram Papadopoulos’ lack of physical mobility was again cruelly exposed, whilst Wang Yun made an uncharacteristically bad pass back which ended up at the feet of an opponent and in the Shenhua net seconds later.
Gio Moreno went off injured a half-time, yet a valiant fightback saw Shenhua draw level with another headed goal from Tim Cahill and a nice finish from Wang Yun to atone for his earlier error. However it was all to no avail as Sainty scored the winner with 15 minutes remaining with Shenhua spent by that point.
If the second half fightback was enough to keep morale from falling too much, a dreadful away performance to basement club Shanghai Shenxin on Sunday night sent Shenhua back to square one. Injuries and suspensions saw reserve Xiong Fei at right back and 30-year-old Tao Jin, who has spent his entire professional career at Shenhua yet made less than 20 appearances for the club in over 10 years, slotting in at centre-back.
Poor marking saw Shenxin take the lead from Brazilian forward Everton’s header after five minutes. A Gio Moreno-less Shenhua huffed and puffed, and eventually equalized before half time when Henrique poked home Cao Yunding’s deep cross. However, Shenhua failed to create many more chances and could even have been beaten were it not for some wasteful finishing from Shenxin. 1-1 it ended.
Shenhua fans, making up well over 10,000 of the 11,000 crowd at Yuanshen in Pudong district, made their feelings perfectly clear at failing to beat the team which looks dead-cert to go down and has won just two games all season.
Cao Yunding and Wang Shouting took to Weibo to protest against large sections of the support booing them at the end of the Shenxin game, and appeal for patience and support. Their remarks met with mixed response – all the major fan clubs re-posted their statements, but there was plenty of criticism from disappointed supporters saying recent performances were simply not good enough.
However Shenhua interpreter Andy Zhang said it best on Weibo. “After the Shanghai Derby, the fans didn’t abandon the team and did their best to support us in the face of an unfair result. So after drawing a game we really should have won, we should accept the criticism and take the blame.”
New arrivals – Sissoko and Ba
Shenhua splashed the cash last week to bring former Liverpool midfield enforcer Muhammed Sissoko and ex-Chelsea and Newcastle striker Demba Ba as the summer transfer window opened. Both players, assuming they deal with all the usual issues foreign signings face in China, will strengthen the team considerably. However, as usual with Shenhua, there’s plenty of room to question transfer policy, at least in Ba’s case.
Muhammed Sissoko is a solid purchase in a position Shenhua are badly lacking – defensive midfield. Gilliot played a flat 4-4-2 in the opening part of the season, doing away with a shielding midfielder altogether for the most part and using a total attack / total defence approach. This worked for a while, and Wang Yun effectively did all the heavy lifting in the middle of the pitch. In recent games last year’s regular DM, Wang Shouting, has come back into the team. Essentially a limited player, he was effective as a water-carrier but not so good at ball-winning which Sissoko is.
Demba Ba’s signing is subject to a medical which he hasn’t passed yet – he’s the butt of jokes in the UK for having a dodgy knee. However, splashing out 14 million euros on a transfer fee for the Senegalian came as a shock to your correspondent. Is this money part of the 50 million Euro budget the club was said to have at the start of the year? If so, why spend it only now? If not, does this extra money signal that owners Greenland recognize that the stated aim of finishing a minimum of top 6 looked extremely optimistic given the lack of strength and depth in the squad?
Furthermore, does this mean Greenland will invest more cash next season to buy some better domestic players? Shenhua badly needs this. One can only imagine what 14-million-Euro-ex=Chelsea man Ba will make of seeing the likes of Jiang Kun crawl off the bench. It’s interesting Shenhua choose to spend so much on a fee. Drogba and Anelka came for free as they were out of contract. Surely there was some other high quality striker available for nothing? A fairly modest portion of that 14 million Euro could have brought back Wang Dalei – keen to return to Shenhua your correspondent understands, having lost the captaincy at Shandong. Surely that would represent greater value – China’s best goalkeeper and a club legend with a decade of his career still ahead of him.
Mystery and suspense – who will leave?
Quota rules mean Shenhua must release two foreign players to make way for Sissoko and Ba. However, no such announcement as to who will leave has been made. If Ba passes his medical, then the identity of the departing duo will be announced then. If not, well, who knows what will happen then.
Curiously, Sissoko was on the bench against Shenxin. This means one player had to be de-registered to make way for him – but no official word was given on who. This is rather bizarre. NTN understand that players can be de-registered and then re-registered during the transfer window. So Shenhua obviously haven’t made up their mind yet.
According to NTN sources, Sunzu will leave, and Cahill will stay despite heavy speculation over a possible departure. This means one from Gio Moreno, Papadopolous or Henrique will depart. Gio leaving would seem unthinkable. But nothing can be ruled out. Papadopolous would seem to be favourite, being the weakest player, however he’s a defender and Shenhua are rather short of those. Perhaps Henrique then? Ba’s arrival means the club now has two foreign strikers, when it would seem only one is absolutely essential. All in all, its a rather intriguing scenario.
Team news v Guangzhou R&F
Things don’t look good for this weekend. Gio Moreno and Cao Yunding are out for two weeks. The Shanghai media says Ba won’t play as he’s short of match fitness. Papadopolous returns from suspension, but that’s not necessarily good news.
Sissoko will most likely make make his debut however and Zhang Lu returns to fitness so it’s not all bad. NTN is going to take a stab at predicting the line up: Qiu in goals, Bai Jiajun and Zhang Lu fullbacks, Papa and Li Jianbin in defence. Gao Di on the left, Zhang Lu on the right in midfield. Wang Yun in attacking midfield, Sissoko in DM. Henrique and Cahill in some kind of configuration upfront.
Prediction and reality check:
Things are going to get worse before they get better. Shenhua are in a foggy transitional period and R&F have their confidence back after winng their last match to stop a bad run, so this match is tricky to predict. A 1-2 defeat is on the cards.
The rainy season continues in Shanghai but the long range forecast is dry for Saturday. There’s still need to mention umbrellas though – your correspondent lost his big fancy one after the match on a very rainy last Sunday – security wouldn’t let anyone take their umbrella in to the stadium. So be warned, fan convenience is the last priority at CSL games, take waterproof clothing if it rains – Hongkou’s front rows can still get wet.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 16 W 6 D 4 L 6 GF 21 GA 18 GD +3 Pts 22
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 14 W 5 D 4 L 7 GF 21 GA 27 GD -6 Pts 19
Steve Crooks is WEF’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.