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Pub Talk: Shanghai – Beijing China Derby aftermath

Emerging from behind the bushes, at least one of your pubsters is feeling the worse for wear this week, although the emotions of both are polar opposites. Shanghai Shenhua’s surprise 3-1 taking of league-leading Beijing Guoan from behind ranks high on the agenda. What on earth happened there? Penetrating insights are made. Shanghai Ultra is unsteady on his feet, but he manages to cross swords with Bcheng, who tries to forget the China Derby happened by drinking his memory blank. Views are given, eventually, and a certain viral incident in a Beijing clothing store referenced. Speaking of ins-and-outs, the curtains are suddenly jerked open on the transfer window – find out what we discover going on behind there. Elsewhere, the title race is getting tighter, but questions arise over Shandong’s staying power and their vulnerability at the back. Is lucubration required? There’s ample to go around pubside in social form at least. Guoan can’t shoot, but their next opponents Shanghai International Port Group are rising to the occasion. Going down south, can Guangzhou Evergrande keep it up for a fifth year, or will they lose firmness and finally flop out before the job is done? That’s the orgy of discussion going on in the pub this week. Pull up a stool and join in the action, this week a strict one person-at-a-time only applies during toilet visits.

Shanghai Ultra: Uggh. My head.

BCheng: Me too…We’re in the pub but I’m sitting here with an iced tea in front of me, don’t want to even look at a beer right now, would be almost as painful as watching Guoan play.

SU: Uhh……*cough* Wut?

BC: Last night was full of surprises all around, but our condition being what it is has a lot to do with the proceedings in Shanghai yesterday.

SU: Yes, er, forgive me B for being slow off the mark, I need a few moments to compose my thoughts, too much to process.

BC: Haha, well let’s commence, the curse of Hongkou and its horrible pitch has returned, start rubbing it….

SU: I have hazy recollections of a team in blue lording it over some guys in green, and the grass looking like shit.

BC: Last night felt like so many of the previous derbies at Hongkou, Guoan came out flat, they played their typical possession game but in the final third were anemic and Shenhua was able to exploit the holes in Guoan’s banged up defense.

SU: Yeah I can only say Guoan were comprehensively beaten, did you guys even have a shot on target? Not only was a Shenhua victory a surprise, but the manner of it too. Guoan indeed have much of the ball, but did little with it.

BC: There was at least one shot on target, because Guoan scored, but outside of the goal, not many chances really stand out. This has been a major problem as of late, why with so much talent are they doing so little offensively, it doesn’t make sense and unfortunately their new signing doesn’t seem to address the issue (but more on that later). It was downright disappointing, but I don’t know what I was expecting, trips to Hongkou are so often like that.

SU: Right, you had the ball but I just don’t recall Guoan coming near to scoring apart from their goal which I missed. I think your backline was not prepared to deal with Ba at all, he basically destroyed the Guoan defence . I wonder if his lukewarm debut against Tianjin last week and fitness concerns headlines influenced Beijing’s preparation?

BC: Guoan’s back four is an issue in itself, two center backs are out due to injury and Manzano doesn’t trust Jin Pengxiang so he’s playing Zhao Hejing out of position. Xu Yunlong is still a solid defender, but he’s old and slow and not going to be able to deal with someone like Ba.

SU: Xu looked ill at ease it has to be said, he’s what, 36 now? That’s almost as old as Jiang Kun.

BC: Yeah, I don’t want to place too much of the blame on him, because outside of the goals it wasn’t as if Shenhua created a ton of chances, the defense was alright for the most part, but the big issues was the complete and utter lack of offense.

SU: I must admit Guoan’s performance left me scratching my head. I expected much better, they looked very ordinary and not like a league-leading side at all. The whole match defintely felt like a traditional China Derby at Hongkou – Shenhua prevailing regardless of the formbook.

BC: Exactly, I think that’s all there is to say about it, this wasn’t the Guoan that we’ve seen for much of the season.

SU: Off the pitch, the pop concert held two days before the game was an absolute joke. There’s plenty of other places to hold concerts, it’s meant to a stadium designed from the ground up for professional football use, so that’s the point in it being used for purposes which impact its main use? Shenhua just spent 14 million Euros on Demba Ba, it’s ironic if its done for money purposes.

BC: But Shenhua, like the vast majority of teams in China, only rent the stadium and so whoever wants to use it can do so.

SU: Right that’s what it boils down to unfortunately. I must say last night the atmosphere was off the scale even for a China derby, plus there was some very funny jokes about the Uniqlo changing room sex tape.

BC: I’m sure a good time was had by all in blue. Well, outside of what went on at Hongkou, we saw too big shocks with Shenxin drawing at Shandong (and even had a two goal lead at one point) while Evergrande drew against Henan.

SU: Yes the only downside to Shenhua’s impressive victory was that it helped Anagram FC who play tonight against Tianjin, and other games featuring the title chasing pack went their way as you say. Shandong really reverted to the Shandong of last year, throwing away points very carelessly.

BC: Yeah, these sides are all keeping tight, its going to be a hell of a title race this year.

SU: I think it is. Evergrande also got a man sent off, to draw against Henan who are flying high this year which was not expected.

BC: Yeah, I didn’t see what happened to get the sending off, but I believe that was Zheng Zhi’s first match back after a three match suspension and then he ends up with another red card.

SU: Might Zheng Zhi feeling the pressure and getting a little bit past it ?

BC: He’s always been someone with a bit of a temper, in the heat of the summer maybe he’s letting go a little.

SU: Yeah. Going back to the title race, you’re right. I can’t remember a race like this for years. I for one am very excited. I have a feeling Shandong are going to slip away a bit perhaps, as last night’s result suggested.

BC: Shandong are away at R&F next, its going to be a tough match for them. I’m not sure if last night was just a blip or if their issues will continue, I’m certainly worried about SIPG coming to Gongti on Monday, made worse because both Zhou Ting and Zhao Hejing will be missing.

SU: I think Hysen is out of Shanghai International Port Group’s match against Tianjin, and Gyan is not yet fully fit according to what I hear. So perhaps they’ll be blunted upfront.

BC: Hopefully, that would help somewhat, it’s definitely going to be a struggle, it’s certainly going to be a huge match.

SU: Yeah a top of the table clash. Well we’ve got guizhou and Fuli to come midweek, plus a round of games on the weekend which will see me making my first visit to Chongqing.

BC: That should be a fun trip, I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about afterwords, though this weekend outside of the two matches I mentioned, not too much to get excited about this weekend.

SU: Not really no. Maybe Shenxin v Shijiazhuang will provide interest, Shenxin’s draw against Shandong might give them renewed vigor in their race against time / relegation.

BC: Yeah, its worth taking a look at the bottom of the table as I think Guizhou have the chance to keep themselves up, if they win tonight its going to make an interesting relegation battle as the sides bunched up at 20 points are going to be brought into the picture.

SU: Yes, this year we can really see three strata in the league – the title chasing pack, everyone else, except Shenxin at the bottom.

BC: But for awhile it didn’t look like there’d be much of a relegation struggle, right now it seems like there will be a real battle there, once again with lots of teams involved in it.

SU: Yeah Guizhou can still pull away. Shenxin down already in effect, would you agree?

BC: Yeah, it’s going to take a real miracle to see Shenxin stay up this year, I can’t see how it will happen.

SU: Me neither, their departure from the CSL is long overdue as I’ve said many times before. Looking down at who may come up – Yanbian have a significant lead. What a reversal of fortune for them, saved by relegation last year by other teams dissolving and withdrawing from the league.

BC: Indeed, it’s been a crazy ride for them. I’d really love to see them come back up to the top flight, it would make for a lot of excitement and a really unique side to have in the top flight.

SU: I’d love it also, a team based on an ethnic minority is a very interesting concept in China. It looks as if will come to pass – they seem to be using their Korean connections well, Ha Tae-goon has come in permanently from Suwon and he’s scoring a lot of goals for them. Would be interesting to see how he would do in the CSL with them.

BC: So on the subject of transfers, the window closes today, there was a lot of talk about what Beijing would be doing though not much has come from it, in the end Kleber joins the side from Porto while Erton leaves for the time being.

SU: I was just about to bring this up – I also see Zhang Xizhe is back, what’s the word on the street about that?

BC: Yes, his return to Beijing is great news in light of Zhang Chengdong going to Rayo Vallecano, it will be interesting to see how Manzano uses him.

SU: How have things changed in the time he’s been gone in that aspect of the team?

BC: Yu Dabao arrived in the winter and Zhang Chiming also just joined Guoan (though there may be issues with that) so an already crowded midfield situation is now all the more crowded.

SU: Yu Dabao has been playing wide most of the time, right? Or in an attacking midfield role?

BC: Yes, he ‘s usually out wide, but that’s also where Zhang played much of the time at Guoan, as Manzano relies on Batalla to play the attacking role.

SU: It’s disappointing to see Chinese attacking talent seemingly get more and more marginalized. As football has evolved away from two strikers up front, to this kind of emphasis on a distinct division between attacking and defending midfield units, it seems that if you’re a Chinese striker, or even attacking midfielder, the chances are going to get punted out wide. Not sure that bodes well for China’s national team.

BC: Obviously it doesn’t bode well at all, but this is a huge problem, the majority of the time the two main attacking roles are taken by foreigners. The most depressing thing to be is a Chinese striker, unless you are unbelievably talented, you aren’t going to play.

SU: We see this at Shenhua as well, Gao Di is basically played as a winger, but he can’t cross and his main attributes are his agility and good finishing skills. It’s pretty bad. Also if you look at the top scorers in the Jia-A / CSL, in the first few years there were always Chinese, now I don’t think we’ve seen a Chinese top scorer since Li Jinyu back in, I think 2007 or 08 with Shandong. In fact, now we don’t even see Chinese strikers on the pitch that much never mind leading the scoring charts.

BC: I’d be hard pressed to think of a team that regularly uses a Chinese striker, almost all of the attacking players on the national team are put on the wing.

SU: Yeah I was thinking the same, Wu Lei at SIPG is I think a natural AM but even he is punted wide now often as far as I know.

BC: Right, this is one of those issues we can talk about for a long time, it’s something that seriously effects the league. We talk about all the great foreign talent and that’s a good thing, but it’s definitely effecting domestic players and there isn’t much that can be done short of a ban on foreign strikers like the one on goalies.

SU: Yes we touched on that the other week, but clearly it’s just not practical to limit certain kinds of outfield players in the same way as can be done with goalkeepers. I’m not sure what the answer is other than reducing the foreign player quota, even then the first player a CSL club would buy is almostt always going to be a forward.

BC: Exactly, though at least we might see more Chinese players as the second main attacking threat.

SU: I think as I mentioned a lot has to do with tactical evolution too and the out-and-out striker becoming a rarer beast.

BC: True, plus the majority of clubs are using a single striker up top.

SU: That always seems a bit phony to me though, there’s always going to be a need for guys who can stick the ball in the net. Plus I think “false 9s” and such modern ideas have come from Spain in recent years, but Spain’s fall from grace at the last World Cup might see some kind of reaction against that. Or maybe I’m just a UK traditionalist pining for the return of 4-4-2.

BC: Haha, so back to the main topic, anything else to discuss this week?

SU: I think the departure of Paulo Henrique from Shenhua is very interesting here – how many clubs end up releasing their top scorer? It says an awful lot about the league in general I think.

BC: It does, Guoan said goodbye to someone who scored 5 or 6 goals so far this season as well, it’s shocking but that’s what the CSL has become, too often its change for change’s sake.

SU: Yeah. On Shenhua’s side, there was a complete lack of planning in terms of thinking about which kinds of players were needed. Henrique was a forward more than an out and out striker, someone very good off the ball, strong and good dribbling, but not a good finisher despite his six goals. Then there is the wide issue of the foreign player quotas, someone had to leave. I think it was going to be Cahill, but he came good when it mattered – now he can continue his fashion and branding activities off-field in Shanghai which he seems very committed to. But yeah, as I wrote recently, the short-term cycle of releasing foreigners after just one year is way too common.

BC: Yes, I’m shocked at the debacle that was Guoan’s addition of a foreign player, it was downright embarrassing to leave it so late and while I wasn’t over the moon on Erton, Kleber doesn’t leave anyone feeling confident

SU: Yes I was surprised I thought Guoan might make more of a splash.

BC: Everyone did because Guoan kept saying they would but that didn’t happen in the end. It stinks of desperation, to bring someone in just before the window closes.

SU: Speaking of which, Evergrande have signed Robinho on a six-month contract. Am I alone in wondering what the point of that is?

BC: I might be wrong about this but Alan’s been out injured for awhile I believe, don’t think he’s coming back anytime soon so that’s why they are doing this.

SU: Yeah I think Alan’s been put in the reserve squad because of that. But Rene Junior is in the mix too. I don’t know what’s going on with their foriengers.

BC: I’m in the same boat, but still it’s not that bad because I think they have a need for it and its only a temporary thing, so at least on paper they are saying they want to keep Alan around.

SU: Right well that’s better than getting rid of him simply because he’s not gonna be fit for a few games which as we know happens elsewhere. Robinho has lost his way, so the story goes, not sure how he will fit in, Elkeson I think is still going to be the more useful player.

BC: Scolari obviously thinks he has some use. If this was any other side doing it, I’d think it was a move just to sell tickets, but that’s not something Evergrande needs to do.

SU: Yeah it seems a bit too much like what any other side would do, I wonder if Evergrande are feeling the pressure and going for the instant results route.

BC: That could be it, they’ve obviously been getting by okay with their limited foreign resources, so it will be interesting to see how he fits in and how that works out for them. All the top teams have made moves, Guoan actually did more than anyone else this window.

SU: Elsewhere, Sun Ke is back at Sainty. What a bizarre story that is.

BC: Yes, not sure what there is to say about it, straight up odd, having a Jiangsu player attend a press conference for another side, though not much to talk about at this point.

SU: No. I am not sure he will ever play for Tianjin Songjiang. It’s a pretty embarrassing affair for all concerned I think.

BC: Well, does that bring to a close another pub session?

SU: I think so, I’m too hungover to continue. Cheers, until next time.



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A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.



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