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CSL 2015 title run-in analysis: SIPG can usurp Guangzhou Evergrande

Shanghai SIPG are in a strong position win their first CSL title and have an excellent chance to overthrow current champions Guangzhou Evergrande who face a grueling championship run-in.

With the CSL in another mini-break for China’s forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Hong Kong and the Maldives, looking at the CSL championship run-in reveals a fascinating picture with just six games left to play.

Shanghai SIPG lead the table on 52 points, one ahead of reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande. Shandong Luneng sit third with 46 points, whilst Beijing Guoan are on 44 points but have a game in hand.

Shanghai SIPG

12/10 v Guangzhou Evergrande (H)

19/10 v Guizhou Renhe (H)

26/10 v Shandong Luneng (A)

17/10  v Shijiazhuang Yongchang (A)

25/10 v Changchun Yatai (A)

31/10 v Liaoning Whowin (H)

Shanghai SIPG

Sven Goran Eriksons’s men have had a remarkable season so far in only their 3rd year of CSL football. The Shanghai Stadium team’s biggest challenge comes in a top-of-the-table clash against Evergrande next round. For that, they have home advantage. A win in this game would surely make SIPG favourites to go on to pick up their maiden title.

However, the team formerly known as Shanghai East Asia still face a very tough visit to fellow challengers Shandong Luneng – but with the Jinan team six points behind them at present, they may no longer be in the running by that point. A trip to CSL dark  horses Shijiazhuang also beckons – the Hebei side are unbeaten at home this season. SIPGs final two games, away to Changchun and Liaoning are very winnable, so the title will be theirs to throw away if Sven’s men are topping the CSL after round 28.

Guangzhou Evergrande

Guangzhou Evergrande

12/9 v Shanghai SIPG (A)

20/9 v Guangzhou R&F (A)

26/9 v Guizhou Renhe (A)

17/10 v Tianjin TEDA (A)

25/10 v Shandong Luneng (H)

31/10 v Beijing Guoan (A)

Frankly speaking Phil Scholari has a job on his hands securing his new team’s fifth title in a row. The Cantonese giants play all but one of their remaining six games on the road, and still must face all three of their fellow title-contenders. Add to the mix the demands of a likely two-leg Asian Champion’s League semi-final appearance in the middle of their domestic run-in, then its fair to say if this side clinch the 2015 CSL title it would be the club’s most impressive achievement yet.

Evergrande face a huge challenge in the next round versus an SIPG side with sky-high morale after victory in the Shanghai Derby. The Cantonese have both captain Zheng Zhi and high-scoring Gao Lin suspended for this key gamem, but talismanic defender Zheng Linpeng is back from injury. A visit to their own cross-town rivals R&F presents a sticky problem – Evergrande have a relatively poor record in the Guangzhou Derby. And in stark contrast to SIPG, Evergrande’s remaining two games are as tough as they come – Shandong at home and a daunting visit to Beijing’s Gongti for what may well be a thrilling last day.

Shandong Luneng

14/9 v Hangzhou (A)

20/9 v Shanghai Shenhua (A)

26/9 v Shanghai SIPG (H)

17/10 v Guizhou Renhe (H)

25/10 v Guangzhou Evergrande (A)

31/10 v Shijiazhuang Yongchang (H)

Shandong Luneng

The Jinan team have upped their game and stayed in touch with the title race after under-performing so badly last season. In Diego Tardelli they have a current Brazil national team  striker who joined mid-season to maintain momentum and give a huge boost to the team. However, Shandong’s mentality is suspect – the 2010 CSL winners have a habit of dropping points in games they should win making predicting the men in orange difficult.

Luneng face two tough back-to-back games against Shanghai sides – a trip to Hongkou where Shandong have a very poor record, and an absolutely must-win clash against SIPG at home. However if they can come away with six points out of those, Shandong have two very winnable home games either side of a huge second last game against Evergrande, so one way or another the Jinan club will at least have a big say in the destination of the 2015 CSL title.

Beijing Guoan

Beijing Guoan

12/9 v Liaoning Whowin (A)

16/9 v Changcun Yatai (H)

20/9 v Jiangsu Sainty (H)

27/9 v Shanghai Shenxin (A)

17/10 v Guangzhou R&F (H)

25/10 v Tianjin TEDA (A)

31/10 v Guangzhou Evergrande (H)

Thanks to a forthcoming military parade which has seen large parts of central Beijing on lockdown recently, Guoan’s game against Changchun last weekend was postponed until next month. This piece of yet more avoidable disruption to the Chinese Super League schedule means Guoan have a game in hand over their rivals, but it’s one they must win to stay in the race. However chasing the leaders is what the capital side did very well last year right until the final game, so they know the drill and this will give Guoan confidence that they can take it to the wire. Indeed, Guoan’s next four games are all against teams in the lower half of the league so expect them to do just that and recover from their poor form in late July and early August.

Guoan have a tough conclusion to their season however  – an away trip to local rivals Tianjin for the Jin-Jing derby, before hosting Guangzhou Evergrande at home on the final day in a match which will probably have some bearing on who wins the 2015 title. Should SIPG stumble before the finishing line, this game could literally be a blockbuster winner takes all showdown.

In summary: Tight, but SIPG clearly have the edge

On paper Guangzhou Evergrande have the strongest foreign and domestic players in their squad and of course have the winning mentality having nailed the CSL title for the previous four seasons. However their run-in could barely be tougher, and there is a general perception that the club has lost it’s mojo somewhat this season. Injuries to the Cantonese side’s foreign players have kept the team below full strength for much of the year, but the club is no longer the invincible steamroller it once was. SIPG don’t have quite the same strength but they have a far easier run in and are not involved in the ACL. Indeed, the club have stated that ACL qualification is their sole aim this year, so the team is not under as much pressure. The signing of Gyan in mid season solidified the club’s title challenging credentials. At this point, SIPG look to be moderate favorites to win and they have the fearlessness of youth on their side in terms of their domestic players.

Beijing Guoan have seen this all before, however they are playing catch up and can’t afford to drop more points so the pressure is on. But at this stage of the season, we still have three games between teams in the top four, so there may be slight room for leeway with teams taking points off each other. Expect Guoan to at stay in the race until at least the second last round and possibly further. As for Shandong, the Jinan club are clearly a cut above the teams below them in the table, but their inconsistency and doubts over squad cohesion means they will most likely be the first side to drop out of the title chase.

In short, SIPG look good for their first CSL title, with the Beijing v Evergrande final day clash quite possibly turning into a battle for runners up spot. However, it’s still all to play for and we could yet see three or more sides in with a shout on the final day, which, given the CSL’s convoluted tie-breaker rules, would certainly make for a remarkable climax.

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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