The cyclical nature of CLS fixtures means that a clash with repeat champions Guangzhou Evergrande is once again little more than an appetizer to the big Shanghai derby week. Can Shenhua re-find some of the form which deserted them so badly in their post-break collapse in Hangzhou?
A Shambolic Return to Action
2015’s Shanghai Shenhua are one of the most bipolar football sides you’ll see; when they’re good, they look capable of beating anyone, with Demba Ba and Tim Cahill scoring for fun. When they’re bad, they’re truly rotten, and can make even out-of-form, anaemic sides like Hangzhou Greentown look like world-beaters.
Tuesday night definitively saw the latter, with a record-breaking 4-1 defeat to a really poor side showcasing almost the entire Shenhua XI’s worst sides: from goalkeeper Gen Xiaofeng’s ricks, through to a shambolic, slapstick performance from center-half pairing Avraam Papadopouulos and Li Jianbin, right through to both Ba and Cahill looking like they had somewhere better to be — and when those two aren’t scoring, they contribute the square root of eff-all. Special call-outs should go to the midfield also; Gio Moreno had another bad Gio day, wasting possession more often than not and leaving the limited Wang Shouting with an ocean of water to carry. Lv Zheng was typical Lv Zheng — quick, direct, running into trouble and making bad decisions, yet capable of instinctive brilliance when not having to engage his pea-sized footballing brain. And, allegedly, Cao Yunding was on the field — although you’d only know this from official statistics and seeing him trudge off when substituted in the second half. To wrap things up, of course Shenhua tried to save the game at 4-1 down by hauling off their only recognized striker to be replaced by… Jiang Kun, of course. Unless the question is “Who is the most washed-up, overweight ex-footballer still with a professional contract?” then the answer is certainly never Jiang Kun.
Weakness in Depth
Shenhua’s struggles may be partly down to their first-choice midfield pairing being absent due to injury concerns — either Mo Sissoko or Wang Yun may have done something to stem the tide of green shirts surging past Shenhua’s engine room and towards their comedy double-act central defence. Beyond the first XI, Shenhua’s cupboard remains disturbingly bare; with Demba Ba reportedly also being rested and stay injury-free for the upcoming back-to-back derbies against Shanghai International Port Group Football Club, Shenhua may be putting out a remarkably weak second-string side against Evergrande this Saturday.
Note to Francis Gillot: if resting or substituting Ba, you do actually have another striker in the squad. He’s the one with the #18 shirt, the one you keep sticking on the left-wing for 20 minutes and looking surprised that he’s no use there. Tim Cahill — in case you have not noticed from his entire two-decade professional career thus far, or his utter anonymity when played as a #9 this season — is not, repeat not, a center-forward.
From a tonking in a stadium where they have never won, Shenhua limp into this game against a side they have never beaten. Remarkably Shenhua actually tend to put up more of a fight down at Tianhe than they do when playing Hengda at home; their one draw from nine matches against Evergrande came in a pulsating 2-2 tie down in Guangzhou in 2012. To add to that inauspicious record, Evergrande appear to be lumbering into the kind of title-winning form one would expect of the repeat champions; currently sitting clear at the top of the table for what feels like the first time in a long time, the Cantonese side poached a very late injury-time winner to take all three points from their recent mid-week trip to Nanjing.
Prediction & Reality Check
This is almost the dictionary definition of a home banker; Evergrande have a huge amount to play for in the league, and Shenhua will have more than half an eye on their upcoming derby encounters. With key players absent due to injuries or being rested, some fighting spirit is probably the best which can be expected here. In time-honored Shenhua-Evergrande prediction form, NTN is plumping for a 3-0 Evergrande scoreline here.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 22 W 7 D 7 L 8 GF 30 GA 28 GD +2 Pts 28
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 22 W 9 D 5 L 8 GF 30 GA 33 GD -3 Pts 32
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