Shanghai Shenhua enter an action-packed couple of weeks following the international break; will the timing of the break put an end to the side-s blistering-hot form? Hangzhou is a traditionally unhappy hunting ground for Shenhua, but the home side are in dire straits as the Hongkou side visit Tuesday evening.
Before the Break – Shenhua’s Hot Streak Continues
How long ago the innocent days of late July feel — the European football season was yet to start, the Ashes were still a competitive concern, and the EAFF East Asia Cup was yet to disrupt one of the hottest streaks in the CSL. Shenhua faced-off against Henan Jianye in a battle between two of the sides looking to consolidate their position at the top of a very tight mid-table. Despite dominating much of the game and creating a number of chances, Shenhua never quite got comfortably on top, and had the goalpoacher’s instinct of Tim Cahill to thank for the three points, with the Australian stabbing home by reflex with the ball falling to him in the six-yard area immediately after half time.
The result continued a remarkable run for Shenhua — seven games unbeaten, with five wins — and also for Cahill, with the #17 notching his sixth goal in seven.
The Eternal Question – Five into Four
With the entire squad (possibly excepting the perma-crocked Deng Zhuoxiang) fit and available following a short break, Francis Gillot must once again wrestle with the decision regarding which of his overseas players to leave out.
Tactically it might seem to be a straight fight between Cahill and Gio Moreno; the two are yet to dovetail consistently. While Shenhua should celebrate their talismanic captain signing a contract extension to take him through to 2018, Cahill has also been making waves in the media this week — professing happiness in Shanghai at the same time as rumors of big-money bids from the Middle East for the in-form Aussie surface. If Gillot is to make the Cahill-Moreno axis work, then presumably Mo Sissoko is the man to miss out; Demba Ba is in a league of his own up front, and Avraam Papadopoulos has put in some solid performances of late and has little to no cover at center-back following the departure of Stoppila Sunzu. With the fixtures piling up thick and fast, the need to rotate the squad may provide Gillot with a decent smokescreen to figure out exactly what his best XI is.
Kicking a Rival While Down?
Hangzhou have traditionally been something of a bogey team for Shenhua; while some iffy Hongkou form has been allayed with a thumping win in 2012 — the standout performance of the Anelka-Drogba season — and a comfortable 2-0 win earlier this year, featuring Gio Moreno scoring that overhead kick direct from a corner. Away from home however, Shenhua have never won at Huanglong — or any of Hangzhou’s temporary homes. In what Shenhua fans see as a very lop-sided rivalry; Hangzhou care a lot, Shenhua have bigger fish to fry; Shenhua’s relatively poor record highlights the on-field struggles the side has had over the past few years.
There may never be a better time to take on Hangzhou, however. Phillippe Troussier has departed following his latest — and surely last — demolition job on a Chinese side. Hangzhou have been dour, defensive and just flat-out not very good in 2015, and are staring a relegation battle down both barrels. Hangzhou haven’t won in six games, and have lost five of those — they currently sit just two points above a recovering Guizhou side in 15th spot, and might be looking over their shoulders until the very end of the season unless new coach Yang Ji can motivate a turn-around in the side’s form.
Prediction & Reality Check
If this game had been squeezed in ahead of the international break, it would have been a no-brainer — Shenhua were on fire, with a reborn Papa marshalling the defence, a reinvigorated Cahill banging in the goals, and Demba Ba simply too good for CSL defences to live with. At the same time, Hangzhou were coming off an awful run themselves. A couple of weeks off — while providing the opportunity for players to return to fitness and freshness — can do strange things to a side’s form. It’s getting towards do-or-die time for Hangzhou, and Shenhua have some big fixtures on the horizon, with a Hongkou double-header against their city rivals coming up next week, and a trip to Tianhe over the weekend. Gillot may rest a couple of players here, and Shenhua’s history in Hangzhou may play on their minds; we’re hedging our bets with a 1-1 draw prediction here.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 21 W 7 D 6 L 8 GF 29 GA 27 GD +2 Pts 27
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 21 W 9 D 5 L 7 GF 29 GA 29 GD +0 Pts 32
Steve Crooks is WEF’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.