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CSL 2015 run-in: Massive pressure on SIPG and Shandong Luneng this weekend

Last week in our title run-in watch we predicted that since none of the top four were playing each other, the chances were “not many points will be dropped the race will intensify yet further.”

Our forecast turned out to be absolutely correct – but only after last-minute goals from Shandong at Shenhua and Evergrande in the Guangzhou derby saw all the top four pick up three points each for an as-you-were situation – Evergrande on top with 57 points, SIPG on 55, Shandong on 52 and Guoan on 50, with four games left to play.

Shanghai SIPG

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

The team formerly known as Shanghai East Asia picked themselves up from their disappointment against Evergrande to win 3-1 at a canter against lowly Guizhou at home. The Shanghai Stadium side didn’t miss record signing Gyan upfront at all with Toby Hysen, the man who scored most of the team’s goals in the first half of the season, stepping back into the centre stage again and getting among the scorers.

If SIPG had an easy time in the last round, it’s a different story this week as they travel to Shandong in the clash of the weekend. This is very much crunch time for SIPG – should they win this game, it’s downhill all the way after that. However last time these teams faced off, Shandong’s international midfielder Wang Yongpo scored in a narrow 1-0 win over the Shanghai side. A draw will do neither side any good, so his is the game to watch this week.

Guangzhou Evergrande

Guangzhou Evergrande

26/9 v Guizhou Renhe (A)

30/9 v Gamba Osaka (H) – ACL semi

17/10 v Tianjin TEDA (A)

21/10 v Gamba Osaka (A) – ACL semi

25/10 v Shandong Luneng (H)

31/10 v Beijing Guoan (A)

You just can’t ever write off Evergrande. Trailing 1-0 in a fairly dull Guangzhou derby, the Tianhe side pulled it back to 1-1 in the first half with a less than convincing penalty before a grandstand finish saw them snatch three points right at the death – something they have done no fewer than three times this season. The theatrical finish meant Evergrande finished the round two points ahead of SIPG on top of the league.

A trip to out of form Guizhou should present no significant problems for Evergrande and it’s difficult to imagine anything other than an away win for the champions this weekend. In many ways this round is a bit of a breather for Guangzhou, its probably the easiest game of their run-in and the pressure will be on everyone else to keep pace with the leaders. Similarly, Evergrande will no doubt be eager to make sure they don’t slip up so to keep the two point buffer and imitative for the later rounds.

Shandong Luneng

26/9 v Shanghai SIPG (H)

30/9 v Jiangsu Sainty (H) CFA Cup semi

17/10 v Guizhou Renhe (H)

25/10 v Guangzhou Evergrande (A)

21/10 v Jiangsu Sainty (A) CFA Cup semi

31/10 v Shijiazhuang Yongchang (H)

Shandong Luneng

With just seconds left on the clock in their game against Shenhua, and down to ten men and playing very poorly, Shandong’s title challenge looked to be heading for the rocks. But a dramatic last-minute goal from Júnior Urso means that if Shandong can win their big match this weekend against Shanghai International Port Group, they will draw level with their opponents in the table and go second on account of a superior head-to-head record.

However, the Shandong media were far from impressed with their team’s display against Shenhua in the previous round – Shandong looked indisciplined and had visibly almost given up on the title for another year. But a morale-boosting barely-deserved win has propelled many a team on their way to a championship and it may provide Shandong with the belief that they can go all the way in this race. The men in orange don’t quite look like a champion at this point, but with Evergrande to come in the second last round, their fate could be in their own hands if the Guangzhou side fail to win a game before then.

Beijing Guoan

Beijing Guoan

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)

Guoan made heavy work of a stubborn Jiangsu Sainty side at Gongti in the last round, labouring to a 1-0 win and doing just enough to keep themselves in the championship discussion. And with a trip to soon-to-be-relegated Shanghai Shenxin this weekend, it’s more than likely that Guoan still won’t be ruled out, mathematically at least, by the time the dust settles after this round is over.

Time is running out however for the men in green – even if they win against Shenxin, they will still be seven points behind leaders Evergrande, if, as expected, the reigning champions win their match against Guizhou. Still, with Evergrande to visit Beijing on the final day of the season, Guoan will surely have a say in the title’s destination one way or another.

In summary: Pressure is on both Shandong and SIPG this week

Since all four teams won last week, the situation is much the same. Evergrande struck another psychological blow with a late, late winner to remind everyone of their determination to win. However, this round is obviously all about the Shandong v SIPG game. A defeat for Shandong would all but mathematically rule them out of the race. Such an SIPG victory, combined with an expected win for Evergrande, would also just about remove Beijing from the equation even if they win their match against doomed Shenxin. So this week could be the week it goes from a four-horse race to a two horse one.

That said, in a way, this weekend Evergrande and Guoan are in the same boat – they are playing away games against lowly teams they are expected to beat, and their nearest rivals are playing each other so they are guaranteed to gain ground over someone. Expect Evergrande and Guoan to win, and SIPG and Shandong to draw leaving the Guangzhou men to take a big step towards their fifth title.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade...

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