CSL 2015 title run-in: Guangzhou Evergrande win SIPG battle but can they win CSL war?

Guangzhou Evergrande now have the upper hand after their big victory in Shanghai over SIPG, but still face a very difficult run-in, whilst the pressure is growing on Shandong and particularly Beijing to stay in the race.

In terms of the table, Evergrande lead with 54 points, two ahead of SIPG on 52. Shandong Luneng are on 49 points, and Beijing Guoan are at the back of the chasing back on 47.

In our last CSL title run-in piece we singled out SIPG as having the best chance of lifting the championship trophy. However, since then, things for Sven Goran-Erikson’s team have changed somewhat.

Shanghai SIPG

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

In a reversal of fortune, SIPG suffered a hugely disappointing 3-0 home defeat to Evergrande in the clash of the round last time out, and lost their best player, Gyan, who limped off in the first half of that game. He is reported to be out for up to a month.

Both these developments harm SIPGs prospect’s greatly. However, the club’s aim all along has been ACL qualification, so their ability to bounce back may be helped by their lack of championship expectation.

The Shanghai media put SIPG’s loss to Evergrande down to a lack of experience. However with the likes of former Evergrande stars Conca and Sun Xiang in the squad, there is ample know-how to pass on a championship-winning mentality to the rest of the squad. SIPG should beat Guizhou at home this weekend to set up another big match against Shandong in the following round.

Guangzhou Evergrande

Guangzhou Evergrande

20/9 v Guangzhou R&F (A)

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)

The nature of Evergrande’s comprehensive victory in the last round over SIPG said a lot about this year’s CSL. It tells us that despite injuries and suspensions to key players, Evergrande just have that knack of winning. They seldom lose big games and their winning pedigree rose to the fore against SIPG who looked overwhelmed at times.

Since our last run-in analysis, Evergrande have qualified for the semi-final of the Asian Champions League (ACL). This was expected, but the pressure just mounted on Phil Scolari to keep his squad fit and focused on two competitions at once. Evergrande have been there and done it before though, and should they make the ACL final, that will take place after the CSL season is over.

There is of course the fact that, for reasons which seem to escape everyone, Evergrande have four of their last five games on the road – a tough prospect for anyone. The next round sees Evergrande face city rivals R&F in the Guangzhou derby – a game in which Evergrande have struggled in the past. Don’t be surprised by a draw in this match and Evergrande and SIPG sharing top spot this time next week.

Shandong Luneng

20/9 v Shanghai Shenhua (A)

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

A 2-1 home victory over Hangzhou was enough to keep Shandong in the race. Their next fixture is away to Shenhua, and Hongkou has not been a happy hunting ground for the Jinan side in the past. An away win is not beyond this team, but a draw is more likely. That would make Shandong’s following game against SIPG the following week a 100% must-win and another massive run-in match. If they could win that, and Evergrande drop points somewhere, Shandong could be right in the thick of it in a couple of weeks.

The Jinan side also have the added distraction of the CFA cup semi – a two leg affair right in the middle of their run-in. With only the top 3 of the CSL guaranteed ACL qualification, Shandong will not want to slip up in the cup at this stage of the game. Looking ahead though, its all about Shanghai for the men in orange, Shandong can’t really afford to lose any more games to stay in it.

Beijing Guoan

Beijing Guoan

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)

The men in green slipped up badly with a surprise defeat on the road to Liaoning – a result which had some in the capital throwing in the towel for the 2015 CSL title. However Guoan had a game in hand over all their rivals and this they duly won last night – a 3-1 victory at home over Changchun means Beijing are still in it, but only just.

However, with only five games remaining and a 7-point gap to make up, Guoan could be the first of the championship-chasing quartet to drop out of the race if they fail to win any more games. If the Gongti side can repeat their lung-bursting run-in form of last season, they will have a say in the destination of the championship on the final day of the season against Evergrande.

Guoan face Sainty this weekend – expect a narrow victory for the Beijingers to keep them in the championship picture for now. Defeat will rule them out of the race for sure.

In summary: Evergrande now have the upper hand

The championship race definitely got more interesting. An SIPG victory would have put them in a very strong position to go on to take the title, and more defeats for Shandong and Guoan would have saw those sides more or less out of it, but that’s not how it happened. As it stands, Evergrande’s victory over SIPG was a big one and will have psyched everyone else out with that to some extent.

Psychologically that win was big for Evergrande, they proved they still have what it takes to win the title after a very tough season and now are back in the driving seat with their destiny firmly in their own hands. However as with any title race involving so many participants, teams will take points off each other.

This weekend none of the top four face-off against each other, so the chances are that not many points will be dropped the race will intensify yet further.

Author: Cameron Wilson

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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