CSL 2015 run-in: Late, late show once again as Shandong all but out
Drama was the order of the day last time around – last minute goals sealed victory for the top two teams Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG to maintain the status quo at the top, whilst Beijing picked up three points to stay in the race – just. Meanwhile, 3rd placed Shandong were the team Shanghai SIPG beat, and all but crashed out of the chase.
Only an extraordinary sequence of results would see Shandong pick up the league title now so for the sake of simplicity the men in orange are considered out of the running.
17/10 v Shijiazhuang Yongchang (A)
25/10 v Changchun Yatai (A)
31/10 v Liaoning Whowin (H)
In probably one of their most impressive results of the season, SIPG grabbed a last-gasp winner in Jinan to keep their title challenge on track, and consign Shandong’s to the dustbin. Both teams had chances to win that match, but Shandong ran out of steam and comical defending gifted Wu Lei a chance in injury time to grab all three points and he did just that. In doing so. he saved his team-mate Tobias Hysen’s blushes – the Swede has missed a gilt-edged chance moments earlier, as Shandong pushed everything forward looking for the vital win.
As far as the Shanghai Stadium club’s title push goes, it’s all downhill from here now. The next two trips on the road to Shijiazhuang and Changchun are against mid-table clubs with no relegation worries – and as such very winnable games. In beating Shandong, SIPG proved they can still score goals without star striker Gyan who remains injured, and the club is in a very strong position to keep the pressure on table leaders Guangzhou Evergrande. One slip from the Cantonese club and SIPG will be poised to snatch first position from them.
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)
In our last run-in analysis we wrote “you just can’t ever write off Evergrande” after they grabbed a last-minute winner in the Guangzhou derby against R&F after going a goal down. Well, this time they did it again – except they went two goals down, against a team which has struggled badly all year. Evergrandes 90th minute winner away to the south-west China side had an air of inevitability about it and again was a psychological blow to their rivals – even when Evergrande look down and out, they somehow find a way to win, again and again.
However, Evergrande still have a formidable run-in to deal with which includes the second leg of an ACL semi-final against Gamba Osaka. The Cantonese giants won the first leg 2-1 however so made things a bit easier for themselves. Their next CSL match, at home to Tianjin, looks like a straightforward victory on paper but Evergrande have had to battle hard recently for their wins and neutrals will be hoping they don’t get lucky again if they fall behind to inferior opposition again. There’s no doubt the pressure is on Evergrande – the incumbent champions have done and seen it all before, but with Shandong at home and Beijing away in the final two rounds, it could hardly be more difficult.
17/10 v Guangzhou R&F (H)
25/10 v Tianjin TEDA (A)
31/10 v Guangzhou Evergrande (H)
Guoan cruised to an easy 4-0 victory away to Shanghai Shenxin to finally euthanize the perennial basement team and confine them to relegation at last. This allowed Guoan to leapfrog beaten Shandong and they now sit third in the table one point ahead of the Jinan team. At this point in the season, that one point makes all the difference and is why Guoan are still in the race and Shandong effectively not – and of course Guoan face Evergrande on the last day of the season. However, in short Beijing must beat R&F at home this weekend if they are not to rely on a series of unlikely results to have a chance of staying in the race – for one more round at least, anyway.
In summary: Huge pressure on Guangzhou Evergrande to stay ahead of SIPG
With Shandong out of the picture, things are a much simpler now. A Guangzhou Evergrande victory over Tianjin will put them beyond the reach of Beijing – and indeed this is the most likely outcome this weekend. But with SIPG breathing right down their neck, there’s no room for error. SIPG won’t have it easy away to Shijiazhuang – the Hebei side have only lost once at home all year. So it’s difficult to call it this round.
WEF predicts a win for Guoan, but their three points will be in vain as Evergrande will also pick up a victory just down the road in Tianjin to take Beijing out of the equation. SIPG will stumble to a draw in Shijiazhuang, but they will be far from out of it on account of their relatively easy remaining two games versus Evergrande’s tough final two fixtures.
Author: Cameron Wilson
UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…