In our last CSL run-in piece we predicted Beijing Guoan would win, but fall out of the title race, Shanghai SIPG to draw, and Guangzhou Evergrande to stay on top by winning. That’s exactly how it turned out in the last round and it also means Evergrande will win the title on Sunday if they beat Shandong. It’s that simple.
This weekend most neutrals will be rooting for Shandong to beat Evergrande to keep the title race alive until the last game of the season.
25/10 v Changchun Yatai (A)
31/10 v Liaoning Whowin (H)
They’ve consistently said just qualifying for the ACL was their goal this season, but the feeling of disappointment at Shanghai Stadium last weekend as SIPG dropped two points to Shijiazhuang must have been huge. However, despite SIPG’s good form, the result was not a surprise – their opponents are undoubtedly the CSL’s dark horses this year and are guaranteed to finish as the highest newly-promoted side since re-launched Evergrande returned to the CSL in 2011 to win the title. Ultimately careless defending from SIPG was punished by Zambian striker Jacob Mulenga who equalized late in the game to make it SIPG 2-2 Shijiazhuang.
Star striker Asamoah Gyan has returned from injury and made a late appearance from the bench last week, but it may be too late for SIPG as matters are no longer in their hands. All the Xujiahui-based side can do is win their remaining two games and hope Evergrande slip up.
25/10 v Shandong Luneng (H)
31/10 v Beijing Guoan (A)
In the last round Evergrande dispatched lowly Tianjin away from home with an easy 2-0 victory. A second half double from Ricardo Goulart was enough to see off the northern side including a penalty. This meant there was no need for last-minute goals this time around, and also that the Cantonese giants had won their fifth game in a row and 12 of their last 10 games – clearly championship-winning form. When WEF started the run-in watch with six games still to go, Evergrande faced a real uphill battle in the form of a very tough CSL run-in, ACL commitments, and injury problems. However, with two games left, they’re now in pole position and a win over Shandong will see them crowded CSL champions for the fifth year in a row. They also completed the small matter of qualifying for the ACL final again during the midweek with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Gamba Osaka of Japan. They’ll face Al-Alhi of the United Arab Emirates over two legs on November 7 and 21 – after the CSL season is over.
Asian Champions League qualification
Beijing Guoan and Shandong Luneng may be out of the championship race but they still have something to play for in the shape of ACL qualification. Up until this week, Shandong still had a chance of qualifying through winning the CFA cup. However, their defeat during the week to Jiangsu Sainty in the semi-final means they must finish at least 3rd to make it to the continental competition. Right now, only Evergrande are guaranteed to finish in the top 3. With two games left, they are on 63 points, SIPG 59, Guoan 56 and Shandong 55. With their relatively easy last two games, expect SIPG to grab runners-up spot and ACL qualification, but Guoan and Shandong each have to play Evergrande before the fat lady sings, so anything could happen there.
In summary: Evergrande are almost there, SIPG fingers crossed
Evergrande will win the league if they beat Shandong on Sunday. If they draw, they will win the league if SIPG fail to beat Changchun. If they fail to beat Shandong, they can win the league against Beijing at Gongti with a draw on account of their superior head-to-head record against SIPG. So in short, Evergrande just need to avoid defeat in their last two games to seal the title. And although those two fixtures could barely be tougher Evergrande are in great form, have their ACL commitments out of the way, and have proven they have the quality to keep it going. However, Shandong will be eager not to play the role of guest at Evergrande’s title-winning party and will be focused on over coming their CFA cup disappointment and making sure they grab an ACL place.
For SIPG, the only way they can win the league is if Evergrande take only one point out of their final two games and SIPG win both of theirs. It’s not outside the realms of possibility, Evergrande’s matches are tough indeed. But WEF predicts the Cantonese side will win on Sunday out of a desire to avoid having to take something out of the game the following week at Gongti.
Few neutrals will want to see this outcome. Going from an exciting 4-way battle, to the championship being won by the same team again before even the last day of the season, would be something of an anti-climax. But the season isn’t over yet!