After a three week absence during which China took a step closer to World Cup oblivion, League One returns to action for what will be a pivotal weekend. Yanbian Changbaishan can secure promotion with a point against Wuhan Zall, while Hebei CFFC and Dalian Aerbin’s battle for second continues with matches against Xinjiang and Qingdao Hainiu. At the bottom of the table, there is a huge six-pointer between Hunan Billows and Beijing Institute of Technology that will have a major effect on who drops out of the league in favour of the newly promoted Dalian Transcendence and Meizhou Wuhua. Also, Qingdao Jonoon part company with their manager and rumours abound that some big Brazilian names are coming to Tianjin.
Wuhan Zall vs Yanbian Changbaishan
Yanbian need just a single point in Wuhan in order to confirm the unlikeliest of promotions. Any fears that they might still be caught by the chasing pack were firmly put to bed thanks to a comprehensive 5-0 win over Beijing BG before the international break.
A hat-trick from Ha Tae-goon and a pair of goals from Steve (including a delightful rabona) put BG to the sword and Yanbian now need just a solitary draw from their final three games to claim promotion. Given that Wuhan have won just one of their last six matches, it looks more than likely that they will achieve their goal this weekend.
As this game is on a Sunday, though, things could turn into a bit of an anti-climax should Dalian Aerbin fail to beat Qingdao Hainiu or Hebei CFFC lose in Xinjiang. Both of those games are on the Saturday and so Yanbian could be promoted without kicking a ball.
However it come about, there is a very good chance we will see Yanbian promoted this weekend. For a side that finished bottom of the division last season and would be playing in League Two were it not for Shaanxi Wuzhou and Chengdu Tiancheng defaulting, that is phenomenal achievement. Prediction 0-2
Xinjiang vs Hebei CFFC
Hebei face the toughest test of their promotion run-in when they travel to Urumqi. Xinjiang may be comfortably nestled in mid-table, but only two teams have taken more points than them at home in 2015.
Xinjiang have lost just once on their own turf this season, and a major reason for that is Cristian Danalache who has scored seventeen of his league leading 24 goals in Urumqi. In fact, the Romanian has only found the net in one of his last five games but, when he did, it was a hat-trick against struggling Jiangxi Liansheng.
With Yanbian Changbaishan’s Ha Tae-goon just one goal behind him in the scoring charts, Danalache will be keen to add to his tally. He won’t find it easy, though, as Hebei have conceded just one goal in their last five matches.
That run coincides with Li Tie replacing Radomir Antic at Hebei’s helm and has also seen a return of thirteen points. However, while Hebei’s results have been good, their performances have been far from inspiring, and they may struggle in the northwest.
With a superior head-to-head record effectively giving them a three point cushion over Dalian Aerbin, Hebei are guaranteed promotion if they take seven points from their last three games. As their final two matches are against Guizhou Zhicheng and Shenzhen FC, Li Tie’s men can afford to draw this contest and still feel confident of finishing second. That’s a scenario that we may well see play out, much to the chagrin of Aerbin supporters. Prediction 1-1
Dalian Aerbin vs Qingdao Hainiu
Aerbin will be expecting a routine win over Hainiu on Saturday to keep themselves in the promotion chase, but things may not be that simple. The northeast side are unbeaten in ten, but have fallen two points behind Hebei CFFC by drawing their last two games.
On paper a Hainiu side with nothing to play for look like pushovers, but it’s worth noting that five of their seven wins this season have come against teams in the top half of the table. One of those was a shocking 3-2 win away to Beijing BG and, given that Hainiu were within a minute of costing Shijiazhuang Ever Bright promotion at the end of last season, a win for Dalian shouldn’t be taken for granted.
That being said, the home side have been on top form since mid-July and their two recent draws have come against strong opposition in the shape of Harbin Yiteng and Yanbian Changbaishan. Indeed, Yanbian’s players and staff will no doubt be watching this game closely as they will be promoted if Dalian fail to win.
Hainiu may keep things tight, but they are unlikely to come away with anything. This means that Aerbin, who face Hohhot Zhngyou and Tianjin Songjiang in the final two weeks of the season, could gain ground on Hebei. It also means, though, that Yanbian will have to wait to Sunday to get their historic promotion.
Hunan Billows vs Beijing Institute of Technology
There’s an absolutely massive game in Changsha where Hunan take on BIT in what is the dictionary definition of a six pointer. Both teams sit four points ahead of bottom club Jiangxi Liansheng, with Hunan occupying the safety zone thanks to a 1-0 win over the Student Army in Beijing earlier in the season giving them a superior head-tohead record.
That should, theoretically, place the emphasis on BIT to chase the win, as a draw would keep their head-to-head record worse than their opponents. However, a closer analysis of each side’s remaining two games suggests the pressure may well be on the hosts.
After this game, Hunan have to travel to league leaders Yanbian Changbaishan, before rounding out the year at home to Harbin Yiteng. Conversely, BIT host the woefully out of form Qingdao Jonoon before travelling to play Jiangxi in the season finale.
Though both Yanbian and Harbin may have nothing to play for by the time they take on Hunan, they clearly offer a greater challenge than Jonoon and Jiangxi, meaning the hosts really have to win this match. And with Jiangxi still capable of an escape, BIT won’t want to leave anything to chance, so fans should be treated to an open, attacking contest.
Although BIT won last week, neither side comes into the match in great form. Hunan have lost seven of their last nine, while their visitors have fallen in nine of their last twelve. A hard game to call may just end in the draw that will only serve to please Jiangxi supporters. Prediction 2-2
Beijing BG vs Harbin Yiteng
When the fixture list came out earlier in the season, this looked like a potentially massive game in the promotion race. As it stands, though, it’s a clash between two sides marginalised from Super League contention by a late dip in form.
Both sides have been in second place within the last two months, but both now lie on the periphery hoping for others to slip up. Harbin are in the worst shape after taking just two points from their last four games. That run included surprising defeats to Tianjin Songjiang and Qingdao Hainiu, as well as a draw at home to Dalian Aerbin that featured catastrophic enough Harbin defending to bring accusations of match-fixing by their own supporters.
All this means Harbin are seven points adrift of Hebei CFFC and need to win to keep their faint hopes alive. Should they do that, they will still be knocked out of contention should Hebei win in Xinjiang.
By comparison, BG are in good shape, but a stunning 5-0 loss to Yanbian Changbaishan just before the international break has left them four points behind Hebei. Should BG lose to Harbin, they will be officially knocked out of the race by a Hebei victory.
Mathematical permutations, aside the story on the field will be BG’s Yan Xiangchuang and Xu Dong taking on the club they left last winter. Yan revived his career while trying to keep Harbin in the Super League during the second half of last season, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on against his old club.
Depending on how Hebei and Dalian perfprm in their remaining games, this match could well prove meaningless in the end of year shake-up. That being said, BG should be favourites based on their recent form and ought to be able to secure the win that keeps them in the promotion race for one more week at least. Prediction 2-1
Jiangxi Liansheng vs Guizhou Zhicheng
Jiangxi host Zhicheng knowing that a defeat will see them relegated should Hunan Billows vs Beijing Institute of Technology not end in a draw. The league’s bottom side will also go down should they draw and Hunan defeat BIT.
With this game taking place the day after the match in Changsha, the pressure could really be on Jiangxi to get a result. The good news for Liansheng is that when these sides met in Guiyang earlier in the season, they came out 4-1 winners in the only league game they have won by more than a goal this year.
Zhicheng have nothing to play for and so Jiangxi really might expect to take all three points here. And, with a trip to Shenzhen and a potentially massive final game at home to BIT on the horizon, Liansheng can’t be considered dead and buried just yet. Prediction 1-0
Tianjin Songjiang vs Hohhot Zhongyou
Although promotion for Hohhot remains a mathematical possibility, that would require a nine point swing over the final three games and, so, this game effectively has nothing riding on it. Songjiang ensured their survival just before the international break, and their focus is very much on next season as Goran Tomic rides out his final three games in charge.
The Croatian was interviewed during the international and made it clear that Songjiang’s new bosses, Quanjian, are planning to spend big in the winter. Aside from bringing in former Real Madrid and Brazil manager Vandelai Luxemburgo, Tomic stated that Songjiang have been actively pursuing Brazilian legends Ronaldinho and Kaka, as well as former AC Milan striker Alexander Pato.
Whether or not the Tianjin club are able to secure their signatures is a different matter, but it certainly demonstrates their ambition for the coming season. Hohhot, meanwhile, will be reflecting on what might have been had they not picked up just two points from their last four games.
An excellent run before that put them into promotion contention, but they will have to settle for a top half finish, which is still a fantastic achievement for a newly promoted team. With little at stake, look for Tomic to secure yet another victory for Songjiang and continue to establish himself as one of the league’s most reliable managers. Prediction 1-0
Qingdao Jonoon vs Shenzhen FC
A pair of fallen top flight regulars play off in Qingdao where Shenzhen can guarantee their highly probable survival. A point will be enough to ensure a place in 2016’s League One, although, Shenzhen’s second tier status will also be solidified regardless of their own result should Hunan Billows vs Beijing Institute of Technology end in anything other than a draw.
Between 1998 and 2011, this was a top flight game, but is now a match between two sides in decline. Jonoon were second in the table in July, but have since lost seven of their last nine games to slide into seventh. As a result of that run, Slovenian manager Thomas Kavcic parted ways with the club during the international break, to be temporarily replaced by his 33-year-old assistant Dragan Stancic.
Kavcic’s compatriot played for Jonoon in 2008 and will be looking to turn around a run of four straight losses in his first head coaching role. Unfortunately for Stancic, Shenzhen are on the up having won three of their four games under the stewardship of their own new manager, Li Haiqiang. Given the team’s recent divergent fortunes, it’s easy to imagine Shenzhen getting the win which will prolong their League One life for another year. Prediction 0-2