It’s all about the CFA cup for Shanghai Shenhua this week, with the Hongkou side putting Beijing Beikong to the sword to qualify for a grudge-match final with Jiangsu Sainty. Sunday afternoon’s trip to Liaoning could round off a perfect week for Shenhua, but few blue eyes are really focused on the end-of-season CSL right now.
Wednesday night saw Shenhua belie the nerves surrounding their slender first-leg lead and Beikong’s two away goals to comprehensively put the cup semi-final to bed within the first half of the game. After a fraught first leg, the gulf in pedigree and resources between a top CSL side and China League One were all too apparent in the second leg, with Shenhua looking solid across the park and with far too much goal threat in Demba Ba and Tim Cahill.
Francis Gillot got his “2+1” team selection absolutely spot on for this tie – Ba and Sissoko add a quality and steel to the spine of the side, and Cahill’s nous and finishing saw him rack up his eleventh and twelfth goals of the season; particularly impressive given the long scoring drought with which he began his Shenhua career.
The cup final – due to be played over two legs at the end of November – will generate plenty of column inches as the matches approach, and all Shenhua eyes have turned straight to the fixture. Shenhua must go into the final as favorites (not necessarily a tag they wear well, as we saw in the first leg of the semi) against Jiangsu Sainty. A local rivalry, a chance to attone for last season’s horrow-show semi-final collapse against the same opponents, the opportunity for silverware and a return to continental competition… the CFA cup final is the only news in Shanghainese football this month.
Keeping It Up?
The cup semi was Shenhua’s second three-nil win in quick succession. The home game against Changchun turned into something of a walkover and perfect confidence-building tune-up for the cup game; the visitors barely turned up, and put in a performance which prompted some terrace debate as to whether they put in a showing even worse than that of Shenxin on 2015’s opening day. You can, however, only beat what’s in front of you, and Shenhua did this with consummate professionalism – an early Mo Sissoko goal followed up by another Cahill brace. The only downside to the game was a horrific injury to Xiong Fei – the stand-in center back losing some teeth and seeing his jaw broken by team-mate Li Jianbin as both went for the same ball. Xiong may struggle to return in time for Shenhua’s remaining fixtures this year having left the field on a stretcher.
With only two league games remaining, can Shenhua keep their recent uptick in form going? The season-ending home game with Sainty now has the added spice of being a dress-rehearsal for the cup final, whereas the trip to Liaoning provides little more than a dead rubber. The hosts’ relegation concerns aren’t quite over, and a point or three here would leave them looking safe – they must do so without their on-loan Shenhua forward Paaulo Henrique however.
Prediction and Reality Check
This could easily be a classic case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’, but 2015-vintage Shenhua are a particularly streaky side — don’t be surprised to see them continue their recent good form here, with Gio Moreno set to return with a point to make after the cup game. Moreno was impressive deployed on the right flank at home to Changchun, and could make hay here once more; when their key players are fit and firing, Shenhua simply have too much steel and firepower for much of the league. Gillot is unlikely to rotate too heavily, with only two league games to keep his side in form and firing ahead of their year-defining cup final clash. 3-1 Shenhua and the feelgood factor to continue with the last game Shenhua play in 2015 which is not against Jiangsu Sainty.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 28 W 7 D 11 L 10 GF 36 GA 38 GD -2 Pts 32
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 28 W 11 D 6 L 11 GF 39 GA 42 GD -3 Pts 39
Steve Crooks is WEF’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.