Shanghai Shenhua tune up for the cup final with a Halloween dress-rehearsal at Hongkou with Jiangsu Sainty visiting this Saturday. Will the triple-header start with a bang, or will the coaches aim to hide their hands for this game with little riding on it?
Defeat in Liaoning: A blast from the past
An anaemic attack with no focal point, a defence prone to moments of disorganization, a goal conceded to a free header at the back stick, the portly fun-loving Qiu Shenjiong in nets, and a lethargic Jiang Kun summoned from the bench to try to turn around a game of football, a bench with no depth and a coach with no ideas. Shenhua’s latest surrender to an on-paper inferior team in the north-east of China could have been from any time in the last 4-5 years; the worrying thing to take away from last weekend’s 1-0 reverse at Liaoning wasn’t so much the result itself, but rather the evidence that — marquee signings and cup run aside — there is still an awful lot which needs to change at Shenhua if they really want to challenge consistently next season.
The big news coming out of Hongkou this week has been the contract extension signed by Tim Cahill – the Australian marquee player originally signed on a one-year deal and has signed for a second season. After a slow start Cahill is Shenhua’s leading scorer, and the second key foreign player to sign a new contract this year after captain Gio Moreno. With Demba Ba and Mo Sissoko having signed mid-season, it’s possible that – for a rare change – Shenhua will start 2016 with the majority of the previous season’s international core intact.
Whether this can truly be considered long-term thinking from the club is debatable given Cahill’s age (although admittedly he is one of the most evergreen 35-year-olds playing professional football today) and some persistent concerns regarding Francis Gillot’s ability to get both Cahill and Moreno firing in the same side. If all are fit, a reprise of the 4-2-3-1 which swatted aside Changchun in Shenhua’s last home game would be interesting to see – Moreno made an incisive contribution cutting in from the right wing, with Cahill always a threat in the center and Cao Yunding providing width on the left.
Ill omens on Halloween
It’s just over a year ago that Shenhua faced their near-neighbors from Nanjing in a big triple-header – a late-season league game and crucial two-legged cup tie. In the series of games which marked the end of the road for coach Sergio Batista, Shenhua put in an abject first-half performance in the home leg of the 2014 CFA Cup semi final which made the rest of the series a mere formality – Sainty took that three-game series with an aggregate score of 6-1, with Shenhua’s only goal and draw coming in the dead-rubber league match. There is an awful lot of revenge which Shenhua fans will be hoping is served a year later.
Prediction and Reality Check
With the league game meaning nothing – even a win won’t see Sainty overhaul Shenhua in seventh, and even a win doesn’t guarantee Shenhua leap-frogging into their stated pre-season goal of sixth – it will be interesting to see if Gillot and Dan Petrescu (no, not that one) keep their cards close to their chest, or try to strike a psychological blow here. Shenhua tend to perform well in last-day-of-the-season parties at home, and definitely want to make home advantage count here and in the cup final – they have never won in Nanjing, after all.
Sainty are on a poor run of form in the league – despite seeing off Shandong in the cup with two wins, they haven’t picked up three points in the CSL since a mid-August win over already-doomed Shanghai Shenxin. Shenhua will likely play a full-strength side, and games between these two are often high-scoring – expect Cahill to celebrate his new contract with a goal and some corner-flag boxing, and Shenhua to lay down a little marker for the upcoming final with a 3-1 home win.
Shenhua in 2015 according to North Terrace News:
P 29 W 8 D 11 L 10 GF 39 GA 39 GD +0 Pts 35
Shenhua in 2015 according to the CSL table:
P 29 W 11 D 6 L 12 GF 39 GA 43 GD -4 Pts 39
Steve Crooks is WEF’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent. Check his North Terrace News column each week for the latest club developments.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015