The Chinese Super League made headlines around the world this off season by spending huge amounts of money in the European market. Big names look nice on paper and on the back of kits, but how will that translate to play on the field? We hear from Jamie McIlroy, Cameron Wilson, bcheng, and Adem Ali about what they think the 2016 CSL season has in store.
Who will be the 2016 CSL champion?
Jamie: Guangzhou Evergrande are probably still the favourites, but I think Shanghai SIPG could sneak it this year. They came close last season and have added proven Super League quality in Elkeson. Also, their core of Chinese players are still young and will be better this year. I do think they lack a bit of squad depth, though, so if they get injuries and struggle to balance the league and ACL they could fall short.
Cameron: It will definitely be between Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai International Port Group. Evergrande were unlucky with injuries last year yet still won a domestic and continental double so they of course will be fancied strongly again. But Shanghai International Port Group pulled a fast one signing Elkeson. They haven’t really signed anyone else, which is a good thing, they already had a strong domestic squad and continuity will see them win their maiden title this year.
Bcheng: It’s gotta be Evergrande once again, right? They have dominated & there’s no reason to see them dropping off this year.
Adem: After almost losing the title to Shanghai SIPG last year Guangzhou Evergrande went out and got Jackson Martinez. A title winning squad just added a possible 15-20 goals and I think this season won’t be as exciting for the race to first as last year. Evergrande are still too good and as last season showed with the appointment of Scolari they can afford to make the changes mid-season if need be.
Who will be runners up?
Jamie: It’s hard to see Evergrande finishing outside of the top two, so if SIPG do top the table the Canton side will be number two. World Club Cup aside, they haven’t lost a competitive game since Scolari took over and they’ve obviously added Jackson Martinez since then, too. That being said, other teams are catching up and they should certainly drop a few more points this year. I hope they fall short just to keep things interesting.
Cameron: I think Guangzhou Evergrande.
Bcheng: SIPG. They are strong top to bottom but likely will fall just short.
Adem: I could really see Shandong taking second. They improved on their squad by signing centre back Gil from Corinthians and Shanghai SIPG have lost Tobias Hysen. SIPG did bring in proven CSL goal scorer Elkeson from Evergrande however last season he only managed 7 league goals and may have injury problems. Asamoah Gyan also didn’t look too great last year or in this year’s AFC play off qualifier against Thai side Muangthong United.
Who will finish third and fourth?
Jamie: Shandong should be good enough to finish third again and may actually be heavily involved in the title race, too. They haven’t made eye catching signings like other teams, but it was their defence which let them down last year and adding Gil means they should concede far fewer goals. They’ve got also got a deep domestic squad. However, they need Aloisio to recapture last season’s form if they’re going to seriously be in the title mix.
Beijin Guo’an are definitely in with a shot of making the top four again, but Jiangsu Suning might just pip them. It’s a little too early for Suning to make a title challenge, but Teixeira and Ramires are going to push them a long way up the table if they stay fit. Ramires, flanked by Wu Xi, is going to make Suning a force in the middle of the park and that could carry them into the top 4.
Cameron: I think Shandong will be third. New coach should get more out of a strong squad, fourth, I’m going to go for Jiangsu Suning. They made some huge signings but their domestic squad is weak, if their big money foreigners don’t fit it, they’ll struggle to finish in the top half. But I think they will be fine.
Bcheng: Jiangsu & Shandong. Shandong is strong but probably will trail the top 2, Jiangsu will be so much better but will need time to gel.
Adem: Either Shandong or SIPG will get third and fourth will probably go to Beijing Guoan or Jiangsu Suning. Guoan made some alright signings in Renato Augusto and Burak Yilmaz however I feel they didn’t address their poor back line. Last season Guoan’s defenders looked slow and old. Returning Uzbekistan defender Egor Krimets will help improve things, but not that much. Jiangsu may now have the cash to improve during the summer window if things aren’t going well and a lot of time that makes a big difference in the CSL. So if Guoan are leaking goals and Jiangsu throw more money at the European market I think Jiangsu will finish fourth.
Which two team will be relegated?
Jamie: Yanbian are everybody’s favourites but, as someone who saw a lot of them in League One last season, I’m backing them to stay up. Instead, I’ll pick Tianjin TEDA and Changchun Yatai to drop out of a threatened group that also includes Hangzhou Greentown and Liaoning Whowin. Tianjin were kept up by Hernan Barcos last year and now he’s gone their aging domestic squad might not have what it takes to survive. Hangzhou’s group of young players should be a little better this year and give them the impetus to stay up, making it a toss up between Changchun and Liaoning. At least until they’ve signed the rest of their foreign players, I’m going with the former.
Cameron: Very hard to say. I think half of the league could realistically be considered candidates this year. If forced to plump for two, I’d say two of the more established teams will slip away this year – Tianjin and Liaoning. Just feel they haven’t strengthened much and the new teams coming up have spent either a lot or wisely.
Bcheng: Yanbian & Tianjin. Yanbian is an easy pick, they don’t seem ready for the big time, the other choice is much harder but Tianjin is as bad as anybody.
Adem: I think this year Hangzhou will finally be relegated. No big improvements to last season’s squad which faced relegation and with their sale of number 1 keeper to Jiangsu I can’t see them surviving another year. As for the other team it is a toss-up between Changchun and Guangzhou R&F. Both teams faced relegation last year and have done little to improve their squads.
Which team will surprise fans this season?
Cameron: With all the global attention and new wave of big names, plus two very interesting promoted sides, everyone is expecting to be surprised. I think Yanbian will be this year’s dark horse and finish well clear of the relegation slots.
Bcheng: This is a hard one, there seems to be so much division between the top 4 sides & pretty much everybody else…It’s unlikely we’ll see a real surprise this year
Adem: I think Shanghai Shenhua may get some good results against top clubs like Shandong, Evergrande and SIPG. A full season of Demba Ba could give Shenhua a chance to snatch some wins and cause the title race to be interesting.
How will your local team do?
Jamie: Not very well. Wuhan Zall have again stated promotion as the goal this season, but it’s hard to see them getting anywhere near the top two. They finished tenth last year and spent most of the second half of the season playing 20-year-olds. Ironically, the only two who looked remotely ready for the first team are loanees who have returned to their parent clubs and so there is no reason for optimism. The three foreign signings have actually been pretty good, but zero movement on the domestic front means another season in mid-table beckons.
Cameron: Shenhua have strengthened their squad this year but not enough to break into the top 4. Letting Sissoko go after barely 6 months at the club was another piece of short-termism which saw a player who was pivotal to the whole team’s tactics leave. Guarin may come with a good pedigree, but he’s not the same sort of player. Besides, we already have a Colombian playmaker. Manzano is also a rather uninspiring choice for new coach although his CSL experience could prove useful. Expect Shenhua to finish 6th again, struggle to win away from home, change two foreigners in the summer, and have a new coach again this time next year.
Bcheng: Beijing will finish in the top 4 & hopefully a long cup run.
Adem: I think Beijing Guoan made a good move bringing in Alberto Zaccheroni and if Guoan succeed a lot of it will have to do with him. I was no fan of Gregorio Manzano and hope Guoan start playing a more attractive style of football again. I would be happy with AFC champions league qualification and I think that is all Zacheroni should be expected to get in his first season.
What was the best signing made during the 2016 winter window?
Jamie: That depends on whether you take value for money into account. I really think Ramires is going to boss a lot of games this year, but he didn’t come cheap. Teixeira is probably going to be an absolute star in the CSL and Jackson Martinez is likely to score a hatful of goals, but they came even less cheap. Renato Augusto could prove to be a very good acquisition for Beijing Guo’an given that he seems to be just hitting his peak. Still, it could turn out to be Elkeson if he gives SIPG the extra push they need to win the title.
Cameron: Difficult question. Maybe Elkeson joining Shanghai International Port Group? At least he is a proven CSL success, the other big money signings in the CSL could easily turn out to be moreLucas Barrioses or Nicolas Anelkas.
Bcheng: Ding Haifeng or Yilmaz. Ding is a rally good player & Hebei got him for a decent price. With Yilmaz, Guoan got him at a bargain price, I’d imagine done other CSL sides would have to pay a lot more & I expect he’ll score 15+ goals.
Adem: It’s hard to look past Jackson Martinez. He is a real goal threat and should entertain Evergrande fans/neutrals. Jiangsu signing Ramires from Chelsea is also a big money move that caught headlines around the world. As for a less publicized signing I will go with Fredy Montero. The former Seattle Sounders striker is talented and could fit in well playing in the CSL. The Colombian had some success playing for Sporting CP in Portugal and his move to China at just 28 years old is slightly surprising.
Who will be the 2016 CFA player of the year?
Jamie: Based on my title prediction, lets say Dario Conca. Just like last year, Henan Jianye’s Ivo for player of the year not on a “big” team.
Cameron: Elkeson. He didn’t have a great year last season, but, seems everyone has forgotten he’s only what, 26? The move to Shanghai International Port Group will re-vitalize his China career as will the new wave of big names to play against.
Bcheng: Honestly impossible to say at this time.
Adem: Jackson Martinez. I really expect the former Atletico Madrid and Porto man to bag in the goals.
Who will be the 2016 golden boot winner?
Jamie: Provided he recaptures his Porto form, Jackson Martinez is going to score an awful lot of goals as the spearhead of Evergrande’s attack. If not Aloisio could claim the prize for a second year running. SIPG will also score plenty of goals, but they’re likely to be evenly spread around their attacking riches.
Cameron: Elkeson again. There’s a disturbing Shanghai International Port Group trend in my predictions you may have noticed. Call it a form of emotional insurance.
Bcheng: Best guess is Gervinho. Hebei will rely on him more than most of the other sides will rely on their foreigner & he has the speed to abuse the majority of CSL defenders.
Adem: Same as I mentioned above. Jackson Martinez.
Who will be the 2016 domestic golden boot winner?
Jamie: It’s hard to look beyond Wu Lei doing it again. Unless Evergrande go through another injury crisis, Gao Lin probably won’t get the chance to score as many as he did last season and it’s hard to see anyone else coming close. Outside bets on Yang Xu if he can make a period of form last more than a few games and Jiang Ning if Hebei’s attack featuring Gervinho and Lavezzi really clicks into place.
Cameron: Wu Lei. No other Chinese forward will get as much pitch time as him never mind the chance to score.
Bcheng: Well, no reason to look beyond Wu Lei, among Chinese players he seems to be best at making an impact in the attack.
Adem: Probably same as last year, Wu Lei. As China proved during their World Cup qualifiers they aren’t a nation known for their striking options and a modest haul of 10-12 goals will get you the domestic golden boot.
The 2016 CSL season starts the first weekend of March. Match tickets can be purchased through official club websites or friendly folks around stadiums. Check back with Wild East Football for news, match day reports and more.