Pub Talk: Evergrande and “Fighting Suning” knocked out, how far can Chinese teams go in Asia?
This week in the pub the “games of interest” continue rolling in and the Asian Champions League really humiliating and shocking third place finishes of certain teams are discussed. So just join in and go with the beer flow. Alright?
BC: We’re back in the pub after a week off due to early celebrations of the May Day holiday and there’s plenty to talk about with the league, the ACL, and the CFA Cup, Ultra, let’s get this show started!
SU: Yes, without further ado, it’s pub time again! Let’s get straight to the CSL itself, the league is beginning to take shape I think with a lot of results last week going as expected. Evergrande on top after six wins in a row, Jiangsu behind, and Shanghai International Port Group creeping up. Will that top 3 be any different by the end of the season?
BC: I think we’re definitely going to see those 3 sides in the top 3 at the end of the season, but the order is definitely anyone’s guess.
SU: Yeah I agree its too early to say who is going to finish where. Although If I had to bet I would go for another Evergrande title, with Shanghai International Port Group runners-up again and Jiangsu not far behind.
BC: I agree on Evergrande winning the league again, especially as they will be completely focused on it after being bumped out of Asia, but the other spots, its really up for grabs.
SU: Indeed very hard to say right now. Well, the “game of interest” featured Shenhua yet again, I took in the game at a local drinking establishment, Alan’s two goals were world class, not much could have been done about those by any goalkeeper.
BC: It’s interesting to see how Alan has finally found his way into the lineup and made an instant impact for the side. I don’t think anyone was surprised by the result, though Shenhua did put up a good fight.
SU: Agree, agree and agree. Alan showed why Evergrande waited on him, his second goal in particular was a very good one albeit painful for a Shenhua fan to watch. Not a surprising result, even if Evergrande could only draw last year. Evergrande looked very fluent and passed the ball well, as we have come to expect. For Shenhua I saw reasonable evidence that the team has indeed levelled up from last year, they were able to compete with Evergrande for the most part and didn’t look out of their league as they have done so many times in the past. However, the end result was an away defeat. We won’t be seeing Shenhua trouble the top 3 this year, despite that being the club’s stated aim.
BC: Yes, I think the top 3 is pretty much set, though Hebei may have something to say about it, especially as they’ve played one game less than everyone else.
SU: They have but I suspected they aren’t all that and what I saw of them against Shenhua the week before last strengthened that view.
BC: But I don’t think Jiangsu is “all that” either, the only team that top to bottom looks dominant now is Evergrande, possibly SIPG as well.
SU: Agree on Jiangsu also, but they have a more solid domestic core than Hebei I think. I think the real mystery team for me so far is Shandong, they continue to flatter to deceive and are inconsistent as ever.
BC: Yes, they are one of the biggest surprises this year (perhaps one other team is a bigger one), losing to R&F at home this past weekend was a shocker, I can’t really get my head around what the issues are there.
SU: Yeah I don’t know what to say about it. Although I was amused to see Dai Lin finally score with a long-range effort on his 8,831st attempt.
BC: That was a quality goal, very un-Dai like there…There have been a few issues but I wonder how much its due to the management change.
SU: Backgrounder for the uninitiated, they say in every centre back a frustrated striker is bursting to get out, well Dai Lin is well known for his lack of self-control and had an infuriating habit of shooting from the half-way line at Shenhua, glad to see he’s continued wasting possession prolifically for Shandong, although he scored in this game from a freekick, his goals-to-shots ratio is laughably abysmal and he indeed wasted another free-kick effort later in the game. And, more seriously, to get back to the point you have to wonder what kind of control the coach has over the team when Dai Lin is taking freekicks when there are clearly more talented players for that role.
BC: I think their manager was saved by them going through in the Asian Champions League, another new manager a little further north isn’t so safe right now
SU: Indeed. I read with interest your excellent and detailed analysis of the situation at Gongti on the site earlier this week. Long serving senior players dropped in favour of untried youngsters, players signed without the coach’s approval, players played hopelessly out of position… it all sounds rather familiar to me. Zacheronni will be out by July.
BC: I’d be amazed if he isn’t out by June, to be honest. The Chongqing match was yet another oddity (& another match that was significantly impacted by a recent concert that destroyed the pitch). It was painful because just after Guoan finally broke through and scored, Lifan responded immediately.
SU: I saw the goals, it’s always painful to watch your team concede from a set-piece.
BC: For much of the game, it looked like 2 people playing video game footie, there was no strategy to it, just up and down, up and down. Despite the unusual substitutions, the 2nd half was a lot better, but still not what Guoan fans are hoping for.
SU: I do think Guoan’s struggles are a surprise in many ways, but not in others, the foreign player line-up was strengthed to a point and Yilmaz is a very high quality player when fit, but I just don’t get the feeling that Guoan are going anywhere with domestic players, generally speaking. Guys like Yu Dabao and Zhang Xizhe are quality players from a Chinese perspective, but aren’t their roles mainly usually taken up by foreigners? You’ve got guys like Piao Cheng who is one of those guys who has so far failed to live up to his potential. Song Boxuan is a great player on his day, but very inconsistent. Plus at the back Xu, we’ve talked about him before…. how long can he go on? Unless there is youth waiting in the wings, it looks to me as if Guoan are stagnating a bit.
BC: I’d disagree in that there are ways to make this thing work and their domestic players are as talented as any side in the CSL, save Evergrande. Xu, they have replacements for, in fact he wasn’t supposed to play much this season, but both replacements are injured. If you look at the number of players who’ve been out for Guoan so far, it’s scary. Perhaps Zaccheroni’s methods have led to some of these injuries, he was doing two-a-day practices which was something relatively unheard of for Guoan in previous years and maybe he’s pushing the players too much, but that’s pure speculation. I think one of the other issues, that I didn’t go into in my post, was that Zaccheroni wasn’t hired until January 19. Of all sides who made managerial changes, he joined up the latest, with everyone else (except for Changchun) having their manager in place before December 20. That’s a huge factor, especially when you’re upending the playing style and have never coached in China.
SU: There’s definitely been a lot of injuries. I would agree in general there’s a core of teams behind Evergrande with very good domestic players, Guoan, Shandong, and Shanghai International Port Group. But theres a fine line between the top domestic players and guys who are seen as competent, so you really need the right manager to get the best out of the team as a whole. It all goes back to my regular complaint about Shenhua, which I think is representative of many clubs, including Guoan, there is very little if any long term planning, its very difficult to build anything year on year when there is such crazy staff and player turnover. In Guoan’s case hiring Zaccheroni as late as they did just proves he was not first choice or even second or third by the sounds of what you have been saying. We can all understand that even if money is no object, you can’t always get the coach you want, so why not start the seach sooner? It’s not like Manzano left suddenly of his own accord.
BC: A real mess, indeed. I’d like to blame all of it on LeTV, and they definitely deserve a large portion of the blame. On a different topic, and to likely close out our talk of the past weekend, Yanbian was crushed by SIPG over the weekend. The newly promoted side only gave up 3 goals in their first 4 matches, but they followed that up by allowing 8 goals in 3 matches.
SU: Seems their new team mojo has faded already, but two tough games in the last three against Shandong and Shanghai International Port Group
BC: I think a lot of it has to do with teams finally getting a feel for their style of play, probably nobody bothered to have a lot of film on them from their League One days. Well, on that topic, we talked about the first ever top flight Hebei derby a few days ago, anything you want to say about the first ever Jilin derby coming up this weekend?
SU: I’ll be interested to see how it unfolds, although I confess to not knowing a great deal about the dynamic up there. Changchun must be glad to have a semi-local rival to play, although I gather the journey between those two cities is not as straightforward as the map suggests.
BC: Actually, with China’s high speed trains, its only a little over 2 hours that separates the two cities. I don’t think there is any significant rivalry as I believe these sides only overlapped a single season in League One, but both these sides currently sit in relegation positions and many of us predicted one or both to go down, so its early but this is an important match in its own right.
SU: Is that so? Interesting. Yes, I think at least one of these teams will be firmly rooted in the relegation dogfight this year, so we could see a rivalry really start to develop. Then again if one team goes down and the other doesn’t, nothing much further will grow until they are in the same division again.
BC: It’s an odd place to start our week’s preview, at the bottom of the table, but it’s interesting all the new “derbies” we’re seeing pop up. Anyways, on to the match that will garner the most attention and it’s here in Beijing, as Jiangsu comes to town.
SU: It is an odd place indeed, but the view is interesting from the bottom, as it were. Yes, this weeks “game of interest” is in the capital, I am looking forward to this one very much, it will tell us a great deal about the real strength this year of both sides, something which is unclear so far.
BC: It’s hard for me to look forward to any Guoan match this season. It’s really hard for me to call this one, if the Men in Green play like they did the first half against Chongqing, Jiangsu will crush them. If Zaccheroni finds a way to get them to play like they did in the final 20 minutes of that match, especially finding a way to get Piao Cheng and Zhang Xizhe closer to each other in the midfield, it could be a different story.
SU: It is a hard one to call. I can see this being a draw, although for all of their early season table-topping exploits, I wander if Jiangsu have rode their luck a bit, they needed late goals in three of their games to get a result, plus Teixeria has only scored twice in 7 games, not really that great a start all in all, Ramires also so far I don’t think has been amazing.
BC: And of course they are coming off a must win Asian Champions League match which could take something out of them as well. I think a draw is quite possible if Guoan shows up for this one. To Guoan’s credit, outside of the 3 goals they gave up to Evergrande (and those shouldn’t count because Zaccheroni was insane in his formation), they’ve only given up 2 goals in 5 matches this year, so the problem isn’t at the back, it’s just they can’t score. It could very easily be a 0-0 or 1-0 match.
SU: I think that’s about right. Plus Guoan can never be discounted at Gongti. On a related note, seems Jiangsu fans had some party with Guoan comrades last year burning Shenhua shirts together, will we see “Only Shanghai International Port Group represent Shanghai” banners in the way end at Gongti this weekend?
BC: Haha, we are certainly united in our hatred of Shenhua, but I don’t think we’ll see anything like that, Gongti is often too harsh on what can be brought in.
SU: I would imagine so. There were plenty of such banners for Shenhua in Nanjing a few week’s back, although I have only mild disdain for Subei Gou, I think such banners are all part of football culture and certainly shouldn’t be taken so seriously by the powers-that-be. But, well. You know how it is.
BC: Yeah, it’s all part of the fun…Well, outside of the action in Beijing, there isn’t much else to really draw in my attention. If I have to pick, I’m interested in seeing what happens when SIPG travel to Shijiazhuang. It’s really hard to figure out what’s going on there, after a loss in Round 1 to Liaoning, they haven’t lost in their other 3 home matches this year, yet on the road they’ve lost to Tianjin and Shenhua.
SU: Yeah, I’m sure there will be some exciting action elsewhere this weekend somewhere, but the remaining games are somewhat run of the mill.
BC: So straight into the CFA Cup then? It’s hard to know what to say about it as you don’t know what kind of lineup some of the CSL sides are going to put out. Its easy to be short sighted, for example after the ACL and a big match in Beijing, I can see Jiangsu letting up and fielding a weak side in the Cup, especially as they can’t play their foreigners, but that would be a huge mistake as they have a very clear path to the semifinals.
SU: There’s so much talk about China wanting to be a world footballing power, for that you need a solid culture and strong domestic competitions, time for the CFA to get tough on anyone fielding weakened teams
BC: Erm….Doesn’t that show China is becoming a “world footballing power”?! What about all the European teams who blow off their domestic cup competition. Plus, if you’re playing against a team that is not in the top two flights, you’re required to not use foreigners.
SU: I think the rule for sides playing 3rd division teams not being able to play their foreign stars is fair enough, but for European clubs abandoning their cups, its just done for money alone and not something to be copied… China can follow its own path here and do as much as it can to build some kind of prestige around its cup competition. Full marks for giving the winner direct entry to the ACL group stage.
BC: I don’t think you need to force a rule on sides, its hard saying what the “strongest side” might be, its up to a team to decide what way they want to go. I think for a team like Guoan, they need to go all out and focus on the Cup, they absolutely need to be in the ACL next season and winning the cup is their only shot.
SU: Yeah but teams will do what is best for them and not the football environment as a whole. Evergrande and I suspect quite a few other clubs would happily play more foreign players which wouldn’t do much good for Chinese player’s chances to develop, for example.
BC: In any case, I have a feeling we’ll see plenty of CSL sides that will get knocked out next week. We can’t go through each and every match here, but there are those like Changchun-Shenxin, Henan-Dalian, Renhe-Shijiazhuang that should be really good matches, then of course there are some long away trips like Guoan to Xinjiang or Evergrande to Hohhot.
SU: There’s always a few get knocked out, that’s what makes it fun, for that same reason its hard to predict.
BC: Yeah, definitely don’t want to make any predictions in all of this, but I do think Jiangsu has a very clear path back to the semifinals.
SU: Yeah, as we’ve said before it’s unfortunate the path is clear and the draw is not made after each round. But nevertheless I think this is the right point in the season to bring in the cup contest with the ACL group stage over, it adds a nice sense of pace to the footballing calendar.
BC: Sure, a draw after each round would help to add a bit more excitement, but at the same time, this way, you can look a bit ahead and figure out what your strategy will be. This is a busy month of football and the CFA Cup matches definitely add to that, its going to be fun to see how some of these play out. We’ve complained a lot about CSL pitches, I can imagine some of these being even worse.
SU: So let’s move to the ACL, Fighting Suning are out. That will teach them to use home electronic devices as weapons.
BC: It was a tough game last night at Jeonbuk as the home fans were very vocal and helped their side to a come back draw that kept Jiangsu from advancing.
SU: Yeah, that is proper fighting.
BC: As a hater of Jiangsu, there’s plenty of reason for schadenfreude, but the reality is that its not that big a surprise. The team was terrible in their first match in Vietnam, looking like they were, a team playing together for the first time. That match is what put them in the difficult position they were in last night. Outside of that match, it was a respectable campaign for them and they came up just short of going through.
SU: I wouldn’t want to be too uncharitable to a Chinese team in the ACL. And you’re right about the first match. They can take a lot of positives from their campaign, they were not far off and they don’t have much ACL experience all in all.
BC: Yeah, one thing I have to say is that Jiangsu relied heavily on their foreigners last night, as all Chinese sides tend to do domestically or in Asia. It’s always interesting to watch the Korean sides who tend to only play one or two foreigners (if any) and still produce great results. I’m hoping we’ll see that one day from Chinese teams.
SU: That’s an interesting point, same goes for some J-League teams. I am not sure how close we are to seeing Chinese teams field teams which don’t max out their foreign slots. Evergrande have done that in recent times but it was forced upon them by injury. What is different in China is the calibre of foreign player and they money spent on them is higher than elsewhere which of course makes it harder for the Chinese players to displace their foreign team-mates on merit. It will happen one day….
BC: That’s a good point I didn’t think of. There is some truth that the “Evergrande effect” has led to much greater spending the past few years, but at the same time, even before that, I can’t think of a side that didn’t play 4 foreigners pretty much all the time. Anyways, I think for long-term league & national development, it may be time to start thinking about reducing the number of foreigners. It’s going to happen eventually but not very soon.
SU: Yes, well. That is what we are all hoping for. So Shandong and Shanghai International Port Group made it. How far do you think they can go?
BC: It’s too hard to say with these things. They’ll face FC Tokyo in the next round, a very strong team. I’m not optimistic about how far Shandong will go, but I do think SIPG have a shot to go through a few rounds.
SU: I can’t see Shandong going far at all, they are inconsistent as we said earlier. Shanghai International Port Group are coming into form. Who knows?
BC: Right, we agree on Shandong, but regarding SIPG, I don’t see them as potential title challengers, but I think the semifinals wouldn’t be unreasonable. It really just depends how things go.
SU: Yeah. I don’t think Shanghai International Port Group can go that far either. We will have to wait a couple of weeks to see who goes further.
BC: Alright mate, let’s wrap this thing up and put a big mother’s day bow on it. Cheers from me.
SU: Yep, cheers for another good session, thanks. Until next time my friend.
What do you think? Tell us! Below.
Author: Cameron Wilson
UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…