North Terrace News: capital showdown for resurgent Shenhua
Shanghai Shenhua came through a tough double gameweek with a pair of impressive performances and expected results. Is the 2016 China Derby their opportunity to take advantage of an ailing Beijing Guoan?
Bogey Team v1
Shenhua appear to be the only side who can reliably stop Hebei China Fortune FC. In a game much of the county expected them to lose, the Hongkou side put in a remarkable solid performance – perhaps their best away showing in years – to twice lead the newly-rich promoted side and have the balance of play in a 2-2 tie. Shenhua opened the scoring through a bullet header from Cao Yunding – the assist coming from the CSL’s interception-leading all-action Qin Sheng – with Demba Ba restoring their advantage just before half-time with a fierce shot.
Shenhua did however twice concede from leaving the imposing Stephane M’Bian unmarked; Kim Kee-Hee having one of those curious performances in which the center-back was flawless besides twice leaving his man a free header. Shenhua regardless came out of this fixture with a slightly disappointing point, having yet again outplayed the only side giving any meaningful challenge at the top of the league to Guangzhou Evergrande.
Boget Team v2
Hangzhou Greentown have been something of a sore spot for their bigger-brothers in recent years; this season’s vintage are however particularly poor, and looking prone to a serious relegation struggle. Shenhua huffed and puffed against Greentown for much of the first half, only for man-of-the-moment Demba Ba to throughly blow the house down with a hat-trick and assist for substitute Oba Martins to seal a comfortable second-gear 4-0 win. Tim Cahill’s return to Hongkou passed without incident, with Gregorio Manzano’s slow-burn tactics proving successful against an inferior team once more; the Spanish coach even tipped a hat to Roy Hodgson’s escape act against the Welsh by throwing on all of his forwards late in the second half, with Ba and Martins supported by the lesser-spotted Gao Di.
China Derby: Now or Never?
Shenhua’s record at Gongti is dreadful; not since 2009 have they earned a point in the capital, and their last win came in 2008 with Jiang Kun scoring the clincher. Nicolas Anelka’s consolation penalty is the last time Shenhua even netted in the capital; yet 2016 is a cause for hope. The Beijing side are having a genuine struggle to even assert themselves in midfield – Alberto Zaccheroni has already been fired, and premium forwards Renato Augusto and Buruk Yimlaz have hardly torn up trees for club or country. An aging defence must also remember the punishment meted out by a rampant Ba at Hongkou towards the tail-end of last season — while the China Derby generally goes with home form, this season offers a genuine chance for Shenhua to make a mark in the capital.
Prediction and Reality Check
You don’t see optimism too often from NTN – Shenhua are about the fifth or sixth best side in China, and their results over the season bear this out. Saturday evening represents a rare chance to outdo their down-on-their-luck rivals, however – although coach Manzano has hardly torn up trees at Hongkou following his sacking at their bitterest rivals, Shenhua will rarely have an opportunity to take on a Guoan side struggling quite so badly as this year. Demba Ba is on league-leading goalscoring form despite his early-season struggles, and Shenhua have an almost-full squad to choose from (Guoan refugee Li Yunquiu notwithstanding) – if the boys in blue are ever to break their recent hoodoo at Gongti, now is the time. Call this columnist a fool, but it’s easy to see Guoan struggle for fluency once more and Demba Ba cause one problem too many – 1-0 Shenhua and a significant monkey off the Hongkou side’s back.
Shenhua in 2016 according to North Terrace News:
P 14 W 6 D 4 L 4 GF 20 GA 18 GD +2 Pts 22
Shenhua in 2016 according to the CSL table:
P 14 W 5 D 7 L 2 GF 23 GA 13 GD +10 Pts 22
Author: Steve Crooks
Steve is WEF’s Shanghai Shenhua correspondent, having followed the side since moving to Shanghai in 2010.
Exiled from the Victorian town idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve can now be found enjoying/enduring matchdays on Hongkou’s North Terrace along with the rest of the (in)famous Shenhua Element Crew.