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Pub Talk: Does the China derby matter? Can Jiangsu get back in the groove against Evergrande?

Shanghai Ultra and Bcheng hide out in the pub as the political sparks fly on the other side of Eurasia… As always, it’s just about the football… Pull up and hide with us.

Shanghai Ultra: Hello there B, the weather is heating up, but the pub is just the place to seek cooling.

BCcheng: Yes, nice ac and some cold drinks, no better way to get through the summer, especially one like this with lots of footie on the tv.

SU: I’m in need of both. So what’s going on in the world of Chinese football this week?

BC: We have some big matches this weekend, don’t we….But should we first look over last weekend?

SU: Yes, some interesting results, Evergrande v Yanbian was quite unexpected, pretty surprised by that, the outcome was against my prediction anyway.

BC: Yes, I wouldn’t say I saw it coming but it wasn’t the absolute surprise it seems, unless Guangzhou chartered a flight, there is no direct way to get to Yanji and so it was a long, tiring trip for them against a team new to the top flight and with some very fast counterattacking players.

SU: Actually I am not sure where this rumour that Yanji is hard to reach comes from, I’m going there myself in July, there’s an airport almost right next to the stadium, perhaps flying from Guangzhou needs a change but it’s not too bad at least from Shanghai

BC: There are direct flights from Beijing as well, but none from Guangzhou and I’m guessing none from most other CSL cities. Plus, this time of year the weather is probably perfect for football, but in the spring and fall its very different. When Guoan went up there it was in the 20s here in Beijing and snowing in Yanji.

SU: I think Guangzhou should be able to handle flying somewhere and having to change plane once, besides there’s enough time to recover before the game actually kicks off. But anyways, let’s not take away from Yanbian’s performance, it was very solid and were unfortunate not to take all three points. Guangzhou on the other hand seem to be struggling to get a run of victories going which of course few are complaining about, even if as we said the other week, it is hard to see Evergrande not winning the league.

BC: There are a number of factors involved and travel like this (the quickest commercial flight barring no delays being 6 hours) is going to be tough on a side. In any case, you’re right, credit where due, Yanbian did what they needed to, they also had a huge crowd and were surely excited to be playing the 5 time league champions. It’s a result that will do them proud, but is unlikely to stop the Evergrande juggernaut. Especially when the challengers keep dropping points.

SU: Speaking of which, Shanghai International Port Group failed to win again, in what was sort-of the big game of the week. A 0-0 against Shandong. Not sure what that result tells us really.

BC: Right, neither team managed a goal and it was really a boring match, its sort of the nail in the coffin for SIPG’s title hopes I think. They are 10 points back at this point and I really can’t see them catching up and there are a lot of teams, including you lot right on their heels. Doesn’t seem like they’ll even be in contention for an ACL spot if things keep going this way, tough year for Sven’s men.

SU: Yeah I think Shanghai International Port Group are in the same category as Shandong as a way, both teams who are underperforming in the league yet doing well in the ACL. Surely there can’t be a correlation there?

BC: No, I can’t see one, its not like the ACL adds that many matches and I don’t think we’ve ever seen it happen like that before. I did mention Shenhua above, Demba Ba ran roughshod over Hangzhou, what happened there?

SU: Shenhua are fairly predictable for the last few years – comprehensive wins against bottom half teams at home, struggling to beat top sides, never winning away from home. Hangzhou are struggling this year I am not sure exactly what is going on although I am pleased to again see some very good coverage on the site on Hangzhou. I know they’ve been struggling with injuries upfront, and it seems Shenhua made the right move dropping Cahill even if the manner it was done in left something to be desired. Overall that game was a combination of a weak opponent and a strong home performance from the men in blue.

BC: Is it leading to a false sense of confidence ahead of this weekend’s trip to Beijing?

SU: I don’t think Shenhua are ever that confident about a trip to the capital. This year the table would suggest Shenhua have a bigger chance than usual of a victory. Of course Shenhua’s record at Gongti isn’t quite as miserable as Guoan’s at Hongkou, but, nevertheless Shenhua invariably play rotten in away games, it’s silly to think it will be much different at Gongti. However one thing I think we can agree on is that, this is the “game of interest” this weekend.

BC: Indeed, while Shenhua looked great over the weekend, the last time they’ve won in Beijing was way back in 2008 and you’d have to go back to the Jia A days to find a win at Gongti. This game is always going to be one of the most interesting ones in the schedule and with Guoan’s struggles as of late, it means you have to be feeling positive about your chances, however the match that will garner all the attention has to be tonight’s clash between Evergrande and Jiangsu.

SU: Personally its a shame that Guoan and Shenhua, probably China’s most “famous” game, hasn’t had much bearing on the title race, at least for both teams in the same match, for quite some considerable time. Jiangsu v Guangzhou is different however.

BC: Right and this time around all the more so. Everyone who doesn’t support Evergrande has to hope that Jiangsu will find a way to win this one and give us a title race, but I can’t see that happening.

SU: I can’t either. Jiangsu haven’t been convincing recently. And what a baptism of fire for their new coach.

BC: Yes, you have to assume their Chinese staff will be picking the team. We’ve had a lot of doubts about Jiangsu, if they are ever going to prove us wrong it will take doing something in this one, they have the squad to do so.

SU: I think you’re right, Choi will be relying on the club for the first few games. Jiangsu are tricky to predict, they started off so strongly, yet they have floundered in recent weeks. Furthermore, if they lose, their title credentials will look pretty weak.

BC: Right, I was going to say its done and dusted, though it would only put them 7 points back. However we all know not to expect Evergrande to drop points against most of the weaker sides and that has been something Jiangsu has seriously struggled with.

SU: The headlines are saying Ren Hang has refused a contract renewal with Jiangsu. If that turns out to be true, is a very worrying development, one would assume his destination is Evergrande.

BC: It would be, I believe he’s a local boy and on top of that, it isn’t like Suning doesn’t have the money to pay, it would be a mistake for him to go elsewhere, but there is still a lot of time to start talking about that.

SU: Yeah perhaps he is holding out for a better deal, but the word is that he has been offered a lucrative signing on fee elsewhere. But yeah, it’s speculation really for now. Here was me forgetting the transfer window had opened.

BC: Yes, this year’s window has been off to a slow start fortunately, we can focus on the football for at least one more week.

SU: It has surprised me. Although it’s open for a while yet. What do you think of all the endless speculation about (insert player name) to China?

BC: We’ve talked about that a lot and for me its just annoying because you have legitimate rumors thrown together with a lot of complete bs where agents are just trying to use “an offer from China” as a way to scare clubs into paying more.

SU: It gets my goat as it puts the focus on undeserved areas and diverts attention away from more worthy areas of discussion. It’s also such a cheap way for media to attract views. The CSL is a clickbait creator’s dream.

BC: Its not really the media doing it though, its the agents who are placing the story in the media, and then Chinese media are reporting on the stories they see in overseas media. It’s a vicious cycle that is going to continue for the next 3 weeks or so.

SU: That’s true. It is also funny watching Chinese media quote European transfer rumour stories which sometimes can’t be true due to quotas already being filled.

BC: Is this the cycle where we finally don’t see Shenhua change up their foreigners?

SU: I certainly hope so. As a matter of fact I saw a headline in the Shanghai media just the other day “7 years: 10 coaches, 35 foreign players” – criticizing heavily Shenhua’s player policy. But it forgot to include the summer window foreigner moves also, so the figure is a bit higher than 35 I suspect.

BC: Well, for Guoan I think this is a good chance to strengthen the squad as I highly suspect Kleber is on his way out and while Yilmasz is flying back to Beijing, I don’t know how long they’ll keep him for.

SU: Am I right in thinking Yilmasz has scored as many goals for Turkey as he has for Guoan since coming to China?

BC: As well as playing more minutes in the group stage than he has for Guoan all year.

SU: Well, what a statistic that is.

BC: Yes, there is some feeling that he was malingering to guarantee that he would be healthy for the Euros.

SU: Well looking at those stats you mention it’s hard to dismiss that theory, for all the good it did Turkey.

BC: Yes, Guoan paid over 8 million euro for him, if you calculate that out over the time he’s played so far, its 60,000 euro per minute. He’s been a complete bust and there isn’t a lot of positive feelings, but we’ll see how he performs when he returns.

SU: Do you think he will stay? Do you want to see him stay?

BC: I’m really frustrated with him, he showed at the Euros how talented he is and he could make a significant impact if he’s playing, but he just doesn’t seem to care. Maybe it will be better now with the Euros over, but we’ll see. I think the club has invested heavily in him and are unlikely to dump him at this point.

SU: If it was Shenhua, he would be sure-fire bet to leave in the summer window, how could any self-respecting club official pass up on the chance on all that sales commission to stuff into their pockets from bringing in yet another new foreign signing?

BC: And once again I’m happy to not be supporting Shenhua!

SU: Fair enough there is no argument there. So what is your prediction for the China derby anyway? Let’s indulge ourselves, I miss the days when the pub was really about us talking shit about Shenhua and Guoan to be honest.

BC: Well, to avoid going straight into the prediction, I have to feel that you lot feel a lot like I’ve felt going to Hongkou in recent years. The rivalry is waning, your side is doing well and you’re going up against a struggling side, though they are at home in a stadium you’ve always struggled in. I honestly have no idea what to think about how Guoan is going to perform or which Guoan side is going to show up. I’m going to take the easy way out and say this really feels like a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

SU: I actually predicted a 2-0 defeat for Shenhua with the SEC bookmaker. Shenhua just suck away from home and certainly usually stumble when expected to do better. I would say the rivalry is not at its hottest, this season at least both teams are not gonna bother the top 4, plus Shenhua are somewhat occupied by a certain Anagram FC from the same city, but it is a rivalry which has stood the test of time. If it has waned, it will heat up again sooner or later with little provocation.

BC: After seeing what Gervinho did to the defense (and what Demba ba did last year at Hongkou), I have my concerns but as you say, Shenhua’s away form is horrendous, so that’s why I’m going with a draw, shows how bad Guoan is these days. You said a little bit above about the rivalry, but what do you think about the state its in right now? Obviously Shenhua have a serious crosstown rival now and we aren’t in the days when a number of players on the pitch were born and raised in the city they played for. We’ve even seen moves between the sides the past few seasons.

SU: Yeah I tend to agree with what you said earlier in that the Shenhua-Guoan rivalry is not at its peak at the moment. The movement of players is interesting, but I think that happens in most rivalries anywhere, even Rangers and Celtic have had players played for both sides. For the Shanghai Derby, it seems to attract more attention since its a cross-city rivalry and, apologies to Fuli, but its certainly the most authentic cross-town rivalry China has. Not sure what you mean about local players not being on the pitch? Quite a few in the Shanghai derby at least, for both sides especially Shanghai International Port Group.

BC: Neither Shenhua nor Guoan feature a lot of locals in their starting XI (Shenhua may be slightly better). There is a lot of history to the rivalry, but obviously Shenhua-SIPG has gotten intense and in Beijing things with Tianjin have picked up in the last 10 years or so. Also, obviously, there’s been a lot of battles with Evergrande. I don’t think I have a good feel for things on the terraces as a whole, but to me this rivalry has become diluted and without both sides near the top of the table as in previous years, interest has bottomed out, especially among neutrals. If Shenhua were to win tomorrow, I’d be more angry than if anyone other than Evergrande won at Gongti, but it’s not what it used to be.

SU: Again comparing the Shanghai derby to elsewhere, a relatively high number of hometown boys for Shenhua, you’ve got Cao Yunding, Bai Jiajun, Wang Yun, Qiu Shenjiong, Tao Jin all likely to be in the squad, Li Yunqiu would be certainly be also if fit, perhaps even Xu Junmin on the bench an upcoming youth player. That’s a fair few. For the Guoan – Shenhua rivalry, I think the main thing is the relative lack of success of both teams. A lot of rivalries are up and down, this one is no different.

BC: I was talking more just starting XI, guessing Guoan at most will have 2 and Shenhua would have 3. Yes, there is a certain ebb and flow to these things, but I feel this one has steadily gone down over the last 5 years and with other rivalries cropping up, its hard to see how this one will pick up, but again, I’m speaking only for myself and don’t know how most will feel. That said, a lot of the passion in a rivalry like this stems from personal relationships and so I look forward to the SEC making the trip north.

SU: Yep, well said. Unfortunately I won’t be there but there are quite a few heading north as we speak. Besides, once everyone gets inside the stadium, I’m not sure the match will seem much different intensity wise.

BC: Well, cheers to that mate, I’m sure you’ll get some drunken texts one way or the other late tomorrow eve.

SU: That’s a given, in fact watch out for people quitting WEF Wechat group en-mass!


What do you think?

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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