Shenhua are bearing the flag for Shanghai football following a chastening week for their noisy neighbors. With destiny in their own hands, can Shenhua press home the advantage starting Friday evening?
A point gained, if not earned
A trip to in-form Guangzhou R&F promised to be perhaps the trickiest assignment remaining in the race for third – and Shenhua duly reprised their habitual post international break trick of not turning up in the first half. Quite how they got to half-time only 1-0 down following Renatinho’s early opener remains a mystery; a near-constant barrage of pressure from the Yuexiushan side’s forwards and their hot streak was barely repelled by a defence which looked all at sea despite the welcome return of Bai Jiajun.
In a fortunate role reversal for Shenhua, a scene which has all too often played out against them finally worked out in their favour – for all R&F’s domination they were unable to press home the advantage and Shenhua regrouped a little in the second half, with captain Gio Moreno sealing a valuable if barely-earned point with an equalizer.
Six to go
7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15. Rather than a secret code, that’s the league position in the 16-side CSL of Shenhua’s opponents in this season’s run-in – so much of the hard work has been done in putting all comers to the sword at home and even earning a few more away points than in their wretched recent history. If Shenhua keep their nerve, then Asian Champions League qualification – and maybe even the chance to truly represent Shanghai and avenge their little brothers’ humiliating midweek capitulation at the hands of Jeonbuk Motors in Asia’s great transportation magnate derby – awaits.
Banana skins not mooncakes
Chongqing at home is exactly the kind of game Shenhua have made heavy work of in recent years; they can struggle to break down massed defences, rarely have a plan B, and are prone to getting caught on the counter or at set-pieces. Think back to their early-season Hongkou woes against Yanbian, or even last year’s frustrating 2-2 against this Friday’s opponents. This mid-autumn festival fixture has potential embarrassing slip-up written all over it.
And yet, is this 2016 vintage just a little mentally tougher? They held on to take scarcely-deserved points on the road in Jinan and Guangzhou, found a way to come back for the win when facing their usual line-fluffing frustration against Liaoning, and are roared on by a crowd more passionate and fiercely loyal than ever before.
Prediction & reality check
Despite shocking Guoan at Gongti in their last away game, Chongqing Lifan generally travel poorly. Shenhua at have some nervy moments – particularly with the big close-season signings Lu Shuai, Bi Jinhao and Fredy Guarin continuing to blow hit and cold – but there’s ultimately too much individual match winning quality and drive in the likes of Moreno, Oba Martins, Cao Yunding and Qin Sheng to let this one slide.
3-1 Shenhua and a festival to celebrate for the blue three-quarters of Shanghai.
Shenhua in 2016 according to North Terrace News:
P 24 W 10 D 8 L 6 GF 37 GA 32 GD +5 Pts 38
Shenhua in 2016 according to the CSL table:
P 24 W 11 D 8 L 5 GF 39 GA 25 GD +14 Pts 41
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