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North Terrace News: Stuttering Shenhua need China Derby win

Shanghai Shenhua may have sealed Asian Champions League preliminary round qualification this week, but their patchy form means they are no longer favorites for third spot and direct entry to the play-off round. Can a win over old rivals help set the Hongkou side up to pip their newer rivals to the qualification post?

The curse of Huanglong continues

One more year without a win in Hangzhou – in fact, given the home side’s utter lack of ideas and ambition, one can only hope that Changchun and Shijiazhuang get their act together and send Hangzhou Greentown down, depriving Shenhua of the opportunity to fail at Huanglong again next season. Shenhua may have shaded the game in terms of possession and attempts to anything other than sit deep and kick the ball or any player who came near, but Sunday night was a drab affair sorely lacking in penetration – if they were still playing right now, the game would be stuck at 0-0.

Shenhua might count themselves slightly unfortunate in that they were denied a stonewall penalty when captain Gio Moreno was scythed down in the area in the 38th minute; Moreno had already been struggling with a knock, and was thus substituted off. With the rangy Colombian joining his compatriot Fredy Guarin (subbed off after 18 minutes for crimes against football) on the bench, Shenhua were left with a side which should work in theory, but had never had a chance to practice prior to Sunday night throwing them together.

Breaking down a side camped in their own half with one bank of four and another of five is never the easiest proposition, but passing the ball around slowly a lot sideways in your own half before launching long balls at two pint-sized strikers isn’t really the best way to do it. Oba Martins and Gao Di – for once allowed to play in his natural position of center-forward – were willing runners, but starved of any meaningful service. Shenhua’s midfield four was painfully flat, with the wingers struggling to make any penetration – Zhang Lu has spent much of his Shenhua career at right-back rather than more advanced positions, and Cao Yunding, for all his wonderful form and richly-deserved international call-up, is a right-footed attacking midfielder who cuts inside, rather than a natural touchline-hugging left winger.

Stumbling backwards into continental competition

Two wins in eight – hardly inspiring form, but it’s been enough to see Shenhua seal a minimum of fourth spot, largely thanks to the travails of others. With Beijing Guoan seeing off Guangzhou R&F earlier in gameweek 27, Shenhua knew they would take part in next season’s ACL even before a ball was kicked in Hangzhou. Perhaps the injuries and thin squad are finally taking a toll on Shenhua – after their initial doubt-defying run following that horror injury to talismanic striker Demba Ba, the boys in blue have come crashing back down to earth of late – they’re currently stuck playing the deeply unconvincing and immobile Wang Lin at right-back, and haven’t been able to give Martins a breather since that summer injury to Ba. They’ve been forced to play at times without the only left-footed player in their squad and with various makeshift defences, and are essentially bereft of any attacking variety – the only real question is whether Lv Zheng or Zhang Lu start on the right.

Questions might be asked of Shenhua’s physical preparation, however – while they have a thin and injury-hit squad, the CSL is not the world’s most schedule in terms of fixture congestion, and there have been a series of extended international breaks of late during which only Kim Ki-hee has been given a call-up. It’s a little concerning that the admirable Qin Sheng is always, always gassed after 70 minutes and needs to be subbed, and that a series of Shenhua players were going down with cramp as early as the hour mark down in Hangzhou – do Gregorio Manzano and his team not work on fitness during the breaks?

China derby the perfect tonic?

Shenhua’s stuttering form sees, for the first time in months, neighbors Shanghai International Port Group looking to have the upper hand in the race for third – and rather than just an argument for local bragging rights, this could well be the difference between a gentle draw in the play-off round or a tricky trip to Korea, Japan or Australia to face elimination before the competition proper has even started in 2017. With Shanghai International Port Group looking likely to beat Tianjin and an off-color Hebei in their remaining games, Shenhua’s points cushion has been all-but erased and they have to rely on that superior H2H record – only two wins is likely to be good enough to seal third spot.

Perhaps the visit of an old rival is exactly what the doctor ordered; the chance to lift themselves one last time for a 2016 farewell to Hongkou and the remarkable exploits in beating every top-tier side to visit Shanghai. While Manzano’s former side have had a poor 2016, their midweek visit shouldn’t be taken lightly however – back in June, they produced perhaps their most spirited and committed performance of the year, laying siege to the visiting Shenhua and being perhaps a touch unlucky to have won only 2-1. With pride to play for and the chance to deny an old rival, expect the men in green to be fired up once again come Wednesday night at Hongkou.

Prediction and reality check

Shenhua need to win, and have done a great job this year of raising themselves for the biggest games – if (and when) they fail to make third spot, it will be due to points needlessly thrown away in games against mid-table sides rather than their record against the CSL’s best. Wednesday night and a two-day turnaround may just be a bridge too far for a flagging squad with fitness concerns though – both Guarin and Moreno started the game looking a little unfit on Sunday, and alternative options in attack are thin. Hongkou will doubtless be a footballing cauldron to lift their side once again – and the side of 2016 deserve a good send-off regardless of their recent struggles – but a canny and experienced Guoan might just know when to sit and absorb the pressure and when the hit an ailing Shenhua on the break. 1-1 and advantage Shanghai International Port Group in the race for third.

Shenhua in 2016 according to North Terrace News:
P 28   W 13   D 9   L 6   GF 45   GA 36   GD +9   Pts 48

Shenhua in 2016 according to the CSL table:
P 28   W 12   D 11   L 5   GF 46   GA 30   GD +16   Pts 47

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010.

Exiled from the Victorian town-centre 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 infamous Shenhua Element Crew.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Sihan Cao

    26/10/2016 at 12:02

    Shenhua’s first-half performance in Huanglong was simply the worst ever from this team for a very long while, I even got the impression that most players have already began their holidays, it was only after Gio’s injury and that idotic refree’s awful acts had gave them a wake-up call, but in general, the team’s form was really concerning. These players haven’t endured that 2008 game, they had no desire for revenge.

    We would battle Guoan without the two Columbians, which was such a nightmarish situation that could paralyze our middlefield (we all know Manzano is no way a tinker, don’t expect any inspired tactical decision from him). Worse still, Shenhua seems to lose her greatest strength this season: fighting spirit, after securing the ACL qualification seat. They should bear in mind that it’s a sin to lose Guoan in Hongkou at any time.

    Anyway, I will still come to Hongkou after knock off regardless of the bad weather.

    • Cameron Wilson

      26/10/2016 at 12:11

      “They should bear in mind that it’s a sin to lose Guoan in Hongkou at any time.”

      AMEN!

      • Steve Crooks

        26/10/2016 at 12:30

        Thirded!

        To put an optimistic slant on things, we could seal third spot tonight with a home win and Shanghai International Port Group drawing or losing in Tianjin. Neither of those are implausible results, but it’s difficult to be too optimistic with all the injuries though; 2016’s Guarin is really no great loss, but means there are going to be some very tired legs in midfield & attack here and again up at Changchun. All the more reason to go for the win and end things here and now.

        • Sihan Cao

          27/10/2016 at 10:47

          So, here comes the trouble, SIPG leapfrogged us already courtesy of our fourth consective draw. To make things worse, Changchun (already freezingly cold there) is now fighting desperately for avoiding relegation. Moreover, I think we haven’t won in Changchun for about a decade. Without Freddy, Gio, we seriously fall short in inspiration and technique it was quite obvious that we struggled to hold possession against Beijing.

          In general, this is a highly memorable season for all Shenhua fans, many many positive things, but the end of the campaign isn’t that sweet.

      • Sihan Cao

        27/10/2016 at 10:37

        haha, this is bit exaggeration, “crime” is the better word here

  2. jrbh

    27/10/2016 at 12:28

    Good news for Shanghai SIPG, as they fight to hold on to third place this weekend (and avoid an ACL qualifying trip to Korea, Japan or Australia) — Shandong can lose this weekend without fear of relegation.

    The only reason Shandong even has to think about relegation is if Hangzhou and Changchun both win; a loss or a draw from either means Shandong is safe. Also, losses from either Tianjin or Liaoning (or both) means Shandong is safe.

    But what if Shandong loses and doesn’t get help?

    If *all* the teams chasing losing Shandong in the relegation scrum win — Hangzhou, Liaoning, Tianjin and Changchun — that leaves Shandong and Hangzhou tied for 14th, level on 34 points. Shandong wins the tiebreaker and they’re safe again.

    If Shandong loses and Hangzhou and Changchun win, and either Liaoning and Tianjin draw, leaving a three way tie for 13th, again, Shandong is safe. If Hangzhou and Changchun win and Liaoning and Tianjin both draw, you’ve got a four-way tie for 12th through 15th, and again, Shandong is safe (and Liaoning is out).

    I can’t find any combination of match results that end up with Shandong making the journey from the Asian Champion’s League to China League One.

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