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2017 Chinese Super League Predictions – Evergrande tipped for seventh heaven

The Chinese Super League has big changes this year. Only three foreign players are allowed  per match, one U-23 player must be in the starting XI and another on the bench. What will be the outcome of these new rules? We ask some of WEF crew to find out.

Who will be the 2017 Chinese Super League champion?

Cameron: Guangzhou Evergrande. They are just too far ahead and the new transfer quota rules favour them, so impossible to see past them again.

Tobias: I think over the past few years it has already become quite hard to imagine anyone else than Guangzhou Evergrande bagging the title. They are definitely again the first contender for the championship. The fact that they have basically made no major changes in the squad over the winter might be another advantage, while for other teams some of the new signings are still major question marks.

Tom: Evergrande. But it will be close this year with SIPG looking capable of putting in the strongest challenge to Evergrande’s six year dominance yet.

Bcheng: Guangzhou Evergrande. As sad as it is to say it, there’s no reason not to presume the six time champions will make it seven. The new rules will likely even help them and nobody else is better situated for the new structure of the league. I think this year is going to look a lot like last year with Evergrande ending up with a solid lead over everyone else.

Adem: Guangzhou Evergrande again. I can’t see any other team dethroning them. They have won six straight titles so the seventh shouldn’t be too hard.

Jamie: I always go against Evergrande and then get proven wrong, but this year I’m just going to go with the boring option because it will probably be right again. For all the progress the CSL has made over the last few years, Evergrande as champions is getting extremely tedious but we’re probably in for more of the same in 2017.

Who will be runners up?

Cameron: Really hard to say. Shanghai International Port Group and Jiangsu are strong contenders but a lot depends on how they deal with their ACL campaigns. We could see someone like Hebei sneak in, possibly.

Tobias: That’s a tough one. I would probably pick Shanghai SIPG to finish as runners-up, but I still expect it to be a relatively open race between SIPG, Jiangsu, Hebei CF and maybe even Tianjin Quanjian.

Tom: SIPG.

Oscar looks to help Shanghai SIPG to the title.

Bcheng: Hebei CFFC. I keep going back and forth between them and Jiangsu in this spot, probably changing this prediction 3 or 4 times, but I think Hebei will eek it out with their depth and because they won’t have to deal with the ACL. I think both have a significant problem in goal, but have more talent than anybody else (outside of Evergrande) everywhere else on the pitch.

Adem: Jiangsu Suning have a better team to start the year than last and should have a strong season maintaining second most of the time. Having Jo up front at the beginning of last season cost them a lot of goals.

Jamie: I might be being slightly skewed by the early ACL games hear, but I think it will be Shanghai SIPG. Their attack is looking pretty unstoppable at he moment and that foursome of Hulk, Oscar, Elkeson and Wu Lei is looking every bit as deadly as it has the potential to be. Their defence is a big weakness, though, and will probably stop them becoming champions.

Who will finish third and fourth?

Cameron: Could be anyone from Shanghai International Port Group, Hebei, Jiangsu,  plus Shenhua, Beijing, or Quanjian

Tobias: I would say Jiangsu Suning and Hebei CF will take up these two spots. But Tianjin Quanjian, Shenhua and Guoan could be in striking distance as well, at least if their signings keep what they were promised.

Tom: Jiangsu Suning and Hebei. Tianjin Teda will surprise everyone and finish 5th with the old guard of Shenhua, Guoan, and Luneng fighting it out for the remaining top half scraps along with R&F and Quanjian (who despite all the noise will finish behind their neighbours)

Bcheng: Jiangsu Suning, Beijing Guoan. So Jiangsu ends up in 3rd though it will be a close fight. While fourth shouldn’t mean anything, we very well may see one of the top 3 winning the CFA Cup so it may be a default ACL ticket and I’m going with an outside hunch, though maybe influenced by heart more than anything, and choosing Beijing Guoan to finish here, just ahead of the Shanghai teams. Guoan’s starting XI is able to compete with pretty much anyone in the league  and the team could punch above their weight if everyone stays healthy.

Adem: Shanghai SIPG should finish 3rd and Hebei CFFC should get 4th. Both teams should be able to be a cut above the rest of the CSL. The only reason I put Hebei behind SIPG is because I am not sold on Pellegrini’s ability to manage a Chinese side yet.

Jamie: I have a hunch that Tianjin Quanjian will make the the top four in their first ever CSL season, but Hebei CFFC and Jiangsu Suning also look particularly strong in that regard. Quanjian have no depth, so if they can avoid any serious injuries they might be able to scrape into the top fur in place of Jiangsu. If not, it will be Hebei and Jiangsu who round out the top four.

Which two teams will be relegated?

Cameron: Yanbian, Guizhou, Liaoning or Changchun. These four just don’t have enough quality to pull away from the bottom. Could possibly add Chongqing but they look safe.

Tobias: I was quite surprised that Changchun Yatai escaped from relegation last year, but don’t think they can pull that off again season. When it comes to the second relegation candidate, I think that Henan Jianye have lost their competitive edge last season and might be in trouble again.

Tom: It’ll be a Dongbei Double with Changchun and Liaoning going down. Guizhou and Yanbian (second season syndrome) will also struggle and hover just above in 13th/14th.

Bcheng: Guizhou & Henan. The bottom is always hard to predict but I just don’t think Guizhou has done enough to prepare for the CSL and will be happy with a season in the top flight. The other spot is either Changchun or Henan, but I think Lee Jang-soo knows how to keep his team in the top flight and Henan has lost too much talent in the offseason.

Adem: Liaoning and Guizhou. Liaoning did little to strengthen their squad and Guizhou just do not seem to be at a CSL level. They barely got promoted from League One last season and should struggle for most of the year.

Jamie: This is a really tough call this year, but I think I’ll have to go with Guizhou Zhicheng and Liaoning Whowin. I’d love Zhicheng to survive, but I just don’t think they have enough quality and, unlike Yanbian Fude last season, they just don’t have an intense enough playing style to trouble better teams at CSL level. Li Bing did a great job of earning promotion against all expectations last season, but there’s nothing to indicate he has the tactical nous to keep them up this year.

As for Liaoning, they’ve just lost too many important players with Jin Taiyuan, Yang Shanping and Sun Shilin all departing and it’s hard to see them coping. Henan Jianye and Yanbian Fude will also struggle this year, but their respective managers should just about be able to guide them to safety.

Which team will surprise fans this season?

Cameron: Probably Quanjian since they are a newly promoted team but with strong foreign signings plus domestic talent like Sun Ke and Zhao Xuri I would be very surprised if they didn’t finish in the top half at the very least.

Tobias: I am not sure if you can still call Tianjin Quanjian a surprise, as everyone expects them to do well regardless. But if we should watch out for a team similar to last season’s Yanbian, I would pick Guizhou. I think they could end up with a solid mid-table finish and also cause a few surprising upsets against bigger teams throughout the year.

Tom: I can see Tianjin Teda having a good season. They are usually a bit of a non-entity but have strengthened well pre-season, have a manager who is familiar with CSL, and have the potential to be the surprise package of the season.

Bcheng: Despite the money they’ve spent, I think if Hebei can end up as runners up, it will be a real surprise considering where they ended up in the table last season. I think if Liaoning manages to stay up, that would be considered a real surprise for many. Finally, a surprise in the wrong way will be Shenhua’s mediocrity (wishful thinking?) despite the money they’ve spent.

Adem: I think Changchun ended last season well and a full season of Lee Jang-soo at the helm should prove interesting. Definitely a side that could cause problems for teams that expect an easy win. I think another surprise will be how Tianjian Quanjian adjust to the CSL. Cannavaro will inevitably be sacked before the summer transfer window.

Jamie: Fitness pending, it could be Quanjian as I don’t think too many people really expect them to make top four in their first year. However, the players like Fabio Cannavaro and in the likes of Axel Witsel, Alexander Pato and Wang Yongpo they’ve made some great signings.

Which team will benefit the most from the new rules?

Cameron: Evergrande – they have better Chinese players than everyone else and a lot of strength and depth as they showed last year by leading the league with their top foreign players injured.

Tobias: The ones with well-functioning academies, so particularly Guangzhou Evergrande and Shandong Luneng. Guangzhou have definitely the upper hand, as they basically waited out the winter, almost as if they had known that something is in the bushes…

Tom: I don’t think anyone will benefit greatly from the new rules but there are a few clubs who will be less affected: Luneng and Hebei seem to have come out of it ok.

Bcheng: Guangzhou Evergrande & Beijing Guoan. I think the new rules all but guarantee nobody will take Evergrande’s title from them and will also allow Guoan to finish higher than anyone would have expected.

Adem: I think any side that treats the new foreigner limit like League One teams do will have no problem. This means using your three foreigners a match to play three attackers. Evergrande, SIPG and Jiangsu should have no problems with the new rules. They also can afford to buy as many U-23 players as they like.

Jamie: It will be Evergrande because the team with the strongest domestic squad will obviously benefit from having fewer foreign players on the field. They also have a large pool of highly rated U23 players to pick from, although it shouldn’t be assumed that any of them will be able to seamlessly slot into the team.

Which team will suffer the most from the new rules?

Cameron: Very hard to say. The u-23 rule is a brand new one and we don’t really know how youth talent is going to perform because, by and large, we don’t see much of it in the CSL. Hence they had to bring in this rule in the first place.

Tobias: The one team whose foreign aids are getting injured early in the season… I think Force Majeure might have indeed a greater impact than in previous years, but that aside, I think it will hit some of the smaller teams harder, like Changchun, who haven’t had the means to pile up young domestic talents as well.
Tom: SIPG may find the new rules particularly challenging as they have five big name foreign players who will all be expecting game time.

Bcheng: Shanghai SIPG & Jiangsu Suning. Considering how much these sides spent on foreigners and tried to develop around them, the move to only 3 will significantly impact them. It’s kind of funny that SIPG, a team that before SIPG’s takeover was known for its youth academy, had to buy a U23 player, their going to struggle on defense and Carvalho, if he plays, won’t help shore it up.

Jamie: Conversely to Evergrande, the teams with the weakest domestic squads will suffer most from the foreign player rule and so the likes of Liaoning, Zhicheng and Yanbian will all be badly effected. The U23 rule means a youthful Henan side should feel confident while, at the other end of the table, Shanghais SIPG and Shenhua and Jiangsu Suning look the least prepared for the U23 rule among ACL contenders.

How will your local team do?

Cameron: I hate to say this but I can’t see Shenhua doing better than last year. Their stated aim is ACL qualification, but you’re never going to achieve that if you use three of your five domestic player slots signing players from a team relegated to the 3rd division. I don’t see how these players are any better than who the club has already. The other new domestic signings are a bit better. Sun Shilin is a solid signing but nothing special, and Mao Jianqing, he’s still a quality player and can do a job on the right where Shenhua are weak. But changing coach wasn’t the right thing for Shenhua to do and in letting Geng Xiaofeng leave, Gao Di go on loan to Jiangsu, and last years young player of the year (whilst on loan at Henan) Li Xiaoming go out on loan again, Shenhua’s transfer policy continues to baffle me even after all these years of watching them. I think top 6 is the best Shenhua can hope for.

Tobias: As I am based in Hong Kong now, I probably pass on that question. The most “local” CSL team for us would be either Evergrande or R&F. While I made clear my expectations for the first one, I would expect Fuli to finish somewhere mid-table this season.

Tom: In terms of players coming in to the club, R&F have had a pretty quiet off-season with Urso being the only new signing to get excited about. Though renewing Zahavi’s contract was a very positive move by the club – keeping him in the team is essential if we are going to continue to finish in the top half of the table and try to push for ACL (very wishful thinking!). Though if I had to call it I think we’ll end up finishing 6th or 7th.

There are, however, big concerns around the departures of a number of first team players: Zhang Yaokun, Yu Yang, and Wang Song. Our defense doesnt looking very convincing (on paper at least) and a lot will depend on how new signings Yi Teng and Jiang Jihong can bed themselves in to the team. We still have Jang Hyun-Soo as a solid defensive option but fitting him into the team will be challenging with the new rules.

Bcheng: I have Beijing Guoan finishing 4th, which is a bit of wishful thinking but I’m confident they’ll end up near the top of the table, no lower than 5th if all goes well, which is hard to say as they used to be a contender.

Jamie: My local team is not in the CSL this season, but they might well be next year. Wuhan Zall have gone all out this off-season after a couple of years of League One mediocrity and look to have built a very solid team. There are still question marks in defence, but we should certainly be in the end of season promotion shake-up when it all comes to a head.

What was the best signing made during the 2017 winter window?

Cameron: Probably Jonathan Soriano going to Guoan. Phenomenal scoring record in a reasonable European league and not THAT big a name. These types of players tend to be a hit in the CSL.

Tobias: If I would have to weigh up the cost-value ratio, I think Beijing’s signing of Jonatan Soriano from Red Bull Salzburg impressed me a lot. It just came a few days before the closure of the transfer window, and I almost had Beijing written off for this season at that point. Given all these ridiculous rumours around Rooney, I think Soriano could turn out to be a great choice. He was one of the key players in Salzburg, who produced some great talents in recent years… Alan, Mane, Keita.

Tom: I’m tempted to go for Zahavi signing a new contract with R&F but he isn’t a ‘new signing’ so will grudgingly go for Oscar. Certainly not based on value-for-money but he is almost guaranteed to impress in CSL and raise SIPG’s game.

Bcheng: As much as I may hate to say it, I think the blue side of Shanghai did a good job in choosing Carlos Tevez. I think he’s the type of player who could have a lot of success in the CSL and will fit well with the South American culture in that locker room. For domestic signings, Zhang Chengdong leaving Guoan was a massive signing for Hebei, he’s going to be key in leading them this year but the price tag makes me want to downgrade it somewhat, with that in mind, Wang Yongpo joining Quanjian was a great move as he’s a longtime CSL  talent and will help keep the newly promoted side stable.

Adem: I’m going with John Obi Mikel. A big name who is still only 29 years old on a free. No beating that.

Jamie: Axel Witsel. His price tag of below 30 million Euros was a bargain by Chinese standards for a top class midfielder. He should be able to control games for Tianjin Quanjian against most teams and the fact he has moved from Russia suggests he shouldn’t be too dramatically fazed by the culture shock of China. He seems to be the type of proper professional the CSL needs and his candid remarks on his financial motivations for making the move to Tianjin point to a player whose feet are firmly on the ground.

Who will be the 2017 CFA player of the year?

Cameron: I’m going to predict Elkeson, he wasn’t so great last year but I think he will hit better form this year.

Tobias: I would hope that after 10 years a Chinese player could pick up the award again, although it’s rather unlikely. At the moment, if Oscar continues with what he has shown in the ACL, he might be a contender this year.

Tom: Oscar.

Adem: Ricardo Goulart is an amazing player and really fun to watch. He won the award the previous two seasons and if he stays healthy I see no reason for him to not win it again.

Jamie: If Evergrande win the title it will be someone from their attack and so Ricardo Goulart is the obvious option. Paulinho’s career resurrection in China has actually been an underappreciated phenomenon and he could well be the best player in the league, but the CFA won’t have the imagination to give it someone who doesn’t score loads of goals.

Can Goulart win player of the year three years in a row?

Who will be the 2017 golden boot winner?

Cameron: I’m going to disengage my higher brain functions for this one and say Carlos Tevez.

Tobias: I am conservative here and think that Goulart will make it again, although I hope Soriano could make his mark on the scorer list as well.

Tom: Zahavi.

Adem: If Ricardo Goulart does not win it I could see his teammate Alan or Jiangsu’s Roger Martinez. Martinez was a great summer buy by Jiangsu last season and with a full season he should get 15 or more goals.

Jamie: It will probably be Goulart, though his teammate Alan could give him a run for his money. In Shanghai, Hulk is looking like he could have an incredible season based on his ACL output, but it would be foolhardy to write-off Carlos Tevez at Shenhua despite a frustrated display in his club’s ACL qualifier and unsubstantiated reports of off-field dissatisfaction.

Who will be the 2017 domestic golden boot winner?

Cameron: Yang Xu – he’s back at Liaoning where he will get enough goal time to bang in a good few.

Tobias: I rather keep it safe and say Wu Lei will be on top once again.

Tom: Wu Lei.

Bcheng: I’m going to take a flyer here and say Yang Xu, a return home to Liaoning is going to see him return to form and his side needs him to seriously contribute if they want to stay up. Gao Lin, as much as I dislike him, would be the other choice to dethrone Wu Lei.

Adem: Wu Lei. Maybe with the new rules of three foreigners and U-23 players a new goal scoring Chinese hero will emerge, but I doubt it.

Jamie: The new rules mean it could be Gao Lin this year as Jackson Martinez will struggle for a place in Evergrande’s line-up. But I’ll go for Wu Lei again because I think he’ll benefit massively from playing with Oscar and Hulk.

What is the best section to sit in your local stadium? What is the best way to purchase tickets?

Cameron: The North Terrace (section 5, 6, 7 and 8) is the soul of Hongkou but you can’t really sit there, or get tickets easily since it’s season passes only. The best way to get tickets for any game is to hit the ticket booth which is in the same building as the KFC next to the stadium. Go a few days before the game. Either than get a Chinese friend to buy on taobao or from various online ticket companies, or take your chances on the street from scalpers.

Tom: Sections 17/18/19/20 at Yuexiushan have the best home fan atmosphere. Tickets can be bought outside the stadium from touts for RMB 30-80 depending on opponents though the home derby game versus Evergrande can see tickets going for as much as RMB 500-600 so best not to try and buy on the day.

Bcheng: Gongti tends to have excellent atmosphere no matter where you sit and its hard to be very choosy, especially for the big games where, if you find a way in for less than a fortune, you have to consider yourself lucky. As a season ticket holder for many years, I’d say that’s the best way to do it as you’ll probably pay less for 15 games than going through touts for the games against Evergrande & Shenhua. That said, its not an option anymore for this year, so the key is finding a trustable taobao seller or north gate tout and letting them know you’ll be a regular customer. If you are only planning on going to one or two games, good luck, others who’ve dealt with touts on a more regular basis can probably provide better advice.

Adem: If you go to a Guoan match that does not feature Evergrande you can usually get tickets for 80-100rmb from kind folks near DongSiShiTiao subway station on line 2. Just remember to haggle and be there two hours before the match.

Jamie: Best way to purchase tickets is at the stadium as it will never be sold out. In my opinion the running track means the best place is on the halfway line in the second tier as you get a much better view of what’s going on on the pitch, but if you’re mainly in for the atmosphere you need to be closer to the field with one of the fan groups.

The 2017 Chinese Super League season kicks off March 3rd. Check back with Wild East Football for fixtures, match reports and more.

Adem has lived in China a few years spending most of them in Beijing. The capital provides all the football one could ask for. Adem’s knowledge of Chinese cursing and geography were all learnt through watching matches.

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