With the CSL off for the international break last weekend, the action continued with another eventful round of League One action. Here, is a slightly belated review of a weekend that saw China’s first managerial casualty of the season, a Hebei derby, experience paying off at Yifang and some struggles for China’s newest international prospect.
Ferrara Dismissal Gets Managerial Merry-go Round Spinning
Being a manager in Chinese football is a precarious job as Wuhan Zall boss Ciro Ferrara found out on Monday when he was sacked just two games into the season. Having been given four months to prepare for the new campaign, the former Italy international was given his marching orders following a 2-1 defeat away to Meizhou Hakka. With the loss coming on the back of a home draw against newly-promoted Baoding Rongda, it is clear that Zall’s trigger-happy owner has decided that Ferrara isn’t the right man to guide the team towards the stated goal of promotion. Several names are believed to be in contention for the vacancy, including former China manager Gao Hongbo, ex-Shenhua boss Gregorio Manzano, and former Shenxin head coach Gary White.
Meizhou Hakka 2
Japa 3′, Bojinov 44
Wuhan Zall 1
On the surface, the decision seems harsh, but Ferrara didn’t do himself any favours in Meizhou with a strange team selection. The 50-year-old brought in veteran centre-back Zhang Yaokun in place of regular right-back Ming Tian, which meant Li Chao moving from the middle to the right side of defence. Li was like a fish out of water away from his usual central defensive role and Meizhou exploited this with both of their first half goals coming from balls played in from the left by Ouyang Xue. Zhang also struggled in the middle, allowing Japa and the greatly improved Valeri Bojinov to slot home, and he was subbed off at half-time for winger Su Di who became a makeshift full back. The change tightened up the defence, but it was too little too late as the attack spluttered in the second half and could only pull back one goal when Marcelo Moreno converted a soft penalty.
In mitigation, Meizhou is not an easy place to go and Hakka were greatly improved in Vjekoslav Lokica’s second game in charge. Winger Sam Johnson also missed a second straight game through injury, but there is no doubt that Wuhan have failed to live up to raised pre-season expectations.
Tang Yaodong has been brought in to replace Ferrara and can be seen as a safe pair of League One hands having won promotion with Henan Jianye in 2013 and made a mediocre Shenzhen FC side look like promotion contenders last season before getting unceremoniously dumped for Clarence Seedorf.
There is an obvious question over whether it can be justified to let go of a manager so early after giving him so long to prepare. The case against says that Wang Baoshan lost his first two games in charge of Chongqing Lifan in 2014 and still won the League One title, while Qingdao Huanghai boss Jordi Vinyals lost two of his first three games in charge last season, before finishing in a three-way tie at the top of the table.
The case for would point to last season’s surprise package Guizhou Zhicheng who replaced Chen Mao with Li Bing after picking up one point from their first three games and then went on to earn promotion. Either way, the decision has been made and Tang will take charge of his first game at home to Beijing BG next Sunday. If he should manage a positive result against the capital city side, that could mean beleaguered BG boss Yasen Petrov following in Ferrara’s footsteps.
Deng Hanwen Must Go on the Defensive To Help International Prospects
When China’s squad for this month’s World Cup qualifiers against South Korea and Iran was announced, Deng Hanwen was, without doubt, the most the surprising inclusion. The 22-year-old right-back made his international debut as part of an experimental squad during January’s China Cup and obviously did enough to impress Marcelo Lippi and earn a recall.
Having spent the three years of his professional career with Nei Mongol Zhongyou, Deng’s new found international status also earned him a winter move back to youth club Beijing Renhe, but his performance against Dalian Transcendence last Thursday showed why he still has a long way to go before he is anywhere close to genuine international standard.
Beijing Renhe 3
Ayovi 16′, Wan Houliang 29′, Chen Jie 85′
Dalian Transcendence 2
Jailton Paraiba 57′, Dong Zhiyuan 90′
Goals from Jaime Ayovi and Wan Houliang meant hosts Renhe were 2-0 up at half-time and Transcendence looked to be in for consecutive hammerings after Shenzhen FC put six past them last weekend. However, the visitors looked like a totally different side after the interval and put Renhe under some serious pressure.
Within 12 minutes, Rusmir Cviko’s men had pulled one back when Deng failed to attack Zhang Jian’s cross; allowing Jailton Paraiba beat him to the ball and fire past Zhang Lie. Then, in the 90th minute, Deng let Dong Zhiyuan to ghost past him unchallenged to meet a long ball and score a second. The Chongqing native’s blushes were spared because Chen Jie had restored his club’s two goal lead with an outrageous solo goal a few minutes earlier, but if Deng is struggling against one of the weakest teams in China League One, questions have to be asked about his ability to cope against the likes of South Korea and Iran.
In his previous seasons with Hohhot, Deng played as a wing-back as part of a back five, but is clearly struggling to defend around the penalty area in Renhe’s four man defence. There is no doubt that the youngster gets down the field impressively, and Lippi obviously sees something in him, but he needs to learn to do the dirty work in and around his own box if he is going to be more than an international flash in the pan.
Yifang’s Defence Proving Experience Counts
As their season fell apart after firing of Mikhael Stahre last year, so did Yifang’s defence. The former CSL side conceded fifteen goals across their last six away games of 2016 but have now kept two consecutive clean sheets on the road thanks to a 2-0 win over Beijing BG.
New Spanish manager Juan Ramon Lopez Caro has done a great job of turning what looked like a disparate group of individuals towards the tail end of last season, into a motivated, organized unit. And the key seems to be experience in an impressive looking back four that has a combined age 112.
Beijing BG 0
Dalian Yifang 2
Mushekwi 60′, 63′
2016 regulars Zhu Ting, 31, and Wang Wanpeng, 34, have been joined by 29-year-old Argentinian centre back Jonathan Ferrari and the 38-year-old Zhou Ting. After eleven years with Beijing Guo’an, Zhou returned to the city where he developed as a player to replace the 21-year-old Li Shuai at left-back. With Li being just five-years-old when his replacement made his professional debut, this was hardly a move made with an eye for the future, but it’s paid off as the Zhou has been excellent so far.
The tidy looking Ferrari has been the most important addition to the back line, but his veteran teammates have all pulled their weight. The game in Beijing wasn’t a pretty one, but Yifang’s solid back line gave Nyasha Mushekwi the platform to score two second half goals in quick succession and maintain the team’s perfect start.
The back four’s advancing years mean that injuries and fatigue will no doubt take their toll but, for now, the division’s oldest defensive unit is also proving to be its best.
It’s Going To Be Another Fun Year At Jinshan
Shanghai Shenxin were wildly entertaining last year under English manager Gary White with their last fifteen games featuring a whopping 69 goals. So it was a major disappointment to fans of high-scoring, carefree football when White was replaced by Spaniard Juan Ignacio Martinez in November with many presuming it would be so the team could tighten things up.
An entertaining 2-2 draw with Beijing Renhe on opening day suggested that may not be the case and this week’s 5-0 demolition of Hohhot Zhongyou has confirmed this. Under Martinez, last year’s WEF League One Player of the Season Biro-Biro has moved from the wing to a central role where he partners new teammate Cleiton Silva in a 4-4-2.
Shanghai Shenxin 5
Gu Bin 11′, Cleiton Silva 19, 70′, Biro-Biro 31′, 42′
Hohhot Zhongyou 0
Despite the two goals, the set-up didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders last week, but that wasn’t the case last Saturday as Shenxin ran riot. A combination of hapless defending, comedic goalkeeping from Han Fangteng and a ruthless attack meant Shenxin were 4-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Gu Bin, Cleiton Silva and Biro-Biro who netted a brace. Cleiton Silva added another goal after the break to round out the massacre.
Biro-Biro is no doubt the star of the team, but Cleiton Silva provided a worthy foil this week, while former Shanghai Shenhua man Gu Bin’s left-foot is proving a dangerous weapon from the wing. Having shown signs of frailty in round 1, Shenxin’s defence wasn’t tested and remains a worry but, however the back line performs, it’s pretty clear that 2017 is going to be another fun year at the Jinshan Stadium.
Xinjiang End Tough Week With Resolute Performance
It was a difficult week for Xinjiang with the announcement that players Abduleziz Abdualsalam and Mustapa Nurahmet had been given half-season bans for “falsifying their registration” (more likely the date of birth section than misspelling their names) and Senegalese attacker Babacar Gueye getting knocked out of action through injury.
Hangzhou Greentown 0
Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard 0
Saturday’s opponents Hangzhou Greentown have been going through some hard times of their own with the edict from owner Song Weiping that they must include some under-20 players in the starting line-up seriously disrupting pre-season preparations. For the second straight week, Hangzhou’s starting line-up included five players born in 1997 or later, but Hong Myung-bo’s men were still favourites to come out on top against a Xinjiang side which traditionally struggles on the road.
The teams served up a dour 0-0 draw which Hangzhou would have won with better finishing from Anselmo Ramon, but Li Jun’s men proved to be obstinate opponents despite looking weak on paper. Xinjiang remain a team that neutrals won’t enjoy watching, but they are also a resilient side which other League One clubs won’t look forward to facing.
Huanghai Need To Get Over Travel Sickness To Take The Next Step
Last week, Qingdao Huanghai opened the season with a fine win over Beijing BG which prompted us to call Jordi Vinyals an excellent manager. In that regard, nothing has changed, but this week reiterated that the Shandong side’s biggest weakness remains their ability to win on the road.
Zhejiang Yiteng 2
Li Xin 33′, Hughes 83′
Qingdao Huanghai 1
Despite finishing in a three-way tie at the top of the table last season, Huanghai managed to lose eight times outside of Qingdao and their travels got off to a difficult start in Shaoxing where they lost 2-1 to Zhejiang Yiteng. Prolific goal scoring centre back Marti Crespi put the visitors ahead very early in the first half, but an excellent Li Xin free kick and a late Adam Hughes strike gave Zhejiang their second straight win. All this suggests that Huanghai’s troubles on the road will continue in 2017. If they do, Jordi Vinyals’s men will struggle to contend for promotion, no matter how well they play back in Qingdao.
Breathless Shenzhen Earn Hard Fought Win
Shenzhen absolutely battered Dalian Transcendence in round 1 and so there were plenty who expected them to do so something similar this week against newly promoted side Yunnan Lijiang. But this was also Lijiang’s first home game of the season, meaning that the match was played at an altitude of over 2,400 metres.
As Shenzhen struggled to replicate last week’s dominance, Zhang Shuoke put the hosts in front by scoring in a second consecutive game. Aboubakar Oumarou was able to grab an equaliser just before half-time, before Shenzhen made the gap in quality pay in the second half when Harold Preciado netted two well taken goals.
Yunnan Lijiang 1
Zhang Shuoke 27′
Shenzhen FC 3
Oumarou 45+1′, Preciado 57′, 65′
That brought the Colombian’s season tally up to five, but he paid the price later in the game when he twice collapsed following dizzy spells with around 10 minutes remaining. As the 22-year-old was treated, he and his teammates could be seen greedily inhaling from oxygen canisters in a clear indication of the toll playing at altitude can take on the body.
By that point, the game was already beyond Lijiang’s reach, but when weaker sides make the long journey to the picturesque tourist town, the elevation could give the League Two champions a decisive advantage. Meanwhile, Shenzhen being able to overcome this challenge is just another reason for their promotion rivals to fear them.
Hebei Sides Heading In Different Directions
There are Beijing, Dalian, Guangdong and Zhejiang derbies to look forward to this season, but the first local clash of the year took place in Hebei this week when Shijiazhuang Ever Bright took on Baoding Rongda. Last season, Shijiazhuang were hosting the likes of Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua in the CSL, while Baoding were tussling with humble League Two sides such as Baotou Nanjiao and Jiangsu Yancheng Dingli. 2017 is a radically different year for both sides, though, and nothing made this clearer than the result of this game.
Shijiazhuang Ever Bright 0
Baoding Rongda 2
Liu Xiaodong 5′, Ha Tae-goon 28′
Over 17,000 fans, including sizable away support, witnessed first half goals from Liu Xiaodong and Ha Tae-goon give Baoding what proved to be a comfortable 2-0 win over their local rivals, who were missing injured Brazilian winger Matheus. For the visitors, the win and performance proved that last week’s draw in Wuhan wasn’t a fluke. For Shijiazhuang, it was indicative of a side in decline having lost seven regular starters in the aftermath of their relegation.
It is too early to make any definitive conclusions, but these look like two clubs heading in very different directions and you wouldn’t bet against Baoding finishing above their local rivals this season.