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League One Review: Eight Talking Points from Round 1

League One completed its opening round this past weekend and we look at eight talking points from what was, as always, an eventful set of matches. How has the U23 rule effected League One? Are Shenzhen as good as they seem? Who is an excellent manager? Find out below.

U23 Rule Not Such A Big Deal

There has been a lot of talk over the last two weeks about the effect of the CFA’s new under-23 rule on the CSL and how it has been blatantly disrespected by several CSL managers who have withdrawn their youngsters prior to half-time. The first round of action in League One has shown that this is not going to be such a big deal in the second tier and most clubs have coped with the rule perfectly well. Only two U23 players were subbed off before half-time across the 16 League One clubs and eight teams gave at least one U23 player a full 90 minutes of action.

League One – Round 1

Shijiazhuang Ever Bright 2

Matheus 17′, Guo Song 90+2

Yunnan Lijiang

Zhang Shuoke 56′

Attendance: 15,103

Yunnan Lijiang and Dalian Transcendence were the only clubs to remove their U23 player before half-time with the former setting the precedent of removing their youngster – Su Shun – for a foreign player – Kaio – that was followed by CSL side Changchun Yatai the next day. Transcendence, on the other hand, became the first club to employ the fake injury technique to replace their U23. Unfortunately, before Jailton Paraiba had been brought on for the “injured” Wang Xiaoxing Shenzhen FC took advantage of their numerical superiority to score their opening goal before eventually running out 6-0 winners. It’s safe to say that CSL sides won’t be mimicking Transcendence’s way of getting around the rules in the same way they did with Lijiang.

Elsewhere, the only other team that looks to be really struggling with rule is Beijing BG who replaced midfielder Song Yi with Wang Jianwen on 59 minutes while 1-0 down to Qingdao Huanghai and then saw the latter equalise with a spectacular strike just three minutes later. It would be reasonable to conclude that Song might not last so long next week.

Promoted New Boys Won’t Be Pushovers

Stepping up a division is never easy and newly promoted sides Baoding Yingli Yitong and Yunnan Lijiang were each given a baptism of fire with which to begin their first ever seasons in the second tier. The fixture computer spluttered out respective away trips to recent CSL relegatees Shijiazhuang Ever Bright and big spending promotion favourites Wuhan Zall. Each side more than held their own, however, with Baoding leaving Wuhan with a point and Lijiang being denied the same outcome by a stoppage time Guo Song winner for Shijiazhuang.

League One – Round 1

Wuhan Zall 1

Moreno 47′

Baoding Yingli Yitong 1 

Ha Tae-goon (pen) 69′ 

Baoding showed up to play in front of a mammoth 41,000 crowd in a deeply defensive, but very well organized 5-4-1 formation that is going to be tough for anybody to break down this season. Wuhan were knocking at the door for most of the first half, but had to wait two minutes after the restart to break it down thanks to debutante Marcelo Moreno. Baoding kept their composure, though, and were rewarded when Ming Tian yanked back Yang Hao during a goal mouth scramble – allowing Ha Tae-goon to equalise from the penalty spot.

Wuhan had twice hit the woodwork, but Baoding deserved their point and their feat was almost replicated that night in Shijiazhuang. Lijiang approached this game less defensively than Baoding and were punished early when Matheus put Shijiazhuang in the lead. However, despite the two division gap that existed between the sides last season, Lijiang quickly found themselves in the ascendancy and equalised thanks to an absolute screamer from Zhang Shuoke. Guo’s late winner meant they left empty handed but, given that Lijiang were largely dependent on home results to earn promotion last season, this was a very encouraging display. Indeed, they, along with Baoding, have already proven that it would be at a side’s considerable peril to take them lightly.

Don’t Read Too Much Into Shenzhen’s Six-cessful Start

A Sven in the hotseat and a slew of big money signings has meant plenty of pre-season hype surrounding Shenzhen, and that is going to be turned up to eleven thanks to their 6-0 demolition of Dalian Transcendence. It was undoubtedly an outstanding performance where the attacking trio of Harold Preciado (3 goals and an assist), Chinedu Obasi (2 goals) and Aboubakar Oumarou (1 goal and 2 assists) looked like lightening quick world-beaters, Xu Liang (3 assists) rolled back the years with some sublime balls from midfield and the new central defensive partnership of Wang Dalong and Cui Min looked entirely impenetrable.

League One – Round 1

Shenzhen FC 6

Preciado 22′, 62′, 76′, Obasi 30′, 48′ , Oumarou 54′

Dalian Transcendence 0

Attendance: 25,891

So far so good, right?

Well, there’s one gargantuan caveat to this result and it’s that Transcendence were utterly dreadful. Having survived their first ever season in League One last year, Rusmir Cviko’s side had a catastrophic off-season which saw the departure of key players Han Xu, Zhang Gong and William Paulista, as well as a vast supporting cast. To compound matters, Erton Fejzullahu departed the club just a couple of weeks before the transfer window closed, meaning they had to scramble around to sign former League One journeyman Ivan Bozic as last minute striking cover. Consequently, they are left with a shell of the team that struggled last year and that was painfully apparent in Shenzhen on Sunday.

The visitors did have to play most of the game with ten men after Liu Yusheng’s sending off with the score at 2-0, but the writing was already on the wall well before his early bath and a 5-6 goal hammering was entirely predictable after 30 minutes. This isn’t to take anything away from Shenzhen who were fantastic, but rather a note of caution that we shouldn’t be penciling them in for the 2018 Super League just yet as they will not play a worse side this season. When it comes to 2018 China League Two, though, an early reservation for Transcendence might not be a bad idea.

Meizhou Need To Feel the Heat And Manager Lokica May Do Soon

With 31 of their 38 points coming at their own stadium last season, it’s fair to say that Meizhou Hakka were reliant on their home record for survival during their maiden League One season. So it won’t be particularly encouraging that they failed to pick up any life-sustaining home points in their season-opener against Dalian Yifang.

With travel to their Wuhua County Stadium generally involving a long transfer flight to Jieyang followed by a 2-3 hour bus ride, there is no doubt that its location plays a role in their home success. However, a much bigger factor is the crippling 35C+ heat which infests Wuhua for a large portion of the season. In a League featuring teams from Wuhan, Shanghai and Zhejiang that’s not, in itself anything unusual, but what gives Meizhou the advantage is the sheer length of time for which the heat persists and their decision to schedule afternoon kick-offs whatever the temperature.

League One – Round 1

Meizhou Hakka 0

Dalian Yifang 2 

Wang Wanpeng 40′, Mushekwi 60′ 

Attendance: 6,855

Unfortunately for Meizhou, the temperature didn’t climb above 15C this weekend, and that was evident as an impressive and energetic Dalian side played them off the park in a comfortable 2-0 victory. There’s no doubt that Yifang’s players would have covered less ground had this game taken place in the oppressive summer heat, but there may be something more troubling going on here.

Last year, Meizhou were exciting to watch with plenty of goals going in at both ends during their matches. New manager Vjekoslav Lokica, who was only appointed a month ago, sought to counter that by playing a 5-4-1 formation this week and it would be an understatement to describe the move as a failure. Lokica’s appointment was also accompanied by the news that Bulgarian striker Valeri Bojinov – once of Manchester City and Juventus – would join the team and midfielder Merlin Tandjigora would depart at late notice to maintain the foreign quota.

What this meant on Saturday was a team with no drive in midfield and last season’s top scorer Japa shunted out to the wing to accommodate Bojinov despite banging in 18 goals as a centre forward last season. There was an air of inevitability about it not working out and Lokica switched to a 4-4-2 before half-time with the score at 1-0. What the manager does going forward remains to be seen, but the club will clearly want things to warm up quickly on the field, while Lokica will need to do something soon to avoid the heat soon being on him off of it.

Jordi Vinyals Is An Excellent Manager

Qingdao Huanghai surprised everybody last season when they fell agonizingly short of promotion despite an apparently limited playing staff. But what would have shocked those who actually saw them play was just how good the football the club produced was. A neat passing style that is far easier on the eye than at least half of the stuff churned out by CSL teams almost took them to promotion, but they fell short and lost key players Wan Houliang and Wang Xuanhong over the off-season.

League One – Round 1

Qingdao Huanghai 2

Deng Zhuoxiang 56′, Rakic 72′

Beijing BG 1 

Wang Jianwen 62′

Attendance: 8,166

So it would be optimistic to presume that Vinyals could keep it going for a second season, but it already looks like he’s managed it. A deserved 2-1 victory over Beijing BG featured easily the best display from a team outside of Shenzhen’s massacre of Dalian Transcendence and some fine performances from a couple of unlikely sources. Walking plaster cast Deng Zhuoxiang dusted off a two year injury hit spell with Shanghai Shenhua during which he made just two league appearances, to put in an excellent performance in midfield, while Sun Guoliang shook off a 2016 spent bumbling haplessly around Hunan Billows’ shambolic defence to look like a composed, ball-playing centre back.

It’s hard not to credit Vinyals for these revelations and, while the wheels will no doubt occasionally fall off as they did a few times last season, Huanghai’s future looks bright under the unassuming Spaniard.

Defence An Issue At Beishang Teams

Beijing Renhe and Shanghai Shenxin opened their respective seasons with a 2-2 draw at the Fengtai Stadium which provided plenty for fans to get excited about and plenty for their coaches to worry about. Renhe’s attacking trio of Jaime Ayovi, Ayub Masika and Ivo looked impressive, while Shenxin have 2016 player of the season Biro-Biro and may have unearthed a gem in Pan Chaoran who came on at half-time following a transfer from League Two side Hainan Boying Seamen and capped a dynamic display with a goal.

League One – Round 1

Beijing Renhe 2

Ayovi 45+1′, 71(pen)

Shanghai Shenxin 2 

Biro-Biro 64′(pen), Pan Chaoran 82′ 

Attendance: 15,327 (questionable figure)

However, the attackers on both teams were made to look especially good by the lackluster defences they came up against. Renhe really missed Yi Teng who departed for Guangzhou R&F over the winter, while Shenxin’s new manager Juan Ignacio Martinez hasn’t yet managed to solidify a defence that leaked goals under predecessor Gary White last season, despite the arrival of Spanish centre back Raul Rodriguez. Outside of this game, Yasen Petrov failed to bring the stingy defence he was known for at Shijiazhuang Ever Bright north to Beijing BG.

These are still early days, but these are three sides that need to tighten things up at the back if they want to be in the promotion shake-up come October.

Zhejiang vs Xinjiang Meets Low Expectations

Last season, this game wouldn’t be one you’d look out for on the fixture list if you were in search of entertainment, and this match proved not much has changed. In the case of Xinjiang, that’s not an enormous surprise as Li Jun begins his fifth year in charge of a club low on resources and who signed specialist long ball magnet Yves Ekwalla Herman to play as striker during the off-season.

League One – Round 1

Zhejiang Yiteng 1

Guto 27′(pen)

Xinjiang 0

Attendance: 2,380

Things are supposed to be different at Zhejiang, though, as new manager Mauricio Copertino takes charge with the remit to improve on the dross they were turning out under former manager Duan Xin. It would be harsh to say there was no improvement, but Zhejiang produced little going forward and had to rely on a Guto penalty in order to win the match 1-0. This is Copertino’s first ever head coaching job so it’s early days but, as it stands, nobody will be looking forward to the rematch in round 16.

Hangzhou’s Tunraround Papers Over The Cracks

The lows and lows of Hangzhou Greentown’s tumultuous off-season are thoroughly outlined here and they speak of a side in big trouble. Owner Song Weiping’s January decision to promote a host of players from the Under-20 side to the youth squad in order to get them playing time and then sell them on could be viewed as either a pragmatic way to run a profitable Chinese football club or a greedy way to make a quick buck out of the U23 rule.

China League One – Round 1

Hangzhou Greentown 3

Chen Po-liang 70′, Ramon 74′(pen), Cheng Jin 81′

Hohhot Zhongyou 2 

Dori 63′, Mou Shantou 90+2′

Attendance: 5,758

Either way, the edict that manager Hong Myung-bo would be expected to include some of those youngsters in his starting eleven meant few expected Hangzhou to do much on the pitch this season. When it came out on Sunday evening, Greentown’s team sheet featured no less than five U20 players and left many feeling they were ripe for the picking by a Hohhot Zhongyou side who had a diabolical away record last season.

In the event, Hohhot manager Wang Bo inexplicably left Andre Senghor on the bench and Hangzhou’s youngsters just about held their own in an extremely defensive 5-4-1 formation. Senghor was introduced at half-time and set up Dori’s opening goal on the hour mark. However, minutes either side of the opener, Hong introduced Taiwanese winger Chen Poliang and talented under-23 international Cheng Jin into the fray and they completely turned things around. Chen scored the first and assisted Cheng who netted Hangzhou’s third as they eventually ran out 3-2 winners after a late consolation from the visitors.

Unfortunately, all the outcome really does is confirm fears that Hangzhou’s U20s aren’t ready as it took the introduction of two older players in place of the inexperienced youngsters to change the result. Quite what those U20 players will learn from piling bodies behind the ball at home to Hohhot – a team that scored just nine times on the road last season – remains to be seen and they would likely have struggled more had Senghor started from the beginning. Of the U20s, only midfielder Liu Yi stood out as a player comfortable at this level and the whole thing seems even stranger considering that it kept Cheng Jin – a player only born in 1995 himself – out of the action for most of the match when he and Chen Po-liang were clearly a cut above much of what else was on the field.

Based in China for five years, Jamie has been exploring tiny little third tier Hubei cities without football teams or decent internet connections, but is now a regular at China League One side Wuhan Zall. A keen football afficionado, he regularly takes in the Chinese Super League, enjoying matches in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Nanjing. Jamie is also a keen observer of the fortunes of the Chinese National side.

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