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North Terrace News: Homeless Shenhua look north once again

After a horror show in Hebei and with Hongkou still not ready, Shenhua see their clash with Changchun rescheduled to give a third trip to the north in succession. Will it be third time lucky or triple punishment for the reeling Shanghai side?

Last Time Out: Horror Show in Hebei

Facing an inconsistent Hebei China Fortune side, Shenhua somehow managed to throw away not one but two promising situations by immediately conceding, and then throw in a couple more concessions for good measure – the video nasty of all four of Hebei’s goals show a combination of truly horrendous slip-ups, non-existant marking, and a complete lack of cohesion or coherence in the Shenhua defence. With Bai Jiajun joining the defensive injury crisis and Qin Sheng and Sun Shilin still suspended for their varying degrees of crimes against humanity,  Shenhua had a distinctly patched-up look to the side – that however can be no excuse for an abject surrender against a genuinely unimpressive opponent who barely had to get out of second gear. Losing to a motivated Beijing Guoan is one thing, but taking one point from two games against struggling Tianjin Qunjian and Hebei is quite another.

Causes for Concern…

With Bai Jiajun joining Li Jianbin and Bi Jinhao on the treatment table, Shenhua are missingly three-quarters of their first-choice defence right now – and it shows. Li Peng looks every inch a center-back who was relegated from the second tier last year, and even the lukewarm comfort of the predictable mediocrity of Tao Jin has been replaced by pure slapstick comedy straight from the Titus Bramble school of defending-as-performance-art. It’s puzzling that Xiong Fei – while limited himself, patently a more capable deputy at center-back than Li Peng or right-back than the abject Wang Lin – remains benched by coach Gus Poyet. What’s more,  Shenhua, of course, are famously poor on the road – a third trip to the cold north-east in succession is about as far away from home succor as you can get.

Shenhua have also been hit particularly hard by the eve-of-season regulation change. Admittedly Xu Junmin is hardly the biggest U23 liability in the league (although it would be nice if he focused on being a winger and stopped trying to break peoples’ legs), but the lack of Kim Ke-Hee at center back is killing the side right now – and what wouldn’t the blue three-quarters of Shanghai give for Obafemi Martins to be able to come off the bench and either replace or support the badly misfiring Carlos Tevez.

… or for Optimism?

In Gio Moreno Shenhua still have possibly the best or most impactful player in the CSL – and his buddy Fredy Guarin has woken up from a 2016-long hibernation to look like a footballer again this year. In fact, there’s an argument that things really aren’t as dramatically bad as they look right now for Shenhua – once a couple of those missing first-choice defenders are available again and a better footballer can partner the Colombians in midfield, the team will be a lot more solid – and despite only taking one point from their past three fixtures, the Hongkou side was far from outclassed for the majority of those games. A bit more luck against Quanjian or Guoan, or a bit more composure against Hebei, and we could be looking at a very different league table.

We Need to Talk About Carlos

Yes, we knew he was here for the money. Yes, we knew his best days were behind him, and the pace from those aging legs would have gone. The biggest surprise about Carlos Tevez though has been just how immeasurably little he seems to care or try – this is a man who even when falling out with pretty much every club and manager he’s ever played for has been a constant non-stop 90-minute Tasmanian devil of a footballing dervish incarnate once he’s crossed that magical white line. Watching him slouch around pitches across China uninterested and unable to make a difference is like watching a bizarre masochistic mash-up of the very worst of Nico Anelka and last year’s Fredy Guarin. Come on Carlitos, you’re better than this.

Up Next: Changchun Yatai

A side struggling horribly for form, disappointing in match-ups against lesser CSL sides and with their big-money ex-Premier League striker yet to fire. There’s a lot familiar about Changchun right now – in the same way that Shenhua’s years of transfer window neglect might finally be catching up with them and that paper-thin squad depth, Changchun may not have it in them to cheat relegation one more time. Unfortunately for the northeastern side they really do seem to have signed 2017’s Odion Ighalo and both his left feet from Watford (the 2016 version would tear the CSL to shreds) – when you can’t even beat a 10-man Liaoning at home, you know you’re in for a long season.

Prediction and Reality Check

Do not expect a good game of football here. Both sides are struggling badly for confidence and fluency, and fear-of-failure might be the key factor – if Shenhua can’t beat perhaps the worst side in the league this year, they may as well give up any pretentions of Champions League football. At the same time, if Changchun and Ighalo can’t pile the hurt onto a Shenhua reserve defence which would struggle in the second tier, then they might as well start waving the white flag now.

Saturday’s 3-o-clock kick-off (you don’t get to say that often enough in the CSL) could see a nervy, ugly, painful 2-1 Changchun win – which may at least embolden Poyet to break with his selection policy thus far and bring Martins and Kim back into the fold next time around.

Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 4   W 0   D 2   L 2   GF 2   GA 7   GD -5   Pts 2

Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 4   W 1   D 1   L 2   GF 8   GA 7   GD +1   Pts 4

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 spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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