Homeless Shenhua hit the road again with a trip to CSL debutants Guizhou Zhicheng – can the men in blue pull off the unthinkable and win two matches in a row outside of Shanghai? NTN gives a fresh perspective on the boys in blue once more.
Last Time Out: Chancing it in Changchun
Shenhua’s defense received a much needed fillip with the return of Li Jianbin in the center and Bai Jiajun on the left. To say their return was a welcome was an understatement – previous games had seen some of the weakest back lines your correspondent had ever seen Shenhua field. However, somehow Tao Jin kept his place following his horror show the previous round, offering Hebei a free goal out of nothing. “I’ve played so many games I don’t know how I made a mistake like that,” Tao told the Shanghai media going into the game against Changchun. A strange comment for Tao to make – despite being 31 and having spent his entire career at Shenhua, he’s barely played more than 30 games for the club in all that time. Nevertheless he added to his meager tally with a start in Changchun, and his biggest contribution in the game was to kick Changchun’s Yen Yaki in the face whilst trying to clear a corner. Despite the strengthened backline, Shenhua still shipped two goals to one of the weakest teams in the league, with a careless penalty conceded by error-prone Li Shuai and a close range finish from Odion Ighalo after poor marking from Li Jianbin. Nevertheless, man-of-the-moment Freddy Guarin had put Shenhua ahead with a stonking finish from inside the box, with Cao Yunding scoring from outside and box and and who else – Gio Moreno – snatching all the points with a goal in the closing stages. It’s not often Shenhua win away from home, and even less so they score three goals outside of Hongkou, but it was a deserved victory on the whole and set the team up nicely for what could be an elongated period on the road due to continuing uncertainly over when the fire-damaged home stadium will re-open.
Causes for Concern…
Few will be surprised to hear that Carlos Tevez doesn’t appear to be working out at Shenhua. You have have noticed that the former Boca Juniors man’s name was not featured in the description above of the previous game. Whilst in previous rounds this could have been attributed to his lack of impact on the pitch, last time out Tevez was injured. However, that didn’t stop the former snood-wearer from being spotted strolling around Disneyland on the day of the match – a move which, whilst unwise, perhaps was rather harshly received in some media quarters. That Shenhua not only won on the road, but scored three goals without him speaks volumes of his importance to the team – the winning goal came due to a great through pass from Tevez’ stand-in, Obafemi Martins. Carlos is out again for this match, which, on recent form is not a bad thing, but longer term the questions marks surrounding his commitment to Shenhua, and local media reports of squad disharmony, are going to make or break Shenhua’s season.
… or for Optimism?
An away victory couldn’t have come at a better time last time around since Shenhua don’t know right now when they will next play at home. Gio Moreno is in fine form – with 5 goals he is the CSL’s top scorer at the moment and, as he has done so many times in the past, played a key role in preventing results from being much worse than they could have been, considering Tevez’ lack of impact and Shenhua’s paper-thin defence. Indeed, Gio’s all-time league goals tally for Shenhua stands at 41 – he’s just two behind Shenhua’s all-time top scorer and club legend Xie Hui who played for the side between 1994-2000 and 2005-2008. Gio looks certain to exceed that figure this season in what would be a remarkable achievement for a foreign player in China. Throughout all the chaos of the last 5 years, Moreno has, one way or another, and despite all his wastefulness and tomfoolery, turned it on more often than not when it really matters for Shenhua. Gio holds the key to his side’s ultimate chance of wining in the coming games.
What’s going on with Hongkou Stadium’s repair job?
There’s still no word on when Hongkou’s repairs will be complete. As things stand, Shenhua are now playing their 4th game in a row on the road. Gus Poyet couldn’t contain his frustration during the Guizhou pre-match press conference, stating “In my whole career I’ve never seen anything like this,” but there’s little information about exactly how serious the damage to the stadium was and progress made to far since the fire which occurred on March 28. As such, it’s hard to point any fingers at anyone as regards the speed of the repair job. Shenhua asked to switch the next home match, against Shandong on April 29, to Shandong, but Luneng said this wasn’t possible as their stadium is being used for a pop concert on that day. Other options on the ground in Shanghai seem to be no-go. Shanghai Stadium is SIPG’s home ground, and relations between the two clubs are very poor so it’s unlikely SIPG would agree to this even if the stadium is not owned by the club as such. Yuanshen in Pudong is too small with only 15,000 seats – Shenhua’s average crowd this season around the 24k mark. The only other option is Jinshan Football Stadium and there seems little appetite to make the 120 km round trip out to the suburbs. As of yet there is no official news about where the Shandong match will finally be played – postponement seems the most likely outcome at the moment.
Up Next: Guizhou Zhicheng
There’s five games gone but already the newcomers are at the wrong end of the table and yet to register a victory. Having not spent big last season in the CL1, the south-western side were somewhat surprise promotion winners having spent most of the season in the top two positions. This year, Guizhou moved only modestly in the transfer market, Michael Olunga of Kenya the most promising looking signing alongside Nikica Jelavić formerly of Everton and West Ham. However in Ryan McGowan they have a solid defender with a couple of years of CSL experience under his belt, and unlike most CSL clubs after the overseas player quota reduction, Guizhou have been playing their foreign defender every week, so emphasis on being strong at the back is clearly going to be a key factor here.
Prediction and Reality Check
Shenhua are in good spirits at the moment, and Tevez’ continued absence is probably for the best right now, both for team spirit and for on the pitch, as Martins will be picked again and will be looking to net his first goal of the season. Last week’s away victory combined with the fine form of Shenhua’s midfield unit of Cao, Moreno and Guarin will run the game.
Guizhou look like a team struggling to get it together so far, and with Tevez out may misinterpret this as a sign to have a go at the visitors. Poyet will continue his general policy of simply trying to out-score the opposition to compensate for whatever defensive calamities his side suffers, so a 1-2 Shenhua win is on the cards.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 4 W 0 D 2 L 3 GF 3 GA 8 GD -5 Pts 2
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 4 W 2 D 1 L 2 GF 11 GA 9 GD +2 Pts 7
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015