Cheated in the capital and temporarily homeless, a reeling Shanghai Shenhua head to a stuttering Hebei China Fortune on Saturday evening for an early-season game which might just be important in the end-of-season Champions League race. Will it be Pellegrini or Poyet in the battle of South American managers suffering a patchy start to 2017?
Capital punishment once again
Shenhua lost last weekend’s China Derby in the most gut-wrenching of ways – after going toe-to-toe with Beijing Guoan throughout the second half, the visitors were undone by the simplest of goals – a long hopeful punt from goalkeeper Yang Zhi flicked on by Yu Dabao and slotted home by the lethal Buruk Yilmaz. If that goal was self-inflictedly galling in its directness, more pain was to follow for Shenhua with referee Ma Ning (who else) somehow failing to give the away side a penalty when substitute Lv Zheng was wiped out by Yang Zhi in the dying moments.
Shenhua may have deserved nothing on the balance of play having been dominated in an abject first 45 minutes, but after getting away with a dreadful start and even pushing for a winner in the second half, this was a gut-wrenching way for the away side to lose the game and the non-penalty – along with key Guoan man Zhang Chiming somehow staying on the pitch when literally kicking Bai Jiajun out of the game after already being booked – did nothing to remove Shenhua’s long-held feeling of victimization at the hands of Ma Ning, and recently at the hands of life in general, what with the Qin Sheng and Sun Shilin fiasco being followed up by that Hongkou fire and news that the greatest football stadium in China will be unavailable for at least Shenhua’s next scheduled home fixture.
Selection dilemmas and questionable selections
In many ways Poyet made the best of a bad hand with his team selection last weekend – particularly when it became clear in the first half that he had so little faith in his makeshift midfield unit that constantly bypassing them with premedidated long-ball football was the demanded order of the day. It’s no coincidence however that Shenhua brightened up considerably in the second half once they started playing through balls on the deck a bit more, and allowing their wingers to get onto the ball and try to push the game further.
There were a few perplexing calls from Poyet – Wang Shouting was selected over Wang Yun for his defensive nous, yet barely made an intereption in the game and went badly missing marking space for Yilmaz’s opener, Wang Lin at fullback continues to offer nothing, and Carlos Tevez was once again a passenger. The bold call to drop Tevez for Kim Kee-hee might have given Shenhua much more of a foothold in the game, and whether Poyet persists with the same easily-bypassed defensive setup for the visit to Hebei will be intriguing to see.
It’s fair to say that Shenhua expected a little more than some occasional dead-ball prowess and angry-looking sauntering about from their mega-money Argentinian. Tevez has consistently been a passenger in open play this season, with only a penalty and some occasionally dangerous corner-kick deliveries to his name. While it’s difficult to completely criticize a forward whose pace has long gone and who is often starved of supply, it’s remarkable how little of the fighting spirit which has come to define the #32’s career has been on evidence in his showings thus far. When you’re consistently being out-run, out-thought and out-tried by Fredy Guarin, it’s not a good look. It feels almost sacrilege to say it, but at this early juncture Tevez’s Shenhua career is in danger of being a bit more Anelka than Drogba.
Can we play you every week?
Although Hebei’s first-season run at a continental qualification spot entirely predictably ran out of steam in the final third of 2016, what was perhaps equally surprising was that Shenhua really seemed to have a bit of a hex over the moneyed northern side during the period of the season when they were genuinely firing on all cylinders. Both home and away Shenhua comfortably outplayed the big-spending newcomers, with only a couple of dead-ball lapses denying the Shanghai side a deserved win in this reverse fixture early last year. Shenhua have a habit of picking up bogey teams themselves, and it’s somewhat refreshing to see them cast on the other side of this particular dynamic.
Manuel Pellegrini hasn’t had the most auspicious of starts to life in Qinhuangdao – a stale end 2016 has been followed by a stuttering start to 2017, with four points from three games against pretty weak opposition in Henan, Chongqing and Guizhou falling short of the standards expected for a serious tilt at the Champions League places. Will a disorganized and patched-up Shenhua defence provide the welcoming opposition Hebei’s attacking players need to really get going for the first time this year?
Prediction and Reality Check
It most likely stays mediocre before it gets better. Qin Sheng is appealing his draconian suspension (albeit without official backing from the club) and the fire damage at Hongkou is being fixed – although not in time for next week. In the meantime, expect another one of those fairly uninspiring 2017-rules-inspired mediocre games of football here, with Gio Moreno and Cao Yunding once again doing the work of half a team in eking out a 1-1 draw here. Hebei’s wait for a maiden victory over Shenhua continues.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 3 W 0 D 1 L 2 GF 1 GA 6 GD -5 Pts 1
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 3 W 1 D 1 L 1 GF 6 GA 3 GD +3 Pts 4
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