Fresh from yet another disappointing end to a decent performance at Tianhe, Shenhua look to be ravaged by injuries and suspensions. Can the reserves step up to win at struggling Henan ahead of next week’s Shanghai derby?
Last time out: Stumbling to the inevitable at Tianhe
Shenhua were combative from the off against a surprisingly strong Evergrande side, with Luis Filipe Scolari clearly prioritizing league points just as highly as Champions League progress. Evergrande’s big hitters were out in force and linked up well for an early Paulinho opener before Gus Poyet’s side proved they wouldn’t roll over without a fight.
It was a game marked by some powerful shots – Guarin’s long-range free-kick hi-jinks seeing some embarrassing spilling from Zeng Cheng but also perhaps a factor in the revitalized Colombian pulling up with a muscle injury and not making the field for the second half.
Shenhua somehow always contrive to manage valiant defeat against Evergrande – last season’s free-flowing home win the first time in six years they have got the upper hand on Taobao’s finest – and once again this game ended with a gut-punch, Yu Hanchao forcing home a late winner after some last-gasp defending. Captain Gio Moreno foolishly picked up a petulant second yellow card when unable to will his side back to parity in injury time, the game ending 3-2 with yet another glorious failure against the perennial champions.
Up next: Henan Jianye
Henan’s limited means seem to be catching up with them – after a couple of years yo-yoing between the CSL and League One, they spent 2014 and 2015 vying with Shenhua for the best-of-the-rest tag behind the nouvau-riche Champions League spots. Last year saw football’s innate gravity catch up with Henan as they limped home to 13th, and this year the Zhengzhou side started the season right in the thick what looks likely to be a year-long relation scrap – their first win came only last week at the 8th attempt, taking three points away to fellow strugglers Chongqing.
Hanghai is never an easy stadium to visit for big-city teams, and Shenhua’s record there doesn’t make for particularly great reading (or watching) – a couple of low-scoring draws and narrow defeats since their last win back in 2011, fired to victory by yet another Luis Salmeron penalty.
Club news: Homecoming derby?
Despite no official confirmation, indications have it that next week’s Shanghai derby will see the reopening of the fire-damaged Hongkou stadium. Shenhua haven’t played at home since March 11th – back when Qin Sheng was allowed to play football – and the city’s showpiece game would be a fitting occasion for reopening. A series of rearranged away games and the postponed Shandong fixture actually leave Shenhua in decent position in the league – if they can take all three points this Saturday then they’ll go into the derby knowing that a string of home fixtures later in the season leave them right in the hunt for an AFC Champions League spot. Lose against Henan and there’s likely little more than a whole lot of local pride to play for the following weekend – either way, May 20th looks like being an unmissable fixture with Shenhua fans taking the roof off their newly-reopened home.
In addition to Moreno’s needless suspension, Qin Sheng remains unavailable and Carlos Tevez is estimated to be at least a month away from fitness. Guarin’s recovery will be subject to a late evaluation, with injury concerns also surrounding Kim Ke-hee and Xu Junmin – that’s right, Shenhua could travel to Henan with only Obafemi Martins available from their international contingent, and only Cao Yunding in the side from the front six they started the season with.
Prediction and reality check
Generally NTN would advise against watching Shenhua away games expecting entertainment or results, but there’s something about the spirit of the squad right now – and just how ropey the 2017-vintage Henan are – which give cause for optimism here, even with a patched-up squad. If Kim is passed fit to play then the absence of Tevez and Moreno actually leaves Shenhua with a more solid defence, and a forward line involving Martins, Mao Jianqing and Cao should have enough to leave the hosts in trouble here. If Xu Junmin is unfit then Liu Ruofan did little wrong in his scandalously-short seventeen minutes on the pitch down in Guangzhou. 3-1 away win and Shenhua to continue their newly-reunited feel good factor into the big game next weekend.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 7 W 1 D 2 L 4 GF 6 GA 11 GD -5 Pts 5
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 7 W 3 D 1 L 3 GF 15 GA 12 GD +3 Pts 10