With a return to Hongkou still some way off, Shenhua continue their run of away games with the trip to perennial champions Guangzhou Evergrande. Will Shenhua’s winning streak come to an end, or can they finally take all three points at Tianhe?
That stadium fire seems to have caused more extensive damaged than initially feared – Shenhua’s round 7 fixture at home to Shandong was postponed and CFA officials have confirmed that next weekend’s home fixture against Henan will be switched to Zhengzhou. Rumors around Shanghai indicate that China’s best football stadium won’t see any more competitive action until mid June at the earliest, leaving Shenhua with an unprecedented string of away games – and equally a bumper crop of home fixtures coming up later in the season. While the frustrations of missing home fixtures are mounting for the squad, management and fans, sticking to their Hongkou base and its twelfth-man effect is still infinitely preferable to filling in fixtures in the cavernous and soulless Shanghai Stadium or ready-for-demolition Yuansheng.
Lessons from history
Following up a 3-2 win away in Changchun with a comfortable 2-0 win at relegation-threatened Guizhou, Shenhua did something they have not managed since 1995 with consecutive away CSL wins. 1995. That’s quite the graphic illustration of just how wretched this team’s form has been outside their home city. Back then North Terrace News was knee-high to a grasshopper, innocently watching some good honest lower-league small-town football action before its homewtown club was sold down the river to a series of conmen. Xu Junmin had not been born. Shanghai International Port Group FC were still ten years away from being founded, and twenty from their injection of transportation magnate funds.
Deja vu all over again?
The injury to Carlos Tevez has given this side something of a late-2016 feel to it – Obafemi Martins steps up from being frozen out on the bench to prove he’s the best back-up striker in the league, and the side begins to gel and look a lot more cohesive without their biggest-name center-forward. Cao Yunding and Bai Jiajun are linking up for fun, and the midfield is being bossed by not one but two in-form Colombians this year – the rebirth of Fredy Guarin as a footballer in 2017 has been remarkable. After a difficult first year in China, a leaner Guarin has looked every inch the experienced, pedigree midfielder we all thought Shenhua had signed a year earlier. As with last year, there are serious questions over the defence and a paper-thin squad will likely prove Shenhua’s undoing in the longer-run – however, Shenhua are currently basking in the glow of winning three away games on the bounce with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Lijiang FC in the CFA cup midweek. Roll on Beijing Guoan up next, and the inevitable semi-final elimination at the hands of Jiangsu.
Up next: Guangzhou with one eye on ACL?
Evergrande are sitting pretty back in their accustomed position at the top of domestic and continental football. Their tough run of opening fixtures leaves both of those positions looking just a little precarious, however – there’s no great shame in losing away at a resurgent Shandong, but with Shanghai International Port Group sure to be breathing down their neck, Evergrande can ill-afford to drop more early-season points. Midweek also sees a must-not-lose ACL decider at home to Suwon; Evergrande may top their group currently, but with Kawasaki highly likely to beat group whipping-boys Eastern at home, a defeat to the Korean side would see Evergrande drop out of the qualification places at the last hurdle. A second successive group-stage exit must be unthinkable for Scolari’s side – will players be rested or at the very least distracted for this fixure with Shenhua?
Tevez and Xu Junmin are both set to miss this game through injury, with Lv Ping likely to resume his cup role as deputy U23 winger. How the club hierarchy must be regretting letting go last season’s CSL young player of the year Li Xiaomin – with the new squad rules, he’d surely be a lock at center-back alongside Li Jianbin, who has suffered for reliable partners in 2017 thus far.
Prediction and reality check
These are generally cracking games – Shenhua are generally willing to have a go at Evergrande whether home or away, with their big players coming to the fore – think last season’s majestic home win, Demba Ba going toe-to-toe with Alan to see who could belt the better goal at Tianhe last year, or of course Avraam Papadopoulos’ legendary super-slo-mo equalizer a couple of years back. Shenhua are in-form, united and feeling confident – unfortunately they’re coming up against the best side in the country who will be determined not to drop any points here. Shenhua will give it their all but likely come up just a little short – 2-1 Evergrande in what could be a pretty open and entertaining encounter.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 6 W 1 D 2 L 3 GF 5 GA 9 GD -4 Pts 5
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 6 W 3 D 1 L 2 GF 13 GA 9 GD +4 Pts 10
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