In case Fabio Capello is yet to finish watching reruns of Jiangsu Suning’s malignant string of Chinese Super League performances from this season, he might spare himself the ordeal in the knowledge that his debut 1-0 defeat to Changchun Yatai succinctly encapsulated the vital elements of all that has been missing at the Nanjing Olympic Stadium in 2017.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Changchun Yatai 1
Yang Boyu (OG) 43
A bumper crowd, drawn in by cut price tickets and a distant glimpse of world football’s most iconic pair of designer glasses, witnessed the full maelstrom of incompetency against a very ordinary Changchun Yantai, a side that must be considered a relegation rival given the relative trajectories of these bottom feeders.
The midfield pairing of Wu Xi and Liu Jianye struggled to feel the pulse of the game let alone control it (Wang Song started the game, walked around, and departed after the interval), Gu Chao sprayed goal kicks into touch as if generally averse to the idea of open play, and in the final 10 minutes, when the crowd urged a final assault, the introduction of the Peter Crouch-esque Ge Wei once again evidenced a paucity of game changing options. Ge proved as ineffective as adding an extra wheel to a bicycle when it was a jetpack that was required.
To recap, Jiangsu has won one league game this season.
The vague framework of the seasoned Italian’s back to basics approach was evident in a plain 4-4-2 formation, but with less than a week worth of training under his belt the only imprint seemed a general sense of disjointed confusion. Roger Martinez and Alex Teixeira were paired together but played as if only nominally on the same side. One expects that Jiangsu’s set pieces, the mainstay of many a Capello side, will be drilled with tyrannous monotony in the coming months.
Because although the corner from which Changchun snatched the game’s solitary goal was misfortunate, with Sun Jie strapping Jiangsu’s Yang Boyu to his side and forcing an own goal in something reminiscent of an awkward hug with a malodorous relative, Capello’s defense seemed susceptible throughout. To his credit, Szabolcs Huszti, the diminutive Hungarian enjoying his second spell with the Chinese club was a menace from dead ball situations all evening and the home side offered little in return.
The image of a stern, cross-armed Capello greeted home supporters from the stadium’s big screens during the rousing pre match entertainment, and it should be warned that this type of grandstand introduction added to the expectations in Jiangsu’s capital city. It created an atmosphere more impatiently demanding than truly encouraging- there was a pathetically vacant moment at the beginning of the second half when the 50-odd travelling supporters tucked away high in the South Gate could be heard singing.
In truth, moments of odd humor punctuated the encounter, from the sight of red shirted players celebrating jubilantly in front advisement hoardings that read “buon compleanno” in honor of Capello’s 71st birthday, to Ji Xiang’s spectacular airshot after 16 minutes, to the sarcastic standing ovation offered the referee for an incorrectly adjudged throw in with five minutes left on the clock. Comedy is, perhaps, the only suitable reaction to Jiangsu’s current situation.
The home side had opportunities, notably in the second half when Wu Xi rattled the bar with a glancing header and Martinez failed to fully connect with a straightforward chance. But overall there was the sense that sides more ruthless than Changchun would have killed off the contest.
Man of the match Odion Ighalo was guilty wasting a couple of excellent chances despite offering a master class in lone-strikerism and the Jilin province side found width and pace in Fan Xiaodong and Zhou Dali, the latter offering the type of highly valuable performance that somewhat helps to justify the Chinese Football Association’s (CFA) U23 rule.
In the game’s aftermath Capello made the inevitable positive remarks on lessons learned, spirit shown, and chances spurned, but they are simply words and the Italian will know as well as the supporters that a great deal of hard work remains if Jiangsu are to start winning games.