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North Terrace News: Patched-up Shenhua head to Tianjin for Friday-night sleep tonic

CSL Round 12’s cure for Friday night insomnia sees a threadbare Shenhua head to park the bus at the league’s lowest scorers. Do not expect fireworks.

Last time out: Scratch side do themselves justice at R&F despite more official injustice

Shenhua headed to high-flying Guangzhou R&F on the heels of last-minute derby heartache and with a squad ravaged by injury and suspension – few fans expected anything other than another beating and a slide further into the reaches of the mid-table. Coach Gus Poyet’s hand was forced into rare starts for the youngster Cong Zhen (who lasted the full 90 minutes) and a defence containing Xiong Fei and Li Peng, and his backups put together a mostly-coherent if unambitious performance in a game high on effort if low on highlights. With a couple of near-misses from a very determined Gio Moreno, the undoubted key incident of the game arrived late, with the returning Carlos Tevez juggling a bouncing ball on his thigh before bobbling it past the onrushing Cheng Yuelei to win the match for Shenhua – only, of course, to have the goal chalked off for handball. Naturally. Just when you thought the powers-that-be had found all the implausible ways to attack Shenhua in 2017, they found yet another new and creative solution.

Managed neglect catches up with Shenhua

After the brief flourish of last year – a surge fuelled by squad rallying around the loss of their talisman Demba Ba and a couple of key players in Cao Yunding, Qin Sheng and Obafemi Martins having the CSL season of their lives – 2017 sees Shenhua slipping back into the familiar pattern of managed neglect which has been overseen by the decade-long transfer policy of Zhu Jun, Greenland, and the behind-the-scened Zhou Jun. Chopping and changing managers every year, focusing on big-name international strikers whose motivation has long gone, and consistently selling international-quality youngsters and replacing them with a series of never-quite-weres and never-will-bes has left Poyet with an almost thankless task. That Tao Jin has become a mainstay of this side is emblematic – a man the wrong side of thirty who was judged nowhere near good enough for matchday squads when in his peak now sees himself as de-facto first-choice center back for a side supposedly challenging for Champions League qualification. In a league where domestic talent is at a premium – and with strict transfer quotas and an increasing number of rivals getting better-organized and investing eye-watering sums in squad building – wasting four of your side’s five domestic transfer slots on a player almost relegated from the CSL and three players actually relegated from League One is frankly irresponsible – and Shenhua’s threadbare quality reserves see the side exactly where they (or at least their owners) belong right now.

Tianjin, Chongqing, Yanbian, Liaoning – this month sees a run against mid-table opposition a season which has already fizzled out. Nowhere near bad enough to go down, but without the quality or consistency for any meaningful challenge for a top-four place – and having already flamed-out in a couple of key derbies and their Champions League qualifier – Shenhua have relatively little to play for, leaving supporters struggling to even feel aggrieved enough at the latest slap in the face from officialdom. Only the late-June cup fixture against Beijing Guoan offers any meaningful drama for Shenhua before July.

Up next: Tianjin Teda

Fresh from a recent hammering by their big-spending nouveau-riche upstart neighbors Quanjian (yes, we feel your pain), Teda are floundering in lower mid-table and could well be in genuine danger of getting dragged into the relegation race. While they strive to keep things tight and have had a series of low-scoring draws this year, when they lose, they tend to lose big – shipping four unanswered goals to Hebei and three to Quanjian last week. It’s the lack of cutting edge which might really get Teda into trouble though – they have scored a league-lowest seven goals in eleven league games so far in 2017. Perhaps this statistic shouldn’t be too surprising given the Tianjin side made the stodgy Jon Obi Mikel their marquee signing in a year when everyone else splurged big on attacking talent. While former Beijing manager Jaime Pacheco may “know the league”, his caution doesn’t seem to be finding much traction in the CSL of 2017.

Prediction and Reality Check

This is a fixture between two sides neither of whom won a league game in May – Shenhua are forced to continue picking from whichever scraps of their squad remain uninjured and haven’t fallen foul of the CFA this week, and Tianjin are on a rotten run of form themselves. Two highly pragmatic managers must already realize there’s little glory to be played for, and potentially more to lose than to win by taking any risks here – a repeat of Shenhua’s safety-first approach in Guangzhou may be the order of the day, with Tianjin seeing yet another low-scoring home draw. 0-0 in a game strictly for the purists, diehards or masochists.

Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:

P 10   W 2   D 2   L 5   GF 10   GA 16   GD -6   Pts 8

Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:

P 10   W 3   D 3   L 4   GF 16   GA 15   GD +1   Pts 12

Steve hosts the Chinese Football Podcast, having joined the WEF team as correspondent for Shanghai Shenhua, the side he has followed since moving to Shanghai in 2010. Exiled from the Victorian town-centre idyll of Feethams along with his childhood football team, Steve spent many an (un)happy year on Hongkou's North Terrace along with the Shenhua Element Crew and Blue Devils before relocating to Sydney from where he continues to follow the Chinese game from afar.

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