Shenhua return home off the back of another accomplished away performance. Can the magic continue through a Friday night at Hongkou?
Jekyll and Hyde
Even by their own high standards, 2017 has been an odd year for Shanghai Shenhua. Three away wins this season now matches last season’s total already, and a team that not long ago went 15 months without a win outside Shanghai suddenly look more comfortable on the road than they do at home. Two solid wins and two clean sheets in a week add to the optimism, which as any seasoned fan knows is reason to be wary. The good news keeps on coming, however, with this weeks’ birthday-celebrating Colombians, captain Gio Moreno and star of the season so far Fredy Guarin in talks to extend contracts until 2020. Moreno’s excellence at Shenhua has been one of the rare consistencies over recent times – arriving in the 2012 era of Drogba and Anelka, he’s rolled with many punches since and in darker times had a rare gift for pulling a mediocre side through games almost single-handedly. Guarin’s turnaround this season also stands as testament to giving players time to settle – it’s a difficult transition to make, and a man much derided on arrival last season has been a revelation this year. While Shenhua face difficult questions about domestic recruitment, in Gio they have one of the CSL’s true long-term foreign success stories – his return to the National side also highlighting that the league is not the career black-hole it’s made out to be.
Last time out: Cruise control in Yanji
Yanbian Funde were dispatched with a minimum of fuss, no mean feat for a team capable of making the most routine tasks into hard work. The bottom of the table side lived up to their league position and Shenhua looked comfortable with a 2-0 win, a reverse of the result there last season which earnt praise for under-pressure boss Gus Poyet – Cao Yunding speaking out to say the detailed preparation for the match was one reason for the improvement. Despite not being deemed fit enough to start, Cao came off the bench and got on the scoresheet again to continue what is now an excellent run of form. In an interview this week Cao also claims to have been tasked with helping Tevez integrate with the wider squad – a job that’s looking more and more possible by the day, with Carlos again looking sharp to score an opportunistic opener.
This time up: Liaoning FC
Liaoning are another side near the wrong end of the table, and have been on the receiving end of some big defeats recently – albeit to the league’s heavy hitters. Recent losses to SIPG, Shandong and Tianjin Quanjian aren’t unexpected, but the nature of those defeats will have stung and they’re a side that need to arrest the slide. A consistent top-ten finisher in recent years, they’re not to be taken too lightly.
Three wins on the bounce feels ambitious for an inconsistent Shenhua side always likely to give opponents chances, against a side who’ll be desperate to scrap out some points. Home form is an unlikely source of concern for Shenhua this season – Fortress Hongkou can always be counted on for noise but is struggling to deliver victories against beatable teams. The warning signs are all there for a non-too-pretty 1-1 draw, although that would constitute a disappointment for the home side. Tevez’s early withdrawal in Yanji has been attributed to a minor muscle injury – not thought to be serious, but likely enough to keep him out of the side tonight. Oba Martins stands ready to deputise.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 13 W 4 D 3 L 6 Pts 15
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 13 W 4 D 4 L 5 Pts 16
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