A club record win last weekend for Shenhua set pulses running. Can three wins on the bounce become four against Capello’s bottom-of-the-table outfit?
North Terrace News is no stranger to inaccuracy. Some fabulous misreads of the unreadable have happened within these hallowed halls, but never one quite so off the mark as last weekend – a home tie against a beatable side, points in the bag? Sounds like a trap, thought us – just the kind of game Shenhua slip up on. What followed will be remembered for years to come – the boys in blue ran riot in a thoroughly impressive 8-1 rout, a new club record win. Were we Qin Sheng, a full national television apology would be scripted instead of this week’s column, but as world events continue to remind us – the price for poor journalism is sadly not so high. The club manfully attempted to deflect blame this week by announcing that Fredy Guarin has indeed signed a new contract up until 2020. Gio Moreno is in negotiations also, but is taking longer to consider – one might suspect his recent recall to the Colombian National side is making him wonder if other stages would offer a better chance of staying in that side for the forthcoming World Cup.
Last time out: Eighth Wonder of Hongkou
Where to start? Braces for Fredy Guarin, Gio Moreno and Obafemi Martins meant Shenhua looked untouchable throughout – two goals in the first 13 minutes made things comfortable, and it was six (!) by half time. A fair amount of luck was involved in a few of the goals, but it was one of those magical nights where everything they tried seemed to come off – and a miserable Lioaning side allegedly undergoing pay disputes were in no mood to put up resistance. Zhang Lu even managed a goal off the bench in injury time, and from his zealous celebrations he looks keen to get a stalled season moving again.
More experienced Shenhua fans will still be scrambling for the black lining to this silver cloud, and if you’re careful one might notice Carlos Tevez not being among the three foreign names listed above. His (injury-related) absence was thought to be short-term, but while talk of the side being better off without him was simmering gently before, it’s now boiled over into being majority opinion. Disrupting a team that just put on such an attacking performance would be unwise, but if fit, Tevez is unlikely to be left out. The side benefitted greatly from Martins’ enthusiastic willingness to chase down everything and anything, and his connection with his fellow forwards is still streets ahead of Tevez’s – so if the latter comes in he’ll need to show similar credentials.
This time up: Underdogs bark back
Ah, Jiangsu. A short ride up the Yangtze delta, avoiding the agricultural output of the day, and never any points to be had at the end of the trip. Fabio Capello has taken over a side who expected to be fighting for ACL qualification this year (finishing runners-up last season), but have struggled badly and amazingly find themselves bottom of the table at the league’s halfway point. Capello’s intial impact has been underwhelming – four games, two losses, a draw and a win. But derby matches, as we know, are supposed to be different – and Shenhua and Jiangsu have far too much history to draw on. It’s been a more even exchange in the league, where indeed the season opener at Hongkou pointed towards troubled times for the visitors, but Jiangsu are now responsible for putting Shenhua out of the FA Cup the last three seasons running – including the final in 2015, so they’re definitely a side they know how to do a number on. What’s perhaps become clearer this season is just how much they depend on the foreign brigade – Roger Martínez, Alex Teixeira and Ramires really are key for Jiangsu, and so far, through injury and poor form, they’ve struggled to make the same impact. They’re all highly capable players, though, and one senses once they click the side will pull clear from danger – let’s just hope that doesn’t start this weekend.
So here we are again. They’re bottom of the table, Shenhua just came off a record win – easy, right? But it’s Jiangsu. They’ll be desperate to turn a disintegrating season around, have a coach who really doesn’t like being disappointed, and must get something of a mental edge from dumping their opponents out of the cup season after season. Can Shenhua really keep that level of performance going, even with Tevez possibly reintegrated? Lot of moving parts to this one. But we can do it – attack being the best form of defence is an excellent way of taking the focus away from just how awful that defence is, so let’s go with a nervy 2-1 Shenhua. This one is being broadcast live online here, and is being shown live on Sky TV in the UK, so let’s hope for a game that does the league justice / doesn’t have any major disciplinary issues for which the miscreants will be forced onto the Liaoning aircraft carrier that’s just pulled into Hong Kong. Concerns about the state of the pitch abound, but there have been a few tasty Yangtze Delta derbies over the years – it should be worth tuning in for.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 14 W 4 D 4 L 6 Pts 16
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 14 W 5 D 4 L 5 Pts 19
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