The third China derby of the season looms, with both teams looking shadows of their former selves. Have either giant got anything left to play for?
Just past the midway point of the season, Shanghai Shenhua sit in tenth place, finding themselves becoming a league irrelevance a little earlier than usual. Lucky, then, there are a handful of fixtures that can always get the juices flowing – none more so than the visit of the old enemy. It’s one apiece so far this season, Guoan edging the league fixure at Gongti earlier this season, with Shenhua making amends by dumping their rivals out of the FA Cup last month. It also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the result we shall not speak of, one unwittingly invoked by Fredy Guarin when he questioned what could be possibly be more one-sided than the 8-1 Shenhua inflicted on Liaoning recently.
Last time out: Shandong smash ‘n’ grab
Another reason to keep paying attention at the back is the good old FA Cup. A frequent source of salvation for an underwhelming league side, until they meet Jiangsu, the cup is again providing welcome respite for Shenhua. Gus Poyet got the tactics spot on as his side staged a capable away performance at a Shandong side with ACL ambitions – sitting deep and countering well to take a 3-1 lead into the second leg. It was also a welcome reminder of what Oba Martins brings to the table – endless energy and the ability to create something from nothing, two smartly taken goals from half-chances typifying his output. Sadly these qualities are also a concise summary of what Carlos Tevez is not bringing to the side – Oba stands out all the more by comparison. Tevez cut a disconsolate figure once again, lacking any kind of connection with teammates or desire to find an extra gear, and was eventually substituted. He really looks adrift, and local media have this week been strongly making the case for for him to make way for Martins in the starting XI – a foreign selection dilemma that will only need resolving once Fredy Guarin returns to the side, but one that’s fairly unarguable based on current form.
This time up: Beijing Guoan
Beijing sit in sixth place and are having their own struggles this season, although their poor run was arrested in excellent fashion a fortnight ago with a victory over Guangzhou Evergrande. Spanish striker Soriano has burst into life with four goals in the last three games, and two victories on the bounce will see them eyeing the trip with a little more enthusiasm. Their dismal record at Hongkou is now largely banished to history, though last month’s loss will be fresh in the mind.
Guarin remains sidelined for Shenhua, which so far this seaon has led to a gaping void of a midfield – surmountable when playing on the counter far from home, but at Hongkou attempting to take the game to your oldest rivals? Not so much. Guoan’s all-Brazilian engine room will fancy their chances at controlling the middle. But Beijing have lost to far worse Shenhua teams in Shanghai, and this one will be hard fought. The Carlos Tevez debate can be parked for another week – he is suspended after accumulating yellow cards, as is his goalscoring replacement from midweek, Mao Jianqing. Home advantage counts for a lot in this fixture – both sides being favourites on their own turf, but Shenhua lacking key personnel leans us towards a tooth-and-nail 1-1 draw here, with neither side likely to give much quarter.
Shenhua in 2017 according to North Terrace News:
P 15 W 5 D 4 L 7 Pts 19
Shenhua in 2017 according to the CSL table:
P 15 W 5 D 5 L 6 Pts 20
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