This weekend’s top game is undoubtedly Sunday evening’s clash between Shanghai SIPG v Tianjian Quanjian – Wild East Football take an in-depth look at the upcoming game and what it could mean for the 2017 championship race.
This is a clash between two of the Chinese Super League’s biggest-spending “new money” clubs and as such there’s plenty to attract even the most casual fan to take in this match – both sides are well-staffed with top international and domestic players, and with SIPG in second place and Quanjian in third, this is a must-win game for the visitors if the CSL title race is to be anything other than a two-horse race. Expect a big crowd at Shanghai Stadium for this one upwards of 30,000 and Quanjian to come out all guns blazing to avenge their cup defeat to SIPG earlier this week. With Andre Villas-Boas in charge of the home side and Fabio Cannavaro in the visitor’s hotseat, two very familar high-profile foreign faces will be seen in the dugouts.
You can watch this match on the CSL’s official stream here – kick off is at 19.35 Beijing time (11.35 GMT) this Sunday, August 6.
Shanghai SIPG have a fairly long history, having been formed in 2005 as Shanghai East Asia by the godfather of Shanghainese football, Xu Genbao. The club slowly worked their way up from China’s 3rd division and secured promotion to the CSL in 2012. In 2014 they were bought out by state-owned company Shanghai International Port Group and re-named accordingly. The takeover saw a huge investment in playing and coaching staff and catapulted the team from CSL also-ran to championship contenders. Culturally, the club currently attracts bigger crowds than it’s fierce rival Shanghai Shenhua although this has a lot to do with their stadium being much bigger and selling out for big games. In Shanghai, SIPG is seen as the new team on the block and free of the checkered history of Shenhua, although the blue side of town allege Shenhua is the most “Shanghainese” team of the pair, and that most of SIPGs fans come from outside Shanghai, SIPG has very strong local roots and a large number of locally-born players.
Tianjin Quanjian are the proverbial “nouveau riche” side, Quanjian, a pharmaceutical company, originally planned to invest in Tianjin’s original CSL side, Teda, but after disagreements over how to achieve this, they opted to buy second division Tianjian Songjiang instead and re-name them. Quanjian chairman Shu Yuhui is a flambouyant Chinese entrepreneur whose image dominates the publicity material of both his company and the football club. In a fascinating coincidence, like SIPG, Quanjian FC share their home city with a more storied rival with a longer history who they have now surpassed on the pitch. Tianjin TEDA fans ruthlessly mock Quanjian for their selling of allegedly dodgy medical products – many of which are based on Chinese traditional medicine. However since taking over the club almost exactly two years ago, Quanjian have provided a real tonic to the club are enjoying their first season in the CSL. What’s more, thanks to some very big player investments, are in with a shout of at least having a say in the championship race. In the stands, Quanjian is very much the new kid on the block in the CSL without much tradition or history but average crowds of around 24,000 this season show the club is doing something right.
With Quanjian a newly-promoted club, we have only a 1-1 draw between the two sides (watch on Youtube) earlier this season to go on as far as the CSL goes. However, both clubs met in the CFA cup recently – Quanjian ran out 3-0 winners in the home leg of their quarter-final against SIPG but this was spectacularly reversed in the second leg…
Last time out
Conveniently, SIPG and Quanjian played each other just last night (watch highlights here). Trailing the visitors by a three-goal margin from the first leg, SIPG turned in a masterclass in the art of the comeback with a crushing 4-0 victory to win 4-3 on aggregate and setup a semi-final clash against league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande. During last night’s match, both teams employed some squad rotation, particularly Quanjian, but neither were playing second string sides by any means. The team from the north will be bitterly disappointed not to have been able to hold on to a three goal advantage – the tie was theirs to lose and they did just that. Hulk was in particularly devastating form last night and SIPG could have won by a greater margin. Quanjian brought on key Chinese players Zhao Xuri and Wang Yongpo in the 2nd half but it was not enough to prevent a ticket to the semi-final slipping through their hands.
The result confounded expert prediction, both sides were expected to play out a low scoring match and Quanjian to progress, leaving SIPG to focus not only on the CSL but also the Asian Champions League. So the actual result sets up a very interesting dynamic for Sunday night’s match and makes it a tight game to predict. Andre Villas-Boas promised SIPG chairman Sui Guoyang silverware this season. His side are in theory still on for a league, cup and continental treble. The CSL title is what the club most wants, but having failed to take three opportunities to lead the CSL so far this season, SIPG face questions about their mentality. Conversely, Quanjian are now free to concentrate on the league – and to immediately avenge their calamitous cup exit to SIPG.
SIPG have only two wins out of their last five games (L,D,W,L,W) – not the form one expects of a title contender. They are however unbeaten in the league at home since June last year.
Quanjian on the other hand have won four of their last five games (W,D,W,W,W) and are unbeaten in six. Of course, the mid-week cup game tells its own story, but whilst both teams perhaps didn’t quite field their absolute strongest sides for the cup, both undoubtedly will for Sunday’s match. After a slow start to the season, Quanjian have only lost one of the their last five games on the road.
Players to watch
Plenty of stars on show during this game – SIPG forward Wu Lei is reckoned by many to be China’s top player. SIPG’s Brazilian duo of Hulk and former Guangzhou Evergrande stiker Elkeson need little introduction, plus national team defensive midfielder Cai Huikuang looks like a big, burly burly anchorman and that’s exactly what he is. Quanjian do not lack star power either – Belgian Alex Witsel, Brazilian Alexandre Pato and newly-signed Anthony Modeste complete a dangerous foreign trio for the Tianjin side on top of some solid domestic talent including national team forward Sun Ke.
SIPG’s Oscar still has two games of his eight-match ban left, but Uzbekistan international Odil Ahmedov has done a fine job of deputizing in midfield for the former Chelsea man and is expected to continue to do so.
Quanjian are a bit light at the back as first choice defender Zhang Cheng is still suspended as is his cover Chu Jinzhao. Domestic trump cards Wang Yongpo and Zhao Xuri are sure to return to the starting 11 having been benched for the cup game.
This is an away match for Quanjian but they have the advantage of having played in the same stadium last night and will stay in Shanghai until Sunday morning so travel is less of an issue than it usually is in a large country like China. Indeed, the visitors will be as well prepared as any side could be for a road game. However, the visitors will have to contend with the high humidity of the Shanghai summer with temperatures likely to be over 30c even although it’s an evening kickoff. Thunderstorms are forecast for this weekend which may make the humidity even worse, and certainly more than Tianjin’s players are used to in northern China.
SIPG have it all to prove that they have what it takes to win the CSL and need to get back to winning ways, but Quanjian have the talent, and are very well prepared for this match. That said, SIPG won’t lose this game, and a tight 1-1 draw is a likely outcome.