Shanghai meets Beijing is inevitably a perennially feisty affair and though testosterone fueled dramatics are expected when football stages its rendition of China’s most prominent intercity rivalry, this recent encounter between Beijing Guoan and Shanghai SIPG placed ball kicking on the back burner for much of the game in lieu of argument and pantomime.
CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE
Beijing Guoan 0
Shanghai SIPG 1
By the time Shi Zhenlu brought a close to a turgid second half, the vim and panache with which the visitors had rightly gained the ascendancy through Oscar on the 30 minute mark had long vanished into the cloudless night.
It was telling that Shi’s final act of the evening, the home fans already emptying Workers’ Stadium en mass, was to dismiss Beijing’s Zhao Hejing for foul language. A similar brawl had erupted at the end of the first half and although Shanghai’s time-wasting tactics thoroughly eroded the game’s rhythm, Beijing didn’t show the necessary composure or planning to force a truly balanced contest.
If there was hesitancy in the mind of China’s footballing neutrals as to whether to support Guangzhou’s sole title challengers in spite of the Shanghai club’s obvious unlikeablity, the antics of André Villas-Boas made the decision all the more facile. Prior his dismissal for generally aggressivity with 20 minutes remaining on the clock, the Portuguese manager, dressed identically to his coterie of staff in trim maroon tracksuits, spent most of the second half loitering on the touchline like some surly squadron of 1980s hairdressers.
Villas Boas is forcibly obsessed with building a siege mentality at his new club and lest it be forgotten his learned his trade under the Siege Master™ himself, Jose Mourinho.
Shanghai seemed at times a sluggish and disjointed outfit, a penetrable defense carried on the shoulders of a ruthlessly efficient front three, but Beijing, in both Jonathan Soriano and second half substitution Yu Dabao, could only offer sporadic approaches and never enough to warrant preventing Shanghai’s fifth consecutive Chinese Super League win.
Roger Schmidt matched his counterpart’s formation and tried to expose Wei Shihao and Wang Shenchao on the left-hand side, and though the home team frequently reached the byline, neither Ba Dun nor Jiang Tao could offer the type of final ball to open up Shanghai.
Beijing controlled the ball for large swathes of the first half but in exchange, Hulk, Oscar, and Wu Lei were offered an ease of responding on the counterattack. The danger signs were evident after 20 minutes when the Shanghai trio broke with greedy speed downfield only for Wu to force a smart save out of goalkeeper Yang Zhi.
However, on the following occasion Beijing’s stalwart captain was helpless as Oscar received Hulk’s sweeping pass and showed uncharacteristic muscle before thumping a low shot home to send the small scattering of away fans into audible jeers.
Villas Boas’s message at half time must have centered on slowing the speed of the game because in the aftermath of Oscar’s well taken opener before the interval, Shanghai seemed intent on thoroughly dismantle the home team. Moves, however, often lost balance broking down under the weight of speed, like a three-legged race forced to perform a hairpin turn at the end of a downhill sprint.
The fifteen minutes after half time saw Beijing responding by trying to up the tempo themselves but Renato Augusto never managed to truly control the game and Shanghai were faced with a side that has certainly lost its way since the early days of the German coach’s arrival.
There was a sense of inevitability about the scoreline with neither crowd nor players truly believing that beating Shanghai was in order for the evening. With an eye on the calendar, China’s second placed team may not face more talented opposition in the run in to the end of the season, but they will certainly play more troubling opposition.
Outwardly, the performance doesn’t bode particularly well in terms of Shanghai’s key upcoming fixtures against first Urawa Reds in the AFC Champions League and later against Guangzhou in the Chinese FA Cup, but Hulk’s laisse faire wandering and the ability to rest the likes of Elkeson suggest 2017 may be an extremely fruitful year for the Shanghai club.
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