Hongkou welcomes one of the two sides responsible for keeping them out of a relegation skirmish. Will the hosts prove charitable?
Rather like the Shenhua first team, and a good percentage of the world’s democratic press, NTN has been on hiatus. So much has happened, and again so little of the talking has been done on the pitch. Gus Poyet departed amid suggestion of back-room meddling in team selections, ever a suspicion at Shenhua but one rarely vocalised within the club. Carlos Tevez has continued to drift through games with the look of a man desperately disinterested in all around him, while Gio Moreno has single-handedly steadied the ship with some outstanding contributions. The mooted contract extension for Moreno has yet to be announced, and there must be concerns about holding onto him as he prepares for a World Cup with Colombia – he really is far too good to be languishing in a mid-table CSL side.
Oba Martins has been a welcome reminder of all the qualities Tevez lacks – a constant source of energy to keep opponents on edge, and more than a few useful goals to boot. The FA Cup has once again provided the reason to keep tuning in, Shenhua (just about) dispatching city neighbours Shenxin in the semi final, only to find the other Shanghai side awaiting them in the final – SIPG will go into that as heavy favourites, despite their travails in failing to secure either a league or ACL title.
In other news, Sun Shilin turned 28 this week, and received online greetings from Pato, proving that his supportive gesture early in the season did not go unappreciated.
Last time out: Chongqing Lifan
Shenhua were lucky to come away with a point from a forgettable 1-1 draw in Chongqing – video assistant refereeing being used for the first time in the CSL to deny Chongqing a late winner. Martins was unusually preferred to a ‘fit’ Carlos Tevez, something caretaker boss Wu Jingui had threatened to do previously given the Argentinian’s weight issues, but not really delivered on until now. The game opened and closed with the hosts very much on top, but with neither side having much to play for rarely threatened to be anything special.
This time up: Yanbian Funde
A second season in the top flight has proven too much for the Yanji side, who along with Liaoning have had a miserable year frequently punctuated with heavy defeats. The two teams have basically ensured no-one else in the division need worry about relegation this year, with Jiangsu and Shenhua being the highest profile beneficiaries. As the CSL trends ever more towards big budget teams in high profile cities, this could well be the last we see of Yanbian for a while – which is unfortunate for a solid set of supporters who’ve been very visible across some difficult away trips, as noted on this weeks’ podcast.
It’ll be interesting to see how Yanbian react to having their relegation finally confirmed last time out – does that put them on early holiday mode, or with the pressure finally off might they fancy making a go of it? With their vocal travelling support one might suspect the latter – a chance to depart the big time in style.
Shenhua need to keep a head of steam in advance of the cup final, but from recent showings you’d be hard-pressed to tell. Oba Martins is doubtful with a leg injury, so Carlos Tevez may have to drag himself away from the Nintendo he was widely photographed as purchasing this week in the electronics market. Multi-millionaire athletes are not so different from the rest of us, it seems.
Another foreign forward held in much higher regard by the local populace will also be in attendance – Demba Ba is to be presented pitchside before kick-off, though exactly why is something of a mystery. He’s technically still a Shenhua player on loan, but his return from the horrific injury that cut short such a good season has not been without complications, and it would be a surprise were he to play for the club again. Finally, completing the ‘what might have been’ lineup will be a celebration of Mao Jianqing’s 100th game for Shenhua. Mao came through the youth ranks in Shanghai, and was thought one of the brighter prospects in Chinese football; a promise that his nomadic career since has failed to live up to. His return to the club this season has been welcomed by those who remember the good times, but it’s hard to see past his decline matching that of Shenhua themselves. Talking of local lads with potential, Cao Yunding is expected to return from injury after missing the last few fixtures.
Despite all of this, and with much experience to the contrary, it really should be a home win given the squads on show. We’ll go with the (ambitious) tone of 3-1 Shenhua.