With the arrival of October’s international break, Chinese Super League watchers take a breather before the critical surge toward 2017’s finale.
While the vague semblance of a title challenge seems to be materializing between Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG, for last season’s runner up – Jiangsu Suning – the possibility of relegation remains despite improvements under Fabio Capello’s tutelage.
Revivals by Tianjin TEDA and Yanbian Funde, largely aided by the devastating form of Gambian international Bubacarr Trawally, has created a situation in which seven points separate the three sides as the season enters its final month.
Tianjian’s crosstown rivals, Quanjian, handed Jiangsu a boost with an uncharacteristically limp performance in which a first half Ramires header was enough for the Nanjing-based side to collect a vital three points. Nevertheless, avoiding the drop is far from guaranteed and here WEF takes a look at Jiangsu’s final four fixtures.
Hebei CFFC vs. Jiangsu Suning (14th October)
Aside from a recent goalless draw against Changchun Yatai, the boys from Qinhuangdao certainly got their groove on in the second half of the season. The northerners have won all but one of their games since mid-July, a run that has taken them to up to third place. Worryingly for Capello, Hebei has begun showing the type of clinical football that always seemed possible upon Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment.
Hebei currently occupy the final Asian Champions League place and will be focused for the season’s final few games. Although the recent points stolen from Tianjin Quanjian and Guangzhou Evergrande prove Capello is capable of outthinking the league’s supposedly elite teams, it seems unlikely he will repeat the feat here.
Verdict: A draw would certainly feel like a coup.
Changchun Yatai vs. Jiangsu Suning (22nd October)
Lacking the star power of many a CSL side and heavily reliant on the explosiveness of former Watford striker Odion Ighalo, Changchun are the type of mid-tablers that Jiangsu would expect to beat in regular circumstances. Alas, as Chen Jingang’s side showed in the win at Nanjing Olympic Sports Center in June, the northeastern side is a plucky outfit that, barring a calamitous end of season breakdown, should finish in a comfortable position.
However, with only two wins in the past nine games, Changchun’s position in 10th is somewhat inflated by a strong early season start and the general inadequacies of others. Of Jiangsu’s remaining four fixtures, this seems the most realistic opportunity to snatch a win, banish relegation, and make sure 2017 is quickly forgotten.
Verdict: the weakest of Jiangsu’s four upcoming opponents. A win is a must.
Jiangsu Suning vs. Beijing Guoan (29th October)
For almost two months, Beijing Guoan has seemed ready for the season to end. Previously, following the appointment of Roger Schmidt, the side had made something of a resurgent push for the Asian Champions League places. This proved as short-lived as a blue-sky day in China’s capital, but along the way there have been positive signs that the former Bayern Leverkusen manager’s work is coming to fruition.
With little left to play for, the German may use the Jiangsu game to experiment and Capello would be delighted to see Beijing continuing to adopt a possession oriented-style of football that would offer the likes of Alex Teixeira and Ramires the chance to counterattack.
Verdict: expect an open game in Jiangsu’s final home fixture of the season. A draw seems likely.
Shanghai SIPG vs. Jiangsu Suning (4th November)
This final day of the season match between two clubs connected by the Yangtze River will be the fourth such occasion in 2017. Andre Villas Boas has overseen three comfortable wins and it was Jiangsu’s meek showings in the Asian Champions League matches against Shanghai that ultimately curtailed the reign of Choi Yong-soo. In Hulk, Oscar, Wu Lei and Elkeson, Shanghai have dynamism, speed, and strength to trouble any CSL defense.
Jiangsu’s chances depend on the state of Shanghai’s season. Should the possibility of a first league title remain, Capello will find Hulk and company at their most ruthless and petulant best. Conversely, should an Asian Champions League final await AVB’s side, Jiangsu may find it faces severely weakened opposition.
Verdict: a win seems a slim possibility but would prove a sweet way to end a bitter season.