This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at where things stand, or soar, for SIPG at the first international break of the season.
Something historic may be brewing in Xujiahui
Take a load off your mind
Ride the mighty glory
Listen to my story
Ride the mighty high
— Mighty Clouds of Joy
The late March break finds the Red Eagles as hot as can be in both the CSL and the Asian Champion’s League:
With a 5-2 win over Guangzhou R&F in Guangdong on Sunday, SIPG finished off a superlative performance in a stretch of five matches in fifteen days, tallying four wins and a draw.
- SIPG has won all three of their CSL matches to date, outscoring opponents 15 to 2.
- With four group matches under their belt in the ACL, they’re one of only two sides to guarantee themselves advancement. (The other: Al Duhail from Qatar.)
- As part of the fixture pile-up, SIPG had a home-and-home against Ulsan Hyundai. SIPG dominated them at the Stadium – though they were unlucky to finish with a 2-2 draw — then dispatched the Koreans 1-0 on their own pitch.
A star is born
Oscar “Overpaid Exemplar of All That Is Wrong With Everything in Modern/Chinese/English/Brazilian Football” dos Santos Emboaba Júnior has racked up seven goals and five assists in eight matches and for now is inarguably the best player picking up his paychecks on the Asian continent.
He’s clicking on all phases of the game, and his tendency to disappear for long stretches of matches has, well, disappeared. Oscar’s passes continue to arrive with preternatural vision, timing and pace and he’s become deadly aggressive with the ball around the box.
This is how good Oscar has been: one has to wonder if he continues to play at this level whether he’ll survive the summer transfer window in Shanghai. One of Europe’s financial powerhouses could make SIPG an offer they can’t refuse.
If Oscar isn’t the best player in Asia, then it’s Wu Lei. He’s got eight goals and three assists. What’s astonishing is that Wu’s tendency to occasionally sputter when presented with good opportunities hasn’t changed. In an alternative, more deadly Wu Lei Universe, he probably has twelve or thirteen goals.
In any case, Wu has given himself a solid start towards being the first Chinese national in over a decade to lead the CSL in scoring. He’s got seven in the league, one ahead of Evergrande’s Alan. The next highest Chinese player has two.
If the best player isn’t Oscar or Wu Lei, it’s last year’s best player in the CSL, Hulk. The newly becaptained (and newly trim) Brazilian is playing defense, backslapping and creating havoc with his passing ability. He’s been so good that no one’s been much bothered that his free kicks — he’s one of the best in the world at it — haven’t been great. He’s got three goals (two on PKs) and four assists.
An acid load of doom
SIPG is, to put it bluntly, fucking with some heads. They laid the worst defeat in league history on Dalian and cost coach Ma Lin his job 74 days into his tenure. Emotional revenge derby with Shenhua? Not so much. At Hongkou, they brushed aside Shenhua like they were playing Yanbian in a dead rubber. There was a palpable, workaday lack of drama and regard for the hapless men in blue.
Perhaps the harshest demolition project was at Yuexiushan. Fuli came in with wins in their first two matches and looked to measure themselves at home against SIPG.
It couldn’t have started better for them. The first nine minutes featured two goals for R&F amidst the slight return of the most nightmarish of SIPG’s 2017 defensive themes: a lazy, ball watching defensive line.
And then it was like someone flipped a switch. The rest of the match was a slaughter, not one bit less one-sided than the Dalian match. SIPG shut down Eran Zahhavi and his teammates, allowing them no serious looks at the goal the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Red Eagles scored five goals themselves, four by Wu Lei, including a natural hat trick in twelve minutes in the first half, and would have had more with a slightly less flippant attitude towards the end. Fuli’s hopes to compete at the highest levels of the CSL were left in smoking ruins.
Highlights from the Fuli match (nota bene the beautiful third goal for SIPG — the press, the steal, the precision passing between Oscar, Hulk and Wu Lei):
Odds and ends
- If you’re Shandong (which has also won it’s three opening matches in the CSL) or Evergrande, here’s something ominous to think about: after the international break, the Red Eagles are going to be favorites in their next eight CSL matches: home against Chongqing, at Henan, home against Hebei, home against Teda, at Changchun, home against Guo’an, at Guizhou, home against Jiangsu. Eleven SIPG wins in a row in the CSL to start the season isn’t likely, but it isn’t impossible either.
- Whether it’s the U23 rule messing up defensive positioning and rotations, a random variation in a small sample size or some other, as yet unknown cause, there are a lot of goals in the CSL so far this season: 83 in 24 matches, about three-and-a-half per match. (Last year, for the season, it was a tick over three goals/match.)
- SIPG coach Vitor Pereira committed to more fully extending his middle finger in the CFA’s direction in the Shenhua and Fuli matches; against Shenhua, Pereira brought on his mandatory U23 subs in the 81st and 85th minutes, and against Fuli, with a three goal lead, he waited until the 88th minute for both subs.
- Hu Jinghang has looked good at forward in his two U23 starts, but Pereira went with Chen Binbin against Fuli, and he was a dervish. Chen brings a lot of energy, confidence and aggressiveness to SIPG.
- Oscar’s breakout season may not be welcome in all precincts: Against Fuli, referee Huang Yujun, who is a prodigious gifter of the yellow under any circumstances, carded Oscar for a tackle from behind against Zahavi. The replay showed that Oscar barely breathed on the Israeli, let alone brought him down. If there was a yellow to be given, it was to Zahavi for simulation. After last year’s fiasco involving Oscar and CFA discipline, this kind of thing bears watching.
- SIPG’s ACL success leads the four Chinese teams in the competition. A winless Shenhua is all but out. Evergrande leads their group but has a tricky pair of fixtures remaining, and Quanjian, after an upset of touted Jeonbuk, is in a strong position.)
- After struggling on the road in 2017, SIPG has four wins in four away games this year, all except the derby against quality competition.
- Fuli drew an announced crowd of 11,626 for the SIPG match, lowest total in the CSL for match day three. This, after a hot start for the home side (including a spectacular win over Evergrande), and with a bonafide star in Zahavi on their roster, and a marquee opponent. One wonders if Guangzhou will follow Shenyang, Changsha and Shenzhen as former homes for this franchise.
SIPG returns to CSL action on a Friday night, March 30 at the Stadium against Chongqing Lifan, winners of two of their first three.
The Red Eagles follow that up with an ACL match at the Stadium on Wednesday, April 4 against Kawasaki Frontale. A win against the current J-League leaders wraps up first place in the group for SIPG. It may not be as daunting a task as it sounds: Kawasaki, with only one point in four Group F matches, has virtually no chance to advance to the knock-out phase and may not bring their best side.
Likeliest opponents for SIPG in the knock-out phase of the ACL: Kashima Antlers (sixth in the J League) or Suwon Samsung Bluewings (fifth in the K League). There’s still a distant possibility that SIPG will find themselves matched up with Shenhua.
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