This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at a slight hiccup in SIPG’s CSL season and new fixtures on the horizon.
Some unusual mid-April heat made for a gorgeous evening at Shanghai Stadium on Sunday, but it also brought with it a 1-1 draw against TEDA and the end of SIPG’s perfect record in the CSL. To be sure, the match left the Red Eagles still undefeated and at the top of the table with 19 points out of a possible 21. That’s four points ahead of Shandong and five ahead of Evergrande, who earlier in the evening had allowed two goals in the 90th minute to botch a 2-0 lead at Gongti against Guo’an.
Acheampong sets the tone
The night was defined by a Red Eagle defensive lapse and a lightning fast TEDA response in the 6th minute. With Oscar taking a corner, SIPG fully committed to the opportunity, positioning eight players in or around the box. His kick pinballed around and landed at the feet of TEDA defender Bai Yuefeng, who unhesitatingly fired a pass up the middle to a streaking Frank Acheampong.
Wang Shenchao, the only SIPG defender in an actual defensive position, had a choice to make: close on the pass and try to intercept it, or retreat and try to stop Acheampong as he dribbled. Wang chose neither; flat-footed, he watched Acheampong, who is fast as hell, rocket past him at mid-field, gather the perfectly weighted pass and burst in alone on Yan Junling. The Ghanian international stayed ahead of Wang, then stopped at the top of the box and cooly buried his shot into the left hand corner of the net.
The 1-0 lead stood up until halftime thanks to — you might want to retire to a fainting couch before reading this — some great refereeing by South Korean Kim Dong-Jin. A turnover in the last third and a quick, headed pass to Hulk, followed by a gorgeous cross by the Brazilian, resulted in a 34th-minute goal for SIPG. Kim allowed the play to continue, then after the goal signaled for VAR, which showed beyond any reasonable doubt that Hulk was in an offside position.
It’s exactly how the system is supposed to work and why it should be used.
After a desultory first half, the rampaging SIPG we’ve seen most of the season came out to start the second half. Four or five goals were in the offing and it would have been that way but for the unquestioned man of the match: TEDA keeper Du Jia. He faced 19 shots on the night, 13 (!) on target. Most notable were four spectacular saves in the second half, victimizing Wu Lei, Hulk twice and Oscar.
(On the night, Hulk had seven shots on goal, a nice reversal of early-season form which often found him missing his targets badly. For this one, he’s just going to have to shrug and tip his cap to Du.)
The only blemish on Du’s spectacular night came in the 57th minute and certainly wasn’t his fault: Oscar threaded a laser of a pass through a crowded box and right on to the foot of Lue Wenjun, who’d snuck in behind Du. All that remained for Lue was an easy tap-in for the equalizer.
SIPG coach Vitor Pereira altered his substitution patterns in this one, bringing in Lue for U23 token Chen Binbin at halftime rather than an hour in, as has been his habit. This ended a streak of impressive appearances for Chen, who managed only 11 first-half touches, no shots and no noteworthy passes.
Was the slow start for SIPG down to Pereira?
The TEDA match came after a mid-week trip to Melbourne for SIPG’s final Champion’s League group match. The match meant nothing to anyone because the group table was already locked in with SIPG winning, Ulsan second, Melbourne third and Kawasaki fourth.
Nevertheless, Shi Ke, Lue Wenjun and Chen Binbin started and Hulk and Wang Shenchao got on the plane to Melbourne and came in to play the second half.
Seven thousand people and approximately that many seagulls showed up to watch in Australia’s second city. SIPG lost 2-1, the only goal for the Red Eagles a nice piece of maneuvering by Lue Wenjun, who dribbled around a flummoxed Melbourne defender and found Lin Chuangyi drifting unmarked in the middle of the box. Lin slid it into the corner of the net for his first goal in six years in an SIPG uniform.
You can’t help but wonder, though, whether the approximately one full day in the air to and from Melbourne for the staff and those five players was a factor in SIPG’s slow start against TEDA. (Shenhua, in the same situation — nothing to play for and a mid-week trip to Australia — got obliterated this weekend by Jiangsu Suning, 5-1. )
The match, technically SIPG’s first loss of the year, followed a winning trip to Henan (2-1) and a thoroughly professional dismantling of Hebei (2-0) at the Stadium.
Terra cotta throwdown on Wednesday
SIPG continues their slog through nine matches in thirty-two days with their first FA Cup match, a Wednesday trip to Xi’an to take on Shaanxi Chang’an Athletic. The League Two side were 1-0 FA Cup winners in the last round against The Franchise Formerly Known as Hangzhou Greentown and have won three of their first four League Two matches.
Shaanxi features at least one familiar name: Song Zhenyu, the 37-year-old former Chinese international and TEDA, Dalian Shide and Changchun Yatai keeper. Song was MVP of the second round of the tournament and actually won the FA Cup with TEDA in 2011.
As per FA Cup rules, SIPG will not be allowed to use Hulk, Oscar, Elkeson or Akhmedov in the match.
Shaanxi is one of eleven League Two teams (and one amateur side) to make the fourth round of the tournament. Caught between rules that limit foreigners in the early rounds and facing the certainty of fourth-round matches against CSL sides, most League One teams simply refused to participate in the tournament in any meaningful way.
Kudos to Liaoning, Shanghai Shenxin, Heilongjiang and Wuhan Zali from League One for taking the tournament seriously, or at least seriously enough. Liaoning might actually be the favorite in their fourth-round match at home against Dalian Yifang.
Odds and ends
SIPG is back into CSL fixtures on Saturday afternoon in chilly Jilin, where they catch a nice break: temps should be over 20 for their match against Changchun Yatai.
Three fixtures have been added to the SIPG schedule: Champion’s League matches in the Round of 16 are now set against Kashima Antlers, Wednesday, May 9 in Japan and Wednesday May 16 at the Stadium. Kashima is off to a dreadful start in the J League: they’re 12th place on the table and have scored only 14 goals in 15 matches in all competitions. Leading goalscorer is midfielder Kanazaki Mu, with four.
A World Cup-break friendly has also been added: Saturday, May 26 at the Stadium against Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the top sides in that country. As the Portuguese season winds down, they’re in a dogfight with Benfica and Porto for the Premeira Liga championship and UEFA Champion’s League spots and are in the finals of the Taca de Portugal.
Sporting CP features Dutch international Bas Dost, who’s got 28 goals in all club competitions so far as the European season winds down.
Some 21,000 people turned up Sunday night at the Stadium against TEDA. That seems to be this year’s default, in good weather or bad, against good teams and bad, but SIPG now has five home matches in a row at which they can expect larger crowds: May 5 against Guo’an, May 16 against Kashima, May 20 against Jiangsu, May 26 against Sporting CP, and July 21 against Evergrande.
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