Guangzhou R&F slipped to their third loss in a row after going down 4-2 at home to Shandong on Saturday. That makes it four defeats in five games, and three in a row at Yuexiushan. On Sunday evening the club issued an open letter apologising to the fans. The two most recent losses are rounded up below before the remarkably frank letter is examined.
Tianjin TEDA 2 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
A 10 hour delay on the way to Tianjin gave Dragan Stojković plenty of time to ponder his selection decisions. Xiao Zhi’s absence meant Chen Zhizhao was used as part of the attacking trio, whilst Li Tixiang partnered Urso in midfield, and Ding Haifeng was recalled at left back.
The Cantonese couldn’t have asked for a better start. Chen opened the scoring after just eight minutes as he ran onto Zahavi’s though ball. Tianjin fought back though and took the lead before 30 minutes had gone. Acheampong’s pace was a threat throughout the game, but it was his strength and persistence that led to TEDA’s first. Hui Jiakang later beat Zahavi in the air to head Tinajin’s second. It almost got worse for R&F. Acheampong out-muscled Huang Zhengyu but his shot hit the post just before half time.
Huang didn’t re-emerge for the second half as Stojković brought on Chang Feiya to change the attack. Chen dropped back to midfield and Li in turn went to centre back. The Cantonese took control of the game as the second half wore on but the bobbles on the Tianjin pitch didn’t break their way; Urso hit the post, Chen had a volley blocked inside the area and Zahavi had a couple of tame strikes by his own high standard.
With the tactical straitjacket imposed by the U23 rule, Stojković was more or less out of options. Bringing on two U23 midfielders with next to no CSL experience between them was hardly going to change the game. Sure enough, their late introductions didn’t make a discernible difference.
Guangzhou R&F 2 – 4 Shandong Luneng
Stojković was in Paris for his daughter’s wedding so assistant Dejan Govedarica was in charge at Yuexiushan on Saturday. Xiao Zhi returned to the starting line-up, with Chen Zhizhao pushed back to midfield, and Li Tixiang in turned moved into the back three.
Despite some shaky defending from R&F, Xiao Zhi gave the Cantonese the lead when he stabbed the ball over the line from close range. Zahavi showed great persistence to win a penalty but then thundered his spot kick off the bar shortly before half time.
R&F’s defensive failings came back to haunt them in the second half. In the middle of an otherwise crowded penalty area, Shandong centre back Gil was somehow allowed to stand completely unmarked on the penalty spot to score the equaliser. The second came when R&F’s back three were out of line and Jin Jingdao sprung the offside trap to give Shandong the lead. Shandong’s third arrived courtesy of two uncontested headers in the box from a short corner routine.
National team coach Lippi had left his seat by the time Xiao Zhi pulled one back for the Cantonese. Given VAR’s slow and controversial – if you are a Shandong fan – call that Xiao was onside, Lippi will no doubt want to see the video to make his own mind up.
R&F scented an equaliser but Shandong had the last laugh. In doing so they once again highlighted R&F’s remarkably passive ‘defence.’ Sure, the Cantonese were pushing forward for the equaliser but there were still enough men back to deal with the situation. Not for the first time, R&F bungled things though. First, Li Tixiang showed absolutely no desire to close Wang Tong down as the Shandong man prepared to cross, Tang Miao then chose not to jump at the far post for the first header, Yi Teng made the same decision in the middle allowing Pelle to nod the ball on, before Tardelli’s clever spin took Huang Zhengyu out of the game.
“A letter of apology to Guangzhou R&F fans”
On Sunday night, the club released an open letter to the fans apologising for the recent run of poor form. Written in formal language, the letter gets straight into the defeats. It then thanks fans and the media for their criticism of R&F – criticism which the club “sincerely accepts.” It highlights two major deficiencies.
“First is defensive ability.” This is blamed on a poor transfer policy which the club’s management accept responsibility for. According to the letter they will conduct a “comprehensive reflection” and look to make signings in the summer window. This may be easier said than done – CSL clubs are unlikely to sell good defenders mid-season so it may be that a foreign centre back will arrive at Yuexiushan.
The second problem highlighted is U23 players. Whilst YN would argue that Huang Zhengyu is no worse than Jiang Jihong – who Huang is effectively keeping out of the team – the same cannot be said for the other U23s in the squad. Stojković clearly doesn’t trust them and has limited them to late cameo appearances. The letter doesn’t, and given the systemic nature of the problem can’t, identify any quick fixes for this, although it does mention some unspecified “bolder” training strategies. R&F were ahead of the curve in building an enviable youth system and have a partnership with Ajax to boot. The results of this will only become clear over the coming years, rather than the coming weeks of the season though.
The club avoid blaming Stojković for the recent defeats. Instead, they offer their “unconditional” support for him and his style of play, again highlighting the link with the ‘Southern School’ of football which was pioneered by Cantonese sides of the 1970s. The letter does seem to be more than the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ – after all how many clubs would let a manager miss back-to-back games in the midst of a poor run of form?
The remarkable letter ends by hoping fans will continue to support the team at this “most difficult stage.” The next chance for fans to show their support at Yuexiushan is in a fortnight, but the players will have two matches before then.
Given R&F’s poor form, their next match has ‘banana skin’ written all over it. The Cantonese are away at amateur side Wuhan Chufeng Heli in the CFA Cup. They may be amateurs, but they are coached by a Spaniard and have old Beijing Guoan midfielder Du Mingyang plus ex-Shanghai Shenxin man Li Xinyu. For their part, Cup rules mean R&F will be without their foreigners so the starting XI will never have played together before. Hopefully R&F will still play their first choice domestic players as the fringe U23 players won’t get much benefit from playing on a Tuesday afternoon against an amateur side. Tang Miao seems likely to be absent with injury though, and Govedarica will again fill in for Stojković.
Regardless of the Cup result, the Cantonese still need to get some momentum back into their CSL campaign. An away trip to Chongqing provides their first opportunity, before Shanghai Shenhua visit Yuexiushan a week later.
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