After winning the first two games of 2018 and being 2-0 up on Shanghai SIPG in the third, Guangzhou R&F have had a reality check in their latest matches. The SIPG game turned into a chastening defeat, an injury time winner was needed to get past Changchun, before a home loss to Jiangsu on Friday night.
Changchun Yatai 1 – 2 Guangzhou R&F
On Easter weekend, the Cantonese came from behind to win away in Changchun thanks to a stoppage time goal from their Brazilian playmaker. Enough about Davi’s heroics in 2014 though. In 2018 it was Renatinho’s penalty that earned R&F the spoils.
Stojković reacted to the 2-5 home loss to SIPG by making four changes, two of which were in defence. New signing Ding Haifeng was dropped for Zhang Chenlong whilst Jiang Jihong replaced Li Tixiang. Lu Lin and Chang Feiya also got their first starts of the season, with Chen Zhizhao and Xiao Zhi both relegated to the bench.
Althoug Zhang Xiaofei’s rocket to open the scoring for Changhcun and Zahavi’s free kick equaliser are both worth watching, the main talking points were three penalties. Changchun were awarded the first – confirmed by VAR – but Cheng Yuelei saved Odion Ighalo’s effort. Fan Xiaodong beat Ighalo to poke home the rebound but Fan had encroached into the box before Ighalo took the penalty so Fan’s ‘goal’ didn’t stand.
The next two incidents came in second half stoppage time. With R&F pressing for a winner, Urso and Renatinho both hit the bar before Yu Rui blocked Renatinho’s follow up on the line. The R&F players howled in outrage and VAR intervened. After running to look at the pitch side monitor, the referee ruled that Yu had used his hand to block the ball so sent him off and awarded a penalty. After the inevitable Changchun protests died down, Renatinho scored to put R&F in front.
Almost immediately Lu Lin gave away a penalty at the other end though. Changchun changed their penalty taker but the result was the same. Cheng saved Du Zhenyu’s effort and Ighalo’s rebound was ruled out for encroachment. You might have thought that after the first half incident, the referee and his assistants would be looking out for any encroachment the second time round. You’d be wrong. Even the video assistant only got involved when the Cantonese mobbed the referee. Using VAR did finally get the right decision though, and after a game that took over 100 minutes, R&F finally escaped from their longest away trip of the season – a round trip of almost 6,000km as the crow flies – with all three points.
Guangzhou R&F 0 – 2 Jiangsu Suning
Jiangsu arrived in Guangzhou without their old manager Fabio Capello but still with their Inter Milan inspired kit. They left with three points and their first win over R&F since the dying days of the Segio Farias era in 2013.
Stojković recalled Xiao Zhi for Chang Feiya, but otherwise kept the same team that started in Changchun. R&F enjoyed the bulk of possession against Jiangsu but struggled to create meaningful chances, and couldn’t hit the target from distance.
In contrast, Jiangsu made the most of their chances. Huang Zichang opened the scoring just after half time when some sloppy marking allowed Boakye to cross for Teixeira. Cheng saved the header but Huang Zichang put in the rebound. Teixeira grabbed the second from the spot after VAR ruled that R&F’s Huang Zhengyu tripped Huang Zhichang in an incident that the referee missed. It took almost a minute for him to be told to stop the game and run over to the pitch side monitor to look at the incident though.
In what is becoming an all too frequent occurrence, R&F were behind and needed to change the game. For the second game in a row Huang Zhengyu was hooked for an attacker, this time Chang Feiya. Chang’s radar was off as well though as he missed a late chance. The Cantonese didn’t record a single shot on target all game.
Revolving door of U23s
R&F are following the CSL trend in starting with three foreigners and one U23 and waiting until the last possible moment to bring on two U23 subs. Whilst U23 centre back Huang is a guaranteed starter, Stojković is making the other U23 squad players work for their place on the bench. He has already used six different U23 subs, five of whom have been making their R&F and CSL debuts. After giving himself a good look at the options available, it will be interesting to see if Stojković settles on a preferred pair of U23 subs soon.
After the loss to SIPG snapped a 10 game unbeaten run at home, losing to Jiangsu was R&F’s second consecutive home defeat. The Cantonese are currently 7th in the CSL but are only three points behind 2nd, such is the congested nature of the early season table. Not time to panic then but there is definitely room for improvement. Strangely for R&F, this isn’t all defensive improvement either; the attack wasn’t as sharp as normal against Jiangsu.
The Cantonese are back on the road this week, heading to Tianjin to play TEDA who’ve had a difficult start to the season. The following week, R&F welcome Shandong to Yuexiushan. Like R&F, Shandong have stuttered after making a flying start to the season. If Guangzhou R&F can keep Frank Acheampong quiet in Tianjin, they’ll feel much more confident about taking on Shandong the week after.