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SIPG wins Yangtze Derby, but crashes out of Asian Champion’s League

At your WEF home for all things SIPG, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at a successful conclusion to the CSL’s first stanza and a crash out of the Champion’s League. 

SIPG books first place for the next two months

After a miserable month, which included a mid-week exit from the Champion’s League at the hands of Kashima Antlers, SIPG restored balance to the Force on Sunday night at Shanghai Stadium, retaking first place in the CSL with a 2-0 win over Jiangsu Suning. The victory sews up first place for the next two months as the CSL shuts down so that Chinese fans won’t have their World Cup TV viewing disturbed by any matches that they can actually attend.

Jiangsu is for real

Last year at this time, Jiangsu was changing coaches and warily eyeing relegation. This year, they’ve returned to a more accustomed position in the top half of the league. Judging from the action at Shanghai Stadium on Sunday night, they’ll remain there. There wasn’t a lot to choose from between the two sides.

Except that SIPG has Oscar and Jiangsu doesn’t. Both SIPG goals were all Oscar: in the 48th minute, he maneuvered around two defenders at the far left side of the box and then struck a perfect cross to a streaking Wu Lei on the right side. The Nanjing native couldn’t miss the header — ok, maybe that’s a dangerous thing to say about Wu – and he didn’t.

Oscar added the clincher in the ninetieth minute when Shi Ke found him at the top of the box and Oscar in turn found a tiny window between two defenders and the keeper, glancing the ball off the inside of the near post and into the net.

Yan to the rescue

The other difference maker for SIPG was, as he’s been all season, Yan Junling. He faced two shots on the night, but in this case, it was quality, not quantity that mattered. They both looked like sure goals.

In the 38th minute, Jiangsu’s Ji Xiang made a deadly strike towards the upper right-hand corner of the net from 25 yards out. It looked good all the way in until Yan, fully extending his 191 cm and long arms, pushed it away with his fingertips.

In the 67th minute, a botched He Guan clearance gave Alex Teixeira an unobstructed chance from 9 yards out. He went lower left hand corner, Yan guessed correctly and swatted the ball away.

Hulk, Wu Lei struggling

SIPG desperately needed Oscar because Hulk, playing his second match in five days after his astonishingly early return from a hamstring injury, was ineffective and Wu, the goal notwithstanding, is not adjusting well to playing on the right side. (U23 token Chen Binbin, once again ever so energetic and ever so ineffective, has occupied Wu’s place on the left flank.)

Granted, Wu is having what looks like a successful campaign. The header against Jiangsu was his twelfth goal of the CSL campaign, which gives him a lead in the race for the scoring championship, three ahead of both Frank Acheampong of TEDA and Golden Boot holder Eran Zahavi of Fuli. Wu could be the first Chinese national to lead the CSL in scoring since Shandong’s Li Jinyu in 2007 and he’s one goal away from claiming the title of leading goalscorer in CSL history. (Wu has 87. The record, 88, is currently held by Han Peng, who after 14 years at Shandong is currently wrapping up his career in a minor role with Beijing Renhe.)

Despite the numbers, Wu’s trademark left-side streaks down the field are missing when he plys the right side, and his high goal total disguises an appalling number of missed opportunities. No one gets his name chanted more at Shanghai Stadium, but Wu’s also responsible for a new stadium tradition, strangers turning to each other after each Wu Lei miss with a shrug and a sardonic, “Wu Lei.”

 

Oscar is rolling as he heads into the break

The MVP of this up-and-down first third of the SIPG season is clearly Oscar. He’s got four goals and nine assists in the CSL – meaning that he’s been directly involved in half of SIPG’s goals – and he scored another four in eight Champion’s League matches. Oscar leads the CSL in key passes and through balls and he’s second in completing long passes. The WhoScored.com algorithm ranks him as the best player in the league. (With Hulk second, Augusto third, Pato fourth and Viera fifth, which is to say, the algorithm passes the eye test.) The cherry on top is that Oscar is also one of the leading tacklers in the league among forwards and offensive midfielders.

Perhaps more importantly, when things aren’t going well — and things haven’t gone well for SIPG in the last month – he’s been motivated to try and make something good happen for the Red Eagles.  No more sulking walkabouts.

What’s changed? Maybe it’s love. After the Jiangsu match, Oscar turned on his VPN and took to Twitter to post a photo and announce, “Ludy, (the goal tonight) is for you my love”:

Perhaps Ludy can give Oscar some comfort over the World Cup break. The Brazilians did indeed pick a CSL midfielder for their World Cup squad, but it was Guo’an’s Augusto, not Oscar. Augusto is more versatile than Oscar, but he isn’t the offensive force that Oscar is, and it’s a choice that Brazil may come to regret if they need a goal late in a tournament match.

Kashima ushers SIPG out of the ACL

Trailing by two goals going into Wednesday night’s match at the stadium, SIPG was unable to rally despite the inspiring return of Hulk to the line-up and his subsequent brace. SIPG won the match 2-1, but the second goal didn’t come until the 81st minute, and they needed a total of three after Doi Shoma scored an elegant goal for Kashima just before halftime. Kashima’s advancement is also down to their foreign keeper, the South Korean Kwoun Sun-Tae, who made three very good saves in the second half.

Highlights:

What’s next

Not much. The only match that counts between now and July 17, when SIPG returns to action in the CSL in Jinan against Shandong, is the first-leg of the FA Cup tie against Guo’an. That will be at Gongti on June 9, a Saturday night. (The other three Cup quarterfinals don’t get their first leg until July.)

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they're the Oakland A's to Shenhua's San Francisco Giants.

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