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SIPG, Shandong draw to stay atop CSL as the league finally restarts

Shanghai SIPG

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. After two months, the boys are finally back at it. Today, a look at a 1-1 draw in Jinan that both Shandong and SIPG are likely kicking themselves over.

SIPG charges out of the box, but get stymied by Wang Dalai

After 90 minutes on a hot, humid night in Jinan, SIPG and Shandong finished the long-anticipated CSL restart exactly where they began: tied in the match and tied atop the CSL. 

Wags pointed out that SIPG clawed it’s way back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 1-1 tie — more on that oddity later — but both sides had to come away from the match feeling that they’d squandered an opportunity.

The first half was all SIPG: the Red Eagles had the ball more than two-thirds of the time, and Shandong reacted by spending most of their time in a 5-4-1 shell. SIPG scoring opportunities came frequently. A deft Hulk chip nearly brought a goal in the second minute, but the man of the match, Shandong keeper Wang Dalai, swatted it away at the last possible moment with his fingertips. 

Wang Shenchao forced a nice save from near the goal line by Wang eight minutes later, Wu Lei had excellent chances in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth minutes, both of which he put straight into Wang’s arms. Cai Huikang was gifted with a golden opportunity in the forty-sixth via a world class cross from Oscar, but the corpulent midfielder also put the ball into Wang’s arms. Hulk missed a free kick from 28 yards as time wound down in the half. 

Despite SIPG’s dominance, Shandong put the ball into the net three times, but a rather shaky match referee imported from Australia, Kurt Arms, had VAR on speed dial and decided that only one of them counted.

The first came in the fourth minute. When the ball went into the net, there were four Shandong players offside, each by about two yards, and the Chinese assistant referee was right on top of it. Arms, perhaps not comfortable with his authority, called for VAR anyway. After what one would have to assume were guffaws in the replay booth, the goal was quickly waved off. No Shandong player was shameless enough to protest.

Pelle the conquerer: he scores, assists, protests

In the thirty-second minute, Italian international Graziano Pelle found Shandong’s Jin Jingdao all alone on a right side vacated by SIPG defender Yu Hai. Jin took Pelle’s nifty pass and walked in alone on Yan Junling, who got a couple of fingers on Jin’s shot, but not enough to keep it from hitting the back of the net.

Three minutes later, Shandong struck again. With Oscar lying on the pitch writhing dramatically in pain and the Shanghai backline in disarray, a header by an unmarked Pelle put Shandong up 2-0. Arms called for another review, which determined — based on god knows what evidence — that the goal didn’t count because Oscar had been “fouled” a few seconds before.

A justifiably furious Pelle kept up an acerbic running commentary with Arms for a while after that. The best you can say for Arms is that he didn’t give Pelle a yellow for dissent. 

Hulk, Lue, Oscar combine to even things up

The second half brought a noticeable decline in the quality of play as two teams that hadn’t played in earnest in two months dealt with the 30 degree heat and 71% humidity. 

The scoring chances were split evenly. Only one went in, though, a fifty-fifth minute leveler for SIPG.

Hulk found himself with an unusual amount of room on the right side, waited, waited, waited…  and finally found Lue Wenjun streaking in on the left side. Hulk hit him in stride, but Lue was the victim of one of the best saves of the season, Wang stopping the shot with his feet while horizontal. Unfortunately for Wang, the ball just lay there on the goal line after the save, and Oscar, all alone, tapped it in for what was likely the easiest goal of his life. 

Wang wasn’t the only keeper putting on a show. Spectacular saves by Yan Junling— is there any doubt left that he’s the best keeper in China? — in the seventy-fifth and eighty-first minutes kept SIPG from a deflating evening. 

Set pieces unsettling

There was a clear culprit in SIPG’s failure to come away with three points: set pieces.

The club is twelfth in the CSL in goals from set pieces, and last night, that woeful performance continued. SIPG got only one good chance and no goals in Jinan from three free-kicks within twenty-five yards and nine corners. (Hulk was responsible for the one hopeful moment, an excellent free kick that was headed in to the left-hand corner until that man Wang again made yet another excellent save.)


What’s next: everything old is new again

Guangzhou Evergrande, once again boasting Paulinho, fresh off his loss in the World Cup quarterfinals, come to Shanghai Stadium Saturday night. A loss by Guangzhou would render their eighth straight CSL title quite unlikely. Next week, on Wednesday night, Beijing Guo’an is in town for the return match of the FA Cup quarterfinal. SIPG enters the match down two goals to one. 

No rain is forecast, but it’s going to be hot and humid for both matches. 

By the numbers

Statistics are problematic in soccer. Ask Spain and their 1,000+ passes in one World Cup match where that gaudy number got them. 

But for two months, numbers are all we had of Chinese soccer, so we have a few notes about SIPG’s first eleven games:

It may not feel this way intuitively, but SIPG is better in 2018 in goals scored/match, goals allowed/match and points/match than they were in 2017. The biggest difference comes at the back, where a blossoming Yan Junling between the posts and the addition of Yu Hai, the Shandong match notwithstanding, have cut SIPG’s goals allowed figure by more than one-third per game. 

In open play, SIPG is first in the league in shots on target, second in shots from inside six yards and first in shots from inside the penalty area. 

A curious stat: SIPG is the 11th most fouled team in the league, despite being near the top in time of possession. In what must, must be a coincidence, Hulk leads the league in getting dispossessed. 

Wu Lei’s 12 goals top the league by two over Fuli’s Zahavi and three over Teda’s Acheampong, but the most impressive numbers are being put up by Oscar. 

He leads the CSL in assists, key passes, through balls and crosses. He’s got 5 goals and 9 assists and he’s got the highest player rating in the CSL (via the algorithm at Oscar’s also deadly accurate on long balls — best in the league by far. (Mascherano is a distant second.) 

Yan Junling, besides having already racked up 16 saves in the penalty area, is also the most accurate passer in the CSL among keepers. Shi Ke is fourth in the league in clearances, seventh in tackles and 11th in blocked shots. 

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

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