Guangzhou Evergrande, Dalian Yifang and Shanghai SIPG. Guangzhou R&F have lost to them all in just over a week and a half. After having their sights set on the upper end of the CSL for much of the season, the Cantonese are now nervously glancing over their shoulders.
Two contrasting defeats
Predictably, there were a lot of goals in the Canton derby. Renatinho opened the scoring for R&F but it was Evergrande who created more and better chances throughout the game. Their Brazilians scored four in a row before Zahavi’s VAR assisted injury time penalty. It was too little too late though as Evergrande won 4-2 at Yuexiushan.
Just under a week later Stojković made five changes for R&F’s first CSL visit to Dalian since Sven was in charge in 2014. Xiao Zhi and Junior Urso were amongst those dropped/rested for the Friday night game. Unfortunately, their teammates didn’t turn up either as Dalian Yifang won 3-0. Mushekwi bagged a hat trick for the hosts, helped by two Carrasco assists, but the Cantonese could only muster one shot on target in reply. Stojković normally tries to remain positive and look on the bright side after a defeat, at least in public. There was none of that in Dalian. “We didn’t play badly” the Serbian said, “we played very badly.”
Shanghai SIPG 3 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
After flying back to Guangzhou for a couple of rest days, R&F then went north again to face Shanghai SIPG. After the early season 5-2 loss, R&F’s defence should’ve been well aware of Wu Lei’s threat. However, they either weren’t aware or weren’t able to handle Wu, twice guilty of leaving him unmarked in the box as he scored two first half goals. Wu’s second came just before halftime which was important because, whilst SIPG had the better of the play, the Cantonese had created a few opportunities.
A two goal deficit became three just after the hour mark, although Lu Wenjun’s goal had a hint of luck about it. So too did R&F’s consolation; Zahavi’s shot deflected off Shi Ke and found the corner of the net. The Israeli remains second in the golden boot race, two behind Wu Lei.
Too good to go down?
Guangzhou R&F have lost three in a row but there are some mitigating factors. Plenty of teams lose to Evergrande and SIPG, and R&F also had the misfortune to face both when the U23 rule was suspended. There are fewer excuses for the Dalian defeat, and even fewer for the performance. The hectic July/August schedule has been a problem for all teams and R&F do not have a lot of strength in depth, but do Dalian have that much more? Stojković has rotated his squad as much as possible but could’ve done with some mid-season domestic additions. Dalian showed that this was possible but R&F either couldn’t or wouldn’t. This is particularly galling given the bucketload of signings announced by the R&F Hong Kong team over the last week or so.
Whatever the reasons, R&F now find themselves only six points above the relegation zone. Whilst Evergrande and SIPG are better teams than R&F this season, it is the other post-World Cup CSL results that will worry Stojković. Draws with Hebei and Guizhou, and the loss to Dalian in particular. His side have won just one of seven league games since the CSL resumed. However, in scoring late goals against Evergrande and SIPG the Cantonese have shown the fighting spirit that will be needed to drag themselves out of the bottom half of the table. With the run of weekend-midweek-weekend matches coming towards an end, Stojković should also be able to get back to a settled starting line-up.
Changchun Yatai come to Yuexiushan on Saturday having won three of their last four, including a late comeback against Evergrande. Changchun’s rise and R&F’s slide mean that the Cantonese are now two points behind the dongbei side. A home win would reverse that and ease some of the tension in Guangzhou.