Guangzhou R&F went into the international break in 6th after beating Tianjin TEDA. However, a 2-1 loss against Shandong despite a good performance means that R&F slipped back in the CSL table.
The Cantonese beat Tianjin TEDA 2-0 to go into the international break on something of a high. Zahavi and Renatinho scored either side of half time but the clean sheet was even more impressive. It was only R&F’s third of the season, the others coming at home to Dalian and away to Chongqing. U23 centre back Huang Zhengyu gets to share in some of the glory of this after making his first start since recovering from injury.
The big news from the latest international break was Zahavi’s injury. After getting himself back into the Israeli team, the goal scoring machine went down with a foot injury in the second half against Albania. He is expected to be out for a couple of weeks.
Shandong Luneng 2 – 1 Guangzhou R&F
With Zahavi injured, Tosic continued at centre back meaning that R&F named the same defensive line as the Tianjin game. The last time R&F had an unchanged back line for two consecutive games was either side of the World Cup break. Injuries, suspensions and the U23/foreigner balance all contribute towards this but the end result is that the defenders cannot form solid partnerships.
Urso, Renatinho and Shandong’s Tardelli all went to Dubai over the international break but barely had time to catch-up before Pelle opened the scoring for the hosts. Tosic and Yi Teng blamed each other for allowing the Italian to simply run in between them to score from a cross.
R&F played well in the first half but, without Zahavi, couldn’t convert any of their chances. It was a similar story in the second half. In an attacking move, Stojković brought on Chang Feiya for Li Tixiang and the Cantonese duly started the half brightly. However, Huang Zhengyu couldn’t prevent a cross on a Shandong counterattack and Ding Haifeng was beaten to it at the back post as Jin Jingdao made it 2-0 to Shandong.
Renatinho scored with a brilliantly taken free kick to pull one back but this only seemed to stir Shandong into action. Tosic dithered in the area and his eventual challenge on Pelle earned Shandong a penalty after a VAR delay. This one seemed to be another case of VAR creating controversy rather than clearing it up. Following his touchline ban earlier this season for a thumbs down gesture after the Henan game, Stojković’s sarcastic applause of the VAR decision might risk another ban.
Luckily for the Cantonese, Tardelli missed the spot-kick but, despite some late pressure, R&F couldn’t get an equaliser. Unlike in some previous defeats, R&F played well against Shandong. It wasn’t like the 3-0 loss at Dalian and showed more going forward than the 2-0 loss to Jiangsu. It was still a loss though.
All to play for?
With about a quarter of the season to go, R&F are 8th in the CSL. The congested mid-table means that the Cantonese could easily finish anywhere between 6th and 13th – R&F may be playing for position, but there are a lot of positions to play for.
Of course, R&F could still win a trophy this season. That would involve beating Beijing Guoan 4-0 in the second leg of the CFA Cup semi-final next week though. Whilst a home win is not impossible – Guoan have never beaten R&F at Yuexiushan, and the Cantonese did create chances in the first leg at Gongti – keeping a clean sheet will be much harder. Especially if back-up keeper Han Feng is again picked in the Cup. Still, having seen their first leg leads overturned in the quarter-finals and semi-finals in the past two seasons by Evergrande, R&F know that it can be done.
What does this mean for Stojković? There is pressure on Stojković from some quarters, not least from himself. He set a target of finishing in the top 3 and so qualifying for the ACL. Barring a miracle in the Cup, this won’t happen. Club officials had a less ambitious target of a similar finish to last season (5th). Finishing 5th is technically possible but unlikely. However, a top half finish is still realistic and would represent a decent achievement. Especially because R&F did not invest in the squad during the off-season so can hardly be expected to show an enormous improvement this season. If R&F can hold their current top-half position, YN believes Stojković should be allowed to stay.
Either side of hosting Beijing Guoan in the Cup, R&F are in CSL action. The first visitors to Yuexiushan are relegation threatened Chongqing who got an important win against Henan at the weekend. The Cantonese follow the Cup game by travelling to Shanghai for the final time this season. Shenhua are one of the CSL’s other mid-table teams so the game gives one side a chance to try and break away from the pack. Unfortunately, R&F have never won at Hongkou, haven’t won outside Guangzhou since the World Cup break and will be tired after the midweek Cup game. If they are going to finish in the top half of the table, the Cantonese are going to have to start winning these games though.