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Amidst rule-changing chaos, SIPG is tantalizingly close to a special season - Wild East Football
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Amidst rule-changing chaos, SIPG is tantalizingly close to a special season

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at the CSL’s latest in an interminable series of restarts and controversies and finds SIPG on the cusp of something unforgettable.

Autumn leaves, Evergrande title hopes start to fall

You can feel it in the wind: falling leaves, a certain crispness to the air, and the possibility of a CSL championship in the city of Shanghai for the very first time. As we reset the season after an almost completely pointless international break – were you riveted by China-India? Me neither – SIPG is top of the table, four points up on Evergrande with five matches remaining.

First things first: if SIPG can go into Tianhe and come away with three points against Guangzhou Evergrande on November 3, it’s over. A draw is also probably a death blow for the seven-time defending champions from Guangdong, because things look pretty good for the Red Eagles in their other four matches:

– SIPG handled Jiangsu Suning at the Stadium earlier in the year, and the southern capitol has seen only one victory in Jiangsu’s last five matches. The problems here are twofold: it’s in Nanjing, which always turns out enthusiastically for their boys, and Hulk will not play because of yellow card accumulation. Akhmedov, who’s started only once in SIPG’s ongoing five match winning streak, will take Hulk’s foreigner slot. SIPG will be depending on Oscar and Wu Lei, who have three goals each in those five matches, and Elkeson, who has two.

– Shandong has fallen out of the CFA title race, their Asian slot for next year is virtually unassailable and they have an FA Cup final ahead. They define a squad with nothing left to play for in the league. On top of which, the match is at Shanghai Stadium and no team in the league was more damaged than Shandong by the bizarre U25 events and the cessation of the U23 rule.

– Beijing Renhe has shown flashes of good play this year, but SIPG brushed them aside 4-1 in Beijing and knocked them out of the FA Cup.

– SIPG closes the season on the road against imploding Quanjian. The Tianjin side has one win in ten matches in the second half of the season, has five straight losses in all competitions and has soap opera-style calamities in both their roster and coaching situations. The one caveat here is that Champion’s League quarterfinalists Quanjian has been so bad in the CSL that they’re now only five points ahead of Henan Jianye in the relegation fight. It’s possible that Quanjian may need a result on 11/11 against SIPG to stay in the league. Tianjin has a rougher road remaining than Henan, but holds the tiebreaker between the two.

How do you make 55 players vanish? The Chinese football powers-that-be know how

The recent, in-season decision by – well, whoever it was – to strip fifty-five U25 Chinese players from their CSL and League One teams and send them to a military-style camp and at the same time cancel the U23 rule in the CSL is beyond understanding. Many of those players will miss vital CSL and FA Cup matches that presumably would have gone a long way towards improving their match toughness, and every league in every sport in every country long ago accepted the principle that you don’t alter the rules of the competition in the middle of the competition.

The decision has provoked an existential crisis among CSL fans, who have been given to wondering out loud and on Weixin if the league is just too farcical to merit their attention. In all the talk about how it effects CSL teams, it’s also important to note that the move has stripped 55 players of their freedom of professional association, and that the CFA has threatened all of them with a complete ban from Chinese football if they don’t enthusiastically participate at what closely resembles a reeducation camp. The unwillingness of FIFA to intervene on their behalf is a disgrace.

Lin Chuangyi and Lei Wenjie are the SIPG players caught up in this mess.

If there’s one player celebrating though, it’s got to be Lu Wenjun. The 29-year-old SIPG attacker has watched Chen Binbin, Zhang Huachen, Lei Wenjie and Hu Jinghang start matches ahead of him for SIPG because of the U23 rule. None of the quartet has provided much of anything offensively. Lei has the only goal, and touch stats show that they’re mostly ignored in terms of SIPG’s offensive flow.

Lue, meanwhile, has six goals in 1,022 minutes played — an average of .53 goals per ninety minutes. For comparison’s sake, Hulk is averaging .49 goals per ninety minutes. Lue is probably the best player in the league to miss playing time because of the U23 rule. It’s going to be a huge advantage for SIPG to have him out there full-time in the last five matches.

Odds and ends

– SIPG goes up the road this Sunday night to play Jiangsu Suning. Evergrande hosts Renhe the night before. Help from Tianhe is unlikely.

– Shanghai’s first CSL championship? Yup. Bottlers extraordinaire Shanghai Shenhua won Jia A, the CSL predecessor, in 1995, when the league had only twelve teams, and have been bridesmaids a Chinese professional record eight times since then. Shenhua’s 2003 Jia A title was vacated for match-fixing. Claude Reins was shocked.

– Wu Lei is now three goals ahead of Changchun’s Ighalo in the race for the Golden Boot, and Oscar’s league-record 18 assists are five ahead of Guo’an’s Augusto. Oscar is the highest rated player in the league, according to whoscored.com’s algorithim. (Hulk is fourth, Wu Lei seventh.) Yan Junling is the highest rated keeper.

– Highlights from SIPG’s last match before the international break, a 5-0 beatdown of Guizhou:

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

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