Guangzhou R&F have picked up just one point from their last four CSL games. They’ve also been dumped out of the Cup. Can Stojković rescue a top half finish in the final five games?
Since the last issue of YN, Guangzhou R&F have been knocked out of the Cup and picked up just one point. This came from a 1-1 draw with Chongqing notable for that own goal. After Yi Teng had been beaten by one of Chongqing’s Fernandinhos on the edge of the box, Cheng Yuelei was quickly off his line and it looked like the Cantonese just about had the situation under control. Until Yi Teng tried to play the ball behind for a corner but saw it ricochet into the goal off the luckless Huang Zhengyu that is. Zahavi wasn’t doing much laughing either as he missed a hatful of chances before storming off to the dressing rooms after being subbed off with a few minutes left. Thankfully Xiao Zhi had headed an equaliser by that point. The Cantonese could, and probably should, have taken all three points though.
No Yuexiushan miracle in the Cup
The Cantonese needed a miracle result against Guoan to make the final of the CFA Cup. They didn’t get it. Guoan won 3-0 against an R&F side that contained seven changes from the Chongqing game. Two of those changes were because Zahavi and Renatinho were injured but still, R&F didn’t throw everything at the Cup. An 8-1 aggregate loss is their reward.
Stojković changed seven for the CSL game against Shanghai Shenhua. A perhaps anticipated boost from bringing in fresher players didn’t translate into a better result though. The Cantonese are still winless at Hongkou and this time R&F lost 3-1. The Shanghainese scored from corners either side of a Guarin penalty. Tosic was beaten in the air for the first goal, although the looks between defenders after the ball had gone in seemed to suggest nobody was sure who should have been marking Shenhua’s Zhu Chenjie. This was even more obvious for the third goal – Li Peng with a free header from a corner. Renatinho went off injured early for R&F and whilst his teammates created chances, it took until injury time at the end of the game for them to get on the scoreboard. Junior Urso converted a consolation penalty.
Deja vu all over again
For the second time in ten days, Beijing Guoan won 3-0 at Yuexiushan. Renatinho was fit to start but Zahavi, who had been training on his own in midweek as he recovers from injury, wasn’t available.
Guangzhou R&F did well in the opening exchanges but the pattern for the remainder of the game was set after 30 minutes. Xiao Zhi’s lunging tackle on Guoan’s Wang Ziming brought the R&F striker a VAR assisted red card. Xiao now has two reds for the season. His first came at home to Henan before the World Cup when he picked up a second yellow card for taking his shirt off after scoring against his old team. Whilst R&F got a draw in that game, playing 10 v 11 against Guoan for an hour would be much harder.
Unsurprisingly the Cantonese were on the back foot after this but almost made it to half time at 0-0. That was until Wang’s clever pass set Bakumbu storming into the R&F half to calmly slip the ball past Cheng Yuelei.
Beijing stayed on top in the second half. They’d been thwarted by Cheng and the woodwork on a few occasions and it looked like another chance might pass them by until some calm play by Augusto set up Viera. The Spaniard curled his shot in from the edge of the box whilst the R&F defenders were scrambling around inside it.
R&F’s chances had all but dried up by now and Guoan’s third was either a cheeky finish by Bakumbu or an own goal by Yi Teng – either way, Yi had let Bakumbu get goalside of him just outside the six yard box.
In the 14 games since the World Cup break, the Cantonese have only picked up 12 points. This is not to say that every game has been a disaster or that there are no mitigating circumstances. Whilst there have been games where R&F have been the better side but not got a win, against Chongqing for example, it is harder to think of a game where R&F were outplayed but still managed to come away with three points.
Recent results has been even worse, with just one point from the last four games. R&F must be at the bottom of the CSL’s form table. Luckily there are enough sides below them in the actual table that they should be just about safe from relegation; a win against Henan next time out would make things much more comfortable.
Also in R&F’s favour is the still congested nature of mid-table. The Cantonese are 11th with 29 points, not too far off Beijing Renhe who are 6th with 33 points. A creditable top half finish is still within reach but only if R&F can start winning again. The last time R&F managed back-to-back CSL wins was late April/early May.
Four Chinese national squads were announced last week and R&F are represented in all of them. Xiao Zhi got his place back in the senior squad before his weekend red card and the 33 year old will be looking to keep it for the 2019 Asian Cup. At the other end of the age range, Chen Yajun is in the U19 squad whilst Huang Zhengyu is in the U21 squad with an eye on the Tokyo Olympics.
The Cantonese also contribute three players to the controversial 55 man U25 training squad. Chang Feiya, Chen Weiming and Ma Junliang will all miss the rest of the season for some (military) training under Shen Xiangfu’s guidance. With Chang close to racking up 100 CSL appearances and both Chen and Ma breaking into the first team this year, it isn’t clear what they will learn by missing the final months of competitive action.
The latest U23 rule change means that because R&F have had so many players called up they don’t have to play any U23s in their remaining CSL games. Stojković may still choose to but he doesn’t have to. Whether this will help R&F anymore than the other CSL sides in the same position remains to be seen. Much will depend on Zahavi recovering from injury and rediscovering his golden boot form from last season.
There are just five rounds of the 2018 CSL to go. Guangzhou R&F face Henan, Guizhou and Beijing Renhe away, whilst hosting Tianjin Quanjian and Hebei. Not the most intimidating set of fixtures, but R&F only picked up six points in the five games against these opponents earlier this year.
First up is an away trip to Zhenghou. Henan may be deep in the relegation battle but the Cantonese have never found Henan an easy place to go, losing four and drawing one of their games at Hanghai Stadium. Without Xiao Zhi (suspension), Zahavi (potential injury) and Chang Feiya (U25 call-up), R&F won’t find breaking that record a simple task. A home game against Tianjin Quanjian shorn of their foreign stars might prove easier. Quanjian will presumably have found a replacement for ex-manager Paolo Susa by then though and may get the benefit of the ‘new manager bounce’ at Yuexiushan. Stojković and his team could really do with a boost of their own.