Guangzhou R&F have now gone six CSL games without a win. In doing so, the Cantonese have been well and truly dragged into the relegation battle. A lot now rests on Friday’s away game at Guizhou.
Henan 2 – 0 Guangzhou R&F
What a difference a year makes. In a late season game in 2017, R&F beat Henan with a last minute goal from Renatinho to keep their ACL dreams alive. A year on and R&F fans are having nightmares about relegation.
R&F were without a seven frontline players against Henan: Zahavi and Renatinho (both injured), Xiao Zhi (suspended), Change Feiya, Ma Junliang and Chen Weiming (all U25 training camp) and Huang Zhengyu (U21 squad returned late from Holland). 24 year old striker Li Rui was given his CSL debut.
Ironically, it was one of the first choice players who was arguably culpable for both Henan goals. Keeper Cheng Yuelei not covering himself in glory for the way he dealt with either: punching the ball to former R&F bit part midfielder Feng Zhuoyi for the first, and shovelling it to Ricardo Vaz Te for the second.
Down to the bare bones of his squad, Stojković was out of options for changing the game and the Cantonese succumbed to their 6th consecutive CSL away loss.
Guangzhou R&F 2 – 6 Tianjin Quanjian
Despite welcoming back some of those who missed the Henan game, the R&F line-up still had a makeshift feel about it. Tang Miao was only fit enough for the bench so usual centre back Huang Zhengyu was pressed into service on the right, whilst Tosic, Yi Teng and Jiang Jihong had only played together as a back three once before in the CSL.
Quanjian followed in SIPG, Shandong and Beijing Guoan’s footsteps by registering an emphatic win at Yuexiushan in 2018, with Pato particularly impressive. Bizarrely for a game that had eight goals, both sides could and perhaps should have scored more. Whilst Cheng Yuelei did his best to keep R&F in the game, he wasn’t helped by some poor finishing at the other end, Zahavi’s missed penalty epitomising his recent – by his own high standards – struggles in front of goal. The Israeli had scored earlier to close the gap to 2-1 only for Quanjian to stretch away and pile on the misery in extra time.
The win moves Quanjian ahead of R&F and just above the relegation fight. Quanjian’s city rivals TEDA along with Chongqing and Henan are now just one point behind R&F. The last time the Cantonese got a point was over a month ago.
As mentioned by YN before, Stojković ’s team selections have been characterised by change, fielding different combinations of players and playing individuals in (completely) different positions. Playing Huang on the right this week was the latest of these. Li Tixiang has appeared at centre back and in centre midfield, Chen Zhizhao has played in the middle and as part of the forward trio, whilst Lu Lin has played on the left, right and centre of midfield.
Perhaps more damagingly, the centre back trio has not been consistent. Whether because of injuries, suspensions, international call-ups, the U23 rule, the need for squad rotation or managerial uncertainty, seven different trios have been used in the CSL which hardly helps continuity. Yi Teng has been virtually ever present but on a given week his two colleagues could be Tosic, Huang Zhenyu, Li Tixiang or Jiang Jihong. Is it any surprise Tosic has seemingly struggled to adapt to the CSL given that he is playing in a different combination almost every game?
The Cantonese have three games left to save themselves from relegation: a Friday away game against bottom team Guizhou; a Wednesday home game against Hebei; and then a Sunday match against Renhe in Beijing.
Forgetting for the moment about Changchun, Quanjian and Dalian none of whom are safe yet, the final fixtures for R&F’s main relegation rivals are:
- Guizhou: Guangzhou R&F (H), Henan (A), Chongqing (H)
- Chongqing: Tianjing TEDA (H), Evergrande (H), Guizhou (A)
- Henan: Shanghai Shenhua (A), Guizhou (H), Jiangsu (A)
- Tianjin TEDA: Chongqing (A), Dalian (H), Evergrande (A)
With Guizhou all but relegated, they’ll still have a big say in who else joins them in China League One next year as they play three of the other four relegation candidates. Next weekend’s games could go a long way to deciding this because as well as the Guizhou-R&F game, Chongqing host Tianjin TEDA.
If things get really tight, R&F have the tie-breaker head-to-head advantage over Tianjin and Chongqing, but not Henan. Are things likely to get tight though? The Cantonese have the worst form in the CSL and Tianjin’s is little better. In contrast, Chongqing, Henan and even Guizhou have discovered an ability to win that seems to have deserted R&F. Worse, Chongqing and Henan have easier travelling schedules than R&F as they both have back-to-back home games.
With Evergrande still in the championship race, it’ll be a nervous 10 days for both sets of fans in Guangzhou. For all his attacking play, it may be the next three games that determine how Stojković’s three years at Yuexiushan are remembered.