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A little Yan, a little clown car defending, and SIPG wins at Hebei, 2-1

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe look at SIPG’s trip to Hebei province and gives a brief glance to a forgettable night in South Korea.

Yan Junling is the best footballer in China

There’s hot starts and then there’s what Yan has pulled off this February and March. The keeper was Man of the Match in SIPG’s Chinese Super Cup win, frustrating Beijing Guo’an repeatedly. He should have been Man of the Match in SIPG’s first Champion’s League tilt against Kawasaki Frontale, singlehandedly fending of swarms of Japanese attackers.

Yan was the only thing between the Chinese national team and utter humiliation against Thailand during the international break, and Saturday night in Langfang, he did it again, victimizing Moroccan international Ayoub El Kaabi in the 12th minute and then Dong Xuesheng in the dwindling moments of the first half, two spectacular saves that kept SIPG afloat and gave the offense time to get to work in what became a 2-1 victory.

Dong’s in particular shows off why Yan is so good.

The Hebei striker, who had 12 goals last year, streaked into the box and took a perfect cross about six yards out from El Kaabi. Despite Dong being in motion, Yan read which way Dong was going to go with his shot and was already moving to his left when Dong struck the ball. Still, Dong’s shot had pace and was well-placed. Yan’s reach and reaction time make him probably the only keeper in China who would have made the save.

After you, Alfonse

That save preserved a 1-0 first-half lead that was the result of one of the most comical goals we’re likely to see this season. A long, pointlessly speculative ball over the Hebei defense came down at the top of the box, where Hebei keeper Geng Xiofeng and two Hebei defenders surrounded it, each of them looking at the others. “You take it.”

“No, you take it.”

“No, YOU take it.”

Finally, the increasingly panicked Geng made a stab at the ball, succeeding only in directing it to an astonished Elkeson, who’d given up on the play and was standing a couple of yards away. The Brazilian, presented with an empty box in front of an empty net, wasted no time taking advantage of it and then looked around with a, “Did that really happen?” grin on his face.

It was a lucky break for SIPG, and they needed it. Vitor Pereira chose to rest Oscar in favor of the foreigner trio of Hulk, Elkeson and Akhmedov. The sputtering nature of SIPG’s offense Saturday night leaves no doubt as to the identity of the linchpin of the Red Eagle attack.

SIPG created only two chances all night, the first a thirty-first minute, gorgeous free kick from Hulk that landed on He Guan’s foot with an open net in front of him, low on the right side. He had to play a bit of a tricky short hop, and he wasn’t up to it, knocking the ball well over the crossbar.

The other, though, resulted in an elegant goal.

In the 80th minute, Fu Huan started it with a throw-in deep on the right side, to Li Shenglong. Li took the ball from Fu on the run and made a no-look, backwards touch pass that split two defenders and hit Akhmedov in stride in the box. But the Uzbek had a problem: a defender rapidly closing on him from the right. So Akhmedov nimbly switched the ball to his left foot and struck a rocket into the upper left-hand corner of the net. Brilliant.

That gave SIPG a 2-1 win. (El Kaabi had equalized in the 73rd minute with a sliding goal that gave Yan no chance.) SIPG remains atop the CSL at nine points with Guo’an and Guangzhou Evergrande, who both also won on the road.

Pereira’s line-up risk pays off

SIPG manager Vitor Pereira’s line-up choices made it clear that he’s taking the Asian Champion’s League seriously this year: besides resting Oscar, Pereira also left Wang Shenchao and Lye Wenjun out and went with what looked like a “hang in there and get a couple of counterattacks” 5-4-1: U23 Zhen Wei started in the back with regulars Shi Ke, He Guan and Yu Hai, and Fu Huan was playing from the back too. Lin Chuangyi started in midfield with Cai Huikang and Akhmedov (with Hulk usually dropping back as well).

Lin in particular and the attack in general were ineffective. Things picked up for SIPG after the 64th minute, when striker Li Shenglong, who would prove so important later, replaced Lin.

Highlights:

SIPG falls in ACL

If a Chinese giant falls in a stadium and there’s nobody there to see it, did it really happen?

That’s the philosophical question after SIPG’s March 13 loss on Matchday Two of the Champion’s League to Ulsan Hyundai. The Korean side turned out only 4,200 on a cold night for a dog of a match: Ulsan won 1-0 and produced very little in the way of offense. But “very little” was more than SIPG, which produced no good chances all night. Oscar had a couple of decent looks from 20 yards out or so, but that’s the best you can say on behalf of the Red Eagles. It was as flat as SIPG has looked on offense during the AVB/Pereira era.

National team break

Despite watching SIPG win the league last year – along the way repeatedly thrashing his team – Guangzhou and Chinese national team manager Fabio Cannavero doesn’t think SIPG has much to contribute to the national team. As China lost in Nanning to Thailand and Uzbekistan during the international break, the only Red Eagles to get any run were Yan Junling, who started both matches, and Fu Huan, who played one half.

For Uzbekistan, Odil Akhmedov played a match-and-a-half.

More importantly for SIPG, the break allowed defenders He Guan and Shi Ke to heal from their early season injuries.

What’s next

After vacating Shanghai Stadium for almost a month, SIPG swings back into action with two CSL home matches in nine days: Friday, April 5 against Chongqing and Sunday, April 14 against newly promoted Wuhan Zall.

Unfortunately, these matches bookend a road trip from hell: Wednesday, April 10 in Australia in the Champion’s League against Sydney FC. The loss at Ulsan means that this is a match SIPG would like to win to further their hopes to advance out of their ACL group. It’ll be the first time since 2016 that SIPG is sending a team to Australia hunting for a win.

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

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