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After 0-0 draw against Tianhai, SIPG faces crashing out of the CSL title race

Shanghai SIPG

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at yet another discouraging evening for the Red Eagles.

If you’re an SIPG coach, player or fan and you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention.

Friday night in Tianjin, SIPG dropped points against yet another struggling side, squandering three huge chances against winless Tianhai and skulking out of the Olympic Center with a lifeless 0-0 draw.

Oscar, Elkeson and Cai Huikang all missed their moment to to deliver a winner for SIPG. Cai’s was perhaps forgiveable – he was a tank running out of gas when he pushed a shot wide in the 72nd minute – but there can be no mercy for Oscar and Elkeson. Both got set up right in front of the net about 10 yards out, unmarked, the beneficiaries of beautiful passes from Hulk, and both missed.

Same old same old

The match followed a depressingly familiar pattern for the Red Eagles. For a brief period of ten or fifteen minutes (this time towards the end of the second half), SIPG looked like the guys who slayed the Guangzhou dragon and won the 2018 CSL. The rest of the way, the team struggled to create and wasn’t ready on those rare occasions when they did.

To be sure, injuries are playing a role in SIPG’s problems. They haven’t had a healthy squad since the Shenhua opener. Pereira has chosen to deal with the injuries and a heavy schedule by rotating as many players as he thinks he can get away with. The problem is that SIPG’s depth is not what you’d hope for and it’s created an ad hoc, disconnected feel to the side.

They are sputtering into a critical phase of their season. Just ahead are must-win home matches in the Champion’s League against Sydney and Ulsan Hyundai. In the CSL, now trailing Guo’an by five points and Evergrande by two, SIPG has a couple of more against beatable teams before consecutive home matches against Shandong, Guo’an and Evergrande. By mid-June, SIPG will either be DOA in their quest to repeat as league champions, or right back in the thick of it.

Highlights, such as they are

On the road again

If you’re an SIPG fan looking for a good away trip, Tianjin Olympic Stadium – the “Water Drop” – isn’t worth the effort, at least for Tianhai matches.

The stadium is ten to fifteen kilometers from the major Tianjin railway stations. Getting there involves a hefty car fare or a long bus trip. (Although it looks like there will eventually be a subway stop.)

For those arriving early, the Aochang shopping center is directly across the street from the stadium. It’s got some decent food and a row of bars, some of which have matches on their screens.

After you’re fed and watered, give yourself some extra time to walk into the stadium. A huge reflecting pool surrounds the place (hence the nickname), adding quite a bit to the stadium’s circumference. The walks to find your entrance can be lengthy.

Once you get into the stadium, it’s not going to be a party. If there was any less atmosphere for Tianhai matches, you’d have to bring an oxygen tank. A handful of people in the supporter sections and a tiny crowd lent the proceedings against SIPG the flat affect you usually see at the end of the season in dead rubbers.

The announced crowd Friday night was about 20,000. I’ll eat my copy of the Quanjian pyramid scheme indictment if it was actually more than 5,000.

On the upside, Tianhai matches are a bargain: all tickets are ¥60 or ¥20.

The “Water Drop” on a dreary pre-match Friday

Who would be a travelling fan in Chinese football?

Having spent their own time and money to travel over 1,000 kilometers to support their team, road-tripping SIPG supporters were sent to the corner of the upper part of the upper deck in a nearly empty stadium, as far away from the pitch as possible. Thousands of far better seats, which were nowhere near the home fans, sat unoccupied. But somehow, the authorities had to inconvenience travelling supporters more than the usual safety reasons appeared to deem necessary.

Cup draw suggest tank job ahead

Sunday, SIPG got just about the worst possible news in the FA Cup fourth round draw. It’s a long road trip in two weeks against another CSL side, Wuhan Zall.

SIPG could have used a break, say a home match against a League 2 side and with it the required rest time for SIPG’s foreigners. (The lucky winners of that prize were Tianjin Teda and Jiangsu.) The Cup tie comes during a period in which SIPG will play six matches in 18 days, including two important Champion’s League matches. It is very hard to imagine Vitor Pereira bringing out the big guns for this one and risking further damage to SIPG’s CSL and ACL campaigns.

And speaking of damage, Pereira might also be motivated to rest his best to avoid injuries on a pitch that was deemed officially unplayable as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

Odds and ends

Wang Shenchao (serenaded by the Tianjin fans with “Elephant Face” every time he touched the ball) made his return from injury in the second half against Tianhai. Chen Binbin was unceremoniously yanked by Pereira in the 36th minute after contributing nothing, and Fu Huan, not having his best outing, made way in the 79th minute for an early U23 substitute (Lei Wenjie).

Shi Ke and Akhmedov were unavailable. Lin Chuangyi, who’s either been good or a good-luck charm, was neither on this occasion and didn’t last past the first half.

Keeper Yan Junling, whose own struggles, not coincidentally, have mirrored those of the team, was beaten three times by Tianhai. One was pulled back by VAR, which found a Tianhai player offside, and twice Tianhai hit woodwork.

Over the weekend, Wu Lei was left on the bench again by Espanyol. SIPG’s doldrums are leading to hopeful but perhaps unrealistic whispers among fans that he’ll be returned or loaned back to Shanghai after the Spanish season ends on May 19.

The scoreless draw was SIPG’s third in the last two years.

What’s next

Wednesday, April 23, Sydney comes to town for Matchday 4 of the ACL group stage, and the Sunday after that, SIPG is right back in Tianjin Olympic Stadium to face Teda, who, surprisingly, sit 6th in the CSL.

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

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