This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at a slight return to form and what is likely to be the most important stretch of the season for the Red Eagles.
It may not have looked like it the last few weeks as SIPG dropped points over and over again to sides whose only hope this year is to avoid relegation, but that was the easy part.
Now comes crunch time. Kawasaki Frontale. Then Shandong, Ulsan Hyundai, Guo’an and Evergrande, all but Kawasaki at Shanghai Stadium. All in the next five weeks. By mid-June, we’ll know whether SIPG’s season has crashed and burned or whether the team has pulled a 2018-style Houdini act, rising from an early-season slump to ascend the heights of Asian football.
The first of those matches may be the most important: SIPG has to travel to Tokyo for Matchday 5 in Group H to take on a Kawasaki Frontale team that throughly dominated them in Shanghai. A win means advancement in the ACL, a draw sets up SIPG nicely for Matchday 6, but a loss likely knocks SIPG out of the tournament.
SIPG rides a modest, two-match winning streak going into this stretch. Last Wednesday in Wuhan, SIPG advanced in the FA Cup with a 3-1 win, and this past weekend, SIPG handled Guangzhou R&F 2-0 at the Stadium.
Jekkyl and Hyde
The win over Full was a mixed bag.
Jekyl: the SIPG defense, lately prone to horrendous errors in the middle, tightened up considerably, allowing R&F, which has as much offensive firepower as anyone in the league, only a couple of fair-to-middlin’ chances. Full marks to He Guan in particular. Fuli striker and Israeli International Eran Zahavi, the leading goalscorer in the league, was throughly bottled up, a rarity in the CSL.
On the ball, SIPG played a complete match, creating four excellent scoring chances and looking dangerous throughout. It’s the first time that’s happened this season.
Hulk also demonstrated that he might be coming out of a shooting slump; given some space from 20 yards out in the 74th minute, Hulk tempered his shot and instead of sailing one well over the crossbar, as has been his wont, he hit a shot that skimmed across the grass and into the far corner of the net, well beyond Fuli keeper Cheng Yuelei’s reach, a match-clinching strike.
Hyde: Besides Hulk, SIPG’s shooting woes continued; of the four great chances the team had, they only converted one, Li Shenglong alertly tapping in a ball that bounced around in front of the goal forever after a Hulk corner. Otherwise, it was more of the same that’s made SIPG the worst shooting team in the CSL in the early going.
Lyu Wenjun and Elkeson collided trying for a sitter after a fabulous Oscar cross. Zhang Wei missed a chance from nine yards out that most elementary school kids would have converted. Late in the match, Oscar broke in alone on Cheng and failed to convert. (Granted, Cheng made a great save, but Oscar would likely tell you that it’s on him that Cheng had any chance at all.) Besides his goal, Li also hit the crossbar from the top of the box.
Hulk continues to struggle with maintaining possession, and the mysterious inability of Oscar to create chances on corners continued. (Especially frustrating because he remains best in the CSL on crosses.)
SIPG’s injury woes continued, too: that collision between Lyu and Elkeson caused manager Vitor Pereira to pull Lyu in the 25th minute. It’s not clear when he’ll be back. Elkeson also blocked a wicked shot in the 70th minute that showed the full measure of his devotion to the SIPG cause. He went down screaming, clutching his groin. He stayed in the match, however.
SIPG’s lousy draw in the Fourth Round of the Cup worked out for the best; the trip to Wuhan resulted in a 3-1 victory against a Wuhan Zall team composed entirely of reserves. Oscar was the only foreigner in SIPG’s line-up. Joined by seven other SIPG regulars, the Brazilian scored on a lovely free kick from distance near the end of the first half that gave SIPG a 3-0 lead and essentially ended the match.
(Wuhan wasn’t the only team opting out of the Cup; for the second year in a row, 14 of the 16 League 1 teams are out going into the Fifth Round. Only Shanghai Shenxin – one of four teams from the city to make the round of 16 – and Changchun Yatai are still alive from League 1.)
Next up for SIPG in the Cup will be an odd one: League 2 side Jilin Baijia on Monday, May 27 at the Stadium. SIPG will not be allowed to use foreigners and the match will take place the day after a CSL match at the Stadium against Guo’an. One would expect SIPG to follow Wuhan’s lead and rest all of their regulars.
Jilin Baijia has already won four Cup matches, including victories over League 1 sides Meizhou Hakka and Qingdao Huanghai. Qingdao currently tops the League 1 table.
Odds and Ends
The CFA has decreed that teams will have to alter their names to delete corporate affiliations, with the exceptions of Tianjin TEDA, Shandong Luneng and Henan Jianye, so “Shanghai SIPG” is living on borrowed time. Among the suggestions from supporters I’ve heard so far are “Shanghai Dongya” (“East Asia,” the franchise’s original name), Shanghai FC and Shanghai Red Eagles.
Shi Ke remains out, and it isn’t known whether Odil Akhmedov will be fit for the critical match against Kawaski Frontale.
The decision to push upper deck customers down towards the bottom of the deck, spreading them out towards the goal lines, and prohibiting the sale of higher, midfield views, is ongoing, as is the decision to cap ticket sales at somewhere around 20,000 in a stadium that comfortably holds more than twice that.
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