Roving over land sea, correspondent Dylan Shi returns to North Terrace News with the deepest insight possible into the ceaseless tempest which is Shanghai Shenhua
On Sunday afternoon we face Dalian Yifang in Liaoning.
The Dongbei side have gotten off to a fairly poor start this season, but they managed to break a four-game winless streak with a classic smash and grab at Shenzhen. After getting battered all night by a surprisingly adventurous Shenzhen – especially after Li Jianbin’s first-half sending off for two familiarly clumsy pieces of defending – Dalian earned a penalty when Marek Hamšík was kicked in the face, and late on, they scored on the break. It’s a win that’ll surely give them confidence going into Sunday.
We’ll have no reunion with former Shenhua defender Li Jianbin, who’s suspended because of that red card. His wife, however, is not suspended and is expected to be in attendance. No word yet on her choice of vehicle or attire.
Li Jianbin’s suspension deepens Dalian’s defensive crisis, as Yang Shanping and Zhao Mingjian, both normally first choice, have been injured and didn’t make the trip to Shenzhen. Neither is anywhere close to a return.
We will also have no reunion with Dalian captain Qin Sheng, who is also suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card of the season. He had previously appeared in every one of Dalian’s league matches—the only player to do so—but for his old club’s visit, it’s not to be. It will be bittersweet.
Let me note, though, that it’s possible that according to their transfer agreements, neither Li Jianbin nor Qin Sheng would have been eligible to appear in this match anyway, which is complete fucking bullshit if you ask me. We shouldn’t have sold either one of them, and forbidding the buyer to field them against us is unfair and doesn’t help.
Hamšík was withdrawn after that blow to the head and I’m not sure whether he’ll have recovered in time to play against us. I would expect so, but there’s always the chance he might miss out with mohawk damage. He’s received plenty of criticism for his mediocre performances after his big money move from Napoli, and he’s been given five matches to “prove himself,” whatever that means. If the threat is that the club might sell him in the summer, it could be a serious one, as the rumor this week is that they’ve already given up on their underperforming Ghanaian striker Emmanuel Boateng (no, not that Emmanuel Boateng) and will be looking to move him on as soon as possible.
Hamšík’s replacement in Shenzhen was Zheng Long, who’s on loan from Hengda. Zheng used to roast fullbacks for fun and was instrumental for Hengda not so long ago. He’s now 31 and slowing down a bit, but still quite good, and given we seem to prefer playing without actual fullbacks, I’d be quite wary of him if he plays. Bai Jiajun might be secretly relieved to be left on the bench.
The big foreign threats, of course, are Yannick Carrasco and Nyasha Mushekwi. Carrasco usually plays ostensibly on the left, but seems to be given the freedom to drift inside to create. He’s just the kind of player I expect us to lose track of between the lines, especially if Guarin returns to partnering Cong Zhen at the base of midfield and goes on walkabout.
Mushekwi has had a slow start to the season, but he’s an underrated CSL striker in my opinion, who not only scores often—well, at least in seasons past—but creates as well. He was undoubtedly one of the keys to Dalian’s success last year, and it was he who broke away and hit the low cross which was turned in for Dalian’s winner last week. Interestingly, when he was younger, football wasn’t even his main sport: he used to be on the Zimbabwean national basketball team. No? You don’t find that interesting? Fine. Go fuck yourself.
The last Dalian player I must mention is Zhao Xuri, who fled Tianjin Quanjian in February as their naturally healthy house of cards collapsed. He stayed on the bench last week, but I expect him to come back into the midfield in light of Qin Sheng’s suspension/exclusion.
Shenhua reverted to a back four last week, which I liked. We also pushed Guarin up the pitch and played two holding midfielders instead of placing him next to Cong Zhen, which I also liked. We were able to do this because we played Moreno as a sort of floating number nine instead of bringing Zhu Jianrong into the team to deputize for Ighalo, which I didn’t like.
It’s clear that Flores doesn’t trust Zhu, which is certainly understandable, but let’s be honest, we don’t have a whole lot of options, and “Cao Yunding ball over the top to Moreno in hopes of exploiting poor CSL defending and goalkeeping” isn’t exactly a viable long-term strategy. Following his bottle-kicking exit in Tianjin, we probably won’t see Ighalo again until after the National Cupping Finals in Africa, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with this, and if it were me, I’d give Zhu a shot. Zhu’s temporarily postponed joining the national Olympic team in order to help out Shenhua, so that could be a good sign.
I’d also stick with a back four, and with Dalian set to field a more or less second-string defense and our complete inability to keep a clean sheet, I’d be tempted to have a real go here. (Are we Fuli in disguise?)
Unfortunately for my beard, I’m not Flores, and the man is under considerable pressure for this match considering we’re flirting with the relegation zone—we’re trying to catch her eye from across the room, but she seems distracted by Tianhai’s stammering attempt to buy her a drink—so I wouldn’t be surprised if Flores retreats to the back three that seems to make him feel safe and comfortable, especially away from home.
Finally for today, let’s not forget one of the most important reasons we do this. It’s certainly not just the exhilarating, high-quality football. Most of us have been following Shenhua only a short time in the grand scheme of things, and most of us will leave Shanghai eventually—if we haven’t already—but Zhang Ayi was here before any of us and she should be remembered long after we’re gone.
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