A bad week for Guangzhou R&F. A terrible five minutes saw them throw away three points against Wuhan, before a late, late goal in Beijing sent the Cantonese home defeated. Not the best way to mark the club’s eight birthday.
Guangzhou R&F 3 – 4 Wuhan Zall
Eran Zahavi added another hat-trick to his CSL tally but it was ultimately in vain. At the time, the Israeli’s goals looked like they’d put the Cantonese on course for their fourth home win of the season. Surely R&F couldn’t mess this up? They could.
3-1 ahead in the 61st minute, R&F were 4-3 down by the 72nd. In a calamitous five minute period, R&F conceded three goals. Three preventable goals as well, there were no 25 yard wonder strikes from Wuhan. In fact, all four Wuhan goals were as much due to R&F defensive errors as attacking brilliance. Yi Teng and Huang Zhengyu were caught out for the first, whilst Jiang Jihong was at fault for the second and fourth – although Wuhan fans may argue that the crosses were perfectly flighted and didn’t give Jiang a chance. Wuhan’s third came from a corner. Huang was the closest defender to Wuahn’s Song Zhiwei, although Huang showed so little interest in Song it was hard to tell if he was supposed to be marking Song or not. The Wuhan fans packing out the away end at Yuexiushan didn’t care.
Amongst the justified criticism, it is worth noting that none of the goals were directly due to Stojković’s attacking style. None of them came from R&F giving the ball away and being undone on the counter-attack. In fact, relatively slow build up play from Wuhan meant the R&F defence was (or should’ve been) well set. In the post-match press conference, Stojković said the team worked on defensive positioning in training during the week. That’s lucky. Imagine what would’ve happened if there hadn’t been any defensive practice.
Beijing Guoan 3 – 2 Guangzhou R&F
R&F gave league leaders Guoan a real fright at Gongti, especially in the first half. It was a very open game as both sides found lots of space and created plenty of chances. Two Zahavi penalties gave the Cantonese a 2-1 lead at the break, but both sides could’ve scored more.
The Cantonese were punished for not taking those chances because the second half was a different story. The longer it wore on, the more Guoan dominated the game. Yu Dabao made up for giving away the first penalty by equalising with a diving header from a corner. R&F were being pushed back, and when they did break away Lu Lin didn’t do enough to test Zou Dehai in the Guoan goal.
R&F’s chances of holding onto a point seemed even slimmer when Zahavi was sent off. The Israeli’s tackle from behind on Brentford’s finest Li Ke was ruled by the VAR to be worthy of a red card. Thanks to some brilliant saves from Cheng Yuelei, R&F were still hanging on going into stoppage time but Renato Augusto had other ideas. The Brazilian had earlier rattled the crossbar but went one better with his 93rd minute winner from the edge of the D. He and his teammates were elated. R&F left Gongti deflated after playing so well in the first half.
The magnificent seven
Zahavi’s five goals in the last two games mean he has 16 in the CSL so far in 2019. In fact, he now has a remarkable 86 goals as he approaches a century of appearances for the Cantonese. He’s also achieved this with a team who have been in (lower) mid-table in recent years.
Zahavi’s red card at Gongti will be damaging to his changes of reclaiming the CSL’s golden boot, but more damaging to his team. With no sign of Xiao Zhi coming back from injury, Stojković will have to shuffle his formation around to cope without Zahavi during his suspension. The inexperienced Gui Hong may get a recall to the first team or Chen Zhizhao could come in.
With the transfer window about to open, R&F’s priority is the same as ever: defence. With 34 goals conceded in 14 games it is hard to look anywhere else. Also unchanged is R&F’s attacking record. The 27 goals scored by the Cantonese are bettered only by Jiangsu, SIPG and Guoan.
In terms of foreigners, Zahavi’s suspension means that Stojković isn’t faced with a Saba or Tosic dilemma for the moment so the Serbian centre back might get his first competitive action for a while. With the upcoming mid-season rule change – what other league does this? –it might be his last though.
If the Cantonese do want to sign another foreigner, Tosic appears most likely to be the one to make way. Does it make sense to give up a foreign centre back when your defence is terrible? It does if you don’t play him.
Renatinho has got himself in Tianjin Tianhai’s bad books so R&F might even recall the Brazilian from loan rather than make another signing. All will become clear soon.
In the final game of the first half of the CSL season, the Cantonese host Henan Jianye. Both sides are mid table so Stojković and co will be targeting a win. The following week R&F are at home again, this time to unexpectedly high flying Chongqing. An away trip to Dalian follows.