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The race is on: SIPG ready for a long, hot summer in three competitions

Shanghai SIPG

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG: this week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at how SIPG is set up for the return from the international break – and likes what he sees.

The summer sprint – 14 matches in three competitions in 59 days – is coming to Shanghai and SIPG finds itself sitting pretty in the starting blocks.

Despite a constant stream of injuries that have led to a total of zero minutes together by SIPG’s preferred XI, the Red Eagles have nine wins in their last ten matches. They’re seven points better in the CSL than they were after twelve matches in last year’s championship season. They’re into the knockout stage in the Champion’s League. They’re alive and well in the quarterfinals of the Cup.

And they’re getting healthy: Shi Ke jogged onto the pitch at the end of the Dalian match just before the international break, his first appearance since April 5. Hulk also returned against Dalian and Lyu Wenjun and his five goals are expected back against Evergrande on June 14 or shortly thereafter.

Wang Shenchao, Yu Hai and He Guan all appear to be completely fit after their turns in the injury grinder.

The Lippi-esque tilt of the national team meant that almost the whole SIPG squad has been resting the last two weeks. Only Yan Junling and He Guan from SIPG’s group of regulars have kicked a ball in anger during the international break.

The upside to the injury downside

The injuries have brought some unexpected players to the fore, none more so than midfielder Yang Shiyuan, who come out of nowhere (his last match for SIPG was in 2016) and has started the last three matches, including the critical tilt against Guo’an. He’s looked capable and confident and seems likely to get more minutes as SIPG deals with the heavy fixture load during the summer heat.

Li Shenglong has come into his own at 26, taking advantage of the Lyu injury to knock in four goals in May (to go with four assists) and give Pereira that rarest of all Chinese football problems: too many Chinese forwards who can put the ball in the net.

Midfielder Lin Chuangyi has looked solid every time out, and Zhang Wei, pressed into duty because the entire backline has missed time, has rarely been caught out defensively. However, he’ll likely struggle to find minutes with Shi’s return.

A combination of injuries and the U23 rule has gotten 22-year-old Wei Zhen quite a bit of run. He’s failed to capitalize on the opportunity. It’s been a rare matchday when he isn’t the worst player in red.

The foreigners

Hulk and Oscar are neck-and-neck with Guo’an’s Augusto and Viera as the best one-two foreigner combination in the CSL. Oscar, in particular, has dominated matches. Hulk’s tendency to be a bit of a ball hog – balanced with his acute passing eye – means he’s been feast-or-famine. Elkeson’s seven goals put him fourth in the league from open play, and he added another two in the ACL group stage. (For 30 lifetime in that league.) Elkeson’s increased playing time has come at the expense of Akhmedov, who’s only played three CSL matches but has been a rock in the ACL.

Starting with a bang

SIPG’s season recommences with two of the biggest matches of the season at Shanghai Stadium: Evergrande on Friday, then, on Wednesday, the first leg of the first knockout stage of the ACL, against South Korean side Jeonbuk Motors.

Evergrande comes in with some issues: their bizarre, apparently voluntary insistence on playing only two foreigners has led to some middle-of-the-pack performances (most recently in tepid wins against Wuhan and Shenzhen), and Talisca, who has a ridiculous 23 goals in 26 CSL matches, has missed Evergrande’s last four matches with what Xinhua says is knee ligament damage. Evergrande is cagey about when he’ll return.

Jeonbuk is hot, winners of four straight in the K-League and tied with Ulsan atop that league with 33 points. Kim Shin-Wook leads Jeonbuk in scoring with seven goals in the domestic league and three in the ACL. The Koreans thrashed Guo’an twice in Group G.

The Cup

SIPG cruised to a 4-0, Fifth Round Cup victory at Shanghai Stadium over Jilin Baijia, bossing the League Two side from start to finish while starting only four regulars. Yang Shiyuan, who made his season debut the weekend before, scored twice against his hometown side, and Li Shenglong continued to impress with his then third goal of the season. Hu Jinghang, otherwise ineffective, added the 88th minute capper.

Announced attendance was just over 17,000, approximately 10,000 of whom chose to don invisibility cloaks instead of home red.

After getting one of the worst possible draws in the fourth round (the CSL’s Wuhan on the road) and one of the best draws of the fifth round (Jilin at home), the pendulum swung back against SIPG in the quarterfinal draw: it’s Evergrande, on the road. It’s going to be a brutal fourth week of July for the Red Eagles: in Chongqing on July 21, in Guangzhou for the Cup on July 24 and in Wuhan on July 28.

Dalian beatdown highlights

The last CSL match before the international break saw SIPG traveling to the northeast to beat Dalian 2-1. It’s all about Li Shenglong, baby:

Odds and ends

Rumors continue to swirl that Yan Junling, SIPG’s iron-man keeper as well as the #1 for the Chinese national team, will decamp Shanghai for Europe this summer. (Espanyol?) If true, Sun Le, 29 but almost completely inexperienced, or Chen Wei, 21, will take over between the posts.

Chen has started the last two matches for the China U22 team in Toulon and has given up only one goal in open play.

While Wu Lei has not, in truth, been missed all that much by SIPG, a Yan Junling departure would hurt. He’s been magnificent.

Rumors are also swirling that the CFA is about to modify it’s roster rules yet again, increasing the number of foreigners allowed per match to four (one of whom must be from an AFC country?) and requiring an U23 on the pitch at all times. If true, a quality U23 keeper like Chen would be worth his weight in gold.

It’s an open secret that, at Chinese national team manager Marcello Lippi’s insistence, China will allow Elkeson to become a Chinese citizen, likely by September.

All of these possibilities could create a perfect storm which hugely benefits SIPG: Chen in goal means no more shaky Wei Zhen or striker slots wasted on Hu or Chen Binbin; a naturalized Elkeson would mean SIPG could use five “foreigners”; and the AFC slot is already filled on the SIPG roster by the best such player currently under contract in the CSL, Uzbekistan’s Akhmedov.

Come on in, the water’s fine

Per whoscored.com, number of cards issued in the CSL this season for diving: zero.

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

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