Guangzhou Evergrande won the derby 5-0 without ever getting into top gear.
In the previous fixtures, the Cantonese lost 3-2 away at Dalian and beat Tianjin TEDA 2-1 at home. All four of R&F’s goals came from Zahavi, taking him to over 20 goals for the season. Including the derby on Saturday, Zahavi has played 100 games for R&F and scored a staggering 91 goals.
Guangzhou R&F 0 – 5 Guangzhou Evergrande
There is a cliché that the Canton derby brings lots of goals. This is not saying much as pretty much every R&F game is guaranteed goals – the Cantonese average one 0-0 draw a season over recent years – and unfortunately a lot of those goals are scored by the opposition. Saturday night was no different.
It didn’t start out like that though. R&F had an early freekick in a promising position and couple of corners as they started brightly. When Cheng Yuelei saved Wei Shihao’s penalty, some in the crowd could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be R&F’s night. They would be left sorely disappointed.
Wei Shihao redeemed himself almost instantly to open the scoring, and as half-time approached he played a key role in Evergrande’s second. Wei raced onto Huang Bowen’s hooked clearance from an R&F corner and turned U23 Wang Peng inside out before crossing for Elkeson to score.
Elkeson’s skill for Evergrande’s third goal was outrageous. Yang Liyu’s outside of the boot cross wasn’t bad either, and Paulinho marked his 100th CSL appearance with a headed goal. The midfielder is one of an increasingly rare breed – a Brazilian playing at Tianhe with no prospect of being naturalised for the Chinese national team. Few thought that Henanese owner Xu Jiayin’s much publicised statement of Evergrande putting out an all Chinese team in the 2020s would include a clutch of naturalised Brazilians, but if reports are to be believed Elkeson could start the trend.
Strength in depth
Chen Zhizhao and Ding Haifeng hadn’t shown much understanding down the left – unsurprising given that this was only Chen’s fourth start of the season – so both were taken off at half time. Replacements Lu Lin and Li Tixiang didn’t get much change out of Evergrande’s Zhang Linpeng though.
Dia Saba missed the game through injury and Xiao Zhi has only just returned to the country after surgery in Germany. This gave Stojkovic little choice but to use his third substitution to bring on 24 year old Gui Hong who has three CSL goals in his career. In contrast, Cannavaro brought on Gao Lin for his 300th CSL game and Zheng Zhi too. They promptly made like it was 2015, with Gao crossing for Elkeson to complete his hat-trick. His second had come from the penalty spot after a clumsy foul by Tosic.
At the other end of the pitch, Evergrande continued to defend well and often in numbers. R&F had possession around the penalty area but didn’t look like breaking through Evergrande’s defence. Tosic had a header cleared off the line from a free-kick and R&F old-boy Liu Dianzuo made a triple save early in the first half, but otherwise R&F were restricted to shooting from outside the box.
Despite all the substitutions, second half goals and a water break, the referee only added one minute of stoppage time. At least it put R&F out of their misery quickly. Evergrande won the Canton derby 5-0 without ever getting into top gear.
Clean sheet watch
In the four games since R&F’s last clean sheet, the Cantonese have conceded 11 goals. In the four games before the clean sheet they’d conceded 12. Throughout R&F’s time in the CSL, it has always been defence rather than attack that has been a weakness. Arguably the defence has never been this bad though.
Yi Teng was left on the bench for the derby, just as he had been for the win against Tianjin. Jin Pengxiang was his replacement but did not cover himself in glory. It was Jin’s poor clearing header that Wei pounced on for Evergrande’s first, although Jin did do well to beat Elkeson to the ball in the first place. Later, Paulinho got round Jin to head in Evergrande’s third.
Evergrande’s second was a classic counterattack goal taking advantage of R&F loading men forward for a corner. Ding Haifeng did incredibly well to get into a position to cover but couldn’t sort his feet out and was nutmegged as the ball rolled onto Elkeson. The final goal was also a rapid breakaway which left the R&F defence fatally confused about who should be marking Elkeson.
Heading towards the final third of the season, the Cantonese are 9th in the CSL. Too far back to challenge for fourth spot, and far enough above the bottom teams to be outside the relegation battle. Zahavi will be hoping his teammates stay motivated to help him break Elkeson’s single season CSL scoring record though.
The Cantonese have a Yangtze delta triple header to look forward to over the coming weekends: Shanghai Shenhua at Hongkou, before hosting Jiangsu and Shanghai SIPG at Yuexiushan. R&F have never won at Hongkou, despite fan discontent Jiangsu beat Beijing Guoan on Sunday, and SIPG will be favourites for the third game. Not the best run of fixtures to hit after being thumped 5-0 then.