With the Chinese Super League (CSL) at the half-way point, Jason Wong takes a look at newly promoted Shenzhen FC season so far.
Struggling after a good start to life back in the CSL
Shenzhen’s last seven matches saw them struggle without a single win despite their excellent season opening. With the top scorer Harold Preciado recovering from injury and former captain Cui Min also out Norwegian midfielder Ole Selnaes has struggled while his compatriot Ola Kamara has failed to turn the tide. In a series of urgent changes, the club appointed a new general manager Ding Dongmei last month, and signed Cameroonian forward John Mary to replace Kamara.
According to previous statistics from the past four years, a CSL team would need at least 30 to 34 points to escape relegation. For Shenzhen F.C., which took only 12 points during the first half of the season, their battle is far from over after losing 0-1 to an exhausted Shanghai SIPG at home.
The first match of the second half of the season, held on July 7, saw Shenzhen encounter Hebei FC in Qinhuangdao, a team they defeated 3-1 for their first victory on home soil. Unlike the first few matches, where Shenzhen was able to employ a solid defence while launching effective counter-attacks, they were outperformed most of the time. Their offensive momentum faded away after the first 15 minutes, and Preciado and right winger Zhang Yuan was both injured. During the first half, the home team dominated 64% percent of possession, only to be held by Shenzhen’s goal keeper Guo Wei, who blocked several excellent attempts.
During the second half, Shenzhen’s coach Juan Lopez Caro sent on Selnaes to take over the midfield, replacing the injured Preciado. Yet Shenzhen saw little improvement in possession and distribution, and they finally conceded a goal on the 61th minute. As the match wore on, Shenzhen gradually ran out of stamina and coach Caro wasn’t able to make a real tactical change due to limited choices of substitutes. Hebei also wasted a few chances, failing to secure their lead in a game they could have easily won.
At the 93th minute, Yeljan Shinar, a Shenzhen winger of ethnic Kazakh origin, sent a hopeful ball high into the box , which was headed back to John Mary by Jin Qiang. To the surprise of the Hebei keeper, Mary didn’t attempt a header or pass the ball again, but instead turned to launch a brilliant shot right into the left corner of the net. His shot, the only on-target attempt for Shenzhen during the game, grabbed a precious point against a bottom-table rival.
A lucky point, an unfinished mission
In terms of the general performance of the night, Shenzhen was very lucky not to lose, as they made only 5 shots compared to the home team’s 26, and only one attempt was on target compared to Hebei’s six chances, many of which were saved by Shenzhen’s goalie Guo Wei. But John Mary proved his quality to give a great boost to the team’s offense. His goal was like a ray of hope after despair, which reminded Shenzhen fans of another last-minute victory in round 2.
Sunday, July 7 was also the birthday of No. 10 Ole Selnaes, and his teammates no doubt felt relived while celebrating with the Norwegian, who just turned 25. His future performance will be vital for the team to improve their mid-field control.
With a new signing in hand and top players still recovering, and rising stars Yeljan Shinar and Xiang Baixun new to the squad, fans should have the confidence to believe that Shenzhen FC, rising from a seven-year toil in the second tier, will somehow get enough points to stay in the CSL.
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