Evergrande remain two points back of Beijing Guoan after a 4-1 comeback victory against Dalian Yifang.
Despite this being a weeknight league fixture, 48,419 fans packed Tianhe Stadium to see Elkeson make his home debut since re-joining the club from Shanghai SIPG earlier in the month. The (still) Brazilian forward capped the scoring in stoppage time after dribbling by three defenders, but not before Paulinho had scored the 100th hat trick in league history to momentarily put Evergrande back at the top of the table.
Guangzhou go down early
Although Evergrande was on the front foot to start the match, Dalian Yifang would open the scoring in the 11th minute off a corner kick. Wearing the armband for the visitors, Qin Sheng was left unmarked at the back post as he had time to take a touch before striking past Liu Dianzuo with his left foot. The midfielder raised both hands, refusing to celebrate the goal as a sign of respect to the home team, who he had played for from 2012 to 2014.
It would not be until the 27th minute though before Guangzhou equalized through Paulinho. Elkeson chested a long ball down for Yang Liyu, Evergrande’s sole U-23 player on the field, as the young forward found Paulinho’s run from deep with his first time cross into the box.
It was obvious that Rafa Benítez galvanized his troops at the break, as Dalian looked the more likelier team to score coming out of half time. The breakthrough finally came in the 82nd minute as the visitors could not clear the ball after blocking a Gao Lin shot, as Paulinho pounced on the loose ball in the box to score his second of the game.
Paulinho finished his first hat trick in the Chinese Super League in the first minute of stoppage time, as Guangzhou once again took advantage of the visitors failing to timely clear the ball away from the dangers of their own penalty box. The ex-Barcelona midfielder has been on a rich vein of form, scoring in three straight games, and netting seven in his last five games. Paulinho’s 10 league goals this season have all come from open play, as he is now up to joint-4th in the league on goals, and joint-2nd on open play goals.
Not to be denied a goal in his return to Tianhe, Elkeson finally scored in the third minute of stoppage time as he weaved his way past multiple Yifang defenders before slotting the ball into the bottom corner.
Feng Xiaoting’s 300th game
The 2017 Chinese Footballer of the Year, Feng Xiaoting has been a constant fixture in the center of Guangzhou’s defense since signing with the team ahead of the 2011 season. No longer one of the first names on the team sheet, the 33-year-old has most often sat on the bench, or been left out of the gameday roster entirely, for Tyias Browning.
However, with Browning having been removed from the first team registration for the remainder of the season (to make room for Elkeson), Feng figures to get more consistent playing time in the heart of the Evergrande defense.
Feng, who partnered Park Ji-Soo against Dalian on Tuesday in his 300th game for Guangzhou, figures to fight his way to be a part of Fabio Cannavaro’s preferred defense. Going forwards, expect Feng, Park, and Gao Zhunyi to be rotated throughout the heart of defense based on fitness and tactical decisions.
The league table
Guangzhou was atop the league table for less than 24 hours, as Guoan also won their match against city rivals Beijing Renhe 2-1 to maintain the two-point cushion.
# / Team GP W D L GF GA GD Pts 1 / Beijing Guoan 18 16 0 2 39 13 +26 48 2 / Guangzhou Evergrande 18 15 1 2 39 13 +26 46 3 / Shanghai SIPG 18 15 1 2 37 13 +24 46
All three teams fighting for the top spot will head on the road for matchday 19 as Evergrande visit city rivals R&F in the friendly derby, SIPG visit Chongqing, and Guoan visit Jiangsu.
Guangzhou is also in action mid-week next week as they host Shanghai SIPG in the quarterfinals of the Chinese FA Cup.
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