The goals keep coming for Guangzhou R&F. Five scored and seven conceded in the past two games. New defensive coach Terry Butcher has his work cut out.
Shanghai Shenhua 5 – 3 Guangzhou R&F
How many times does a team score three goals away from home and still lose? That’s exactly what happened to the Cantonese at Hongkou.
Zahavi opened the scoring but Shenhua’s Moreno hit back with two brilliant goals. The first came after he’d been allowed into an acre of space in-between the R&F two centre backs but still took a lot of skill to score. The Colombian’s finish for the second was also outstanding.
The game’s next goal arrived from a free header at a corner – for once it was R&F benefitting though. Ye Chugui headed in at the back post to make it 2-2.
The second half was the Kim Shin-wook show as the South Korean grabbed a hat-trick. Confusion in the R&F defence – an all too common phrase – left 5’10” Ye trying to outjump 6’6” Kim from a corner. No chance. Kim’s second owed a lot to Moreno’s pull back and his third was another defensive error from a corner. Jin Pengxiang did a really good job of marking teammate Tang Miao, leaving Kim with a free header from just a step behind them.
More positively for the Cantonese, Xiao Zhi made his first appearance of the season as a sub. Dia Saba also scored a late consolation in a game where R&F again enjoyed plenty of possession.
Guangzhou R&F 2 – 2 Jiangsu Suning
After the Hongkou hammering, Stojković rang the changes in defence. Jin Pengxiang and Yi Teng were both left out, as Tosic, Li Tixiang and Jiang Jihong all came in. U23 central midfielders were also swapped as Ma Junliang came in for Wang Peng. There was no sign of Xiao Zhi after his long awaited return against Shenhua.
Jiangsu had plenty of early pressure but it was the Cantonese that opened the scoring. Two passes split the Jiangsu’s defence and Zahavi cut inside Li Ang to score.
Teixeira then equalised after some classic R&F comedy defending. He ran onto a ball down the channel with no teammates in support and both Jiang Jihong and Li Tixiang covering. Teixeira ran straight at the goal whilst Jiang and Li ran into each other. Cheng Yuelei had come off his line but Teixeira still managed to stab his shot past the keeper. Cue a look of disbelief from Stojković.
R&F’s lead was restored after a one-two between Saba and Zahavi early in the second half allowed the former to score. Saba is having a quietly effective first season in China with 10 goals and 9 assists.
Zahavi then undid all of his good work by allowing Eder to head the equaliser unchallenged from a corner. The Israeli had been left with two men to mark but made no attempt to attack the ball. It was almost his last act as he went off after an hour, not having shaken off an injury he felt in training in Shanghai the previous week.
Jiangsu started with just two foreigners and when their third, Santini, came on he quickly got into the game. It was his teammate Teixeira who should have won it in injury time though. Cheng Yuelei rushed off his line to preserve a point for the Cantonese.
Before the Shenhua game, R&F announced Terry Butcher’s arrival. The former England defender has been out of the game for a while but does have coaching experience. He won’t have faced many problems more difficult than improving the Cantonese defence though. What this means for ex-defenders Slobodan Marović and Bratislav Živković who joined the coaching staff over the winter is unclear. Some have also speculated that Butcher’s arrival is the beginning of the end for Stojković.
Whether or not that is true, Stojković needs all the help he can get in improving the defence. Since their last clean sheet, R&F have twice conceded 5 goals. Both goals conceded against Jiangsu were poor from a defensive viewpoint too.
After the Shenhua game, comments resurfaced that R&F have a problem with balls into the box and tall strikers. This is partially true. With a whopping 52 goals conceded in 21 games, it is more accurate to say that the Cantonese have problems against strikers, regardless of whether they are tall.
This isn’t all the fault of the defenders though. Midfielders and strikers have also been guilty of switching off at corners to leave opponents with free headers.
It will be interesting to see whether U23 centre back Huang Zhengyu’s fall from grace continues. It could be argued that having Ma Junliang or Wang Peng in central midfield leaves the backline with less protection than if, for example, Zhang Gong was partnering Dembele in midfield. With the balance of R&F’s squad and the U23 rule, the only realistic way to shield the defence like this is to play Huang at centre back. Stojković may have lost confidence in Huang but can he really be any worse than the alternatives?
Guangzhou R&F are 10th in the CSL with nine games left to play. Unfortunately the next game is against Shanghai SIPG. The defending champions might not be in their best form, but Hulk and Arnautović will like the look of the Guangzhou R&F defence. Zahavi’s fitness will have a big impact on the chances of the Cantonese of taking anything from the game at Yuexiushan.
The final game before the mid-summer break is the Guangdong derby against Shenzhen. Shenzhen might be in the relegation zone, but R&F have conceded one goal per game more than their opponents from down the Pearl River. Nevertheless, Stojković and co will be targeting a win.