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SIPG flails against Tianhai, will have to beg Guoan for help to defend their title - Wild East Football
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SIPG flails against Tianhai, will have to beg Guoan for help to defend their title

Shanghai SIPG

This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at another bad night against Tianjin Tianhai.

If SIPG fails to defend their CSL championship – it’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there – there isn’t much doubt about where the finger of blame will point: squarely at the matches against bottom-feeder Tianjin Tianhai. Two scoreless draws, a lazy, uninspired trip north in April and a frustrating night at the Stadium Saturday night.

Frustrating because there were chances this past weekend. So, so many chances.

Credit where credit is due: Zhang Lu, the Tianhai keeper, had a great night. He made great saves on Arnautovic and Oscar in the first half and then robbed the same two guys in the second half.

Zhang had a bit of luck, too. In the second half, an Oscar shot and an Arnautovic header each barely missed. Arnautovic beat Zhang from the top of the box in the 64th minute but hit the post, and Akhmedov came within a hair of a late winner from distance in the 89th minute.

Referee Wang Jing also chipped in for Tianhai. Wang missed a red card, or, at bare minimum, a foul in the box in the 76th minute by Tianhai midfielder Yang Xu, who struck SIPG late sub Li Shenglong from behind with a blow to the head. Li is very lucky he wasn’t concussed.

Tianhai produced only one decent chance all night long, an 87th minute shot by Yang Xu that made Yan Junling fully extend for one of his best saves of the year.

Double plus ungood standings

Combined with the other results last weekend – Guoan’s 2-0 win over Hebei CFFC and Evergrande’s decisive 3-0 win at Shandong Luneng (which included, ominously, the first CSL match for the gamboling Talisca since May) – SIPG is in third place. They sit six points behind Evergrande and two behind Guoan. SIPG has matches remaining against both teams, but both are on the road. They’re both now must-wins.

SIPG is going to need some help besides, and the best place for that to happen is this Sunday night at Worker’s Stadium in Beijing, where Guoan hosts Evergrande. With the league so precariously balanced for the Red Eagles, SIPG can afford no more slip-ups this season. An SIPG draw or a loss Friday night in Guangzhou against R&F and an Evergrande win in Beijing probably wraps up a title for Evergrande.

Highlights

Odds and ends

Hulk slipped in the 5th minute against Tianhai and went down clutching his knee. He stayed on the pitch, walking gingerly. Four minutes later, he had an open shot at and couldn’t get anything on it. Moments after that, he took himself out. The Brazilian went on social media after the match and said that the injury looked worse than it was and that he’d be back quickly.

But Wang Shenchao won’t. He took the captain’s armband from Hulk and got a ludicrously given second yellow (with the accompanying red) from referee Wang Jing in the 96th minute for protesting Tianhai’s delaying tactics. He’ll miss the match Friday night at venerable Yuexiushan Stadium against Guangzhou R&F.

It was Arnautovic’s first full match in SIPG colors, and Lyu Wenjun, still rounding into shape after fracturing his arm, played 67 minutes. With Yang Shiyuan unavailable, or out of favor, Cai Huikang is getting minutes again as a defensive midfielder.

By the numbers

Hulk leads SIPG in scoring, with 8 goals (16th in the league). Oscar is SIPG’s next highest scorer with 6, and Li Shenglong is third with 3. (Elkeson had 8 in red before he was transferred for the good of the country to Guangzhou Evergrande.)

Oscar leads the CSL in key passes/match (3.6) and is second in assists (9) and crosses/match (2.8). Akhmedov is second in the league in through balls/match.

Hulk leads the league (again) in getting dispossessed. There are, believe it or not, ten players in the CSL who shoot more from outside the box than Hulk does. Talisca does it twice as much as Hulk does, which is almost incomprehensible.

It will not come as a shock to close observers of the club that the top-ranked SIPG player in winning headers is 40th in the league in that category. What will come as a shock is the identity of SIPG’s best at this particular skill: short, fat Cai Huikang.

He Guan is second in the league in clearances.

If it seems like Yan Junling has been MIA in a bunch of SIPG matches this year, it’s because he has: he’s made 39 saves, which makes him the least busy keeper in the league.

If you want an indicator of Yan’s quality and that of the much-improved SIPG defensive corp, consider this. Yan has been beaten 16 times. Shenhua’s keepers have made those same 39 saves, but allowed 39 goals doing it.

Yan has 15 clean sheets in all competitions this year.

SIPG is only fifth in the league in goals from open play but leads the league in both counterattacking goals and set piece goals.

The dirtiest team in the league, by far, is Tianjin TEDA, third in yellows and first in reds, and the cleanest is Wuhan Zall (lowest in both yellows and reds). (SIPG is on the dirty end of the middle.) There has still not been a single card issued in the 2019 CSL for diving.

(Statistics via www.whoscored.com.)

What’s next

Friday night, SIPG travels to Guangzhou to face R&F, tenth in the league with one win in their last five matches. Their claim to fame is the leading goalscorer in the league, Israeli international Eran Zahavi.

The Wednesday after that, SIPG will take on Tianjin at Shanghai Stadium again, but this time it’s Tianjin TEDA, ninth in the CSL. They beat Henan Jianye this past weekend.

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

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