This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at SIPG’s future in the ACL and the CSL as both leagues wind down their season.
Urawa a must-win for SIPG
With a repeat trip to the top of the CSL unlikely and a listless 2-0 loss to Shandong in the Cup semi-final putting that trophy out of reach, SIPG and Vitor Pereira’s only hope for silverware this year is the Asian Champion’s League.
SIPG handled its business in the ACL’s group stage and knocked out Jeonbuk Motors, perhaps the top club in the history of Asian football, in the Round of 16. They came crashing back down to earth at Shanghai Stadium just two weeks ago against Urawa Red Diamonds though.
A mishandle by SIPG keeper Yan Junling gave Urawa the lead in the match’s third minute, and a 31st-minute defensive miscommunication handed Urawa another easy goal. SIPG is still alive in the tournament because of a ridiculously great save by Yan in the 34th minute and two second-half penalties that Hulk converted to level the match at 2-2, which is where it ended.
The thing is, Urawa was the name everyone wanted to pull out of the hat for their ACL quarterfinal match-up, a storied team reduced to mid-table J-League mediocrity this year. Going out to Urawa would be an embarrassment and would mean that SIPG’s failures this year would all have come at the hands of teams that aren’t in their class: Shandong at Shanghai Stadium in the Cup; Wuhan, Tianhai and Fuli in the awful stretch of CSL draws; and Urawa.
It’s the kind of thing that makes club executives start to pine for new approaches from their managers. It won’t matter that Pereira has had to juggle his line-ups all season as critical players missed matches because of injury and fixture pile-ups exhausted the team.
To save the season, and perhaps their manager’s job, SIPG is going to have to win the match in Tokyo next week. (The two goals Urawa scored in Shanghai means another draw will likely get the Japanese through.)
Hulk will be unavailable to play in Tokyo because of yellow card “accumulation,” by which the AFC means two yellow cards in three months. (One each against Jeonbuk and Urawa.) It’s the kind of rule you’d expect from an organization that consistently values it’s own privilege over the experience of the clubs and fans in the region.
Arnautovic, who has looked frustrated the last couple of matches, is going to have to step up in Japan. But this is all going to be about Oscar. He’s had a good season, though perhaps not quite up to his sterling 2018, and SIPG needs him to give Arnautovic and Lü Wenjun some decent looks at the goal for SIPG to win.
SIPG also has to find a way to shut down Kiroki Shinzo, who has ten goals in the J-League this year and six in the ACL, one of those at Shanghai Stadium. He’s the entire Urawa offense. (No one else on the Urawa roster has more than two goals in the J-League.) If Kiroki isn’t shadowed every step he takes on the pitch in Tokyo, it’s managerial malpractice.
Is there still hope in the CSL?
Six points down with seven matches left in the CSL over the next three months, SIPG’s chances to repeat as league champions are tenuous indeed. One of those remaining matches is Nov. 23 against Evergrande in Guangzhou. That’s one SIPG has to have if there is any hope to catch the CFA’s favorites.
If the Red Eagles do pick up those three points against a team they’ve dominated the last three years, are there three more points to be found?
SIPG’s other matches: away to Shandong this Friday, home to Henan, away to Guo’an, home to Dalian, away to Renhe, home to Shenzhen. It’s probably the toughest home-stretch schedule in the league. Meanwhile, Evergrande has only two obvious challenges: an away match this Friday against fifth-place Jiangsu Suning and perhaps a season-ending match-up at home against a resurgent Shanghai Shenhua.
On the upside, when play resumes, SIPG will probably be able to post a healthy roster for the first time this year.
The U23 spot will continue to be a sore point, and the defense seems to have taken a step back from it’s early season form, and this does seem to be one of those seasons where all the injuries, shots off the woodwork and inexplicable defensive lapses seem to be telling the team that it’s just not their year.
A well-deserved rest
While the national team trained and then played this week in Malé against the Maldives, most SIPG players rested. Yan Junling was the only SIPG player to crack the national team’s starting line-up, and defenders He Guan and Shi Ke were the only other SIPG players who made the trip.
It’s hard to know who else from SIPG would have helped the squad. Lü Wenjun has not returned to form after his injury. Yang Shiyuan has looked good in the midfield but has also been bitten by the injury bug. Yu Hai has lost a step on the back line, and none of the kids has stepped forward in a way that makes you hopeful for their future for club or country.
The one SIPG omission that might have raised some eyebrows is Wang Shenchao. His necklace-based suspension is over, but the solid defender and frequent contributor on the attack seems to be persona non grata to the CFA.
One takeaway from the Maldives is that the national team hasn’t quite yet become Guangzhou Evergrande Writ Large. Eight clubs were represented in the squad’s first XI. Beijing Guo’an had three repesentatives, Evergrande two, and Espanyol, Jiangsu Suning, Shandong Luneng, Shanghai Shenhua, Shanghai SIPG and Tianjin Tianhai had one each.
Elkeson — “Ai Kesen” — was the only naturalized player who appeared, and Nico Yennaris was the only other naturalized player on the 23-man active roster.
The trip to the Kaafu Atoll ended up with the People’s Republic winning 5-0.
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