Guangzhou Evergrande sealed their eighth CSL title in nine years with a 3-0 home win against Shanghai Shenhua, on the final day of the season.
In front of a packed Tianhe Stadium, Evergrande dominated the game from start to finish. They took the lead just before half-time, when Wei Shihao produced a cool finish after getting on the end of a floated ball in from Zheng Zhi. Evergrande scored again, just ten minutes into the second-half when Park Ji-Soo fired home from close range to double Evergrande’s lead.
Fabio Cannavaro’s team spent most of the remainder of the match searching for a third goal to kill the game off, but were regularly frustrated by an in-form Chen Zhao in the Shenhua goal. Evergrande’s third finally came on the eighty-first minute, when Paulinho put Elkenson through in on goal. Elkeson then slotted the ball past an on rushing Chen Zhao to make it 3-0. With a three goal lead, Evergrande began to relax and while Shenhua did create a few chances late on, the final few minutes of the match were effectively just a countdown until Evergrande could begin their title celebrations.
While Evergrande have finished the year with a bang, their season got off to something of a slow start. And following a damaging home to defeat in week eight to title rivals Beijing Guoan, many began to question the wisdom of the team’s decision to limit themselves to fielding just two foreign players at any one time.
Evergrande persisted with the policy however and hit their stride in mid-May, where a hard fought 3-2 away win in Wuhan proved to be the starting point of a twelve game winning streak. This was the longest CSL winning streak in over a decade and saw a rampant Evergrande routinely blowing away the opposition, as they played their best football of the season.
One of the stars in this strong run of form was Wei Shihao. Highlighted by WEF at the start of the year as one of the most promising young talents in Chinese football, this season has seen Wei emerge as one of the top domestic players in the CSL.
Throughout the season Wei has been a consistent threat from the left-wing. Driving forward with the ball he has routinely been able to create chances for others and has regularly got on the score sheet himself. Wei’s transformation from bit-part squad member at Guoan last year to key first-team player at Evergrande this season, was one of Evergrande’s big success stories and an important element of their successful title push.
Other key players who have emerged this year for Evergrande have been Liu Dianzuo and Yang Liyu. Liu took full advantage of Zeng Cheng’s struggles to comeback from his ruptured ankle ligament. Taking over as the starting goalkeeper in week three, Liu was a model of consistency throughout the year and helped Evergrande close out some vital wins in key games.
Yang showed flashes of his ability last year with Evergrande, but this season he has emerged as an essential first team player. Featuring in almost every game this season, Yang played mainly on the right-wing and hit his best form during the Evergrande’s twelve match winning run, where he notched eleven assists and three goals over the twelve games.
While Evergrande did look unstoppable at times this season, in their quest for an eighth title. They did begin to miss-fire in the final straight. A poor run of results towards the end of the season, saw them take just five points from five league games. This bad run of form completely reopened the title race and left Evergrande just two points clear of Guoan and only one ahead of Shanghai SIPG with three games remaining.
This piled the pressure on Evergrande boss Fabio Cannavaro. Who was temporarily relieved of his position following a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Henan Jianye in late October and ordered to attend ‘corporate culture classes.’
In the end the though with a title deciding clash against Shanghai SIPG on the horizon, the club’s board soon decided to reinstate Cannavaro as head coach. A brace from Talisca saw Evergrande run out 2-0 winners against SIPG. And victories in their final two league games against Hebei China Fortune and Shanghai Shenhua sealed the title.
It remains to be seen as to whether winning the league will do much to dampen the speculation surrounding Cannavaro’s future with Evergrande. However with the financial resources the club have at their disposal and with a new crop of young talent coming through. Evergrande’s dominance in the league is likely to continue in the years to come, with or without Cannavaro.