In 2020 talented young players are going to be more important to the Chinese game than ever before. The Chinese national team’s recent struggles have shown us that it’s a team in transition and in desperate need of fresh young talent.
And in the 2020 Chinese Super League, young domestic players are going to be even more important than last year. After the Chinese FA recently made a rule change, mandating that as well as having at least one domestic under-23 player on the field at all times. Teams must also now include at least three domestic under-21 players in all match day squads.
So with the Chinese New Year upon us, we will now take a look at five of China’s most promising young talents. The players we will be looking at, will all be aged under twenty-three at the start of 2020 Chinese Super League season. And are ranked according to the potential they have to make an impact in 2020.
5. Yan Dinghao – Guangzhou Evergrande
Prior to joining Guangzhou Evergrande last year, Yan had been struggling to get his career off the ground in Portugal. He originally moved there in 2016 and following a successful season with Porto’s Under-19s, he was subsequently promoted to Porto B. Yan however was never able to replicate the success he had with the Under-19s at senior level. And despite a number of loan spells with different teams, he consistently struggled to find playing time in Portugal.
After making the switch to Evergrande, Yan intially didn’t make much of an impact. His breakthrough came however mid-way through last season. Claiming a regular place for himself in the starting eleven with a superb run of form. Where he found the net in his first four starts for the club and put together a string of excellent performances across the midfield. Tellingly Yan Dinghao’s insertion into Evergrande’s starting line-up, coincided closely with them going on the CSL’s longest winning streak in over a decade.
Yan would undoubtedly be higher on the list had he not suffered a season ending ACL injury in August, which firmly put the brakes on his development. It’s unlikely that Yan will be fit for the start of the 2020 season. However, if Yan is able to come back later in the year and make a solid recovery from his injury. His attacking flair and versatility should make him a key component of Evergrande’s 2020 title bid.
4. Tao Qianglong – Hebei China Fortune
The only Chinese player in the last two years to be featured in one of the Guardian’s Next Generation lists, eighteen year old Tan Qianglong is one of China’s most promising and technically gifted young players.
Tao spent most of his youth career with Bejing Guoan before switching to Hebei China Fortune in 2018. As a youth team player, he played mainly as a striker and was a regular goalscorer for the Chinese national team at various age group levels.
After making his debut for Hebei last season however, he primarily played as a midfielder. Like Yan Dinghao, Tao proved to be extremely versatile and last year played in a range of different positions across the midfield. While never quite managing to hold down a place in the side for an extended period of time, Tao definitely showed real promise last season.
Tao looked most effective on the right-wing, where he was able to use his speed and agility to open up opposing defences. With Brazilian Fernandinho moving to Evergrande this off-season, there should be more chances for Tao to shine in this role next year.
3. Dilmurat Mawlanyaz – Chongqing SWM
After a strong 2018 season with perennial League One strugglers Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard. Dilmurat Mawlanyaz was snapped up by Chongqing SWM. In making this switch, he followed in the footsteps of fellow full-back Abduhamit Abdugheni who made a similar journey from Xinjiang to the CSL the year before.
While in 2018 it took Abdugheni some time to become a first-team regular with Jiangsu Suning. Mawlanyaz had no such problems. And he was quickly able to nail down the starting right-back spot at Chongqing last season. In 2019 Mawlanyaz played in almost every league game. And he emerged as one of the most consistent performers in a team that went on to have a surprisingly successful season.
Despite not being blessed with outstanding athleticism or technical ability. Mawlanyaz makes it in at number three due to his excellent positional sense, high work rate and solid tackling. He further justifies his selection at third on the list with his high level of playing experience. Mawlanyaz has almost seventy first-team appearances under his belt. And his career is now at a far more developed stage than most Chinese players his age. This year it will be interesting to see how much he can build on this experience. And we will see whether or not he can challenge for a place in the national team.
2. Duan Liuyu – Shandong Luneng
Prior to last season Duan Liuyu had never made a first team appearance for Shandong Luneng. But he comes in at number two on the list on the back of an impressive debut season.
Duan made the most of the opportunities given to him last year. And saw extensive playing time during the second half of the season. Duan plays mainly either on the right-wing or as a second-striker and is a fast and skilful attacking player. Who is able to cause all sorts of problems for opposition defences with his pace and technical ability. Duan also showed flashes excellent vision last season. And was at times seen splitting opposition defences with penetrating through balls.
Based on what we saw last year from Duan, it seems that he has all the tools needed to develop into one of the country’s top attacking players. And given that Shandong do not have a particularly large pool of talent to pick from, when it comes to meeting the under twenty-three player quota. It seems likely that Duan will get a good chance to move forwards towards fulfilling that potential this year.
1. Zhu Chenjie – Shanghai Shenhua
Zhu broke into Shenhua’s first-team team midway through the 2018 season. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and has emerged as China’s most exciting young talent.
Zhu is the epitome of the modern centre-back; agile, physically strong, good in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet. So far during his time with Shenhua he has rarely put a foot wrong.
Perhaps his best attribute is excellent positional sense. During his forty-one appearances for Shenhua, Zhu has shown an ability to read the game and anticipate play which belies his young age. He is rarely caught out of position. And more often than not, he is able to put himself in the optimal place to break up an opposition attack.
Under Marcello Lippi, Zhu had started to become a regular in the national team, starting most of China’s recent World Cup qualifiers. Zhu was not at fault for either of the two goals in China’s defeat to Syria in their last qualifier. And it’s expected that he will keep his place in the side under new coach Li Tie.
Playing regular international football should continue to aid Zhu’s development. As should the opportunity this year, to play in the Asian Champions League for the first time. In 2020 he will most likely be a key player for both club and country. If his career continues to follow its current trajectory, Zhu has the potential to be the first Chinese defender in a long time to play in one of Europe’s elite leagues.
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