The title chasing group has a familiar look after the first knockout round with the top four from last season all in contention. Meanwhile, the two newly promoted teams are among those still trying to avoid relegation. There are now two rounds of two-legged games remaining in the new look 2020 CSL.
In the Championship Group, Beijing Guoan face Guangzhou Evergrande with Shanghai SIPG taking on Jiangsu Suning in the other semi-final. This means the sides who took the top two spots in each Group are still in contention for the title.
Guangzhou Evergrande strolled to an 8-1 aggregate victory over Hebei in the first knockout round, but the other three sides were made to work harder to reach this stage. Beijing Guoan beat Shandong 4-3 on aggregate although Shandong will point to controversial refereeing decisions in both legs.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, Jiangsu beat Chongqing 1-0 in the second leg to advance. That Chongqing loaned star performer Adrian Mierzejewski to Guangzhou R&F after they qualified for the championship group perhaps says something about the ambition of the side from the southwest.
Meanwhile, Shanghai SIPG’s bid to regain the CSL title they won in 2018 was almost derailed by city rivals Shenhua. The underdogs kept the first leg scoreless and forced penalties after Sun Shilin’s late equaliser in the second leg. Gio Moreno pulled the ball back for Sun’s goal, but the Colombian was the only player not to score from the spot as SIPG won 5-4 on penalties.
Qingdao Huanghai and Shijiazhuang both won promotion to the CSL last year but are now in the relegation group. They are joined by Wuhan Zall and Shenzhen FC who were both promoted the season before. In fact, Shenzhen were only saved from a swift return to China league One last year after Tianjin Tianhai (formerly Quanjian) who finished one spot above the southern team disbanded. This year, Shenzhen finished 5th in Group A but now risk dropping back into China League One.
Wuhan and Qingdao have already faced each other this year, with Wuhan winning both Group B fixtures. The other game sees Shijiazhuang and Shenzhen playing each other for the first time this season.
This leaves eight teams playing for the mid-table positions. Shandong play Hebei, with Chongqing Lifan facing Shanghai Shenhua for the 5-8th positions. The latter three teams all finished in the bottom half of the CSL in 2019 and are already guaranteed to do better than that in 2020. Shandong finished 5th last season and may now be tempted to concentrate on the CFA Cup which resumes at the end of November.
For spots 9-12, Dalian Pro face Tianjin Teda and in the remaining fixture Guangzhou R&F take on Henan Jianye. This means that the teams finishing bottom of each Group will remain in the CSL next year. Tianjin Teda’s 2-0 win against Shenzhen in the first leg of the knockouts was actually their first win of the season – they lost 11 and drew 3 of their Group B games. Henan finished bottom of Group A but saved themselves from relegation by beating Wuhan in the first knockout round. Henan now face Guangzhou R&F who have their traditionally awful defensive record – 28 goals conceded in 14 Group A games – but are now without the goal scoring exploits of Eran Zahavi at the other end of the pitch to counterbalance this.
The attention will be on the other Cantonese side though, as Guangzhou Evergrande attempt to win the CSL title for the ninth time.