Five matches into their Chinese Super League return and Changchun Yatai certainly do not look out of place in the Suzhou-based Group B.
Changchun Yatai suffered a shock relegation back in 2018, thanks to a 2-0 loss to Dalian Yifang with the absence of then-top scorer Odion Ighalo in the starting line-up.
It took two years for the one-time Chinese Super League champions to return to the top tier, with a near-miss in 2019 followed up by a dominating China League One title victory in 2020 – seeing them finally climb back to the level they had been in from 2006 to 2018.
Whenever a team jumps up to the top tier, there is plenty of intrigue over how well they will perform and whether or not they will be early favourites for relegation due to the perceived gulf in competition.
That has been far from the case for Changchun Yatai, who have put in some impressive performances in their first five matches back in the Chinese Super League.
With the international break pausing the competition until June 23rd, Changchun Yatai currently sit second in Group B and third overall in the CSL behind Shandong Taishan and Shanghai Port – with an unbeaten record of two wins and three draws giving them nine points.
This impressive early start to the year has come largely thanks to a stout defensive effort that could be considered the best in the league at present.
During those five matches, Changchun Yatai have conceded just one goal, which came in their opening day victory over Dalian Professional – a Marcus Danielson penalty late in the game.
Since that day, Chen Yang’s side have earned four consecutive clean sheets with a rotating back line that has included team captain Sun Jie, veterans Jiang Zhe, Hui Jiakang and Wang Peng, as well as import centre back Jores Okore.
Changchun Yatai have alternated their formation multiple times throughout matches, with a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 and even a 5-4-1 diamond system used to take full advantage of the flexibility of their defensive-minded players, crowding opponents and making it difficult for them to come close to goalkeeper Shi Xiaotian.
Keeping clean sheets against Shanghai Port (0-0) and Shanghai Shenhua (1-0) are a clear sign that the team Chen Yang has constructed is the real deal, rather than one simply picking up points against lesser opposition.
There are, however, still areas that the team needs to work on if they hope to maintain this impressive start and secure a solid position by season’s end.
Primarily, the team have not been clinical enough in front of goal, with just three goals scored so far this season. Júnior Negrão and Erik Lima scored for the club on the opening day of the season, while Wang Peng’s 82nd minute tap-in secured a second victory of the year prior to the break.
Changchun have com exceptionally close to scoring on many occasions, hitting the woodwork far more frequently than would be liked by their manager.
If the team is able to figure out their goal scoring on a more consistent basis, with a bit of luck and hard work, then they can truly work to build towards to strong league position in their first season back.
With such a strong defensive line, it will be a matter of time before Changchun Yatai can put together consecutive victories and start to improve results in the attacking third and for now, fans will simply be enjoying the set of positive results already earned so far.