Chinese column – Focus on Jiangsu Sainty

Last season Jiangsu Sainty was the big surprise in the CSL with an impressive second place and a spot in this year Asian Champions League as well. This season has not been as good for the team from Nanjing, and Saturday night, I did an analysis on the team to find out how they play.

After round 15 of the Chinese Super League - now 50 % of the season are over – Jiangsu Sainty is positioned as number 7. Not as expected after last season, but a part of their lack of results is also due to the top striker number 10 Christian Danalache from Romania, who has been injured almost all season. Remember he scored 23 goals in the 2012 season, so they really miss him and his goals in Nanjing.

Jiangsu has only scored 18 goals in 15 matches so far, and if we compare this number of goals with last season, the team scored a total of 49 goals in 30 games, so if this season scoring average continues Jiangsu will only score 36 goals in 30 matches, which will not be enough to win a top position in the league.

Saturday evening Jiangsu played SIGP in Shanghai, and their style and type of football is very clear – counter football and focus on not giving chances away. Jiangsu were playing against a promoted team (SIGP) and still they let SIGP control the game and the ball waiting for their counter attacks to role. And this is, in my perspective, another part of the team’s lack of results this season. Their style is too easy to read, and they don’t have a Plan B ready to change or do something different during the game. I also think this is why the team did not qualify for the next stage in the ACL. A counter style concept can be useful in for example away games in international competitions, but at home this style will leave the opponents, who will be strong in international games, with too much momentum and time with the ball.

A counter style is of course very useful from time to time, but I do not believe you can win a lot of trophies in modern football only playing on counter attacks. Head Coach Okuka most redevelop the team and reshape their offensive model to win back momentum and thereby more points. In modern football, it is extremely important to keep develop the players, the team and the team style. If you stop doing this and feel satisfied with the current style, you will be overrun by other more innovative teams in the near future. And that is what has happened to Jiangsu this season together with their leading goal scorer injured as mentioned.

The Jiangsu style

Jiangsu and coach Okuka plays a classic 4-4-2 formation with a flat midfield and two straight lines in the defense and on the midfield. When the team build up from their own goal, number 8 Liu Jianye is important for the team. He is the playmaker and he is very solid with the ball and makes good quality passes – mostly to the sides. But most of the times, Jiangsu’s keeper kicks a long and direct ball towards number 11 – the player with 8 goals so far this season – Albanian Hamdi Salihi. He will try to win the ball in the air and control it down to one of his teammates.

Their wingers are classic wingers, which mean they stay wide in the pitch and don’t leave much space for the full backs to overlap them. Many clubs today use ‘false winger’, so the right footed winger plays to the left and the left footed winger plays to the right. With this model, the winger will move inside the pitch and create a majority and leave space to the full back to overlap and be the ‘winger’ of the team when having the ball. In some periods I saw a really interesting Jiangsu style, which is rare. When the two central defenders 3 Eleilson and 39 Tadjibaev were keeping possession of the ball, waiting to play forward, Jiangsu actually played a 2-4-4 system with the two full back on the same line as the two central midfielders and the two wingers at the same line as the two central strikers.

Jiangsu did not create enough chances out of this model, but the concept was interesting and caused SIGP some problems, because with possible 4 strikers, all 4 opponent defenders are occupied, which is a dangerous situation.

A problem in the midfield of Jiangsu is lack of creativity. Number 20 Sun Ke is a great player, but only if the team put him in the right positions. Otherwise he is average. A player like Sun Ke needs more freedom and movement to be useful and should not be a winger always standing wide on the line.

In the second half number 16 Deng Zhouxiang came in, and he was a great addition for Jiangsu. Very good on the ball, great technic, and he holds tempo in his style and also very dangerous on free kicks and set pieces. I know Deng has been injured for almost a year, so he needs time to find his form and level again, but he played 45 solid minutes and should get more game time from now on the help improve the creativity in the midfield.

In the attack 11 Salihi and 38 Jevtic played, and they are useful playing together. 11 Salihi is working extremely hard, running almost a marathon on the pitch and constant moving and creating trouble for the defenders. 38 Jevtic is steadier, but a good target player and Jiangsu needs more crosses to bring him in the right positions where he is dangerous, which he showed scoring to 1-1 after a cross and a header.

The defensive structure of Jiangsu is far better than the offensive. There is no doubt that head coach Okuka spends more time on the training pitch practicing defense than offense, and the team is not easy to play against or create chances against. They are fast 10 men behind the ball, and they leave no open space behind.

If you want to create chances against a well-organized team like Jiangsu, you have to play fast, move the ball all the time, few touches per player, switch between playing long and short passes to make them run and to open up their organization and find space to play through. And when your team has the ball, you need a lot of movement and deep running past their lines of 4 midfielders and the line of 4 defenders, which was exactly what Wu Lei did scoring to 1-0. A perfect of the ball move and good timing in the run and pass – this is how you can outplay a tight organization.

So my conclusion of Jiangsu is that number 10 Danalache will improve the team, but Jiangsu also needs to improve their offense and find other methods to create chances and scoring goals. I don’t see them go much higher in the league table before they develop this aspect of their style.

The CSL Season has passed round 15

Now 50 % of the Chinese season is over, and it is always interesting to look at the league table and other statistics to make a temporary judgment.

Evergrande will as expected win the championship again. No doubt about that. The team from Guangzhou is almost from another planet and they have so good individual players that they maybe can be beaten one time, but not many times in a season.

Fighting for the top 2-4 is a lot of teams right now. Shandong and Guizhou holds the two top positions as we speak, but from behind Beijing, Liaoning, Qingdao, Jiangsu and maybe even Guangzhou Fully can with a good autumn win momentum and a better league position.

In the button of the table Changchun looks in shape now with two wins in a row, and this creates trouble for Wuhan and Tianjin, because they are facing relegation right now half way through the season. I saw that Wuhan and Tianjin have bought some new foreign players, which probably will help them, because they need more points in the last 15 matches to stay in the CSL.

In the middle of the table SIGP has done an amazing season as a promoted team, while teams like Hangzhou and Dalian have such a good squad that they should be in a higher league position. The two Shanghai teams Shenhua and Shenxin is also in this area of the table, and I don’t think they will go much higher or lower. They are around the position they should be at.
Shenhua has lost a lot of good players and could be in relegation trouble, but the team has done well so far, while Shenxin plays with a lot of young talents and a modern type of football, so I hope they both secure their position and stay up.