Chinese column: Hangzhou and Zhang Linpeng

The Japanese revolution in Hangzhou has had a disappointing start in the CSL season, and Okada needs to work on the game plan and especially offensive organization if the team shall improve their results.

Greentown and the Japanese structure

Last season, I was very excited about Hangzhou Greentown, their style and offensive flair, but this season has in my opinion, been very disappointing. I cannot see their game plan in the offensive part of the pitch, and they still need a real goal getter in the attack.

I still like the overall philosophy with offensive full backs and a desire to run forward and try to win rather than try to defend. But the problem in the offense is for example that number 9, Mazola, is playing in the correct position, but the team use him wrong. Mazola is an excellent dribbler, so the team has to put him in some 1vs1 situations, but I see Mazola trying to set up himself and the he is trying the dribble 3-4 players, which is too difficult.

And number 20 Angun is the same. He is a very strong and useful player, but where are his skills? In the air, but Hangzhou play him in the feet and let him dribble and pass, which is not part of his strength. So the team is still searching for their style, and I believe that they need more tactical discipline if they want to achieve better than 6 games and 6 points.

When you work with 100 % zone marking as Hangzhou, you really have to be aggressive in the box and attack the ball – otherwise it going to cost goals from time to time.

Hangzhou look rarely strong on offensive set pieces, which the showed against Guangzhou R&F for example. A very interesting is it to analyze their defensive set pieces. Hangzhou use 100 % zone marking, which means they let the opponents be free and each protect a zone instead. The other choice is man marking, where all players cover one specific opponent or the model, I prefer, combination defense with 2-3 players marking in zones and the rest with man marking.

I am a bit surprised that Okada’s team is looking so unorganized, because Okada had great success with the Japanese national team and played a very straight system with a clear game plan. And before this season he had a whole team of Japanese staff entering Hangzhou, which only should benefit the team. So I don’t think we have seen the best from Hangzhou yet…

The Chinese Sergio Ramos

One of the most interesting players in China is without questions Zhang Linpeng. A modern full back with a European level. Zhang is extremely strong, and I have heard from sources that he does 1000 sit ups every day, which is why he is a machine. There are no secrets to a good physic – hard work, repeats, repeats, and repeats are the key. And exactly his physic can be the small key that sends him towards Europe.

Zhang is not only a strong player, but also very fast, consistent and with speed endurance, which is an aspect a lot of clubs are looking for. How long can the player keep running with top speed during a match? A very important question in modern football. Zhang has a high level of endurance and you never see him underperform after 80.minutes, which means he is a very consistent player. Zhang is fast in a 10m spring, but even faster over 30m. I would say that he is one of the fastest players in Asia over 30m, which is a very relevant distance for a full back.

Furthermore he rarely loses a 1vs1 duel. I did some analyze on 3 of his games, and Zhang won 95 % of his defensive 1vs1 duels and 70 % of his offensive duels, so his is strong in both ends of the pitch which is necessary for a full back. And of course the link to the Spanish full back and Real Madrid player Sergio Ramos is obvious. They share some of the same skills like; speed, aggressively, good offensive and defensive, but not the best technical player in terms of passes and first touches. Still we need to keep in mind the mentally they probably are very different, and the mental part of the game is for me the most crucial one, so I don’t like these comparisons between players.

Mentally Zhang seems very strong. He is performing no matter what the score is in the match, and I have never seen him with a bad attitude. He works hard and believes the team can win all the way to the end. The China game against Iraq was a great example. China played rarely bad and the 0-0 seems obvious, but at a corner in the 90min Zhang, dived into the ball and helped China win 1-0. A situation, where Zhang showed how brave he is, because he dived down to a ball with the risk of hurting himself badly. This mentality will help him in the future to be strong no matter what.

If we look at the offensive part of his game then one of Zhang’s weak sides is his technical ability in small spaces. We need to understand that on the highest level the space is almost none-existing. And I have seen some bad first touches and some problems in his short passes in for example the ACL games, where the space becomes an issues for him, so this is a part of the game, he needs to work on.

The crosses from Zhang are very solid. Evergrande often works with early crosses, and Zhang has a very good kicking technic with crosses and hits them perfect above the first defender – often aiming for Muriqui around the penalty mark area.

My conclusion is that Zhang Linpeng is one the most interesting in China right now. He is a solid player for China and for Guangzhou Evergrande, and I think it could be very good for his career and Chinese football if his next contract was in Europe. I see his style of play fit in English football or even the Bundesliga, where part of the football has focus on the physical part, where Zhang is extremely strong. Let’s hope for Chinese football that he can go abroad and get success.

Danish and Chinese football

My hope working in China is not only to help develop Chinese football, but also to the develop the Chinese football relationship towards Europe and of course my home country Denmark is an obvious place to start. I was in Denmark last weekend watching some live games, and it was very interesting that I think that the Chinese players are faster and run in a higher tempo than the Danish players. My eyes analyzed that the Danish league games looked slower compared to all the live games, I have seen in the last 9 month in China.

And this is good news for Chinese football, because the Chinese players are used to play in a high tempo, which will help them if they start to transfer to Europe in the near future.

Furthermore I see great possibilities in a cooperation between Danish clubs and a Chinese player. We can imagine a loan period and longer trial periods for young Chinese players. I could also imagine that Chinese companies would like to enter the Danish/European market, which could be a part of a deal between a Danish and a Chinese club. This could not only benefit the football in China and Denmark, but also help grow relations in business areas for both countries.

Chinese football is moving ahead right now, so we need to keep improving and try new things to help the progression, and a cooperation with the football in Europe is in my mind a part of the development for Chinese football.