Chinese column: The kings of Shanghai

This weekend had two big Derby’s in China, but my main focus is on the Shanghai-Derby as Guangzhou Evergrande was at least on level above Guangzhou R&F and therefore the Shanghai-Derby was more interesting, equal, and intense to follow.

Evergrande has individual skills in their team like no one else in China, and in Derby matches and ACL matches, often the structure is so solid and difficult to break down that you need individuals. And maybe R&F could fight against some of the star players of Evergrande, but you can’t hold down quality, and Elkeson showed that he is a top player, who could play in one of the big 4 leagues in Europe.

The pre-match analysis in Shanghai

Interesting was it to watch the two line ups from Shenhua and East Asia. Shenhua head coach Ballista picked number 9 Dady instead of the hot number 11 Firas. My opinion is that Ballista did this because of Dady’s physic and quality in the air and on set pieces. Shenhua coaching team knew that they were much better on set pieces than East Asia, so Dady could be a key player in this aspect of the game.

East Asia selected that Wu Lei should play in the center of the pitch instead as a winger like he normally does. This was probably done to surprise Shenhua, because Wu Lei is the key player in the offense of East Asia, but the talented number 7 didn’t have too many actions in the match - and still he scored a goal and got a red card, but I will discuss this later on.

The first 45minutes

East Asia started the game with confidence playing the ball around in their Barcelona style, while Shenhua started out in a solid 4-2-3-1 formation and all players on their own pitch. Shenhua were waiting for the right moment to put pressure on East Asia, win the ball and go for a fast interception. In this phase, Dady, was a key player as well, because he can keep the ball with his back to the goal. That means you only need one long and direct pass to reach the last third of the pitch in the counter attacks, and this was a good plan by Shenhua against a team like East Asia, who loves to keep playing the ball around and sees possession as a part of success.

After 23minutes came the first big chance, when Wu Lei found a good position in the box and got a cross from the line and straight back close to the penalty spot, but the number 7 was out of balance and therefore the ball went over the bar. But in this period East Asia was clever and played in the outside of Shenhua, which was a key to why they controlled the game. Shenhua closed down the central space around Wu Lei, and therefore East Asia found space on the outside of the Shenhua organization, which gave Xu Genbao’s team the first real chance in the Derby.

Shortly after this good period by East Asia, Shenhua won two corner kicks and just as expected it was very dangerous. The first one hit the post and Shenhua had momentum for a period after these two set pieces, where the team won confidence and the amazing crowd was behind them. Don’t underestimate the crowd. Football is played with your feet and won with your head, so confidence and momentum is essential in football, so a good home crowd can not only help their team, but also hurt their team with a negative attitude towards the players. This Sunday was very good advertisement for Chinese football with a massive home crowd and a big group of away supporters singing and making the game more interesting and intense.

Suddenly out of nowhere, East Asia got a correct penalty. I have said this before, but number 4 Li Jianbin, is dangerous for Shenhua. He makes a lot of mistakes, and this was a big one in a Derby. Wu Lei executed, handled the pressure and 1-0 for East Asia.

The second half

Unfortunately for East Asia, they didn’t manage to control the second half as well as the first 30 minutes of the first half. The young players of Xu Genbao stressed too much with the ball, the passing lacked the same quality as before the break, and the movement was none-existing.

Therefore Shenhua won more possession, but still without any big chances. I was waiting for Firas to come on to high up the tempo in the Shenhua attack, and we must say that Ballista did a very good change. Not only did he bring number 8 Song Boxuan down as left full back, which is a perfect position for him in my perspective, and then he brought in Firas, so Shenhua had a 4 player attack with Firas, Dady, Moreno, and 28. Cao Yunding.

This system gave a lot of flair combined with power into the Shenhua attack, and East Asia had trouble keeping their goal safe. And after 71minutes, the pressure gave the home team a goal, when number 20 Xu Liang after a very good fake shot kicked the ball in the net for 1-1. As I wrote some weeks ago – Xu Liang is becoming better and better from week to week and he is so important for the build-up play for Shenhua dropping down, receiving the ball, distributing the ball around and controls the tempo and speed in the Shenhua play + he is taking all their set pieces.

When Wu Lei got a red card, I knew Shenhua would win the game. Their physics dominance, their more experience team and now East Asia had no offense. After reviewing the match on my computer, I must say that the first yellow card for diving to Wu Lei was wrong, so the red card was very hard. But Wu Lei knew he had a yellow card in the situation, and he need to be more mature and don’t give the referee the chance to send him off. He is young and will learn from this mistake.

And in the end – the pressure gave Shenhua the second goal after the best assist in this CSL-season. What an action by number 8 Song Boxuan! Two world class dribbles and then a perfect cross. And finally Moreno showed why he is playing. In the first 5 CSL rounds, he has not performed, the attitude is not always good enough, but no one cares, if he scores the winning goals, and he did that Sunday evening with a great header.

The after-match analysis in Shanghai

Yet again an impressive comeback by Shenhua, and we must admit that Ballista’s team has a fantastic moral. I am still not impressed by their general game plan, but as long as they keep on getting points, no one cares – and without the minus 6 points – Shenhua would be number 4 in the league – well done!

East Asia lost the game because of lack of experience. They were missing that old midfielder, who could keep the ball for them in the second half, get some easy free kicks and setting up Wu Lei, who we barely saw in the second half – except from his red card.

A real Derby with a lot of hard tackles, a red card, and a late winning goal. And great advertisement for Chinese football with around 20.000 spectators at the stadium. When I walked outside the stadium, you could feel the hunger for football in Shanghai and the excitement from the fans – this is what football is about!

And now Shenhua are the kings of Shanghai – winning two Derby’s.