Chinese column: The worst Hangzhou performance

Sunday evening at Shanghai Stadium was a nightmare for the Hangzhou Greentown fans. My ticket gave me a seat among the Hangzhou fans, so I could really feel and see their desperation during the defeat to Shanghai East Asia. The Japanese coach Okada seems to have changed his philosophy.

The Greentown Head Coach Okada must have been very disappointed after the defeat on Sunday. Not because of the defeat itself, but due to a terrible performance, attitude, style of football and lack of motivation from almost all 11 Hangzhou players.

I remember Okada from his period as Head Coach of Japan, where the national team played some powerful short passing football full of speed and tempo. When I watch Greentown now, I see a change in his philosophy and style compared to last season and the beginning of this season.

Hangzhou plays more direct with long passes from the back 4 aiming for the area behind the two opponent full backs. This is a very used style in Europe, when you play 4-4-2. The classic model is to have one striker moving down to receive the ball and the other striker going deep in the area behind the two full backs. Remember that a full back has to focus on the winger, so if the winger moves inside the pitch – the full back will automatically follow him and leave space behind to run into for one of the strikers.

But the two central defenders from Hangzhou – in this game - number 13 Cao Xuan and number 5 Shi Ke are not too good with the ball and can’t play it well forward. Normally a coach would let a midfield player move down to pick up the ball and bring/pass it up, but I did not see a plan from Hangzhou. And the keeper – number 1 Gu Chao was even worse at his goal kicks. A talented keeper, but very bad with his feet and he got no help to get off the ball.

The game showed again and again a bunch of long and bad passes from Hangzhou, which was extremely easy to handle for the two East Asia central defenders, number 25 Addo and number 21 Cuadradro. These two guys are experienced and read the game well, so they really had an easy night. The two Greentown wingers, number 33 Wang Song and number 6 Gao Di showed nothing offensive and did not move inside the pitch as normal to gain majority for the team. Therefore Hangzhou could not play through the middle, where East Asia almost was playing 3:2.

In the attack number 20 Davy – the big striker – was often too alone and tried to dribble too much, when he had the ball under control. They really missed the creativity from number 9 Mazola, who was suspended for the game.

I must admit that I do not understand why Okada has changed his style from the ‘passing and moving’ football to this more direct and old fashion style. I don’t think Greentown has the squad to play like this and even worse – all the young talented players in the Greentown squad – like number 21 Xie Pengfei – will not be able to perform well under this concept. Maybe a coaching decision of panic due to lack of points. No matter what Greentown should go back to the old style, play the ball up, create majority in the center of the pitch and keep the ball in possession instead of giving it away and trying to win the second balls.

The relegation zone is probably too far away for Greentown, so they are safe and let’s hope they find their style and concept in the last 6 games and for next new season.

Guangzhou Fully needs creative and speed to reach the next level
On Saturday, Beijing Guoan won 6-0 against Guangzhou Fully. The opponent from Guangzhou had an early red card, but it was still obvious how big the difference is from top 3 to top 5 in the CSL.

It was a famous ‘6-points-game’. If Eriksson’s team won – they would only be two points behind Beijing and the with access to Asian Champions League next season. But the Peter Utaka signing from Dalian to Beijing is now starting to pay off. It was clear that Beijing had prepared themselves well for the game and knew the Fully defense, which is solid and strong, but very slow.

Again and again Utaka took the deep run, received the ball and got away from number 36. Eddy Bosnar and 6. Xu Bo. The deep passes – often from number 10. Zhang Xizhe, one of the best players right now on China, killed the Fully organization and they did not manage to change their way of defending. They should have put more pressure on number 10. Xizhe as he was the one distributing the balls for Utaka. This is a new way of understanding defensive tactic and was “invented” by José Mourinho some years ago in a game for Inter Milan against FC Barcelona in the Champions League.
Mourinho did not care about Lionel Messi – even though he was the big star and leading goal scorer for Barcelona. Mourinho only cared about who made the passes for Messi and his tactic was to stop these players instead of focusing only on Messi. And the tactic won – Inter Milan sent FC Barcelona out of the Champions League.

The Fully team was clearly overmatched and of course with only 10 men – they had no chance at all. Utaka and Zhang Xizhe kept punishing them all match, and 6-0 could even have been 8 or 9-0. Eriksson has done very well with Fully. Despite this game Fully is much more organized in their “Swedish” 4-4-2 with straight lines than before the famous coach came in, and Eriksson’s move by changing Rafael Coelho from right winger to central striker has really paid off.

Fully are currently number 5 in the league, which is their maximum position in terms of quality in the squad. Eriksson has done well, but can’t create magic, so if the team is aiming for a better position next season they must invest in more quality players.

They especially need a younger defensive player and they need to bring in more speed in the defense as well as Eriksson will need more creativity from his two wingers in a long season. Right now only Yakubu and Rafael are scoring the goals, so they need to find wingers, who can score goals and assist as well. Otherwise they get too easy to read and close down for an opponent.

CSL status
Tianjin Teda keeps on impressing this summer with their win away against Jiangsu, and I will take a closer look at their team next week in the Derby against Beijing Gouan. In the button it still looks difficult for Wuhan and Changchun, but still 6-7 matches to go, so nothing is concluded yet.

The top of the table seems almost concluded as Evergrande will win the Championship, Shandong will be second and Beijing probably third. Three very strong teams, who are just an inch better than the rest of the teams in terms of quality in the squad, professional set up, and general investments and facilities.