Guangzhou Evergrande can defend their titles, says Lippi
Marcello Lippi is confident his Guangzhou Evergrande side can put the disjointed efforts of the first half of their season behind them to retain their domestic and continental crowns.
The Chinese Super League and AFC Champions League title holders have been in less than stellar form so far this season, but have still reached the last eight of the continental championship for the third season in a row while also sitting well clear at the top of the domestic standings.
Lippi, though, believes his side, who are seven points clear of Beijing Guoan at the top of the Super League standings, are starting to pick up their form after a season of readjusting to the departures of Dario Conca and, more recently, Muriqui.
"At the beginning of this season, since we won the Chinese league and the AFC Champions League, psychologically some players had some problems, but now I would say we are getting better and better," said the Italian World Cup winner.
"We are heading in the right direction and ready to finish the season in a good way. We have been champions in the past three years, and also last year in Asia. To become champions is much harder with each passing year."
Guangzhou have bolstered their line-up with Alberto Gilardino, a member of Lippi's 2006 World Cup-winning squad who has replaced Muriqui.
"Alberto will get better and better in terms of physical condition," said Lippi of the former AC Milan and Fiorentina forward, who has scored three times in his first six games.
Their AFC Champions League opponents tonight are Western Sydney Wanderers, who qualified for the last eight by seeing off Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima with ex-Japan international Shinji Ono dominant. He has now returned to Japan.
Coach Tony Popovic is taking heart from Guangzhou's struggles against fellow A-League side Melbourne Victory, who beat Lippi's side in the group stages.
"Melbourne Victory did a great job," Popovic said. "We know we have players good enough to create opportunities."