Guangzhou Evergrande put one hand on the Chinese title as Super League battle enters championship rounds
Defending champions move seven points clear at the top of the table with four matches left to play
Another game down and four left for the Chinese Super League season and while Guangzhou Evergrande now have one hand on the trophy, elsewhere there is still much to be decided.
While 34 points separate Guangzhou Evergrande in top spot and Changchun Yatai at the foot of the table, those numbers don’t tell the real story of the mini-leagues that are still being contested throughout the top flight.
After this weekend, Evergrande moved to seven points clear of second placed Jiangsu Suning, who in turn have a five-point lead over Shanghai Shenhua in third. And that’s where it starts to get interesting.
Shenhua and cross-town rivals Shanghai SIPG are battling it out for the final spot in next season’s Champions League but thanks to the top two also being in the CFA Cup Final – the winner of which was going to get a spot in next season’s Champions League – fourth will be good enough to play in next year’s continental competition unless either finalist finishes outside the top three. As it stands, the Blue Devils have the advantage of a two-point lead over the red half of the city.
From fifth onwards, it becomes a case of the best of the rest. Hebei China Fortune’s season has tailed off and with it their Champions League hopes have ended, unless they can get back into the top four. The newcomers sit in fifth place, seven points back from SIPG on 36 points – the same total as Guangzhou R&F and Beijing Guoan.
There are only six points separating the teams battling it out for fifth spot and 13th place, creating situation where a run of wins in the last four games could move a team from just teetering on the relegation zone to the cusp of the Champions League spots.
Watch: highlights of Hangzhou Greentown v Jiangsu Suning
A case in point is Hangzhou Greentown. They remain third bottom today after a weekend when they put three without reply past Jiangsu Suning, putting the visitors’ title dreams firmly to bed. In doing so Greentown put six points between them and bottom placed Changchun Yatai and pulled themselves a little further out of the relegation quagmire.
It was a vital win. Shijiazhuang Everbright took the three points in the battle of the bottom two, edging Changchun Yatai 3-2 at home, leapfrogging the Changchun side and keeping both Hangzhou and a dramatic escape within five points.
Hangzhou can put a little more daylight between themselves and the drop zone when the league returns after China’s World Cup Qualifiers. On October 15th, Everbright host Evergrande in a game where a win for the champions would guarantee them their sixth title in a row, while Hangzhou are away at Guangzhou R&F a day later.
Watch: highlights of Beijing Guoan v Shandong Luneng
While Everbright need an upset, Changchun need a miracle. They are only a point behind the Shijiazhuang side but two losses in a week and being sent bottom won’t have helped morale ahead of the visit of Beijing Guoan when the CSL resumes in what will be a long few weeks for the players.
Felix Magath’s Shandong Luneng side may not yet be out of the woods but they are a point and two places above Greentown because of their superior goal difference to Tianjin Teda.
The German will be able to get his team closer to safety with a win over Manuel Pellegrini’s Hebei China Fortune next weekend. The Chilean and his side already appear to be concentrating on next season, having only picked up the first point of his reign at the weekend but it is not impossible, with 12 points still to play for, that Hebei make a late surge.
Hebei might still get to have a say on the Champions League spots if it goes down to the wire. They face Shanghai SIPG on the last day of the season at the same time as Changchun Yatai take on Shanghai Shenhua and victory could allow Hebei or another team in with a chance.
Beijing Guoan fans would like nothing more than getting into the Champions League at the expense of either Shanghai side and they could still be in with a shout when they play Shenhua in the penultimate game, when SIPG take on a Tianjin Teda side who are much more involved at the foot of the table than they would like.
But it is the week before that could have the biggest bearing at both ends of the table. Week 28’s fixtures see SIPG host Shandong Luneng and Hangzhou Greentown welcome Shanghai Shenhua with vital points on the line and three teams in the chasing pack for fourth.
Before all that, though, there is the small matter of the next round of matches after the international break. Shenhua host the thoroughly mid-table Henan Jiaye, a team that truly has nothing to play for, while SIPG take the short trip to Nanjing to meet Jiangsu Suning. Dropped points for either might let Hebei, Beijing or Guangzhou R&F back in the race.
The league title might be a foregone conclusion but with four games in the final fortnight, the Chinese Super League can’t be accused of being either dull or done and dusted.