Number’s up for Shanghai SIPG as Hulk penalty miss sees Chinese Super League leaders lose and let rivals back in the race
The width of a post could prove decisive at the end of the season as Shandong Luneng and champions Guangzhou Evergrande trim gap
Eight feet by eight yards. A surface area of 17.861 metres. More than enough to place a size five football in, you’d think, but eight weeks into the Chinese Super League the number’s up for the league leaders.
Instead of coming away from Changchun with a point, the width of a post meant that Shanghai SIPG were handed their first loss of the season.
Hulk stepped up from 12 yards but his penalty hit the upright and the game ended 2-1 to the hosts.
Wu Lei had scored for SIPG, his tenth in the league this season and the first player to hit double figures, but Odion Ighalo’s brace – six of his seven goals for the season have come in the last two games – proved to be enough.
The top-scoring Chinese player for the last couple of years is now just the top-scorer full stop and the SIPG academy product is outperforming some of the most expensive players in world football, including those on his own team.
Hulk and Oscar had laid on Wu’s goal but the former was left rueing his miss from the spot and the once free-scoring Shanghai side were confined to a single goal.
While Hulk hit the post, Changchun hit the woodwork several times themselves and also had a chance cleared off the line. They were deserved winners, something that coach Vitor Periera acknowledged after the game.
The last two weeks have changed the complexion of this title race as SIPG have seen their lead at the top of table cut down.
Five points. Four points. One point.
A draw and a loss in their last two matches have seen Shandong Luneng and the champions Evergrande close the gap.
These are fine margins. The five inch width of a post could prove decisive come the end of the season.
On Saturday night champions Guangzhou Evergrande left it late before Yu Hanchao headed in to snatch the points with an injury time winner.
That had cut the gap to two points and the ball was in SIPG’s court to extend to five again.
Now, after Shandong Luneng also won to keep up their own run of form, the top three are separated by just two points and unlike SIPG, Evergrande and Shandong are sides that have won the title before.
SIPG remain top but they have gone from making the best start to a Chinese Super League season to a run of form that suggests they might be uncomfortable leading the league.
Before this season they have not spent more than six consecutive weeks at the top of the table. They have been there for all eight weeks of this season.
History is not on their side. Suning spent the first five weeks of the 2016 season at the top of the table.
Evergrande won the league.
SIPG were top of the table for 10 weeks of the 2015 season. Evergrande spent only nine weeks at the summit.
Evergrande won the league.
The first six weeks of 2012 it was Guangzhou R&F at the top of the table. Evergrande won the league.
SIPG need to learn what Evergrande know all too well. The only numbers that matter are at the end of the season.
Around the grounds
Cedric Bakambu cost more money than Mo Salah. He is the most expensive African footballer of all time. If that tag is a burden then he wears it well. The lovable hitman scored again, the goal proving the winner for Beijing Guoan in a 4-3 thriller. Bakagoal also set one up but Bakassist is a less catchy nickname.
The rival to Bakambu in the likeability stakes is Bubacarr Trawally aka Steve and Guizhou’s Gambian goal machine scored all three for the visitors at Gongti. There is a strong case for him being the best value signing in the Chinese Super League.
Ezequiel Lavezzi found the form of last season for Hebei this weekend. Pocho popped up with a brace and an assist in his side’s 3-0 win over Tianjin Quanjian. Could he join teammate Javier Mascherano at the World Cup this summer?
Jiangsu Suning have been in form since replacing Fabio Capello but they lost their first game under Romanian boss Cosmin Olaroiu. Jiangsu’s Benjamin Moukandjo, currently on loan at Beijing Renhe, scored the winner for his loan side over Tianjin Teda.
Jin Jingdao had scored once before this weekend but he bagged a brace to keep Shandong in the hunt with a 2-1 win over Henan Jianye.
Shanghai Shenhua followed up their embarrassing exit in the CFA Cup midweek with a win over Dalian Yifang. This could be a record-settingly bad season for the promoted side and it gets no easier with the champions up next.
Andres Iniesta has still not been confirmed as coming to China but his expected new club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan lost to Guangzhou R&F.
SIPG vs Beijing Guoan is the biggest game of next weekend. First against fourth and four points between them. It’s now must win for the Shanghai side as Evergrande will be expected to beat Yifang.