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Chinese Super League

Dalian Yifang win over Guangzhou Evergrande means more questions than answers in Chinese Super League

Narratives abound as top teams struggle to lay out title credentials, and VAR has its say ahead of a vital week in the AFC Champions League

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2018, 12:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2018, 12:35pm

The Chinese Super League is a nascent one, one of the youngest top domestic leagues in the world.

Perhaps it is fitting that it spends its time the same was as many other toddlers: asking questions.

Arguably, there’s not another league around that poses more questions than answers at the end of every matchday.

Certainly this season.

Why do Shanghai SIPG look such a different proposition now to the team that started the season with a record setting six CSL wins on the bounce?

It’s now three games since SIPG won in the league – a draw with Tianjin Teda kicking off a run of form that has seen them lose to Changchun Yatai and then this weekend to Beijing Guoan. The visitors came back from an Elkeson goal to blitz the league leaders in the second half. Goals from Piao Cheng and Cedric “Bakagoal” Bakambu sealing the points.

Before that they lost a dead rubber to Melbourne Victory in the AFC Champions League, having already topped the group, and won twice in the Chinese FA Cup, edging Beijing Renhe in the last round on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

SIPG enter their game against J.League side Kashima Antlers this Wednesday shorn of confidence in front of goal and on a run of form that seemed unthinkable as they were cruising through the group stage and sitting pretty at the top of the league.

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Oscar missed the Beijing Guoan game and Hulk then went off injured, while Wu Lei moved from the wing to the centre. All of these things added up to disrupting the free-scoring side that swept all aside at the start of the season. If Hulk is not back for Wednesday then it is going to be an uphill struggle.

Did anyone predict Dalian Yifang’s first win would come against the champions?

After going eight weeks without a win, you’d forgive the players and fans at Dalian Yifang for thinking that a visit from the champions would extend that run to nine.

Instead it was cloud nine in Dalian with the team running out 3-0 winners thanks to a slick move resulting in Nyasha Mushekwi’s opener, a Yannick Carrasco penalty and a Wang Jinxian goal that came after Carrasco showed excellent skill on the byline. The Dalian side doubled their season points total in 90 minutes.

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As unexpected as the result was, this is an Evergrande side that looks listless. The loss in Dalian came on the back of exiting the CFA Cup to Guizhou Zhicheng and their last league game before that was destined for a draw before a last minute winner.

Much like them throwing away a 2-0 lead in the last few minutes at Beijing Guoan, it’s far from convincing from the champions.

They can put that right with a good result in the first leg of the Champions League this week but manager Fabio Cannavaro would probably rather be playing anyone else than former club Tianjin Quanjian – who beat Chongqing Lifan at the weekend. There’s one question that is not going away this season: will history repeat itself for Cannavaro at Guangzhou Evergrande? Let’s come back to that in a week.

Does anyone want to win the league?

Everyone keeps fluffing their lines. Evergrande’s loss on Saturday afternoon gave SIPG a chance to extend their lead. Instead they lost and Beijing Guoan leapfrogged the champions into third. This meant that Shandong Luneng could usurp SIPG with victory on Sunday. Did they win? Of course not.

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A 0-0 draw at Beijing Renhe means that the league table is separated by goal difference, with Guoan a point behind in third, the champions a point behind them and Jiangsu Suning – who won again on Sunday – a point behind them.

Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai Shenhua, whose defences were at sixes and sevens in a bizarre 4-2 thriller on Saturday night, sit just behind in sixth and seventh.

Just what is the deal with VAR?

The same as every week, it’s hard to tell what is going on when the “screen” gesture comes out.

Evergrande would have a case for feeling hard done by for Dalian’s second. The penalty looked like it should not have been given as replays showed their defender played the ball first but the video room sided with the referee’s original decision.

The champions then had a penalty claim of their own referred to the video bods and ... no penalty.

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Beijing Guoan also got away with a sloppy handball in the box as the replay showed SIPG players offside in the build-up.

Given their experience with VAR, it’s a shame that there will be no Chinese referees among the Asian contingent going to the World Cup in Russia this summer.

And so to the most important question:

Can the Chinese Super League sides keep up this drama next week?

With three teams involved in the Champions League – two playing one another – there’s more midweek action and Friday sees Beijing Guoan test their resurgent form against R&F. Evergrande play the underperforming Hebei CFFC and SIPG take on the bottom team Guizhou Zhicheng (who lost 5-1 to Tianjin Teda on Sunday), while Shandong Luneng host the mercurial Tianjin Quanjian. And can Dalian kick-start their season by getting a result against Jiangsu Suning?