Chinese Super League midterm reports: Guangzhou Evergrande not making the grade at the World Cup break
As the season takes a two-month break we look at the successes and failures so far – and who won’t be coming back in July
The 2018 Chinese Super League only started in March but after 11 games – just over a third of the fixture list – it’s time for the mid-season break with games resuming on July 18 after the World Cup in Russia.
It’s going to be a long two months for the players at Guangzhou Evergrande, where the chairman has promised change among the foreign contingent and training with the reserves for Fabio Cannavaro’s disappointing first team after stumbling out of the AFC Champions League to former club Tianjin Quanjian and letting the title race pass them by, while the Italian might well be relieved of his duties during the break.
But it’s not just the champions that will have a period of reflection as the teams look to put things right when fixtures resume.
Shanghai SIPG – 23 points
The early pace setters remain on top but that’s not to say they want to. Recent weeks have seen them stutter after a record-setting start, and they could have gone into the break in fifth place had results in round 11 gone differently. Brazilian trio Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson have all been missing one way or another but Wu Lei has stepped up and is four goals shy of becoming the league’s top scorer ever. Vitor Pereira will be disappointed by the premature end to their AFC Champions League campaign but they are still in the CFA Cup and top the table. Is the double on or will they fall short again?
Shandong Luneng – 23 points
The season’s success story? Manager Li Xiaopeng has improved on Felix Magath to get them back to their traditional top of the table status. Italian striker Graziano Pelle has been in fine form of late including a late equaliser in round 10 and setting up Wu Xinghan’s winner at the weekend. In line for their first title since 2010. Still in the cup.
Beijing Guoan – 22 points
Bakambu, Bakambu, Bakambu. What a signing the DR Congo striker has been, contributing at both ends of the pitch. Bakagol has thrived in Beijing since making his prolonged move from La Liga side Villareal. Arguably the best supported team in the league has been linked with even bigger stars since, but they might not need them to make a challenge for their first title for nine years. Much improved from last year and they have a CFA Cup quarter-final against SIPG, who they beat in Shanghai, to look forward to.
Jiangsu Suning – 19 points
The man known as Postman Pat during his reign as England boss, Fabio Capello, was sent packing after three games with the club in 12th but his replacement Cosmin Olaroiu has turned the tide. That they could have gone top of the table is testament to what the Romanian has achieved with Alex Teixeira and young player of the season so far Huang Zichang impressing. Still in the cup despite penalty drama in the last round.
Guangzhou Evergrande – 18 points
The champions are fifth and out of the AFC Champions League at the mid-season break. The sack surely beckons for Fabio Cannavaro and we will see what comes next from a club that has made more headlines on the pitch than off thanks to heavy fines, a pair of reserve players fighting mid-game and the farce of Zhang Linpeng’s taped-up shirt. Chairman Xu Jiayin has promised changes, which could see Alan and Ricardo Goulart leave but the team has struggled when they have been unavailable.
Guangzhou R&F – 17 points
The city’s second side are not meant to be a point away from Evergrande at this stage so it’s a very good season in that regard, the highlight being the opening game of the campaign where they beat their rivals 5-4 in their own home. Last season’s MVP, Eran Zahavi, has been back to his best in recent games. Play Jiangsu Suning in the cup quarters.
Shanghai Shenhua – 17 points
The most confusing team in the CSL have been as befuddling as ever. They have taken points off Evergrande and Hebei but were bombed out of the AFC Champions League and surrendered their CFA Cup. But the fans expected all of that from the team with the fattest keeper in the league and no centre forward after Obafemi Martins saw injury end his season.
Hebei China Fortune FC – 15 points
A side that everyone expected more of, they have disappointed. Javier Mascherano was meant to be the missing link but it’s not quite clicked for the Hebei side partly because Ezequiel Lavezzi has gone from the unofficial best player in the division to a shadow of his former self. Coach Manuel Pellegrini has gone has left the club for English Premier League side West Ham United, jumping before he was pushed, so they are looking for a new manager.
Beijing Renhe – 15 points
For a newly promoted team to beat the champions and take points off Shandong Luneng is a good thing although their inconsistency is embodied by their 4-0 loss in the Beijing derby. That they are mid-table will be encouraging to those in China League One. They are unlikely to emulate the success of Quanjian last season in making the Champions League spots but staying up would be a foundation on which to build.
Tianjin Quanjian – 15 points
Another side everyone expected more of, the newest Tianjin side have been mercurial at best in the domestic league but have beaten the Hong Kong Premier League side Kitchee among others to make it to the Champions League knockouts. Beating Evergrande to the quarter-finals means that Paolo Bento might get more time. Success story of last season under Cannavaro. Carrying China’s hopes in the AFC Champions League, they will hope it’s third time lucky for a CSL team against J.League outfit Kashima Antlers after they despatched both Shanghai sides.
Tianjin Teda – 15 points
It’s been an odd year for Teda. Plus side, being on the same points as Quanjian at this stage and Frank Acheampong has been a revelation up front, including a hat-trick in the 3-2 win over Quanjian in the Tianjin derby. Have been unable to string together a decent run in the league, with two wins in a row their best so far.
Chongqing Lifan – 11 points
If ever a side needed World Cup winning midfielder Andres Iniesta or to be bought by Manchester City then it is Chongqing. One of those persistent rumours is off the table after the World Cup winner chose Japan’s Vissel Kobe but off-pitch distractions plague Paulo Bento’s side. It’s now five losses on the bounce, including in the FA Cup.
Changchun Yatai – 11 points
A four-goal haul from fan favourite Odion Ighalo against Guizhou was part of why he was named player of the month for April as was a brace in their win over SIPG. Three wins on the spin in the month meant that they could absorb losing all three of their games in May.
Henan Jianye – 11 points
Replaced Dragan Talajic with Chang Woe-Ryong after the Croatian had managed only one win in seven. The new boss has delivered double that in his four games plus a draw with R&F to give belief that they can survive another season in the CSL.
Dalian Yifang– 9 points
Started the worst with a hammering at Shanghai Stadium and while they are still paying the price for that in the goal difference column, things have improved with the arrival of Bernd Schuster as replacement for Ma Lin. New arrivals Yannick Carrasco, Nico Gaitan and Jose Fonte can’t have expected this, nor will new owner Wang Jianlin. The promoted side will be inspired by Henan who were 15th at this stage last season and pulled clear after the break to stay up. The season could still be memorable for the right reasons as they remain in the FA Cup.
Guizhou Zhicheng – 4 points
Oh dear. Being worse than a team that got beaten 8-0 on the first day of the season is some going but one win and one draw from 11 games is bottom of the table form. The team’s identity crisis has not helped nor has making the news for a cash win bonus that was then dismissed as “fake news”.
Mid-table last season, surely they are going down but their draw with SIPG will give them hope.
Still in the FA Cup but it is expected boss Gregorio Manzano will not be when the tie is played in July.