Chinese Super League: Paulinho, Anderson Talisca and Wu Lei at the double to put pressure on leaders Beijing Guoan
Champions Guangzhou Evergrande and title favourites Shanghai SIPG win to narrow the gap at the summit as season nears final third
And then there were three. That’s the number of points now separating the top four in the Chinese Super League after another weekend of shocks.
The biggest was at Beijing’s Fengtai Stadium, the suburban home of Beijing Renhe, which hosted the capital’s derby.
The league leaders arrived in great form but there’s a reason that form going out the window has become cliche.
Finding themselves a goal down after six minutes, they were a man down a little over 10 minutes later with Jiang Tao sent off.
Renhe added two more goals and for only the second time this season Guoan failed to score. The other game was the 3-0 season-opening loss to Shandong Luneng, also the only other game where the Beijing side have had a man sent off.
Remarkably, of the five times that they have conceded three goals in a game they have only been on the losing side twice.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the league leaders had the lion’s share of possession and more passes but Renhe’s smash and grab paid off in a stadium where the home fans were very much the minority.
Shandong Luneng went into the weekend’s game in second place but they lost that after the other big shock.
The title challengers faced bottom side Guizhou Zicheng and came away from Guiyang on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline that could prove decisive at both ends of the table come the end of the season.
Again, the winners had less of the ball and fewer shots but they scored with all that hit the target to get a vital three points in their survival fight.
These upsets allowed Shanghai SIPG and Guanzhou Evergrande to make up ground.
SIPG left it late to edge a 3-2 win away and it was settled with Wu Lei’s second goal of the game – he is on 18 for the season in 18 games – after a flurry of late goals in Chongqing.
The vital three points puts them on 39 with Beijing Guoan, but the capital club remain top on account of beating SIPG when the two met.
1⃣0⃣0⃣ Paulinho (@paulinhop8) played his 100th game today in the Chinese Superleague and scored 2 goals for Guangzhou Evergrande in a 5-0 win against Tianjin Quanjian #Paulinho100 pic.twitter.com/B5lnXDd3Ty
— FC Barcelona Fl (@FCBarcelonaFl) 19 August 2018
Meanwhile, Evergrande marked Paulinho’s 100th game for the club with a 5-0 win, their second on the spin, over Tianjin Quanjian.
The Brazilian netted twice, as did countryman Anderson Talisca, to keep up their remarkable run of form since arriving in the summer.
Former Barcelona man Paulinho now has seven goals with the in-demand Anderson on nine in just seven games.
Both SIPG and Evergande have a game in hand and their meeting next month at Shanghai Stadium, in a game rescheduled because of a typhoon warning, looms large on the horizon.
Beijing Guoan and Shandong Luneng can put the results out of their mind as they concentrate on the Chinese FA Cup semi-final midweek before next weekend’s return to league action.
That round of fixtures marks the beginning of the final straight with two thirds of the season gone and the game between the champions and Shandong Luneng stands out, while Beijing Guoan host long-time rivals Tianjin Teda and Shanghai SIPG face the supposedly easy task of beating Henan Jianye at home.
After this week they won’t be counting any chickens but if they want to win their first silverware these are the games they need to win.
Number crunchers Five Thirty Eight’s weekly predictor has SIPG installed as the favourites for the league with a 44 per cent chance of winning the title. The champions are at 36 per cent for an eighth title in a row, while Beijing Guoan are down to 11 per cent and Shandong are at a mere 8 per cent.
It could all change again next week but the race for the golden boot might be a strong indication of where the league trophy ends up.
Wu Lei (18) remains two clear of last year’s winner Eran Zahavi (16) after they both scored a brace.
There is stiff competition coming in behind now that Odion Ighalo has found the shooting boots that he was missing at the World Cup for Nigeria and he netted again for Changchun Yatai for his 15th of the season. The former Watford man is like Zahavi in their clubs not chasing the league.
Cedric Bakambu (13), Ricardo Goulart (12) and Diego Tardelli (12) could all go on a run to lead their sides towards the title but it is Goulart’s teammates, Paulinho (7) and Anderson Talisca (9), that can’t stop scoring.
If they keep this up in the final 11 games then surely no one will stop the champions and never will two midseason signings have been more decisive.