Dalian Yifang win means Chinese Super League race between Beijing Guoan, Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG

New boys were first to flinch in the sack race but seem safe, while the league could be decided when leaders play champions on September 14

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 3:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 8:04am

As exciting as the action has been at the top of the Chinese Super League table, it’s been as good at the bottom.

And in weeks like this, it’s at both ends simultaneously.

Dalian Yifang hosted Shandong Luneng on Saturday night and a 4-3 home win has as good as ended Shandong’s title race for another year.

Bernd Schuster’s side now have 23 points. They are six off the relegation spots and just five away from Guangzhou R&F in sixth place.

The early appointment of the German has worked.

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Since he replaced Ma Lin in March, the results have been much improved and the decision to dispatch Portugal international defender Jose Fonte has paid off.

His foreigner spot has been taken by Nyasha Mushekwi and the Zimbabwe striker has repaid that faith in goals.

Of the 10 he has scored, most have proved vital in winning points.

Three points against Henan Jianye (two goals), Guangzhou R&F (hat-trick), Guizhou Zhicheng (two goals) and Guangzhou Evergrande (one goal) plus a point against Chongqing Lifan in matchweek 20.

He was not on the scoresheet this week but the two other members of Dalian Yifang’s foreign attacking trident were.

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Yannick Carrasco netted from the penalty spot and Nico Gaitan scored the goal of the weekend with a nonchalant volley from distance.

How the foreign units of Chinese clubs work together is a factor in the success of all CSL clubs.

Where Dalian have got their starting trio in attack – similar to the way Shanghai SIPG line up with their first choice foreigners Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson or Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande use theirs – Shandong Luneng play central defender Gil as one of theirs rather than an all-out attacking trio of Graziano Pelle, Diego Tardelli and recent arrival Roger Guedes.

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How to use the playing personnel, and who to bring in, is a decision for the manager to make – just as changing the manager is a decision for the board.

The importance of coaching cannot be overstated and bringing in Schuster cannot be questioned now, but the jury remains out on the other arrivals. Chris Coleman has had mixed results since replacing the departed Manuel Pellegrini at Hebei China Fortune, but the 1-1 draw with Shanghai SIPG on Saturday hints at something.

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Poor Jordi Cruyff, who came in for Paulo Bento at Chongqing Lifan in August, remains winless and destined for relegation, as does Dan Petrescu, who arrived at bottom club Guizhou in June.

Did the boards allow them enough time?

Hebei’s hands were tied with Pellegrini choosing to return to the English Premier League, but the situation in Chongqing is all of their own doing and not helped by the Chinese backroom staff loyal to caretaker Hao Haitao walking out. Similarly, Guizhou only sacking Gregorio Manzano in June.

Arguably, Schuster has given fellow German Roger Schmidt of league leaders Beijing Guoan a run for the manager of the year.

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That opening day hammering in Shanghai Stadium seems a long time ago now for this Dalian side.

They showed resilience to find a winner after Graziano Pelle pegged them back to 3-3 with little over 10 minutes left.

And the win will give them hope beyond a top-half finish.

Dalian go to Shandong in the Chinese FA Cup semi-final and after that 4-3 win they might fancy their chances of overturning a 1-0 aggregate score in Jinan at the end of the month.

By then, if form continues, it will be Dalian in the ascendancy and Shandong slipping down the standings.

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Dalian’s say on the league title is not yet done either as Evergrande host them on September 29. Beijing Guoan will surely be happy to have played them twice already, winning both.

Before that we have an unwelcome international break.

The action returns with the big one on September 14 – the champions against the champions elect.

Guangzhou Evergrande came from behind on Sunday to win 2-1 over Shanghai Shenhua, proving that if anyone is taking the title they see as rightfully theirs then it will take prying their fingers off one by one.

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Beijing Guoan travel to Tianhe Stadium for a game that could see Evergrande go top for the first time this season and Renato Augusto has decided to skip the Brazil squad to prepare for what could be a title decider.

It’s decisions like that which will prove decisive.