Military camps, Guangzhou Evergrande era ends and Wu Lei shines: 2018 Chinese Super League season is one to remember
- Shanghai SIPG deserving champions with golden boot winner Oscar leading assists and tightest defence
- VAR, late red cards and excess injury time make for goals galore
The Chinese Super League has wrapped for another year and the big story is that after seven years of Guangzhou Evergande winning the title there is a new name on the CSL trophy.
But there has been more to the season than Shanghai SIPG finally shaking their perpetual bridesmaid tag.
Here it is: good, bad and ugly.
Guangzhou Evergrande need a new motto
Until they decide that winning the Super Cup is being the best forever then the seven-in-a-row champions need to rethink their club crest.
It had to come at some point but this was the season we finally saw the end to the Evergrande era, with Shanghai SIPG winning the league by five points and edging a crucial title decider in Guangzhou.
It was always a possibility that this would be the year. Fabio Cannavaro coming in had a lot to live up to in his second spell with an ageing squad.
They are still a cut above most teams though, as their 12-pass goal when reduced to 10 men against Tianjin Teda on the final day proved.
The best team won the league
In the end it could have been a wider margin than five points, which was unthinkable when there were just two points separating the top two with three games to go.
SIPG started as they meant to go on, with an 8-0 win over Dalian Yifeng on the opening day of the season, and they kept it up right until round 29 where they secured the title – something that could only have been improved if more people were allowed into the stadium to see it.
Their run of form after the World Cup break was phenomenal and included beating Evergrande home and away and taking three points from a visit to Workers’ Stadium.
They had the top scorer, the top assist provider and the best defence.
That SIPG were not the top-scoring side was testament to how little Evergrande wanted to relinquish their grip on the trophy.
The big question now is can they do it again?
Wu Lei is ready for his next move
For the first time since 2007, the golden boot was Chinese. Wu Lei’s 27 matched Eran Zahavi’s total from last season and fell just one short of teammate Elkeson’s record of 28, scored when he was at Guangzhou Evergrande.
Vitor Pereira got the best out of the 26-year-old allowing him to thrive in an inside forward role – neither striker nor winger.
League champion, golden boot and Chinese Super League record scorer. It’s been a season that has cemented his place as the best Chinese player but with his peak ahead of him it is time to see how much potential a player called “China’s Maradona” has by playing overseas.
Either that or Wu needs to deliver on the international stage for his country.
Foreigners still crucial
With no Carlos Tevez to give foreigners a bad name, the imports concentrated on football. A more mature Oscar was a cut above with Hulk not far behind him over the course of the season, while the goal scored by teammate Odil Ahmedov in their title-winning game was spectacular from a player who often goes unnoticed.
Evergrande’s title tilt was fuelled by the arrival of Paulinho and Anderson Talisca, who looked like he was playing a different game than everyone else. Even Alan was the superb before his ban.
It was a similar story at Beijing Guoan, who kept pace at the top when their foreigners were on song. Cedric Bakambu even looked good value for his absurdly priced transfer at that point.
Throughout the league it was the foreign aid that often made the difference for their teams, which thanks to the CFA tying under-23 players to foreigners’ game time meant for a vicious circle where the game was even easier for them.
You can be too reliant though, as Changchun Yatai found to their cost when second top scorer Odion Ighalo could not keep them up.
CFA announced that Diego Tardelli, the Brazilian forward of Shandong Luneng, is suspended for 1 match due to 'undignified behavior' during the pre-game national anthem before match against Shanghai SIPG, in which Shandong were beaten 4:2. pic.twitter.com/XwlNSzWFmP
— Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) 31 October 2018
The CFA never fail to surprise
Unless the question is “what is the best way to prepare the military?” then the answer is never a military camp.
That did not stop the suits deciding that shaved heads and fatigues were the order of the day for 55 of the country’s young footballers.
The players were taken from their clubs in the middle of the season in a move that also undid their very own under-23 ruling.
Not done there, they also banned Shandong Luneng’s Diego Tardelli for rubbing his face during the pre-game national anthem and banned another player for eating dinner.
The final insult is the scheduling of the Chinese FA Cup final to ensure that it is as difficult as possible for fans to attend.
Football in China will continue to confound while the CFA act as if they are a Football Manager glitch.
Attack is the best form of defence
Staggeringly only five teams finished with a positive goal difference. Maybe that will change next season when the ban on foreign goalkeepers is lifted but it is a brave club that opts for a non-attacker in their foreign quota.
More likely we will see more of the same. A league where the team who has dominated for years can lose 5-4 at home twice in a season.
There’s something of the Hackney Marshes in the CSL’s continued supply of late, late goals – a sense that the game is never over that is heightened by the abundant time added on that is played.
Combined with the tired legs and tired minds that give away red cards and penalties late on, the only mantra for teams is to keep attacking.
And don’t even get started on VAR’s role in all this.