Chinese Super League predictions almost impossible as unmissable title run-in and relegation battle promise late goals
- Leaders Shanghai SIPG travel to champions Guangzhou Evergrande in winner-takes-all clash
- Nine teams trying to avoid two relegation spots with three games left
“It’’s up for grabs now,” said ITV commentator Brian Moore as Arsenal midfielder Michael Thomas raced through the Liverpool defence and slotted the ball past Bruce Grobelaar.
It was 1989 and the final game of the Football League Division One season, a winner-takes-all affair where Arsenal went away to Anfield on a balmy May night and came home as the champions of England.
It’s a seminal moment in English football history and one that has been immortalised in the book and film Fever Pitch as well as documentary ‘89.
While Saturday is not the final day of the season, it’s as close at the top and bottom of the table as it’s ever been in the Chinese Super League and there’s never been a more film-worthy title race.
League leaders Shanghai SIPG travel to seven-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande on Saturday evening with a two-point advantage in the title race and the knowledge that their fate is in their own hands.
Hulk returned for SIPG last weekend and scored twice as they saw off a spirited challenge from third place Shandong Luneng. The 4-2 win also saw Wu Lei register his 100th Chinese Super League goal as he clocked his 25th of the season.
Evergrande, meanwhile, dismissed a resurgent Guizhou Zhicheng 3-0 to ensure the pressure remains on the challengers.
The form of both teams is frightening.
Since the CSL returned from its summer break, there have been 16 games and 48 points on offer – Shanghai SIPG have won 13 of their games, drawing two and losing one for 41 points; the champions have won 14 and lost twice, claiming 42 points.
The leaders can take solace in imposing one of those losses on Evergrande.
The relegation battle, in which the aforementioned Guizhou are expected to now lose out after results left them seven points adrift, is as up for grabs as the title.
The three teams directly above them – Henan Jianye, Tianjin Teda and Chongqing Lifan – are all on 28 points. Guangzhou R&F are one above that, while Changchun Yatai and Tianjin Quanjian – 6-2 winners over R&F last week – will hope their extra two-point cushions keeps them out of it with only nine points left to play for.
They are at the 32-point mark that has often meant CSL safety but perhaps the fact that 32 points is not yet safe or that last season just 23 points would have kept you up explains why there is so much incident at the end of games.
Last minute drama has become the expectation this season, with goals and red cards meaning it is never over until the final whistle.
The players are all going to the very end in every game, as proved by the number of late goals.
Goals scored after the 76th minute of games – the final 15 minutes plus any additional time – are abnormally frequent, and only so much of that can be put down to the amount of added time.
Last week 13 of the 35 goals scored were in the last 15 minutes, a season high.
Even accounting for added time at the end of both halves, its unusual for one of the game’s six 15-minute periods to see so many more goals than another.
It carries through for the whole season, especially for the teams at the lower reaches of the table.
Dalian Yiteng have scored 11 of their 33 goals in the final 15 minutes, while for both Tianjin Teda and Tianjin Quanjian it is 10 of 36 in that time period – bear in mind that Pato’s side scored a sixth of those goals in their game against R&F last week.
For most teams in the division, late strikes are providing between a quarter and a third of their goals scored.
The notable exceptions are Beijing Guoan (12 of 60 goals), Shanghai SIPG (10 of 68 goals) and Guangzhou Evergrande (14 of 73 goals). These are three highest scoring teams in the league and in Beijing Guoan and SIPG the two teams that have spent most of the season on top.
The champions have the most late goals of all with 14, and it’s notable 11 of those have come since the mid-season break when Anderson Talisca and Paulinho arrived to kickstart their title challenge.
If the rest of the season and their meeting in Shanghai last month is anything to go by then this game will be dramatic to the very last minute but it’s not the only unmissable game in the CSL this week.
Guangzhou R&F have scored 13 goals in the last 15 minutes of games but their bigger problem is they have also been conceding them.
Having a negative goal difference is no big deal – only the top five are in credit in the goal difference column – but they have not won in six games and have only taken one point in that time.
Their season could go from bad to worse when they visit bottom side Guizhou on Friday night to kick off a weekend where everything is up for grabs.