From top to bottom: Felix Magath challenges Shandong Luneng to prove their worth against Beijing Guoan
Third-place side, who only just avoided relegation in 2016, are out to get their Chinese Super League campaign back on track after last week’s defeat by Shanghai SIPG
Coach Felix Magath has challenged his Shandong Luneng side to justify their position towards the top of the Chinese Super League by returning to winning ways at home to Beijing Guoan on Saturday.
Third-place Shandong reeled of three wins to start the new domestic season, but were edged by 2-1 by fellow early season pacesetters Shanghai SIPG last week.
Second-place SIPG are also in action on Saturday as Andre Villas-Boas’ side face in-form Tianjin Quanjian, while Changchun Yatai entertain Shanghai Shenhua and struggling Jiangsu Suning travel to Henan Jianye.
Beijing head into the weekend into sixth, just two points behind SIPG and Shandong after recording back-to-back wins over Shenhua and Henan.
“We will play our fifth game tomorrow and we need to prove to people why we are in this position in the league table,” said German coach Felix Magath, who was appointed midway through last season and eventually helped Shandong avoid relegation by two points.
“[Beijing] are tough, their performance against [Guangzhou] Evergrande was very tough. It will be very difficult for us to win.
“Although we were unfortunate to lose the last game, we showed our ability to play attacking football facing such a strong team, so we have to attack and try to take the lead as soon as possible.
“The formation depends on the current situation of players. Qi Tianyu has an injury and he hasn’t joined our training sessions for several days. Liu Binbin the same after he quit the training yesterday because of injury. We are not sure if he will be able to play the game.”
SIPG boss Villas-Boas also had some injury concerns ahead of the trip to Tianjin, who have moved up to seventh after recording back-to-back wins under coach Fabio Cannavaro, with Brazilian striker Hulk a doubt while both defender Fu Huan and Uzbekistan midfielder Odil Akhmedov have remained in Shanghai after failing to recover from injury.
SIPG started the season with six straight wins in all competitions, but suffered a second defeat in three games in midweek after losing 1-0 to Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the AFC Champions League after Brazilian midfielder Oscar missed two penalties.
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“I will give my players enough freedom and I hope Oscar, Hulk, Wu Lei and Elkeson can coordinate well. It doesn’t matter how many goals we can score; the essential thing is how we score the goals,” said SIPG boss Villas-Boas.
“Hulk came to Tianjin with us and we will give him a few tests to see if he is able to play.”