Fifa World Cup absence filled with Chinese Super League as Shanghai SIPG and Shandong Luneng meet in top of table clash

Old faces and new kick off the second half of a season that might finally see an end to Guangzhou Evegrande’s stranglehold on the title

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 3:57pm

The Fifa World Cup has disappeared from our lives but we don’t have to go cold turkey as Chinese Super League football is back after two months off for Russia 2018.

The CSL returns to action tonight to kick off a full midweek programme of fixtures and plenty of talking points, even for the uninitiated.

As if scripted by the football gods themselves, the first game of the second half of the season is a top of the table clash.

League leaders Shanghai SIPG travel to second placed Shandong Luneng with only goal difference separating them.

The pair are on 23 points, just one ahead of Beijing Guoan, and SIPG will look to get back to the free-scoring ways that has seen them lead the league from the outset.

Shandong Luneng have signed a player to help them bring the title back to Jinan for the first time since 2010.

Brazilian starlet Roger Guedes joined from Palmeiras in the mid-season break. The 21-year-old was the top scorer in Brazil’s top flight, the Brasilieiro, while on loan at Atletico Mineiro this season with nine goals in 12 games.

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He’s joined on loan with the CSL side obliged to buy him for 9.25 million (US$10.85 million) at the end of the loan in a deal structure that is fast becoming a league-wide trademark.

That is sure to prove a bargain for one of the most highly rated talents in Brazil and one where you expect they can turn a profit when he inevitably moves on to a big European league.

Roger Guedes is in line for his debut on Tuesday.

He’s not the only Brazilian to head to China.

Champions Guangzhou Evergrande have been busy in the transfer window. Not only did they de-register South Korea’s World Cup hero Kim Young-gwon and Serbia midfielder Nemanja Gudelj but they secured the return of Paulinho 11 months after selling him to Barcelona where he won the La Liga title.

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They also brought in a player that had been on the shopping list of English Premier League sides Manchester United and Liverpool.

Anderson Talsica has come in from Portuguese side Benfica and he’s expected to play for his new club on Wednesday as they look to make up the points on the leaders.

They host bottom side Guizhou Zhicheng and will be six or eight points off the pace by the time they kick off.

Another Brazilian, or a Brazil-born Italy international at least, is in line for a CSL debut.

Eder joined Jiangsu Suning from Inter Milan in the summer and the midfielder could get his first taste of Chinese football on Tuesday as his fourth place side aim to make up three points on Beijing Guoan.

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They host Beijing Renhe and striker Richmond Boakye should feature after his agent used Twitter to deny reports that the Ghana international had returned to Serbian side Red Star Belgrade.

Elsewhere, Brazil’s World Cup midfielder Renato Augutso was warmly welcomed on his return to Beijing but he will guarantee god-like status and might get a statue just like CBA star Stephon Marbury if he can bring the title back to the capital. Guoan play 14th-place Henan Jianye on Wednesday.

Tianjin Quanjian have been busy too. They are unlikely to feature Belgium’s Axel Witsel after he secured third place at Russia 2018 but the only CSL side left in the AFC Champions League have paid the transfer fee and tax for Anthony Modeste.

Witsel’s Belgium teammate Yannick Carrasco will also sit out his team’s CSL game but he might be able to take a look at Dalian Yifang’s new signing Duvier Riascos. The Colombian forward has been brought in to add to the striking options offered by Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan as the side look to get out of the relegation zone.

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Portugal defender Jose Fonte is the foreigner who makes way. The former West Ham United and Southampton defender apparently wants a Premier League return after being let go, after an impressive World Cup he might get one.

Beijing Guaon’s Jin Penxiang has been loaned in presumably to replace him and they have also loaned Shanghai Shenhua’s Qin Sheng.

One man who won’t want to see Dalian find form just yet is Chris Coleman. The former Wales manager took charge of Hebei China Fortune this summer after former boss Manuel Pellegrini left for West Ham United.

Cookie, as he’s known, takes charge of his first CSL game on Wednesday night when his side travel to Dalian.

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He might hand a first start to Morocco international striker Ayoub El Kaabi, who joined the club from Moroccan top flight outfit Renaissance de Berkani.

His new club will hope that he can fire them to a renaissance as they aim for a Champions League finish from 10th place.

Guangzhou R&F held on to Eran Zahavi after last season’s MVP and golden boot was linked with a move to Shanghai SIPG in the summer, a move that may have been touted Cristiano Ronaldo-to-Manchester United-style as part of contract renegotiations.

He has a new teammate in the form of Serbia World Cup defender Dusko Tosic. The defender could make his second appearance when the seventh-place side travel to Tianjin Quanjian.

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Shanghai Shenhua’s Demba Ba could make his long-awaited return for the side after breaking his leg in the Shanghai derby in July 2016.

The Senegal striker has rejoined the Shanghai side and could feature against Tianjin Teda when they visit Hongkou Stadium on Wednesday.

So much intrigue and the midweek action is just to whet your whistle for the big one this weekend: Guanzhou Evergrande v Shanghai SIPG on Saturday night.

The destination of the title could look a little clearer by the final whistle.