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December 15, 2019

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Season review on faltering Shanghai teams

Shanghai’s two Chinese Super League teams SIPG and Greenland Shenhua both have brought home a trophy by the end of 2019 season, but each team faces a tough challenge ahead of the 2020 campaign.

CSL defending champion SIPG beat CFA Cup holders Beijing Guo’an 2-0 in Suzhou at the beginning of the year to claim the club’s first CFA Super Cup title.

Greenland Shenhua had a more eventful year. They dropped into the relegation zone, changed the head coach in July, before claiming victory over Shandong Luneng in a two-leg CFA Cup final to give the club a face-saving end to the season.

It also secured a spot in the AFC Champions League next year.

SIPG finished third in the 16-team CSL. They will take on either Buriram United or Ho Chi Minh City for an ACL qualifier next month to assure a spot in Group H of next year’s ACL.

Group H is the competition’s “group of death,” gathering Australian powerhouse Sydney FC, J League champion Yokohama F Marinos and K League winner Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Compared to the 2018 season, when SIPG pocketed their maiden CSL title, it was always going to be tough to replicate that success, as the club lost top striker Wu Lei to La Liga side Espanyol in 2018 and Brazilian striker Elkeson returned to his former club Guangzhou Evergrande in the middle of this season.

Elkeson’s replacement, Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic, is yet to satisfy SIPG fans since his arrival.

As a team relying too much on its foreign players’ individual ability, SIPG’s performances have been largely influenced by the competitive form of star signings Hulk and Oscar, with the local players taking a supportive role especially when setting up attacks.

With no new signings in the first half of the year, head coach Vitor Pereira tried to unleash the side’s potential by giving more playing time to players like Li Shenglong and Yang Shiyuan.

Young players such as Chen Binbin and Wei Zhen also got chances to shine.

SIPG has a relatively stable defensive set-up, yet, it still lacks local players who can step up to the plate when the club’s foreign stars fail to sparkle.

No SIPG player entered the CSL’s top 20 scorers list in 2019. The team scored 62 goals in 30 matches, 15 fewer than last season.

Goalie Yan Junling was arguably SIPG’s player of the year. And this was confirmed last week when the league named him as the 2019 CSL Best Goalkeeper.

As for the future, the team heads to Australia for winter training soon, and the 2020 season starts with an ACL qualifier on January 28 at Shanghai Stadium.

As the newly crowned CFA Cup champion, Greenland Shenhua has been drawn in Group F of the 2020 ACL with K league side Ulsan Hyundai, Australia’s Perth Glory and a play-off winner team.

But their third CFA Cup title did not erase the club’s under performing league campaign.

Spanish manager Enrique Sanchez Flores was replaced by South Korean head coach Choi Kang-hee in July after Shenhua encountered one of the biggest crises in the club’s 25-year history.

It was 14th in the 16-team league table with 12 points from 16 matches, and facing a real threat of relegation.

Choi, Shenhua’s seventh manager in five years, brought six assistants and South Korean striker Kim Shin-wook with him.

Kim showed red hot form after joining the CSL side, scoring eight goals in his first five matches for the club, giving fans the sweetest spell of the season.

Kim’s goals helped the team climb out of the relegation zone before Shenhua’s form slumped once again. The CFA Cup title was their only highlight.

Club president Wu Xiaohui summarized the club’s three major problems at Shenhua’s summary and commendation conference after they won the cup.

“Firstly, the performance of the first team has not been stable. Secondly, the club has too few national team players. (midfielder Cao Yunding is Shenhua’s only national player.) Thirdly, we have poor results in Asian Champions League,” said Wu. “There is still much room for improvement regarding the club’s management.”

Greenland Shenhua has a habit of introducing big-name managers and star players when the club is under pressure.

After unsuccessful experiences with the previous two managers, Gus Poyet and Sanchez Flores, Wu admitted the club bosses have learned a hard lesson, that Shenhua needed coaches and players who are more in tune with club’s philosophy and playing style.

Shortly before their CFA Cup final second leg clash against Shandong, Shenhua announced they were extending the contract of its captain Giovanni Moreno.

The Colombian has spent seven years with the club, scoring a total of 76 goals in his 230 appearances.

The manager Choi has had a very successful coaching career with success in South Korea and Asia. He lead Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to six K League titles and two ACL crowns. At the CFA Cup final post-match press conference, the 60-year-old expressed his hope of having his team strengthened for the upcoming 2020 domestic and Asian campaigns.

But perhaps the club’s immediate future will be defined by its youth set-up. Shenhua’s Under-19 team enjoyed some success last term, winning the Chinese Youth Super League title and CFA U19 Cup.

Shenhua’s future looks bright with its U19 and U20 teams showing promise, having been groomed by veteran Shanghai local coach Xu Genbao at his training camp in Chongming. They are arguably the best among their generation.

Choi is defiant the club will bring back the glory days, while, at the club’s year-ending conference, Wu said, “We promise Shenhua will bring back another trophy within three years!”


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