CSL leaders and defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande were only one point ahead of Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League table. The two met this weekend in Shanghai in what was deemed as the game of the year.
SIPG under Andre Villas-Boas have been high-flying offensively, scoring a total of 43 goals heading into the encounter, the most in the Chinese Super League. SIPG also has the best defense, conceding only 17. SIPG’s squad get most of their production from world famous Brazilian midfielders Oscar and Hulk. The core of their team also includes Uzbekistani defensive midfielder Odil Akhmedov and former Guanzhou Evergrande attacking superstar Elkeson who played a pivotal part in Evergrande’s early title successes in China and Asia.
Luiz Felipe Scolari in his third season at Evergrande has found the Chinese Super League to be much tougher than when he came into the league in 2015. Evergrande’s most notable players include the reinvented Brazilian midfielder Paulinho who was rumored to be going to FC Barcelona this summer and Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Goulart who has been at Guangzhou since their first AFC Champions League triumph in 2013. Goulart is Evergrande’s top scorer with 12 so far this season. Four out of the five foreigners on Scolari’s current squad are Brazilian. There is clearly a taste for Brazilian talent in both of these squads.
Not so long ago, Guangzhou was the lone power in China but that has all changed in the past few seasons with rich new owners flocking to other Chinese clubs not afraid to flex their financial muscle. Along with the new foreign cap rule and an emphasis on playing Chinese youth in CSL games, this has made the league more competitive than ever.
It was clear from the start of the season that these two clubs would be the only ones competing for the title. Before this match, second place SIPG sat eight points ahead of newly promoted Tanjin Quanjian who currently lead the chasing pack for the last AFC Champions League qualifying spot. Both squads are clearly heads and shoulders above the rest of the CSL with their strong Brazilian influence in each of their attacks and depth in terms of Chinese national team players.
Shanghai SIPG played in a 4-3-3 with Hulk, Elkeson, and Lei Wu leading the attack. Oscar didn’t play in this match because he is currently serving an eight match an after causing a brawl in a recent match against Guangzhou R & F.
Evergrande lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Paulinho sitting just in front of the back four, meanwhile Ricardo Goulart sat just behind Chinese attacker Lin Gao, playing as a central attacking midfielder. Brazilian attacker Alan sat on the bench for Evergrande acting as a super-sub in this match.
In the first half hour of the match, Hulk and Elkeson linked up multiple times giving Evergrande’s defense some trouble. Alan then came on for the young Jinbao Wen on the right flank in the 24th minute. From then on Evergrande’s attacking threat grew throughout the first half. However; there were no goals scored by either team in the first half.
In the second half, Guangzhou came out high pressing, leading to their first goal. Goulart stripped the ball in midfield, flicking it to Lin Gao behind his back. Lin Gao then found Alan in open space. Driving at the SIPG defense, Alan took a shot from just outside the 18 yard box, reaching the bottom right corner, giving the visitors the lead.
SIPG then equalized in the 58th minute with a goal from Lei Wu after a flick on header from Elkeson in the box to find the onrushing Wu whose deflected shot deceived Evergrande keeper Cheng Zang.
Guangzhou then took the lead again in the 70th minute after Hanchao Yu got on the end of a ball by Lin Gao at the near post. The champions looked on their way to a crucial three points.
However; it was not to be as SIPG scored in the 85th minute from link up play at the top of Evergrande’s box, ending with another goal by Lei Wu. The match ended 2-2 with the spoils shared.
The result was a fair assessment of the match. The possession was equally shared in this match and both teams had at least 3 shots on target. With this draw, the CSL title race remains extremely tight as the second half of the season begins.
For both SIPG and Evergrande, their seasons will not be defined by how well their Brazilian superstars play but how well their supporting Chinese cast plays for the rest of the season. This will determine who wins the CSL title.
Evergrande and SIPG will meet three more times this season with both drawing each other in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League, which resumes in late August. If this match was anything to go by, there should be more fireworks to come in the coming ties.
Both Guangzhou and SIPG will be in action next week in the CSL. SIPG will travel to 4th place Shangong Luneng while Guangzhou Evergrande will play Guangzhou R & F in the first CSL Guangzhou derby of the season.
More to come from the Chinese Super League.