Insights & Predictions – Wild East Football

The Chinese Super League returns today with all 16 teams in the league in action this week. And the league takes off with highlights, including the Guangzhou City Derby between Guangzhou and Guangzhou City and the classic China Derby between Shanghai Shenhua and Beijing Guoan.

This first week should give us a good idea of ​​how the rest of the season will play out and how some teams are going to fare without key players who are currently stranded in Brazil and unable to enter the country.

Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic vs. Shandong Taishan

Tuesday, 20e April

Guangzhou University Sports Center Stadium, Guangzhou

Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic had a decent season last year, but lost a number of important players in the offseason and will likely face a solid and experienced side from Shandong Taishan.

Shandong does not have Brazilian Roger Guedes and Moises, both stranded in Brazil due to Covid restrictions. But I managed to bring in Brazilian striker Leonardo from Urawa Red Diamonds as a late replacement for Guedes.

Leonardo should provide a viable focal point for Shandong from the start. But the game will most likely be won in midfield, where Shandong are expected to have a dominant pair in ex-Man United star Marouane Fellaini and 2020 K League MVP 1 Son Jun-ho.

One to watch – Son Jun-ho – A quality box for boxing the midfielder that can break up attacks and create chances.

Prediction – 2-0 victory for Taishan, Chongqing being passed in the middle of the park.

Guangzhou vs. Guangzhou City

Tuesday, 20e April

Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou

The Guangzhou teams will be the only CSL teams to have a home advantage in the first 14 rounds of this year’s competition. And Guangzhou will look to assert their home advantage in their opener as they play in their usual home stadium against local rivals in Guangzhou city.

The city is expected to abandon the style of attacking football with which it has become associated in recent years. And play a more conservative brand of football under new manager Jean-Paul van Gastel. It may pay off during the season, but against Guangzhou they will likely just be outclassed by one of the best teams in the CSL.

One to watch – Wei Shihao – With Brazilians Talisca and Paulinho currently excluded from China, the talented playmaker should have more playing time and a real chance to shine.

Prediction – Guangzhou won City in a 3-0 victory.

Qingdao vs. Cangzhou Mighty Lions

Wednesday 21st April

Yuexiushan Stadium, Guangzhou

Two teams with starkly contrasting off-seasons meet at one of China’s most historic stadiums for what is set to be one of the most interesting matches of Week 1. Both sides were quite poor last year, but Cangzhou underwent a complete team rebuild after their move from Shijiazhuang, while Qingdao was relatively inactive in the transfer market.

Cangzhou’s off-season investment is expected to make the difference on Tuesday. Their squad now includes a number of players who are regulars in Jiangsu’s champion campaign last year. And now they should be of sufficient quality to be able to comfortably see the likes of Qingdao.

One to watch – Adama Diomande – The Norwegian forward was Cangzhou’s biggest signing this winter and he will have to find the net regularly in such games.

Prediction – A 2-0 victory for Cangzhou as the Mighty Lions get off to a flying start.

Henan Songshan Longmen vs. Shenzhen

Wednesday 21st April

Huadu Stadium, Guangzhou

Two of the teams that are expected to perform much better in 2021 meet in what promises to be one of the most evenly contested matches. This will see two of the league’s top foreign coaches, Jordi Cruyff and Javier Pereria, go head to head.

Henan will be much better defensively this year. With Bosnian Toni Sunjic now at the club on a long-term basis and combative young full-back Dilmurat Mawlanyaz who just signed for Chongqing this winter. But it will be a real test for them to see if they can withstand Shenzhen, given the amount of foreign attacking talent the Guangdong club have brought in this offseason.

One to watch – Wu Yan – An excellent marksman and one of China’s most underrated goalkeepers, he will likely need to be in great shape for Henan to get anything out of the game.

Prediction – 0-0 Henan weathered the storm against an attack from Shenzhen that has yet to gel.

Dalian Pro vs. Changchun Yatai

Thursday, 22nd April

Jiangyin Sports Center Stadium, Suzhou

Changchun Yatai returns to the Chinese Super League after a two-year hiatus and will look to stand out in their opener against Dalian Pro.

Dalian Pro has not made a significant investment in improving their squad this winter after a disappointing 2020 and could be seriously sidelined by a Changchun side who have brought in an array of talented foreign strikers this offseason.

One to watch – Junior Negrao – One of East Asia’s most prolific goal scorers in recent years, new signing Negrao will look to hit the pitch running against Dalian Pro.

Prediction – 3-1 in Changchun as they continue their momentum from last year into the new season.

Tianjin Jinmen Tiger v Port of Shanghai

Thursday, 22nd April

Kunshan Sports Center Stadium, Suzhou

Tianjin Tiger will face the Port of Shanghai on Thursday in what will likely be one of the biggest imbalances of the season.

Tainjin struggled in 2020 and then a large chunk of his playing staff left the offseason due to financial woes that plagued the club this winter. Heading into their opener against Shanghai Port, they have a bare team that is considered perhaps the worst CSL has seen since its inception.

No one knows how exactly Tianjin will shuffle their limited deck of cards for Thursday’s game. But no matter how they line up, they’re going to be severely sidelined by one of the best teams in the league.

One to watch – Aaron Mooy – The Australian managed a surprise hat-trick in the preseason and should be able to put in a dominant performance against Tiger.

Prediction – 5-0 riot in the harbor in what will likely be the first of many brawls for Tiger.

Hebei vs. Wuhan

Friday 23rd April

Suzhou Sports Center Stadium, Suzhou

Two tied teams meet in Friday’s opening game. Wuhan narrowly avoided relegation last year, but should be a much better team this time around with Li Xiaopeng at the helm. It remains to be seen whether they will be good enough to clinch a victory in their opener.

Hebei has regressed somewhat since last year and their attack won’t be the same without Ricardo Goulart, but Wuhan also has issues with Brazilians Rafael Silva and Leo Baptistao currently unable to enter China.

Ultimately, we could see the two sides canceling each other out as they struggle to adjust to more limited attack options.

One to watch – Marcao – If Hebei is able to get him into the game, Wuhan could be in trouble.

Prediction – 0-0 deadlock with neither side doing enough to break the deadlock.

Shanghai Shenhua vs. Beijing Guoan

Friday 23rd April

Kunshan Sports Center Stadium, Suzhou

On Friday night, two of the most historic clubs in the Chinese Super League meet to face one of the oldest rivalries in Chinese football in Suzhou.

Shenhua brought in a few decent signings over the winter, but hasn’t improved enough to come close to the same level as Guoan. Guoan has consistently been one of the best teams in the league over the past few years and should be looking to take all three points in Slaven Bilic’s competitive opener.

Shenhua should be solid at the back and if they can hold on for the first 45, they might be able to squeeze a result.

One to watch – Matej Jonjic – The Croatian center-back has been one of Shenhua’s big signings this offseason and will face a tough test against Guoan.

Prediction – Guoan wins a nervous 1-0 victory.

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