CSL Mid-Season Review Part 1: The Bottom Half

The Chinese Super League has reached its halfway point and we stop and take a look at how the teams have done, some have impressed, others have failed miserably, while yet others have done nothing at all.

The teams have been graded on a scale from 1-10 on how their season has gone so far and compared to the expectations prior to the season. We start at the bottom and work our way upwards. In this part one you’ll get teams 16 through nine.

16th place – Jiangsu Suning – 1/10

They have only one win this season. One. Did I mention his team finished second last year? Second!

Apparently, Trent Sainsbury is the greatest footballer in the world, who knew? Because the Australian centre-back is the only big departure from the Nanjing-based team and without him the defence has looked about as solid as the Berlin Wall circa 10th of November 1989. They’ve conceded 24 goals this season, that’s the second highest amount in the league.

It hasn’t been going that much better offensively either. Supposed star-striker Roger Martinez, who scored 10 in 12 last season, has not found the net in the league at all this season and has only six appearances. Alex Teixeira has been the one playing up top and it hasn’t been going that much better for him, four goals in 12 so far. That’s the same amount ex-Chelsea man Ramires has, he’s playing mostly centre midfield these days. Those eight goals are 61.5 percent of Jiangsu’s total goal tally this season, 13.

The only reason this team has even a remote chance of staying up is because both Yanbian Funde and Henan Jianye are almost as bad. They have to hope to God that Fabio Capello can use some of that experience and find some way off getting this team back on track, because this ship is sinking faster than the Titanic.

15th place – Yanbian Funde – 2/10

Did anyone say second season syndrome? Yanbian finished a very respectable ninth last season, although only five points off relegation, and were probably hoping for another season of mid-table obscurity to help them cement their place in the Super League. That has not been the case.

Narrow losses and draws set the tone for the campaign early on. Their first win came on matchday seven, a close 1-0 win over Changchun Yatai. And that has been the big problem for Yanbian, their offence has not delivered. There’s been plenty of games where they’ve lost 1-0 or 2-1 and drawn 1-1. The defence has not been that bad, it just hasn’t had any help from the attacking players. As with Jiangsu the highest scorer in the team has 4, that’s Gambia’s talented striker Bubacarr Trawally, or Steve as he is known, who leads the line.

So Yanbian are quite bad, but I can’t escape the feeling that if they could just score a few more goals, some of those narrow losses or draws could easily be converted into wins for the second half of the season.

14th place – Henan Jianye – 2/10

A more experienced CSL team is Henan Jianye who have played nine of the last ten seasons in the CSL. The highest finish they’ve had in that period was third in 2009 and they’ve usually been found lurking around the mid-table section somewhere. This season however, has seen them start disastrously, and have only two wins this season. The only reason they are not in the relegation places is only due to the already mentioned incompetence of Yanbian and the laughingly bad Jiangsu Suning team.

As with Yanbian, the season has had many 1-0 losses, 0-0 and 1-0 draws that have not helped the team. At least the two wins they have showed that they know where the goal is as Chonqing Lifan were beaten 3-2 and fellow strugglers Yanbian were smashed 3-1. Christian Bassogog leads the line and you get no prize for guessing how many goals he has… it’s four. Philippines International Javier Patiño and Guinea-Bissau defender Eddi Gomes follows suit with two each.

As with Yanbian they just need to get those guys scoring on a more regular basis and they have a very good chance of staying safe.

13th place – Liaoning Whowin – 2/10

I admit I had high expectations for Liaoning before this season. A squad with experience and two foreigners who had actually done quite well in a top European league in Anthony Ujah and Assani Lukymia, as well as CSL veteran of five years, Zambia’s James Chamanga. Since their foundation in 1953 they have only been outside the top division four times, three of those years were between 1996 and 1998 and the last was in 2009, so I had hoped they could take the step up to the standards of 2011 that saw them finish third. Apparently not.

They started well, going unbeaten in the first four, before being winless in the next four. After that they have only beaten Yanbian and Chonqing from their last seven games.

Lukimya has been good at the back, that was until last weekend’s thumping by Shanghai Shenhua where they lost 8-1, where he was caught out of possession a few times and gave away the ball a bit easy. But he is a good defender, which Liaoning needs, and he is also dangerous from free-kicks and corner, he has scored five so far. Ujah has been ok as well, also scoring five, the same has also Chamanga so the three foreign profiles have all been pulling their weight. It’s the locals who have not. Only three goals from the Chinese players in the squad and a defence that has been quite bad the last few games have seen Liaoning starting to slip.

A relegation dogfight might be on their hands if they can’t tighten up at the back.

12th place – Tianjin TEDA – 3/10

If I was head coach Lee Lim-Saeng, I’d start hoping the human wrecking ball that is John Obi Mikel will get rid of his stomach trouble, because they sorely need him. Out since matchday three, Mikel’s absence has seen TEDA concede 19 goals from the 12 matches he has missed. They are also the team that has scored the fewest goals so far, only being able to find the net 10 times.

Former West Bromwich striker Brown Ideye has only been able to score four measly goals and TEDA sorely needs him to start banging them in if they want to avoid the dangerous relegation places.

Right now their season could go either way, a couple of good games and they should be safe, a few bad ones and they are right down in the mud.

11th place – Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng – 6/10

I like this Guizhou team, I do. Newly promoted and never afraid to back down from a fight. An okay start to the season has seen them sneak into the top half of the table before two losses from the last three has now seen them fall a little back down. But the potential is there.

They draw a lot of matches and they shoot themselves in the foot by getting people sent off seemingly all the time, with at least a red card in four matches, five if you coun’t the cup (twice there has been two sending off’s in a match, one in the cup). But at least it shows fighting spirit from the newly promoted boys.

The loan signing of Nikica Jelavic from League One side Beijing Renhe has proven to be a smart one as he has scored eight in twelve and the former Premier League striker could well be the one to help Guizhou finish in the top ten, which would be quite an achievement.

10th place – Changchun Yatai – 5/10

An improvement from last season’s 12th place finish so far but with the addition of very good players in the likes of every journalists’ nightmare, Szabolcs Huszti and former Watford striker Odion Ighalo I’m sure they would be hoping for something more than an anonymous tenth place.

Ighalo has only scored three times while Huzsti, from a slightly wider or deeper role has the same amount.

The season started absolutely horrific with three losses, including a 5-1 loss in the opener to Shanghai SIPG. Another loss and a draw came and went before the first win against Henan Jianye on matchday six.

The last few matches have however brought promises for the future with an unbeaten four game run of two wins and two draws. Keep that up and a top ten finish could, and should, be well within reach, then you can build on that for next season.

9th place – Chongqing Lifan – 5/10

Almost right on track for last season’s eight place finish and Lifan can be pleased with how the season has gone so far. A team without the real big money signings are relying on Brazilians Fernandinho (not that one) and Alan Kardec to get the job done. That has worked all right so far with three goals from both. The team’s top scorer is actually Chinese midfielder Wu Qing who has four.

Had it not been for a four-game losing streak in May they may very well have been higher on the table and if they can avoid another poor run like that they could well climb the table come the end of the season.

That’s all for part one, stay tuned next week for part two covering the top half of the league. Would you like to discuss any of this you can get in touch with us on Twitter @Chineseleagueuk or on Facebook.

About the Author

Ola Bjerkevoll
Norwegian studying sports journalism in England. Lover of all football, especially Chinese, German and Oceanian. Twitter: @olabje