Well, it has been another fanatic week with two rounds of CSL having been played. To make enough space for Asian Games in Hangzhou in September, which is not officially sanctioned by FIFA, CSL is speeding to get the fixtures done to avoid again going into next year for the tail end of the games.
Having said all that, here are the teams that finished last season ranked 9 to 12 last season. To put it mildly, their fortunes diverged this season.
9. Meizhou Hakka
Like many other teams, Meizhou Hakka looked like last season a team that was poised to mount a competitive campaign for a place in the Champions League. But it just faltered suddenly without much to account for it other than Nebojša Kosović’s serious injury much later in the season. Now we know at least part of the reasons: Hou Yu, the No. 1 choice in goal since their days in the lower leagues and a netizen favourite for his online streams showing him play Football Manager and other games, was arrested for match-fixing early this year. Without him gone, Meizhou signed Cheng Yuelei out of dissolved Guangzhou City and loaned Guo Quanbo from Beijing Guoan to fix the last stop.
Yue Tze Nam also proved to be quite a signing from Hong Kong top flight side Eastern, he is undoubtedly one of the best right-backs in the league. But the team still needs to solve the problem of not having a No. 9 that is reliable enough. Elguja Lobjanidze, the new Georgian signing, clearly has not found his rhythm. Meanwhile, Chisom Egbuchulam, the Nigerian old-timer who dominated League in 2021, improved his performance from last season but is still nowhere close to be good enough for the premier division. Meizhou can only hope their attacking midfielders, which now they have in abundance after signing Ye Chugui, can make up the difference. Indeed, Milan Ristić, the head coach, is now trying Yin Congyao as a false 9.
10. Shanghai Shenhua
What a difference a new owner makes! Of course, we are not talking about the kind of difference Todd Boehly brought to Chelsea. After Jiushi, the public infrastructure and utility conglomerate owned by the municipal government long-suffering Shenhua fans finally felt the strange feeling of supporting a team with real professional management rather than a battalion of ragtag managers whose alleged corruption is the conversation du jour every matchday. Prior to buying into Shenhua, Jiushi has run Formula 1’s Shanghai Grand Prix since its inception in 2004 and later bought the city’s top basketball team. After taking over, the new owner used its ties with other government-owned enterprises to quickly fix the club’s finances – the most prominent deal was with the Bank of Communications, who is now the team’s shirt sponsor.
The new owner also moved the club’s home ground south from Hongkou Stadium to near Shanghai South Railway Station. Fan disgruntlement duly ensued. But the performance on the pitch soon minimised these voices. The opening rounds gave reason for Shenhua fans all the reasons to dream – resilient defence, efficient counter-attack, and sheer dumb luck to edge out opponents weak and strong. But then injuries struck, taking out the captain and midfield cornerstone Wu Xi as well as Cui Lin, who has proved to be a massive improvement on the left-back. And their tactics and weak spots got found out – most prominent among them is right-back Macario Hing Glover, who has the physique of an American Football player and the match reading ability of an average Sunday Leaguer. Wu Jingui, the famed locally-bred head coach who enjoyed a recent transformation from the butt of jokes to the object of endeared memes, has replaced him with players who play more on the other side.
Malele, who wears No. 11 but play as No. 9, has overcome initial scepticism but his goals so far are still tap-ins. Fortunately, Christian Bassogog has returned to the squad to answer the call. With Dai Wai Tsun set to join over the summer, that’s one end of the pitch sorted for the blue side of Shanghai.
11. Dalian Pro
Coached by a former Shenhua striker and arguably the most charismatic in the league, Dalian played some most exciting football last season despite the obvious deficiency in the team’s make-up. Try to think of Arsenal in the late Wenger days, or worse.
This past transfer window has proved nightmarish for Dalian. Tong Lei and Sun Guowen, last season’s delightful wing pair, both left for Shandong. Dong Yanfeng, the goal-scoring centre-back, also opted for Chengdu, who has centre-backs galore, over staying in cash-trapped Dalian.
Indeed, hadn’t Dalian been transfer-banned by FIFA as they still haven’t came up with the money to pay its ex-players, things wouldn’t be as bad. Outflows will be compensated by the ability to sign new players, especially given a lot of them were on the market as many teams disbanded over the winter. And players they did sign in the 2022 summer window, when their ban was temporarily lifted, proved mostly not up to the task.
But the most serious danger facing the team is that Xie Hui seems to have run out of ideas and energy to fight. The most stark thing is repeated appearance of Zhang Chong, who There are already calls for him to step down. But there seems no good replacement – not one they can afford anyway.
12. Cangzhou Mighty Lions
When one read at the beginning of the season that Zhao Junzhe has been appointed as Cangzhou head coach, the instant reaction was along the lines of ‘OK see you in League One next season if you don’t disband’. But it is turning out money is indeed more important than just the quality of the head coach. Cangzhou now simply looks a decent team with foreign players – strikers Deabeas Owusu-Sekyere, Jurgen Locadia, and Oscar Taty Maritu, and defender Mile Skoric – that can do what is asked of them. Don’t tell that to Dalian.