Right then folks. The Chinese Super League is finally back! In just an hour’s time the season will be underway with three matches. Let’s take a look at the opening weekend in full.
Carlos Tevez finally ended his rocky spell in China towards the end of last year and despite cutting his wages Shanghai Shenhua haven’t reinvested it in new foreigners, and perhaps they don’t need to. Obafemi Martins showed that he could still score goals when he took over as the main man and the Colombian duo of Fredy Guarin and Giovanni Moreno are excellent assist-makers. The squad ended last year on a high and although they were decimated by Evergrande in the Super Cup earlier this week, a top table finish should be the goal this season. Their opponents in this first round is Changchun Yatai who, like their opponents, haven’t changed much from last season. If they can keep Odion Ighalo injury-free there’s a decent chance they could redo their seventh place finish from last season, but that seems to be as high as they can aim.
The second match starting at 11.35 is the Guangzhou Derby between Guangzhou Evergrande and Guangzhou R&F and what a big match that could turn out to be. For more on the match between the two rivals, check out our new series Derby Days.
The final of the Friday kick-offs sees Henan Jianye and the big surprise package from last year Tianjin Quanjian face off. Away side Tianjin have lost manager Fabio Cannavaro to Evergrande but have retained the foreign powerhouses of Axel Witsel, Anthony Modeste and Alexandre Pato. Henan, on the other hand, have done a foreigner swap by loaning out Eddi Gomes and bringing in Getafe player Cala, which should be an upgrade if he adapts. Borek Dockal is also gone, he’s off to the MLS on loan, but promising Cameroonian striker Christian Bassogog is still there. After a good debut season scoring 10 in 24 he’ll be looking to keep the goals coming in the first match.
The early kick-off tomorrow sees newcomers Beijing Renhe take on Chongqing Lifan. Renhe’s Zhang Lie was voted the best goalkeeper of League One last season and will most likely have to keep up the impressive performances if Renhe wants to stay up. However, it’s up top that they have done what might be the signing of the season if he can keep scoring. Benjamin Moukandjo has joined on loan from Suning where he scored 7 in 10 after joining in July last year. The Cameroonian international could be the key in the other end, alongside Ecuadorian Jaime Ayovi. As for Chongqing they have a delightful naming problem with two players named Fernandinho in their squad with the new Fernandinho joining from Gremio in Brazil. Alongside Fernandinho 1 and Fernandinho 2 they have Alan Kardec so there is plenty of firing power to test the aforementioned Renhe keeper.
The other promoted team Dalian Yifang have a tough task on their hand when they host Shanghai SIPG later that day, and boy have they been busy preparing their return in the top flight. They have brought in big name signings Nicolas Gaitan and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco from Atletico Madrid and Jose Fonte from West Ham. That’s some statement. But Shanghai SIPG will be difficult to beat as they are out to finally topple Guangzhou Evergrande from the top of the table. They’ve kept their foreign contingent of Elkeson, Hulk, Oscar and Odil Ahmedov and should be heavy contenders for the title this year.
The final match tomorrow is between Tianjin TEDA and Hebei China Fortune. TEDA have brought in versatile German defender Felix Bastians to shore up what was a horrible defence last season, and with John Obi Mikel hopefully playing more games this season that should be better. In attack Frank Acheampong will be joined by Jonathan who scored 22 in 29 for Suwon in South Korea last season. Promising signs from TEDA. Hebei hasn’t done much over the winter but the big signing they made was a real big one. Javier Mascherano came in from Barcelona and Hernanes is back as well, meaning Hebei should on paper be stronger than last season, a win for the Champions League contenders is important.
On Sunday the early kick-off sees last season’s biggest disappointment Jiangsu Suning take on surprise package Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng. Suning have brought in Gabriel Paletta from AC Milan in order to shore up the defence while also manage to keep Ramires amid interest from Inter Milan, who is also owned by the people behind the Suning company. For Guizhou Nikica Jelavic has returned after a good spell for Renhe in League One and after much-ado they also signed Bubacarr Trawally, aka Steve, from relegated Yanbian Fude. The Gambian scored 18 goals last season and finished fifth in the goalscorer table, ahead of Hulk. That’s impressive playing for the team that went down. Steve and Jelavic should provide an excellent partnership up front.
The last game of the first round is a big one as Shandong Luneng play Beijing Guoan. While nothing has changed for Shandong in the foreign contingency Roger Schmidt and Beijing have been busy. They have brought in Cedric Bakambu from Villarreal and Jonathan Viera from Las Palmas, two signings who have been very good in La Liga in the last few seasons. Bakambu and Soriano could be an excellent partnership up front if Schmidt chooses to use two of his three foreign spots up there, but most likely Soriano will find himself back on the bench as he was at the beginning of last season. A tightly contested affair should be expected but it could also be both teams let loose and go at it to end the round on a real high note.
Bring on the season!