As the Super League nears its halfway point it becomes easier and easier to see who is fighting for the title, who has to try and save themselves and who looks set for a position in no man’s land.
One of the two early kick-off matches this round sees bottom of the table Yanbian Funde welcome struggling Shanghai Shenhua to their home. Shenhua are actually in real danger of being dragged right into the relegation zone and a win for Yanbian could see the gap between the two teams brought down to three measly points. If Shanghai lose and every other team below them win they would actually only be one point above the relegation zone. I don’t think that’s what Carlos Tevez had in mind when he moved to China.
The other of the early kick-offs see Liaoning Whowin take on Tianjin Quanjian. Liaoning are in the same situation as Shenhua but have a better goal difference than the Shanghai team. For Tianjin, a win here is a must if they want to keep up with the race for fourth place and a possible place in the Champions League (depending on who wins the FA Cup).
Changchun Yatai are fighting tooth and nail to avoid the relegation zone and are doing quite an all right job so far, they only sit four points away from it, but the win against Jiangsu Suning last week means they got a bit of their confidence back after a shaky patch. Their opposition this weekend is Chongqing Lifan who are sitting very pretty in eight and they would be very happy come the end of the season should they find themselves still in that spot. Two teams in not the best of form and a draw might be the outcome here, a result neither team will be too happy, or too saddened, by.
Fourth-placed Shandong Luneng are a weird side. They are stringing together some very impressive runs, they are the only side to beat Guangzhou Evergrande so far this season, and yet they are 11 points adrift of Evergrande at the top and five points behind the guaranteed Champions League spot in third. With Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng as the opposition this weekend you would expect them to win, but Guizhou are good at fighting out draws so this will be no easy feat.
Whatever happened to Guangzhou R&F? They started oh so brightly and looked like they would be title contenders after the first month, but since losing to Guizhou at the end of April they have not won in the league in over two months. They’ve drawn five of their last six games and only managed to sneak past League One side Nei Mongol in the cup on penalties. They are so out of form it’s not even funny, but at least they are consistent with their draws. Now they face 10th placed Tianjin TEDA and they really need to win here unless they want to fall out of the race for third completely. The gap to third is only seven points and a win against an unremarkable TEDA side could revitalise Eran Zahavi & co.
The big match this round is on Sunday and it sees league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande take on one of the few teams that you feel can do anything to hurt them, Hebei China Fortune. Hebei are sitting in third but could close the gap to Evergrande down to three points with a win. Evergrande have only dropped four points so far this season but could very well see another three be dropped here. A tightly contested match is to be expected.
The other match on Sunday is Shanghai SIPG who take on relegation contenders Henan Jianye. Henan won their second match of the entire campaign by beating bottom side Yanbian last time but the powerhouse of Shanghai should be a bridge too far at this point and they might see themselves slip into the relegation zone come the end of the round.
The final game of the round sees Beijing Guoan looking to turn their form around. They lost to Shanghai Shenhua in the cup on Wednesday and have been in rollercoaster form as of late. A win against second-bottom Jiangsu Suning is a must if they want to stay even close to being in contention for the Champions League spots. A win to Jiangsu would mean they could wave goodbye to that and it would mean that Ramires and his teammates could potentially climb out of the relegation zone, or at least be close to seeing the light at the end of an incredibly long and dark tunnel.