CSL Season Review Part 1: The bottom-dwellers

The Chinese Super League season has come to an end and now it’s time to take a look back at how the season has been for each of the teams. We’ll do this in four installments, starting at the bottom and working our way up to the top. The writers here on the website will also give their personal ratings on the teams.

Let’s get started with the bottom four teams.

16th place: Liaoning Whowin

Only four wins all season for Liaoning, and yet it didn’t start off all bad.

Three draws from the first four matches, that could just as well have been wins, as well as an actual win over Jiangsu Suning meant that Liaoning were sitting in eight place and had a start they could build on.

Then came three losses, but all to sides that were expected to be in or around the Champions League fight so no need to press the panic button just yet. A loss to League One side Hangzhou at the first hurdle in the cup was however more difficult to swallow.

Liaoning then drew with Tianjin TEDA and beat Chongqing Lifan and Yanbian. Inbetween there was also a loss to Hebei, but again no real reason to worry. They were still in ninth place after all.

Then the descent started.

A seven-game losing streak, including an 8-1 loss to Shanghai Shenhua followed the Yanbian win. A win over Changchun Yatai was a false beacon of hope as that win, on the 30th of July, was the last win that season.

Liaoning went 11 games without a win, with only two draws, to end the season. This saw them fall into the relegation zone in Round 27 after miraculously only having been down there once before, in Round 19. This time there was no escape and Liaoning went down without ever really looking like they tried. With defender Assani Lukymia as their top scorer, you could kind of see where their problem was, although he did score a few from direct free kicks.

Most goals: Lukimya Assani (6)
Most assists: 
Anthony Ujah, Zhang Ye, Sang Yifei (3)
Cup performance: Knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup by Hangzhou Greentown.
Moment of the season: Look really, really hard and you just might find one. The 3-1 win over Jiangsu Suning, a team predicted high up the standings, in the fourth game of the season, is one of the very few bright spots.

The writer’s ratings: From 0 to 10

Tim Adams: In 2011 the side finished third in the Chinese Super League yet fast forward six years later they looked doomed early on. Won just four of their 30 matches. 12 points off safety. Abysmal is an understatement. 2/10

Jack Barton: You can’t get more than a one when you finish bottom of the pile. There are always opportunities to win games in the CSL, and so Liaoning’s tally of just 4 wins from 30 games shows how consistently poor they were. 1/10

Ola Bjerkevoll: An awful season where they somehow managed to not slip into the relegation zone until very close to the end, despite looking like a relegated side for half the season. Despite that, only four wins all season and the lowest amount of goals scored, and by far the most conceded, this cannot be described as anything but a train wreck. 1/10

15th place: Yanbian Funde

Do you want to see a one man team? Look no further than the other relegated team, Yanbian Funde. Bubacarr Trawally, or Steve as he is also known, scored 18 of Yanbian’s 32 goals this season. That’s 56.2 percent of their goals from one man. He finished fifth in the top scorers charts this season. If he doesn’t get a contract with a CSL team next year, then someone will really miss out.

And here was the problem for Yanbian. They relied too much on Steve. A poor start, where they had to wait until the seventh round to get a win, saw the team in trouble early. Another seven games winless meant that they were very much in trouble. A 2-1 win over Guizhou gave hope, but yet another awful losing streak saw them slump right back down to the foot of the table.

Then in August and September, a tiny light of hope was lit as a win over Tianjin TEDA saw them only lose one of their next five games, with three draws and another win. But hope of avoiding relegation was soon smothered as they then lost three more matches before winning the final game of the season 3-0 to at least give the fans a final hoorah in the CSL. In the end Yanbian looked way out of their depth, even more so than Liaoning who finished behind them and spent all but six rounds inside the relegation zone. They dropped back in for the final time in Round 8 and never got their head back above water.

Most goals: Steve (18)
Most assists: 
Han Guanghui (5)
Cup performance: Knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup by Shuzhou Dongwu.
Moment of the season: Steve’s hattrick in the 4-4 draw against Beijing Guoan, the final goal of his hattrick rescued a draw right before the final whistle was blown.

The writer’s ratings:

TA: Picked up four more points in the league than Liaoning Whowin but had very little chance of survival. Shows how badly both clubs underperformed. Finished 9th the previous season after promotion in 2015 from League One but looked out of their depth against the firepower of the top clubs. 3/10

JB: Marginally better than Liaoning, but still well short of Henan Jianye in the CSL table who were poor for much of the campaign. Bubacarr Trawally deserves a lot of credit for his impressive goal tally, but it makes all the worse for Yanbian that they didn’t stay up even with those goals. 2/10

OB: A really weak side, that for everything that went wrong, provided some entertaining matches at times, and actually stuck to their manager through the entire season. That gives them points in my book, but nothing more, unfortunately. 2/10

14th place: Henan Jianye

A fourteenth place finish in a season that saw Henan Jianye go through three different managers just about sums up their 2017. Of course, no one was necessarily expecting Henan to replicate the performances they managed in that impressive 2015 campaign, but this will certainly go down as a season where the club underperformed given that they finished with five points less than they collected in the CSL last season.

After managing the team to that 2015 fifth-place finish, Xiuquan Jia was forgiven for Henan’s disappointing thirteenth-place finish in 2016 and kept his job. But a poor start to this year’s campaign was the final straw for Jia, who resigned after seeing his team pick up just eight points from twelve games. Things improved slightly under Jia’s replacement, Yasen Petrov of Bulgaria, however Petrov also departed Jianye before the season was over with a record of nineteen points from his fourteen games in charge.

That left Guangqi Guo to manage Jianye’s final four games of the season on an interim basis, and his record of three losses and just the one win – which came against Yanbian Funde – rather epitomises the club’s season. Simply put, Jianye have been fortunate that the two sides below them in the CSL were so poor.

The only real positive from Jianye’s campaign was the performances Christian Bassogog put in to essentially keep the team in China’s top flight. As the above statistics show, Jianye have been a one-man team at times, with their impressive win at Hebei thanks to a brace from Bassogog that put the team 3-0 up after 58 minutes. The only win during Guo’s time in charge of the team was also down to a Bassogog double, as Henan beat Yanbian Funde 2-1 in late October to make sure of their survival.

Most goals: Christian Bassogog (10)
Most assists: 
Christian Bassogog (7)
Cup performance: Knocked out in the fourth round of the FA Cup by Jiangsu Suning.
Moment of the season: 
A 3-2 away win at Hebei China Fortune.

The writer’s ratings:

TA: Ricardo Vaz Tê, remember him? From scoring the goal in the Play-Off Final for West Ham United his career has fallen faster than the Berlin Wall. Since the club’s promotion to China’s top tier they have consistently staved off relegation, bar 2013 when the club did bounce straight back up. Flirting with the drop will sound warning alarms across the squad. 4/10

JB: Over-reliant on Christian Bassogog for too much of the campaign, but Jianye did do well to recover from such a poor start. It is vital the club find a solid manager that they can stick with next season to avoid a similar situation in 2018. 4/10

OB: I expected Henan to be fighting for a top ten this season, I really did. Some interesting players in, like Bassogog and Dockal, but nothing really happened. The manager carousel was a huge problem. Two poor final matches saw them drop to 14th. Two wins could have seen them higher up with how tight it was around them. 4/10

13th place: Tianjin TEDA

TEDA’s season has undoubtedly been a poor one. Simply put, they didn’t score nearly enough goals (equal lowest total in the entire league), and lost far too many CSL games. Like Jianye, TEDA went through a fair amount of managers during this campaign, and things could have been far worse for the club if it wasn’t for Uli Stielike’s impressive spell at the helm of the team for the final seven games.

Stielike took over as manager in September, and after suffering a 5-1 home defeat against Changchun Yatai in his opening game, supporters may well have feared the season would continue as it had done under Pacheco and Lim-saeng before him. However, TEDA’s ‘moment of the season’ came in the games that followed that hammering, as Stielike delighted fans with a 4-1 derby win over Quanjian, before going on to also win the three games that followed. In total, Stielike managed 15 points in his seven games in charge, just under half of the 31 points TEDA managed in total in their 30 game season.

As well as top scorer Diagne, it has been Frank Acheampong who has stood out for TEDA this season. After all, it was the magic that Acheampong possesses that gave TEDA and Steilike the lift they needed in that derby against Quanjian as the winger bagged a brace inside 25 minutes. If the club are to progress and grow in the coming seasons as many have expected them to in the past, then you feel that taking up the option that TEDA have to make his loan deal from Anderlecht permanent is a must.

Most goals: Mbaye Diagne (6)
Most assists: 
Nemanja Gudelj (4)
Cup performance: Knocked out in the fourth round of the Chinese FA Cup by Shandong Luneng.
Moment of the season: 
A four-match winning run that was triggered by a 4-1 in the Tianjin derby.

The writer’s ratings:

TA: To see Tianjin TEDA finish 13th in the CSL came as a bit of a shock, although there was a gap of just five points to Chongqing Lifan in tenth. With players such as Frank Acheampong integral to their success, TEDA fans will hope that their team can not just climb the table, but overtake their rivals Tianjin Quanjian. Albeit on their season’s display, that is not going to happen. 5/10

JB: Thank goodness for Stielike! TEDA looked in real trouble for a lot of this CSL season, and went on a 12 game winless run until Stielike came in. The German deserves real credit for the difference he made, and TEDA must now push on next season by making use of the talent they have in their squad. 4/10

OB: TEDA got a little lucky this year I have to say. A good end saved them and the final league position lies a little about how poor they were at times. Lost John Obi Mikel for the first half of the season but looked much better when he came back. Stielike was a lifesaver and will hopefully make TEDA charge up the table next season. 3/10

So that’s it for the lowest placed teams. Do you agree with our ratings or do you feel different? Take the debate with us on Twitter @chineseleagueuk

About the Author

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