China: Promoted clubs experiencing contrasts in fate and form
The 2011 Chinese Super League has reached the two-thirds stage and the fate of this season’s newcomers Ghangzhou Evergrande and Chengdu Blades is one of stark contrast. The former, who won promotion last season as League One winners, are the team that currently leads the way in the Chinese Super League whilst the latter are, like most promoted sides, struggling at the bottom of the 16 team league.
The story involving these two clubs is one of many parallels for most of the last two years. These two clubs were forcibly demoted into Chinese League One (second tier) after the 2009 season due to their involvement in a match-fixing scandal. Chengdu had finished seventh in the 2009 Super League and Ghangzhou in ninth before the Chinese Football Association told them that they had to forfeit their spots in the top flight in the following season.
These teams comfortably came back up in 2010 with Ghangzhou and Chengdu finishing that year’s campaign on 57 and 56 points respectively with a margin of sixteen points separating the top two from third place Yanbian Baekdu Tigers. But this is where the two teams’ similarities in fate and fortune begin to end as the 2011 season has seen Ghangzhou wipe the floor of the opposition with Chengdu struggling at the foot of the table.
Ghangzhou Evergrande have never been Chinese champions before 2011 but look set to end their long wait for a league title this season. After twenty rounds of the thirty game season, Ghangzhou still remain unbeaten with a record of fourteen wins and six draws and enjoy a nine point advantage over nearest challengers Beijing Guoan. On the other side of the coin are the Chengdu Blades who acquired the latter half of their name after linking up in 2005 with English third-tier club Sheffield United whose nickname is The Blades. Sadly for Chengdu they are not quite as razor sharp as their nickname would have you believe. They currently prop up the rest of the table with just thirteen points along with Shenzhen Ruby with both teams five points adrift of safety.
Ghangzhou have been helped by the goals of two Brazilian born players. Cléo, now a naturalized Serbian having played with distinction for Partizan Belgrade in the last two seasons, is the top scorer with ten goals in ten games so far. Complimenting him is Mariqui who signed from Atlético Mineiro in 2010 and has added another nine goals. Gao Lin, a Chinese striker and a prominent figure in the national team, also plies his trade with the club and has chipped in with five goals including four in Ghangzhou’s last four league games. This staple supply of goals has helped Ghangzhou maintain their first place position since they acquired it in Matchday 10 and they haven’t looked back since.
Chengdu, on the other hand, have chalked up just two wins all season (for the record they came against Tianjin Teda and Shannxi Chanba) and it is no surprise to learn that they have one of the weakest attacks in the league having scored just thirteen goals, a tally shared by Shenzhen Ruby and worsened by one goal by 14th place Nanchang Hengyuan who lie five points ahead of them in the table. Their defence is the weakest in the league having conceded 35 goals and their current run of form has brought in just four points in the last fourteen games. Relegation “on merit” certainly seems likely this time around but such is the lack of depth in League One that the club would probably come straight back up in 2013 in any case. But with ten games to go Chengdu are going to have to pull their socks up if they are to avoid the virtually inevitable.
Both of these clubs meet on the last day of the league season in November and it will be a big surprise if Ghangzhou are not lifting the league championship trophy in front of their jubilant supporters and Chengdu preparing for life in the second tier.