How hard is it to win the Chinese Super League? Well, I guess we can say it’s pretty hard, especially if there is one team that dominates the league for 7 straight years. That team is no other than Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao who has been finishing at the top of the league from 2010 until 2017. But their reign of terror had to come to an end sooner or later. And that is exactly what happened in 2018 season when we saw a new team crowned as the champions of Chinese Super League. That team was Shanghai SIPG, who won the league by 8 points for the first time in their history.
To be fair Evergrande did not lose the title due to bad performances, but it was more the case of Shanghai SIPG being a far more consistent team, which ultimately got them the first champions title in their history. A well-deserved title and for Shanghai and a bitter season for Evergrande.
I won’t go into much detail about the last season, as we will touch each team’s experience below, so let’s rather look at what we can expect from the 2019 season, what has changed and which teams are going to fight to finish the top in CSL which is only a few weeks away.
It all starts with rules, so let’s check the rule changes which were implemented in December 2018 and will be relevant for the next season.
The domestic players will have a wage cap. his rule will be implemented for any contract signed from January 1st 2019 onwards. The cap is at 10 million Yuan and 12 million Yuan for national team players.
Clubs will get their investments and total wage bills restricted. There are a few rules which will be used in 2019 and gradually change throughout the next 3 seasons:
– Owner investments will be restricted for each year. No investment cannot surpass 650 million Yuan for 2019 season, 560 million for 2020 and 300 million in 2021.
– Total expenditure for each year cannot be more than 1.2 billion yuan in 2019, 1.1 billion in 2020 and 900 million in 2021.
– Wage bill cannot be more than 65% of total expenditure in 2019, 60% in 2020 and 55% in 2021.
Any club can have 27 players registered under the condition that 2 of them are from their academy and younger than 21 years. Otherwise, 25 players are the cap.
What else is new? Attendance. Well, it’s not “new”, however, it has increased in the last season by 1.4%. That might not seem like a lot, but it means there were 5,785,776 people attending the CSL games. On the other side, a lot of the teams recorded a decrease in the attendance figures. Surprisingly the team that has suffered the biggest decrease in attendance were the champions, Shanghai SIPG (-25.9%). They were closely followed by Tianjin Quanjian and Guizhou Hengfeng (-20.8%). On the other side, the recently promoted Beijing Renhe has seen a huge increase (+93%), followed by Dalian Yifang (60.9%) and Tianjin TEDA (27.2%). So despite a surprising drop in attendance for the 2018 champions, the total number is still 1.4% higher than last year.
With new rules and new fans, we are coming close to the opening match of the 2019 CLS season, so let’s not waste our time and check out the teams which will compete in the next season, what was their journey last season like and where are they headed in the next season.
The league champions Shanghai SIPG have had an impressive run last season, winning 21 games out of 30 and losing only 4. In addition, they impressed with their scoring as well as defending. With 77 goals scored (5 less than league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande), and only 33 conceded, which is the least out of any teams, Shanghai SIPG finished the season with +44 goal difference. Much of their success is due to phenomenal performances from Oscar, Hulk and of course Wu Lei. Oscar finished the season with 12 goals and 18 assists, Hulk added 13 goals and 12 assists, whereas the CSL 2018 Player of the Year Wu Lei put up an impressive 27 goals and 8 assists. To put it into a perspective, Wu Lei, Oscar and Hulk combined almost 70% of all the goals Shanghai SIPG scored in 2018. Going into next season, Shanghai SIPG will be without Wu Lei, who left for Espanyol during the transfer window. That alone will have a huge impact on the team, which is not surprising as he was the main scorer. While Shanghai SIPG still has potent strikers in Oscar and Hulk, we can not expect the same numbers next season.
Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, the “losers” of last season failed to win the league for the first time in 7 years due to a phenomenal performance from Shanghai SIPG who managed to overcome all challenges with their consistency. Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao will come into the next season chasing another title and they are seemingly determined to not let it slip by this year with huge investments into new arrivals. Up until now, they have spent about € 70m on new additions which they hope will bring them to another title. With the arrival of Paulinho and Talisca, their midfield looks exceptionally strong. Of course, Evergrande also did not forget about their defensive line, which conceded 36 goals last season (2nd least), as they added former Everton defender Tyias Browning, who did not see much playtime in England, however, is still considered a huge addition for the team and their defence.
Moving down the ladder, Shandong Luneng, the winners of AFC Championship and last season 3rd placed team are expected to fight for top spots next season. With an exceptional coach in Li Xiaopeng, who picked up Manager of the Season award last season and new additions to the club, most notably Marouane Fellaini, Shandong Luneng are hoping for yet another great season. However, with the departure of Diego Tardelli, I believe Shandong Luneng have lost a lot of their power, especially in the attack. Tardelli finished last season with 17 goals, which was the most out of all Shandong players, so losing him will be a huge blow. If the team managed to keep both of the strikers, I would not be surprised if Shandong Luneng fought for top spots in 2019. Finishing 4th last season, Beijing Sinobo Guoan are most likely not happy with their placement. While they managed to pick up AFC Champions League “ticket”, it was not a great season for Guoan. They have managed to lead the league for 10 rounds (12th-21st), but a bad run of 3 consecutive defeats in September knocked them off the mountain top. With 2 of those defeats being against Shanghai and Evergrande, Guoan had little to no chance to climb back to the first place. Despite all that, they still managed to win the FA Cup, so we can give them some slack. For the 2019 season, Beijing Sinobo Guoan brought in Nico Yennaris, the English midfielder and Korean defender Min-jae Kim, who should improve Guoan defence which conceded 45 goals last season.
Jiangsu Suning finished last season just below the top 5, only 5 points behind Beijing Sinobo Guoan. Despite that, it was an improvement from the previous season when they finished 12th. Going into the next season, they have added Éder from Inter as their striker in hopes to improve in the scoring department, where they scored only 48 goals last season. At 6th place finished Hebei China Fortune, which was a decent result for their 3rd season in the CSL. Despite a good finish, Hebei China Fortune conceded a concerning 50 goals, which is 2nd most out of all the teams that finished top 10. Surprisingly they have not added any new players in the back during the transfer window, which might be a mistake heading into the 2019 season.
Shanghai Greenland Shenhua finished 7th last season and got to the finals of the Super Cup, which they lost to Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao (4:1). They were looking to push for the AFC place early into the season, but a run of bad form midway through the season which saw them winning only 1 game out of 11 games pushed them to the wrong side of the league table. A season that looked great turned into an overall bad season for Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, who were extremely close to the relegation zone with 7 rounds of CSL to go, However, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua managed to gather their strength and finished strong, which saved them from humiliation and relegation to League One. The most talked arrival at the club is without a doubt Odion Ighalo, who has been linked to Tottenham Hotspur during the winter transfer window in addition to numerous other European clubs showing interest in him. He alongside his former teammate Obafemi Martins, (who has been missing last season due to injury) are expected to be a deadly duo up front.
Beijing Renhe F.C. managed to finish 8th in the CSL, which is a nice accomplishment for a team that has spent 2 previous seasons in League One. Their season was up and down, as they were anywhere from 13th to the 6th team, but in the end, they settled with 8th spot finish. They could have achieved much more, but their offence was far from good or even decent. With only 33 goals scored, they were the 2nd worst goalscoring team in the league. As for the next season, they have added Makhete Diop as a forward, who will partner with the returning Ayub Timbe Masika on the wing. Those 2 players alone should provide enough strength up front for Beijing Renhe to finish the season with better goalscoring results. Beijing Renhe is also waiting for Sone Aluko to finalize his transfer to China. If the deal goes through, the team is looking strong heading into the next season. Tianjin Quanjian (Tianjin Tianhai FC) who have finished 2017 season 3rd had high hopes for 2018 season, however, a bad start of the season resulted in them dropping to 13th place. Despite some good runs, Tianjin Quanjian never managed to fully recover. With only 4 rounds to go, the team was sitting at a 13th place once more but managed to finish strong which ultimately got them a 9th place finish. It all was a result of problems in Tianjin Quanjian club ownership, which was under investigation for illegal business, so the club was taken over by the government. With the government take-over, the club was also renamed to Tianjin Tianhai FC. With all the problems the club is facing now, their future is uncertain.
After finishing in the top 7 in the last 5 out of 6 seasons, Guangzhou R&F were looking ready for another strong season finish with their great performance, losing only one game from the end of April to start of August. However, they then lost 5 out of the next 6 matches and 5 in a row in September and October. This saw them falling to the relegation zone, where they fought for “survival”. Despite the disastrous end of the season, Guangzhou R&F managed to grab 7 points in the last 3 games, which barely saved them from the relegation. As for their preparations for the next season, they have brought in a high profile player; Mousa Dembélé, who will join Dia Saba at midfield as a replacement for Junior Urso and Renatinho. Dalian Yifang who finished last season 11th are aiming for a higher finish this season and are putting a lot of hopes into the new arrivals Marek Hamsik from Napoli and Emmanuel Boateng from Levante. These two additions should strengthen Dalian Yifang in the offensive end, which is a much-needed change after scoring only 37 goals last season. While they look stronger, I don’t believe Dalian Yifang will fight for top spots, nonetheless, their future is looking better.
Lastly, let’s check the 2 newly promoted sides; Wuhan Zall and Shenzhen F.C.
Wuhan Zall have ended last season with a superb record of 18-9-3, which saw them finish 10 points above 2nd placed Shenzhen F.C. In the course of 30 games played, Wuhon only conceded 25 goals, while they managed to score 60. This alone is not good enough for CSL, which they realized and brought in new faces, most notably Leo Baptistão from Espanyol, who should add some creativity in the attack and Stéphane Mbia to provide some support in the defensive end. All in all the newcomers look ready for the next season and I can’t wait to see how they perform.
Shenzhen F.C. can be happy they got promoted into the CSL after a close call in the final round of League One. The team was 3rd in the league for the last 9 rounds, however, they managed to win the final round, which was enough to pass Zhejiang Greentown who held the 2nd spot for half the season. As the 2nd team in League One last season finished with a record of 15-8-7, and +23 goal difference (57:34), Shenzhen F.C. will now have a chance to prove themselves in the CSL for the first time since 2011.
Going into the next season, Shenzhen F.C. have added some new faces to the squad while saying farewell to Franck Ohandza, Aboubakar Oumarou, Liang Xu and Chugui Ye. On the other side, most notable additions to the squad are; Ole Selnaes, Cheikh M’Bengue, Guicheng Yang and Qiang Li. I am a bit concerned about how the team will fare in CSL without Franck Ohandza who was their 2nd best scorer last season (18 goals). Despite that, they have a solid defence, which just might be enough for them to avoid the relegation.
The 2019 season is just around the corner and with that, some questions arise. Will Shanghai SIPG manage to repeat their successful season despite the departure of Wu Lei, or will this open the gates to Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao for yet another title? Maybe we even get to see an underdog rising to the top and winning it all. How will the newcomers perform with newly added European stars and will it be enough for them to upset some of the bigger teams in the league? On the other side, there are a lot of questions surrounding Tianjin Tianhai FC as well with their future being uncertain. In conclusion, we are in for an entertaining season, with a lot of uncertainty and expectations from teams and all the newly added stars from European clubs.