This weekend there is a top-of-the-table clash between two rivals taking place which promises to intrinsically shape the rest of the season and should be a must for any fan of football. I am not talking about the Merseyside derby, I am not talking about Arsenal v Manchester City, I am not even talking about Napoli v Juventus, I am in fact talking about the Chinese Super League (CSL) clash taking place between Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG.
It is very possible you have heard of these two teams, as in recent times they are two of the main protagonists of the recent big spending coming from China. Between them they boast Hulk, Oscar, Jackson Martinez, Paulinho and Ricardo Carvalho.
Here are five reasons you should use to convince yourself it is in fact worth watching (even though the Merseyside derby is on the other side)…
It’s already a six-pointer
Although it is only the third game of a 30-game season, this is already being seen as crucial to the outcome of the league. Shanghai SIPG have flown out of the gates, winning their first two games with a combined score line of 7-1. They have stolen an early three-point march on Guangzhou, who won their first game, but slipped up in their second game, uncharacteristically losing after being in front. If these two teams turn out to be as dominant as some are predicting, a six-point deficit would surely end Guangzhou’s season before it even gets going. But a win for Guangzhou and a complete closing of the gap would of course leave the league wide open for the two to duke it out all season.
Will Hulk and Oscar sweep all before them?
We will see if Shanghai SIPG are the real deal. As regular readers of transfer gossip columns will already know, Shanghai SIPG are a club with a big ambition and a similarly big wallet. Over the past year they have spent generously, namely on Oscar and Hulk, but in their opening two league games have not faced a proper test. After comfortably brushing aside two of the weaker sides in the Chinese top tier, they now face the champions. A win by Hulk and co. would send out a message that they have arrived and would make them the new team to beat.
Have the champions been left behind?
We will see if Guanzhou Evergrande are still the real deal. Since Guangzhou Evergrande secured promotion to the CSL in 2010, they have dominated in a way akin to Barcelona. They have already won six league titles in a row and two Asian Champions Leagues. For a few years they were the only game in town and had very little opposition, managing to stay one step ahead of any audacious spending binge by their rivals. However, this season local media suggest they may be caught sleeping at the wheel. They have made relatively few changes to their team from last year, unlike others such as Shanghai SIPG. A win would show their recent loss was a slip-up in a difficult away game, but another loss would suggest problems may be more fundamental.
It’s Big Phil v AVB
The CSL is the land where the streets are paved with gold, which has attracted players both old and young, well known and not, to sacrifice their ambitions for one gigantic payday. It is not only players that have been wooed by the CSL though, managers are getting in on the act too. Two ex-Chelsea bosses, Big Phil Scholari and Andre Villas-Boas, are the managers of Guangzhou and Shanghai. Even though neither shone brightly in the Premier League, between them they have a very impressive track record. The two managers are also not known for their modesty, so expect them to be charged up in this battle for managerial supremacy. At the very least, seeing one of these two contentious managers unhappy at the end of the game will be satisfying.
You will see gung-ho football and goals
The recent splurge of spending in China has definitely strengthened Guangzhou and Shanghai, but the spending is top heavy. Seven of the eight European/South American players between these two teams are attackers. This generally means they are exciting in attack and shoddy at the back. From Shanghai SIPG you can expect speed and power from Hulk, making runs like a mid-90s Jonah Lomu. From Guangzhou Evergrande you can expect swift intricate interplay from a Jackson Martinez-Paulinho-Alan attacking line. Neither team has the quality to rely on a tight backline, so attack is very much likely to be the best form of defence.
Saturday’s game should be very exciting for the neutral and the perfect introduction for anyone who has never seen a Chinese game before. And it’s live on Sky Sports 3. Yes, it clashes with the Merseyside derby, but does the Merseyside derby have the Hulk?