The Chinese Super League is 12 games in and, as one would expect, the scoring column is dominated by imported players. Those dominating aren’t necessarily the big names that were so heavily reported on, apart from maybe Eran Zahavi – who wreaked havoc for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season – but the likes of Alexandre Pato, Hulk, Alex Teixeira, Ezequiel Lavezzi are among those dominating.
However, the league is still majority Chinese, and there are a bunch of players making a name for themselves despite these big name signings overshadowing them, somewhat.
Quick Chinese Super League breakdown
So far, as recorded by Transfermarkt , 333 Chinese players have featured in the Chinese Super League this season, contributing the lion’s share of the goals and assists, with 88 and 104, respectively.
However, the less represented nations are rocking far superior goals per player percentages – mostly because the big spending has been on strikers and attacking players, with the league still being very Chinese in defence and in goal.
Brazilians have scored 69 goals and 38 assists this season, with only 23 of them featuring thus far. Nigeria comes in at third here, with 15 goals and three assists coming from their five representatives (Obafemi Martins, Odion Ighalo, Brown Ideye, Anthony Ujah, John Obi Mikel).
Over the last year, an excess of £460million has been spent by Chinese Super League clubs to entice the big names to boost both the clubs and the identity of the league. Right now, even the wealthiest clubs of the Premier League are at risk of their players being lured to China, but, of course, they receive grand rewards for doing so.
So, let’s take a look at the Chinese players stepping up on their home turf, giving the new signings a run for their money.
The goalie situation
As of right now, all goalkeepers who have played in the Chinese Super League this season have been Chinese, with the most successful two, arguably, being Dalei Wang and Junling Yan.
Dalei Wang keeps net for Shandong Luneng Taishan and has only allowed 11 goals past his coverage in 11 games, keeping four clean sheets. Now, it’s made a little bit easier for him by having one of the best centre-backs in the CSL in front of him, with Brazilian defender Gil manning the line.
Wang has conceded the second-fewest goals so far, which has greatly helped his team as they have only managed to score one goal on six occasions, despite boasting ex-Newcastle striker Papiss Demba Cisse and the big Italian, ex-Southampton centre forward Graziano Pelle.
For the Andre Villas-Boas managed Shanghai SIPG, 26-year-old Junling Yan has been a stone wall in goal, only conceding more than one goal in a game on just one occasion – against the league-leading defending champions, Guangzhou Evergrande.
Shanghai SIPG stand second in the Chinese Super League after 12 games with the best goal difference in the division, +22. While big scorers in Hulk, Elkeson, and Lei Wu – who we’ll get to shortly – have scored a tremendous amount of goals, Yan’s four clean sheets and only ten goals against have been crucial.
Chinese defenders still holding strong
The defensive corps of the Chinese Super League is headlined by Brazilian Gil and ex-Chelsea, Real Madrid, FC Porto, and AS Monaco centre-back Ricardo Carvalho. Outside of them, there are a few fairly noteworthy defenders, but a couple of Chinese players hold their names up with the best of them.
Linpeng Zhang has been superb for Guangzhou Evergrande this season, featuring mostly at right-back. Despite the team being headlined by the likes of Paulinho and Jackson Martinez, Zhang’s defensive work has been key. Due to the attacking talent on the team, Zhang has been able to focus more on his defensive duties but has still managed to pick up two goals and an assist in the CSL so far.
The 28-year-old Chinaman’s rise to stardom with Guangzhou Evergrande just happened to coincide with the team’s rise to dominance. They are on a six-season winning streak when it comes to the Chinese Super League, spanning back to 2011 – which just so happens to be when Zhang made his debut and established himself as a first-team regular.
Star of the Chinese Super League
In the league’s mega spending spree, Chinese right winger Chengdong Zhang moved from Beijing Sinobo Guoan to Hebei China Fortune for a record fee for a Chinese player, reported to be £17.37 million. However, a certain Chinese winger stands head and shoulders as the best Chinese player in the league.
Lei Wu of Shanghai SIPG has been running riot this season, with the third most goal involvements – goals and assists combined – in the Chinese Super League (eight goals and five assists in 12 games). He’s but one goal down on Guangzhou Evergrande striker Ricardo Goulart and has just one assist less than teammate Hulk.
The 25-year-old winger has played 151 games for his only professional club so far and has been a standout player for his nation for a while now. Making his international debut aged 18-years-old, Wu has amassed 42 caps and seven goals for China.
Now, some may say that Lei Wu has been boosted by his new, big-name teammates – which would be true to any player. But, his excellent ball control, speed both on and off of the ball, near-elite level anticipation and vision, and clinical shot all make him an excellent teammate to have as well, and a potent attacker. Somewhat surprisingly, Wu says that the world class Brazilians on his team – Oscar, Elkeson, and Hulk – add pressure on him:
“Personally, I feel I now shoulder a lot less pressure during games because opposing defenders tend to focus on our Brazilians which gives me a lot more space to work in.”
“I can learn a lot from them be it in training or during the match, after all, they are world class football stars. And, of course, they will create more chances for me.”
Lei Wu, AFC.com
Lei Wu is the Chinese star of the Chinese Super League and, despite Guangzhou Evergrande dominating over the last six years, Shanghai SIPG are poised to give them a real challenge for the title this season. If Wu can keep firing them in at one end of the pitch and Junling Yan can keep stopping them from going in at his end, Shanghai could very well win the league.