Shanghai SIPG produce strong start to season in China
The Chinese Super League is a fast-growing competition, now generating more worldwide attention than ever before. The current season is still in its infancy, yet one side looks set to dominate. What makes Shanghai SIPG better than the rest?
Although only formed in 2005, Shanghai International Port Group F.C has managed to bring in some strong financial stability. Playing at the 56,000-capacity Shanghai Stadium, with an average attendance of almost 22,000, shows there's a loyal fanbase.
The club was known as Shanghai Dongya F.C when it entered into existence. After starting in China's League Two, promotion quickly followed in 2007. Next came five seasons in the second tier before arriving at the Chinese Super League in 2013/14.
Known as the Red Devil, Shanghai SIPG's best CSL finish was runners-up in 2015 and also last season. With six wins from as many games this campaign, they have taken the competition by storm.
Portuguese manager Vitor Pereira took charge of SIPG last December, replacing fellow countryman Andre Villas-Boas. After overseeing 14 games, Pereira has won a remarkable 12 times. With two draws recorded in that period, the team remain unbeaten during his reign.
SIPG's first CSL game this campaign was an 8-0 thrashing of Dalian Yifang. Other big victories have also occurred against Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai Shenhua. The latest win came on Friday, defeating Hebei CFFC 2-0. It proves Periera's side mean business. Picking up maximum points so far puts them five points ahead of last season's champions Guangzhou Evergrande in second place.
SIPG currently have the CSL's best attack, having found the net 21 times in six games. Chinese superstar Wu Lei has amassed nine goals and is the competition's top scorer. The Brazilian contingents are also providing firepower. Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson have tallied eight strikes between them.
With only four goals conceded, Shanghai SIPG hold claim to the joint-best defence in the competition. They can improve on that in their next encounter against Tianjin Teda, a side averaging just over a goal per game this campaign. After recording one win and two defeats in their opening five matches, Tianjin sit 11th in the table. Possessing just one reputable star in former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, they aren't considered among China's most-feared teams. SIPG will be confident of making it seven successive wins on Sunday 22 April.
The CSL's policy allows Vitor Pereira to use a maximum of three foreign players in a game. Another rule brought in this season prevents teams from having more foreigners on-field than youngsters under 23. A policy widely accepted in order to nurture homegrown talents. This method, in the long run, should ensure China improve on the international stage.
With Chinese football on the rise, fans are becoming more aware of the CSL, mainly due to well-known foreign imports. There is still real potential yet to be unlocked in China, however.
Shanghai SIPG can help to increase Chinese football's presence on the map. After a perfect start to the season, they have the ability to prolong their impressive run.