Top three side Shanghai SIPG met Tianjin Quanjian at home. It was a must-win for SIPG to keep up the pressure at the top of the table. Tianjin faced a monumental task in playing away against one of the strongest teams in the league.
This tactical analysis will delve into the Chinese Super League match and how Shanghai controlled proceedings whilst not doing enough to win. This was largely in part down to the exceptional defensive performance of Tianjin Quanjian.
SIPG lined up in a 5-4-1 formation. Oscar, Hulk and Marko Arnautović forming a three-prong attack, with Arnautović leading the line. For Tianjin, they started in a 4-5-1 after a recent derby win against TEDA. Sandro Wagner was injured for the blues.
Quanjian impressive defensively
Quanjian’s shape was extremely impressive. They were compact both vertically and horizontally. When the ball was played into their half, the player nearest and in a vertical correspondence to the ball carrier would step up and apply pressure.
In this instance, the left-winger immediately steps up to pressure as soon as the ball carrier receives the ball. This reduces the time on the ball for the Shanghai midfielder. As it is done at a high tempo, the ball carrier has even less time to assess his immediate options and play through the deep block of Quanjian.
This would also occur for players who came to receive the ball to feet. The back four did a brilliant job of stepping out to Arnautović, Hulk and Oscar to reduce the time they received on the ball. SIPG struggled to break Tianjin down as the pressure in the Quanjian half was relentless. Many signs of a good defensive structure were there for Quanjian. As you can see below, the centre-back goes tight to Arnautović. This makes it difficult for him to control the ball and create anything in the final third.
Additionally, the three other defenders then react to their teammate stepping out of the defensive line. Constantly adjusting their position to cover the space in behind. It is important that if one player leaves the line the others drop and narrow. This protects the space and is seen in the image below.
The Quanjian wavelength
There was also a clear recognition of each others roles in all phases of defensive play. Their man-marking scheme often meant at times that players would somewhat be dragged out of position. The Quanjian players showed excellent tactical awareness to cover each other and perform another teammate’s immediate duties if needed.
In this example below, the right-back and right-winger were caught out of possession after an attack. The centre midfielder was then shown Shanghai down into the corner flag, effectively occupying the right-back position. As the right-back is the next closest to the ball carrier, he then assumes the right winger’s role. This is because it is quicker for him to do so than the right-winger and addresses the immediate danger. As the right-winger understands the team’s tactical model, he then moves into the vacant central midfield spot.
SIPG’s struggles and changes
SIPG struggled with Tianjin’s off-ball intensity. The back four was so aggressive for Tianjin that it made it hard to play into feet of the SIPG players. Furthermore, neither Oscar, Hulk or Arnautović threatened beyond. This meant Tianjin could continue to step up as there was no threat into the space behind.
The biggest issue though was exploiting the space left by the midfielders who stepped up to pressure. When Tianjin did so, it created gaps in midfield. A solution could have been for Arnautović to pin the centre back, with Oscar picking up the huge room directly in front as seen below.
Injury to Hulk
SIPG were dealt a big blow around the 12th-minute mark with Hulk going down injured. Victor Perreira brought on Odil Akhmedov and went to a 5-3-2 formation. Lu Wenjun moved further up the pitch. The change to the formation and a tiring Guanjian helped SIPG to gain control of the game. The work rate of Wenjun eclipsed Hulk, allowing SIPG to put immediate pressure on the ball and force turnovers. Additionally, he made excellent penetrative runs and stretched the opposition as seen below.
SIPG Counter press
As their possession increased in duration, SIPG could set up their counter-press and pin in Tianjin. We can see below how Shanghai set up to win the ball back immediately with two sitting defensive midfielders and three centre backs. This was sufficient to stop most counter-attacks.
From a tactical analysis perspective, both teams came out unchanged in the second half. The game followed the same trend of the first 30 minutes of the first half with SIPG in control. SIPG continued their aggressive counter-press, getting both crosses and numbers in the box. They organised well in transition, meaning they picked up many of the second balls from the crossing situations they were creating.
All in all, it meant Tianjin were suffocated in their own half. In the image below they have eight players spread out and occupying space evenly to increase the chances of winning the ball back.
Positive or a negative?
It was interesting to perform an analysis of Oscar’s response to the situation below. He began to drift out wide. Oscar was drawn into the spaces created as a result of the wingers tracking the full-backs. From here, he delivered many dangerous balls, leading to some of the best chances for SIPG. However, it also meant SIPG struggled to play through the middle of Tianjin as they had fewer players occupying inner spaces. It was hard to tell whether this was a net positive or negative for SIPG.
Promising signs for SIPG
There was a particularly promising passage of play early in the first half for SIPG. Oscar intelligently peeled off his marker as the ball was played into Arnautović. Arnautović dropped the ball to Oscar which set off a lovely move of combinations between the two, leading to a shot on goal. SIPG need to get these two closer to each other and in positions to combine. If they can do that, they will be a hard side to stop this year.
Arnautović came astonishingly close on many occasions for the team in red. However, it must be said that Oscar was the best player on the pitch for the night. His constant dribbling and creativity on the ball was the main spark for SIPG. On a day with more fortune, SIPG could have been one or two goals up at the 60th-minute mark. Statistically, both teams had similar shot outputs, which reflected the evenness of the game. Tianjin did however put on an exceptionally dogged performance. Their fans will most certainly be the happiest out of the two with both the result and performance.
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