Chinese Super League, 2017 – Hulk, Big Phil and the main Contenders
Guangzhou Evergrande – Last season 1st
The South China Tigers have won the last six titles and despite being quiet in this transfer window, are still favourites to make it a magnificent seven.
What the Reds have is a core of talented and experienced Chinese internationals, such as Zhang Linpeng, Zheng Zhi and Feng Xiaoting, which is decisive in a league which restricts the number of foreign players.
It is also a real bonus when the foreign players Ricardo Goulart, Alan and Paulinho are all settled at the club though striker Jackson Martinez has much to prove after a disappointing 2016.
What also makes a difference is the fact that Guangzhou know how to win the league and also know how to do so when competing in the Asian Champions League (ACL). It all means that if you finish above Guangzhou, you are almost certain to be lifting the trophy at the end of the season.
Coach – Luiz Felipe Scolari is approaching his two-year mark in the CSL and has had lots of success already, including two league titles, an ACL crown and an FA Cup. He has the team he wants and a settled squad.
Key Player – Paulinho. The Brazilian international, now back in the national team, was the 2016 CSL player of the season.
Prediction – It is hard to look past Guangzhou, but sooner or later they won’t win the title. The challenge should be tougher than ever this year, but Guangzhou know how to win. Still the favourites.
Jiangsu Suning – Last season 2nd
The team from Nanjing was spending heavily this time last year and signing stars such as Ramires and Alex Teixeira to make headlines around the world.
They contributed to a good season and a solid second-placed finish even if the team never really challenged for the title. Now it is time to make the next step and genuinely try to take the trophy.
It may be a little more difficult this season with other teams spending considerably more, but the Blues have more experience, a squad that is a little deeper and a foreign contingent ready for a second season.
It took Teixeira some time to get going in 2016, but if he can manage it from the start then it could be an exciting campaign, especially if Colombian striker Roger Martinez carries on his scoring from the second half of last season.
Coach – Choi Yong-soo was the surprise choice to succeed Dan Petrescu last summer. The South Korean has had plenty of experience in the ACL and that is a big reason why he was given the job, taking FC Seoul to the latter stages of the tournament on a number of occasions. He has a big season ahead of him against some world-famous coaches.
Key Player – Has to be Teixeira. The Brazilian makes the team tick and on plenty of occasions when he played well, Jiangsu played well. If the Blues are to make the step-up to the next level, much depends on this man.
Prediction – Jiangsu may struggle to go all the way on two fronts. A place in the top three would be satisfactory.