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(Follow the path) Zvjezdan Misimovic of Guizhou Renhe, Seydou Keita and Yu Dabao of Dalian Aerbin, Christian Danalache of Jiangsu Sainty and Muriqui and Gao Lin of Guangzhou Evergrande are key players to watch this season. Graphic by Guillermo Munro
China Daily helps you get acquainted with all 16 teams as a potentially transformative season looms for domestic soccer.
Head coach: Marcello Lippi (Italy)
Last season: champion
Players to watch: Dario Conca (2009 and 2010 Brazilian Series A best player), Muriqui (Brazilian striker, 2011 CSL Golden Boot winner), Elkeson (Brazilian attacking midfielder), Lucas Barrios (2010 Paraguayan Footballer of the Year)
Prediction: Owning almost a full roster of national players and South American stars under the guidance of Italian coach Marcello Lippi, the two-time Chinese league champion is still the leading contender for the league title. The cash-rich club is also eyeing a semifinal berth, or even the title, in the AFC Champions League after a quarterfinal finish in its debut last year.
Head coach: Dragan Okuka (Serbia)
Last season: runner-up
Players to watch: Christian Danalache (Romanian striker, 2012 CSL Golden Boot winner), Ji Xiang (2012 CSL Newcomer of the Year)
Prediction: Under Serbian coach Dragan Okuka, the team achieved its best finish in the league last season. The squad will be challenged by having to cope with the domestic league and its debut in the AFC Champions League. The recovery from injury of former national playmaker Deng Zhuoxiang is expected to give the team an extra boost.
Head coach: Aleksandar Stanojevic (Serbia)
Last season: third
Players to watch: Zhang Xizhe (China midfielder), Yang Zhi (China goalkeeper), Andre Lima (Brazilian striker)
Prediction: Despite being highly regarded by Beijing fans, Portuguese coach Jaime Pacheco was replaced by Serb Aleksandar Stanojevic, who led Dalian Aerbin to a fifth-place finish last season, due to disputes with the club. With a limited domestic talent pool and mediocre foreign lineup, the team's prospects do not appear overly optimistic.
Head coach: Gong Lei
Last season: fourth
Players to watch: Zvjezdan Misimovic (Bosnian national team captain), Zlatan Muslimovic (former Bosnian national striker), Yu Hai (China midfielder)
Prediction: Though Guizhou failed to bring in England midfielder Frank Lampard, the arrival of Bosnian international Misimovic will help boost the lineup, which already has several former and current Chinese internationals. The team could realistically have another top-four finish if new coach Gong is able to boost the squad.
Head coach: Li Ming (caretaker)
Last season: fifth
Players to watch: Seydou Keita (former Barcelona midfielder), Guillaume Hoarau (former Paris Saint-Germain striker), Peter Utaka (Nigerian striker, 2012 CSL Silver Boot winner), Yu Hanchao (China midfielder), Yu Dabao (China striker)
Prediction: With three national team players and an effective foreign cast, Dalian Aerbin is one of the few clubs capable of contending with the star-studded lineup of defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande. The club will be tested by a recent coaching reshuffle that saw general manager Li Ming take over from former head coach Xu Hong, who was banned from soccer for his part in a soccer corruption scandal.
Head coach: Li Shubin
Last season: sixth
Players to watch: Ze Carlos (2012 Brazilian Serie B top scorer), Matthew McKay (Australian national team midfielder)
Prediction: The club ended its deal with Serbian coach Svetozar Sapuric and appointed domestic coach Li Shubin, who led Yatai to a runner-up finish in 2009. There were no impressive domestic signings in the offseason, but the introduction of Carlos and McKay is expected to help the squad accomplish its AFC Champions League ambitions.
Head coach: Sergio Farias (Brazil)
Last season: seventh
Players to watch: Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Nigerian national team striker), Rafael Coelho (Brazilian striker)
Prediction: The team made a stunning start last season by leading the league for six rounds in their its CSL campaign. However, it dropped out of contention and a place in the AFC Champions League in the second half of the season due to injuries and suspensions. Based on its first-year experience, the club is confident of a top-four finish this year.
Head coach: Alexandre Guimaraes (Brazil)
Last season: eighth
Player to watch: Wang Xinxin (China striker)
Prediction: The club was punished by the CFA and will open the season with a six-point deficit for fixing matches in 2003. The side must also deal with the departure of national team striker Chen Tao. After finishing eighth in 2012 and 10th in 2011, staying in the league is the team's primary goal.
Head coach: Sergio Batista (Argentina)
Last season: ninth
Players to watch: Bai Jiajun (Chinese defender), Rolando Schiavi (Argentina centerback)
Prediction: This season will by no means be an easy one for Shenhua. Apart from the departure of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, the club also sold domestic talents Feng Renliang (to Guangzhou Evergrande) and Wu Xi (to Jiangsu Sainty), and has to start the league with a six-point deficit due to its match-fixing in 2003. Securing a berth in the league is a reasonable goal for the troubled club.
Head coach: Ma Lin
Last season: 10th
Players to watch: Edu Gaspar (Brazilian midfielder), Milos Trifunovic (Serbian striker, 2011 Uzbek league top scorer)
Prediction: The club's domestic lineup has been hurt by the departure of China national midfielder Yu Hanchao and striker Yang Xu, who contributed 15 of the club's 40 goals last season. It is optimistic for the side to stay out of the relegation zone as Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Teda, who also lost key players, had six points apiece deducted before the season began.
Head coach: Takeshi Okada (former Japanese national team coach)
Last season: 11th
Players to watch: Chen Zhongliu (19-year-old China midfielder), Marek Jarolim (Czech midfielder)
Prediction: With the target of winning a berth in the AFC Champions League, Japanese World Cup coach Takeshi Okada expects his team to earn 50 points and score 50 goals this season. The club will face a difficult period in the middle of the season as some of the club's young players have to prepare for the Chinese National Games in August and September as representatives of Zhejiang province.
Head coach: Radomir Antic (Serbia)
Last season: 12th
Players to watch: Yang Xu (China striker), Wang Yongpo (China striker), Ryan McGowan (Australian national midfielder), Marius Niculae (Romanian national striker)
Prediction: After a frustrating 2012 season, the four-time league champion is expecting Serbian coach Radomir Antic to steer it back to the top of the league. The club signed Romanian striker Marius Niculae to boost its attack. Together with its deep local roster, Luneng is a legitimate threat.
Head coach: Chang Woe-ryong (South Korea)
Last season: 13th
Players to watch: Zheng Long (China striker), Gustavo (Brazilian defender), Liu Jian (China national midfielder)
Prediction: South Korean coach Chang Woe-ryong led the team to its best finish of sixth in 2011. His return halfway through last season helped the struggling team avoid relegation. After successfully persuading key player Zheng Long to stay, the side is eyeing a top-10 finish.
Head coach: Zhu Jiong
Last season: 14th
Players to watch: Kieza (2011 Brazilian Serie B top scorer), Anselmo (Brazilian striker, scored 13 CSL goals in 2012), Yu Tao (China midfielder)
Prediction: The club was fortunate to regain a berth in the CSL after eight-time league champion Dalian Shide quit the league due to financial problems. After struggling the past three seasons, the club vowed to fight for a top-eight finish this year. Avoiding the relegation zone would be a more realistic goal for the low-budget club.
Shanghai East Asia
Head coach: Gao Hongbo
Last season: League One champion
Players to watch: Wu Lei (China striker), Wang Shenchao (China defender, team captain)
Prediction: With former Chinese national team head coach Gao Hongbo joining the club, East Asia is eyeing a top-six finish in its debut season. It has distinguished itself by being a cradle of domestic stars. Apart from making up its own first team, the club has also transferred eight young players to other CSL teams. Current star Wu Lei has been pursued by Evergrande, R&F and clubs from Denmark and Norway.
Head coach: Zheng Xiong
Last season: League One runner-up
Players to watch: Garra Dembele (French-born Malian player, on loan from SC Freiburg), Wang Yunlong (former China Under-19, U-23 national team striker)
Prediction: Owned by Yan Zhi, the richest man in Hubei province, the Super League rookie brought in six domestic players and five foreigners to boost its stocks. The team set its target at a top-10 finish in its debut season. It is expected to enjoy solid support from local fans as the city has been without a top tier club for four years after the former Wuhan team quit the professional league in 2008.
(China Daily 03/08/2013 page22)