By 90Min
February 25, 2019

The Chinese Super League is one of several summer leagues set to kick off in the coming days.

Here's everything you need to know about the frontrunners, promoted sides, transfers and more before the first ball is kicked on 1 March!

For 90min's season preview of Major League Soccer see here.


2018 in Review

DI YIN/GettyImages

2018 was significant in Chinese football as it heralded the end of Guangzhou Evergrande's seven-year dominance, with big-spending Shanghai SIPG taking the crown in November for the first time in their (ahem 13-year) history.

Shanghai striker Wu Lei won the Golden Boot and Player of the Season, scoring 27 goals in 29 appearances and surpassing 100 goals in total in the CSL.

The home-grown forward outshone and outscored expensive imports like Odion Ighalo, Cedric Bakambu and Graziano Pelle last year, while being backed by the Brazilian trio of Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson en route to the title.

For manager Vitor Pereira it was a league title in his third country after lifting trophies in his native Portugal (with Porto) and in Greece (with Olympiacos).

Fabio Cannavaro

Meanwhile, Guangzhou Evergrande's new boss Fabio Cannavaro was not able to keep up the winning feeling, but ultimately finished second. In addition to the change of coach (Cannavaro inherited the team from Luiz Felipe Scolari) Guangzhou only had Paulinho for half the season, while Ricardo Goulart - one of the league's best players in recent years - had his least productive season in terms of goals and assists.

The two other qualifiers for the Asian Champions League were Shandong Luneng (Pelle's team), who finished third, and FA Cup winners Beijing Guoan.

Changchun Yatai were relegated along with Nikica Jelavic's Guizhou Hengfeng.


Transfers In

Soccrates Images/GettyImages

If you're a Premier League football fan, you've probably got used to hearing about your club's players being linked to 'Unnamed Chinese Super League Club FC' this January. Well, let's break down who actually went where...

Paulinho's permanent return to Guangzhou Evergrande for €42m was confirmed, while city rivals and last season's tenth-placed team Guangzhou R&F signed Mousa Dembele from Tottenham for around £11m.

Marouane Fellaini was another notable Belgian midfielder to trade the Premier League for China, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United revival to sign for the eastern city of Jinan and Shandong Luneng in a deal reportedly worth £10m. 

Napoli all-time top goalscorer Marek Hamsik cost Dalian Yifang around €20m, while Sandro Wagner swapped the Bayern Munich bench for Uli Stielike's Tianjin Teda for €5m. 

Two of the lesser covered but potentially shrewdest deals of the window were Korea international defender Kim Min-jae joining Beijing Guoan and former Watford front man Odion Ighalo, who has 36 goals in 55 CSL appearances, trading relegated Changchun Yatai for Shanghai Shenua.

Francesco Pecoraro/GettyImages

As a side note, the number of foreign players per team is limited to a total of six over the course of the season. However, teams may only have four in the squad at any one time and only three can be played in a match. In addition, the Chinese FA imposes a '100% tax' on foreign signings, meaning Hamsik really set Dalian back €40m.

To circumnavigate the restrictions on foreign signings, Leytonstone-born former England Under-19 star Nico Yennaris (who has a Chinese mother) joined Beijing Guoan from Brentford and became the first foreign-born player to be given naturalised citizenship, taking the name Li Ke. Tyias Browning (also of Chinese heritage) also left Everton for Guangzhou Evergrande. 


Transfers Out

PAU BARRENA/GettyImages

The big news regarding transfers out of China this summer is CSL all-time top scorer Wu Lei's move from Shanghai to Espanyol.

The 27-year-old superstar joined Barcelona's second club for just €2m in January, with his debut in Spain attracting significant interest back home.

Elsewhere, 2016 Footballer of the Year Ricardo Goulart returned to Brazil to join Palmeiras from Guangzhou, while Demba Ba (Istanbul Başakşehir), John Obi Mikel (Middlesbrough) and Jonathan Soriano (Al-Hilal) all moved on to pastures new.


Promoted Sides

Wang HE/GettyImages

Wuhan Zall and Shenzen FC are the two new boys in the top division this year.

Spearheaded to promotion by the goals of Brazilian Rafael Silva last season, Wuhan Zall - who are managed by former Everton and Sheffield United midfielder Li Tie - have strengthened with additions of Leo Baptistao and Cameroon captain Stephane Mbia.

Shenzen, the most southernly team in the division, are helmed by one time Real Madrid boss Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, who also took Dalian Yifang back to the top flight back in 2017.


Title Contenders

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As reigning champions, Shanghai SIPG should be considered among the pre-season favourites. However, the loss of top scorer Wu Lei (and lack of obvious replacement) means they will need goals to come from elsewhere. Nevertheless, few other teams (if any) have three foreign stars who are quite as settled and capable in the CSL as Oscar, Elkeson and Hulk.

Cannavaro's Guangzhou Evergrande have also lost a key player in Goulart, but another full season of Talisca and Paulinho, as well as veteran winger Yu Hanchao, bodes well for them creatively.

Shandong Luneng's addition of Fellaini could give them the added boost to go for the title this season after last season's third-placed finish, particularly given the form or Pelle and strike partner Diego Tardelli last term. However, Beijing Guoan might be the biggest outside bet. Managed by former Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt, the Imperial Guards, as they are known, picked up the FA Cup in 2018 and have not lost any of their foreign stars (Bakambu, Renato Augusto, Jonathan Viera) this winter. They were 15 points off the top last time. Expect it to be much less in 2019.

Renato Augusto,Bakambu

Dalian Yifang's expensive acquisition of Hamsik, coupled with the presence of Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan in their squad, means they are expected to finish much higher than last season's 11th out of 16. They replaced another former Real Madrid manager, Bernd Schuster, with serial K League and Asian Champions League winner Choi Kang-hee ahead of this campaign. With an average stadium attendance of over 30,000 in 2018, only Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Guoan are better supported than the Blue Hawks.

Hebei China Fortune (featuring creaking Argentine duo Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano) and Jiangsu Suning will have designs on the Champions League places given their expensive stars.


League Format

2019 will mark the 16th edition of the CSL. There are also 16 clubs in the league, with every team playing the others twice between its start on 1 March and finish at the end of November.

The bottom two sides at the end of the season are relegated and replaced by the top two from the China League One. The top three teams and FA Cup winners qualify for the Asian Champions League.

As well as restrictions on the number of foreign players, each team must also field least one domestic player who under the age of 23 in every starting lineup.

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