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Slaven Bilic endures another loss

Slaven Bilic saw his side concede a goal after 45 seconds Wednesday as the former West Brom and West Ham manager lost for a second time in as many games in China with defeat to Marko Arnautovic’s Shanghai Port

Slaven Bilic

In front of nearly 5,000 fans, many without masks, Slaven Bilic’s Beijing Guoan were beaten 3-1 in one of the biggest fixtures in the Chinese Super League despite dominating much of the match.

The damage was done early. Brazilian striker Ricardo Lopes scored almost from the kickoff and then doubled Shanghai’s lead with barely four minutes gone after a defensive mistake.

At that point, former Croatia boss Slaven Bilic must have wondered what he had let himself in for by moving to China following his sacking by West Brom in December.

When Rafa Benitez arrived in China with Dalian Pro in 2019 he said that working through a translator was one of his biggest frustrations.

The 52-year-old Bilic denied that he had a problem getting his message across to his players: “It’s maybe a little bit more difficult to make a bond with a player, to do it one-on-one.

“But you have enough time, especially when you are in a ‘bubble’ there is no time limit to explain to the players what you want from them.”

The CSL is taking place in two secure “bubbles”, in Guangzhou and Suzhou, to thwart the coronavirus.

Beijing, who like Shanghai were one of the pre-season favourites, were nevertheless fragile at the back in the face of Lopes, 60-million-euro former Chelsea star Oscar and Arnautovic.

Arnautovic, who had a quiet evening, played under Bilic at West Ham in 2017 but after the latter’s sacking the Austrian forward admitted that “I let him down”.

There was another Premier League old boy in Shanghai’s Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy and he teed up Lopes on 45 seconds, the forward completing the move with a clever finish.

But after that torrid start, Bilic’s men were the better side and they pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 in the 22nd minute through Spaniard Jonathan Viera.

They failed however to put away several good chances and paid the price when Lu Wenjun headed in with nine minutes left.

It is early days in the season but Shanghai, coached by another Croatian in Ivan Leko, already look like the team to beat. They won their first match 6-1 with Arnautovic hitting a hat-trick.

The players and staff of all 16 CSL teams are housed in hotels and cannot mix with the public or even see their families as part of measures against the virus.

However, infection rates are down to a trickle in China and fans are allowed to attend some matches. There were about 30,000 at the season-opening Guangzhou derby last week.

Wednesday’s Shanghai-Beijing clash, which took place in Jiangyin, near Suzhou, saw no social distancing and many fans ditched their masks.

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