Asian football correspondent John Duerden casts his eye over Shandong Luneng's domestic form as the Chinese outfit prepare to face Sydney FC in the second-leg of their ACL round of 16 tie on Wednesday night.
Shandong Luneng may be struggling in the Chinese Super League but coach Mano Menezes is optimistic that the solace offered in the AFC Champions League this season will continue.
Just three days after Shandong drew 1-1 with FC Sydney in the first leg of the second round of games, the team were held at home to a goalless draw by Henan Jianye.
The result means that the Jinan team are still just a point clear of the relegation zone, a fall from grace for the third-place finishers last season.
Now Shandong has won just two games from the ten games this season. It was another frustrating afternoon for fans in the eastern city. The club had wanted the game to be postponed but the request had been refused by authorities.
“We have been playing better away from home and if we have a little luck then we can win,' said Menezes after the game. “Playing in Asia and playing in the league are different. The players have confidence.”
'Of course, Sydney is a good and strong team and we know that it will not be easy but our aim is to get to the next stage.”
Since reaching the quarter-final in 2005, the team has failed to get past the group stage in six subsequent appearances.
Getting to the last eight once again would help relieve some of the pressure that is currently on the shoulders of the former boss if the Brazilian national team.
In 2015, Shandong, who won the title three times from 2006 to 2010, finished third in the league. Long-time rival Beijing Guoan was in fourth. Last week, Beijing boss Alberto Zaccheroni was fired after a poor start even though the Green Lions are ahead of Shandong.
Menezes knows that this is a difficult time for Shandong and while Asia makes the schedule tough, it also provides some respite from domestic woes.
“There is always pressure on a head coach and that is true in this situation. Some coaches may criticise the players or the referees when results are not what they should be but this is not my way. In a difficult period like this then you have to stay calm.”
Results like Saturday's don't help. The team made five changes to the one that came back from a goal down against Sydney.“It was good experience for the young players. They played well. I am sorry as we should have won this game. It is important that we restore confidence. These are difficult times and we need to be patient.”
Against Henan, Shandong had the chances to score. Without Brazilian striker Diego Tardelli (the goalscorer against Sydney was not selected on Saturday) the hosts could not find a way through the Henan defence.
“We need to take the opportunities on the pitch and we have to work on that in training.”
“It was a tough game for us as we are tired after our exertions in Asia. Now though we are ready to think about Sydney. We will do our best to get to the next round.”
Sydney FC take on Shandong Luneng at the Sydney Football Stadium in the second leg of their AFC Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday 25 May. Click here for tickets.