Scolari v Villas-Boas: Who will come out on top?

Apart from being an intriguing all-Chinese affair, Tuesday’s AFC Champions League quarter-final between Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande will also see a fascinating managerial duel.

Standing in the Evergrande corner is the legendary Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose highlight of his 35-year coaching career came in 2002 when he guided Brazil to a record fifth FIFA World Cup.

He finds himself up against Andre Villas-Boas, once regarded as the brightest mind in the game and still only 39, but arguably yet to deliver on his potential after unsuccessful spells in the Premier League with Chelsea and Tottenham.

While both appear to be enjoying life in the Chinese Super League, with plenty of funds at their disposal and significantly lower expectations than in Europe, are they genuinely under no pressure at all?

Or is it crucial for that they emerge triumphant and guide their respective clubs into the Champions League semis?

Their time in China so far

Scolari was handed the Evergrande reins in June 2015 after the club abruptly parted ways with former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro.

Since then, he has guided them to two Super League titles and an FA Cup, as well as the Champions League crown just five months after his arrival.

However, the Southern China Tigers embarrassingly failed to advance from the group stage last year, finishing behind Sydney FC and Urawa Red Diamonds.

While an eight-point lead means Evergrande are on course to becoming Super League champions once again, it is in on the continental front where Scolari needs to make amends.

Meanwhile, Villas-Boas arrived at Shanghai SIPG ahead of the 2016 season and had to settle for a third-place finish in his debut campaign, one lower than what his predecessor Sven-Goran Eriksson achieved the previous year.

There is no doubt, given his reputation and the quality players at his disposal, that the club hierarchy expect Villas-Boas to help them overthrow Evergrande as China’s number one team.

Barring a minor miracle, that will not happen in the Super League this year.

Still, knocking their fierce competitors out of Asia’s premier club competition and booking their own spot in the semis could be an equally powerful statement of intent.

Their recent head-to-head

It is interesting to note that in four previous encounters before their most recent meeting earlier this month, Villas-Boas had never masterminded a over Scolari.

He finally achieved that last week – a 2-1 triumph in the FA Cup – but that occasion saw Evergrande field a second-strength team with one eye on their other commitments.

Under Villas-Boas, Shanghai SIPG have never lost to Evergrande at home and that would come as a significant confidence boost.

Scolari, on the other hand, has twice enjoyed victories over Tuesday’s opponents – a 3-0 win in September 2015 and this April’s 3-2 triumph, which saw Yu Hanchao, Alan and Ricardo Goulart all on target.

The way they send their troops out

For awhile now, Scolari has been a fan of the 4-2-3-1 that has been synonymous with modern football for the past decade, until the recent emergence of the 3-4-3.

The Brazilian clearly believes there is no need to fix what is not broken and the likes of Zhang Linpeng, Zheng Zhi and Ricardo Goulart form a reliable backbone in the side.

Villas-Boas prefers a more dynamic 4-3-3 and it is easy to see why, especially when he boasts such offensive talent like Hulk, Elkeson and Wu Lei.

In previous years, it is at the back where Shanghai SIPG have been more vulnerable than Evergrande but Villas-Boas has clearly identified and addressed this deficiency, with his side boasting the better defensive record of the two in the league so far in 2017.

With both sides well versed in their respective systems and boasting quality all over the field, fans can expect to be in for a treat over 180 minutes.

Who will prevail?

Based on recent history, few would dare to bet against Scolari and his men, but there remains a nagging feeling that, if ever there is a shift in power in China, it is on the horizon.

The fact that the first leg will be played at the Shanghai Stadium has significance, given Shanghai SIPG have not lose their 28 home games, winning 21 of those in the process.

As long as the Red Eagles can win on Tuesday, or at the very least eke out a draw, they will have every chance of advancing to the last four.

Nonetheless, should Evergrande become the first side to beat them at their home since June 2016, it would require an almighty effort from Shanghai SIPG if they are to pull off a comeback in the return encounter on September 12.