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Paulinho and Talisca boost Evergrande in CSL

Chinese Super League
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CSL Preview: Can Guangzhou Evergrande make it eight in a row?

Guangzhou Evergrande seek an eighth straight CSL title.
Guangzhou Evergrande are eyeing an unprecedented eighth straight CSL title.

Guangzhou Evergrande will go hunting a record-extending eighth consecutive Chinese Super League crown with one-time manager Fabio Cannavaro returning to the helm and seeking to carry on the success achieved by Lee Jang-soo, Marcello Lippi and Luiz Felipe Scolari at China's most garlanded club.

Shanghai SIPG will expect to be serious contenders once again, despite little movement in the transfer market, while Beijing Guoan will be confident of making more of a splash in 2018 after spending heavily on established talent as they seek to end their own trophy drought.

New boys Dalian Yifang have also made the headlines with the signings of Yannick Carrasco, Nicolas Gaitan and Jose Fonte, but it might be too much to expect the newly-promoted side to challenge for the title in their first season back in the top flight.

Rule changes are also sure to have a major impact on who eventually succeeds, with the Chinese Football Association insisting clubs must field as many under-23 players as they do foreigners in each game, making for an intriguing season ahead in Asia's richest league.

Here, ESPN breaks down each of the 16 teams set to do battle in the 2018 Chinese Super League:

Guangzhou Evergrande

Last season: 1st

Head coach: Fabio Cannavaro

Key Signing: Nemanja Gudelj

Key Player: Feng Xiaoting

Fabio Cannavaro has returned to Tianhe Stadium after an unsuccessful first stint with the club in 2015, which saw the Italian replaced at the helm after just six months by Luiz Felipe Scolari. Scolari left at the end of last season having continued Guangzhou's dominance of the league, taking their title tally to seven in a row and Cannavaro will be under immense pressure to continue that dominance.

Shanghai SIPG

Last season: 2nd

Head coach: Vitor Pereira

Key Signing: None

Key Player: Oscar

The nearly men of the Chinese Super League finished as runners-up in the league and the Chinese FA Cup last year before Andre Villas-Boas called his frustrating spell at the helm to an end. Fellow Portuguese coach Vitor Pereira has taken over a club that has sought to maintain stability with no signings of note over the winter and that could help SIPG in their push for a first-ever trophy this year.

Tianjin Quanjian

Last season: 3rd

Head coach: Paulo Sousa

Key Signing: Yang Xu

Key Player: Axel Witsel

The departure of Cannavaro for Guangzhou Evergrande has seen Paulo Sousa take over at a club that secured a third-place finish in their first season in the Chinese Super League. After a very quiet transfer window that saw former China international striker Yang Xu arrive to add depth to the attacking options, Quanjian will be looking to consolidate the advances made in the 2017.

Hebei China Fortune

Last season: 4th

Head coach: Manuel Pellegrini

Key Signing: Javier Mascherano

Key Player: Ezequiel Lavezzi

Hebei China Fortune missed out on a place in the top three -- and with it a spot in the Asian Champions League -- on the final day of last season, but that may provide Manuel Pellegrini's side with a boost going into the new campaign. With few distractions, the Chilean will be looking for greater consistency, although the loss of striker Aloisio could leave Hebei short in attack. Javier Mascherano's arrival, however, is a shrewd move and his experience will be vital.

Javier Mascherano's latest adventure lies in China with Hebei Fortune.
Javier Mascherano will bring experience and quality to an already strong Hebei China Fortune.

Guangzhou R&F

Last season: 5th

Head coach: Dragan Stojkovic

Key Signing: Zhang Jiaqi

Key Player: Eran Zahavi

Dragan Stojkovic's side made an impressive start to last season's campaign, setting the pace for the opening weeks before a lack of depth in the squad saw them slide down the standings. The Serb's side, however, will be focusing once again on a top-three finish, although they have been hampered by a lack of significant investment. The upside, however, is that R&F have held on to last season's CSL top scorer, Eran Zahavi, who signed a new three-year contract before the campaign kicked off.

Shandong Luneng

Last season: 6th

Head coach: Li Xiaopeng

Key Signing: None

Key Player: Diego Tardelli

Felix Magath oversaw a resurgence for Shandong Luneng during his 18 months in charge, lifting the relegation-threatened club in mid-2016 before mounting a challenge for a top-three spot in 2017. After missing out, Magath decided to move on and he has been replaced by Li Xiaopeng, a highly regarded midfielder in his day and the former head coach of China's women's team. With no significant signings made, Shandong will be relying heavily on the club's academy.

Changchun Yatai

Last season: 7th

Head coach: Chen Jingang

Key Signing: Lasse Vibe

Key Player: Odion Ighalo

A poor start to last season saw Changchun Yatai in the relegation zone, but the removal of Lee Jang-soo as coach saw the club eventually climb the table. Chen Jingang oversaw an almost constant upward trajectory in the standings, with Changchun finishing a best-ever seventh. Odion Ighalo's 15 goals were vital to the team's turnaround and the former Watford striker will be key again in 2018.

Guizhou Hengfeng

Last season: 8th

Head coach: Gregorio Manzano

Key Signing: Bubacarr Trawally

Key Player: Nikica Jelavic

Gregorio Manzano underlined his status as one of the most effective coaches working in China last year when he took over at struggling Guizhou Hengfeng and led the club to an eighth-place finish. The Spaniard has remained, signing a new contract late last year, and he has successfully attained the services of Nikica Jelavic full time after the former Everton striker scored vital goals for the club while on loan from Beijing Renhe.

Beijing Guoan

Last season: 9th

Head coach: Roger Schmidt

Key Signing: Cedric Bakambu

Key Player: Renato Augusto

Beijing Guoan have made major moves in the transfer market to give Roger Schmidt a squad with which can challenge for the Chinese Super League title. The former Bayer Leverkusen coach made a major impact when he arrived in the middle of last season and the arrival of Cedric Bakambu, Jonathan Viera and young Chinese star Wei Shihao will give the club from the capital a much-needed boost.

Can Cedric Bakambu live up to his £40 million price tag?
Cedric Bakambu's arrival at Beijing Guoan could boost them among the title challengers.

Chongqing Lifan

Last season: 10th

Head coach: Paulo Bento

Key Signing: Luiz Fernandinho

Key Player: Alan Kardec

Paulo Bento has been appointed to take over at Chongqing Lifan after a year that saw the team sit as high as sixth in the early standings before some midseason struggles saw the club threatened briefly with a fight against relegation. In the end, Chongqing did enough to avoid being dragged into a battle against the drop, although that was largely down to the poor standard of the teams below them.

Shanghai Shenhua

Last season: 11th

Head coach Wu Jingui

Key Signing: Rong Hao

Key Player: Giovanni Moreno

Shanghai Shenhua's 2017 was headed for disaster until Gus Poyet was axed and Carlos Tevez sidelined on the way to victory in the Chinese FA Cup over crosstown rivals Shanghai SIPG. A much-needed period of calm and reflection over the winter has seen Wu Jingui given the coaching job on a full-time basis but, as proven during their 4-1 hammering at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super Cup, Shenhua are a long way from being a title challenger.

Jiangsu Suning

Last season: 12th

Head coach: Fabio Capello

Key Signing: Gabriel Paletta

Key Player: Alex Teixeira

Fabio Capello achieved his primary goal last season as the veteran Italian saved Jiangsu Suning from relegation just a year after the club had finished as runners-up in the league and cup. The former England manager has lost the services of Colombian striker Roger Martinez, who has joined Villarreal on loan, but after the woeful start to last season, Jiangsu will be keen to kick-off the 2018 campaign in a more positive fashion as they seek to perform in a manner more becoming of the talent within their squad.

Fabio Capello watches Jiangsu Suning in 2017.
Fabio Capello needs to dig more out of 2017 underachievers Jiangsu Suning.

Tianjin Teda

Last season: 13th

Head coach: Uli Stielike

Key Signing: Johnathan

Key Player: John Obi Mikel

Tianjin Teda struggled throughout 2017 with a number of coaching changes before Uli Stielike was installed at the helm in September. The German, who had been dismissed from his role as head coach of South Korea just two months before, steadied the club and ensured the team embarked on a run of form that pulled them out of the relegation zone. The former Real Madrid midfielder will have another difficult task on his hands this season, but Brazilian striker Johnathan -- signed from Korea's Suwon Samsung Bluewings -- should bring goals.

Henan Jianye

Last season: 14th

Head coach: Dragan Talajic

Key Signing: Cala

Key Player: Christian Bassogog

Dragan Talajic is the latest coach to be handed the reins at Henan Jianye after three coaches held the position in 2017 as the club struggled to make an impact. After dropping into the relegation zone at the midway point of the season, Henan settled into a position of safety in the final weeks of the season. Talajic will be hoping he can inspire his team to avoid similar issues this year as Henan look to consolidate their position in the top flight of Chinese football.

Dalian Yifang

Last season: China League One champions

Head coach: Ma Lin

Key Signing: Yannick Carrasco

Key Player: Nyasha Mushekwi

Dalian Yifang claimed all the headlines in the lead-up to the start of the 2018 Chinese Super League season by signing Yannick Carrasco, Nicolas Gaitan and Jose Fonte just before transfer deadline day and the addition of the experienced and talented trio will no doubt bolster the side that won China League One by two points over Beijing Renhe. Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, who led the team to that title win, has been replaced by Ma Lin.

Beijing Renhe

Last season: China League One runners-up

Head coach: Luis Garcia Plaza

Key Signing: Augusto Fernandez

Key Player: Jaime Ayovi

Beijing Renhe join Dalian Yifang in the Chinese Super League after finishing second in China League One last season, but the club is no stranger to the top flight. Previously based in Guiyang province and known as Guizhou Renhe, they won the Chinese FA Cup in 2013 and represented China in the Asian Champions League the following season. The focus this season, however, will be on preserving their top-flight status.

Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch

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