Having retained their title four weeks ago, and with three games to spare, Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande rounded off the Chinese Super League season in style on Sunday by firing five unanswered goals past bottom side Wuhan Zall.
The success saw Guangzhou become the first team to win three successive championships, a record which will doubtless boost the players and their Italian coach heading into next Saturday's AFC Champions League final against FC Seoul.
With the Guangzhou-based side also still in the running for this year's Chinese FA Cup, Lippi has his sights firmly fixed on an unprecedented treble of league, cup and continental laurels.
Three and easy
Unlike last year, during which Guangzhou struggled and narrowly edged Jiangsu Sainty to the title, this season saw Lippi's charges begin in unstoppable fashion with emphatic defeats of Shanghai Shenxin and Jiangsu. After being held to a 1-1 draw at Beijing Guoan, they went on to rack up eight consecutive victories, setting the pattern for the season as a whole.
A goalless draw against major title-contenders Shandong Luneng was followed, but it only served to provide Guangzhou with renewed motivation. Another six-match winning streak extended their lead to 13 points and their undefeated run didn’t end until the 22nd round of league fixtures, when they suffered their only defeat of the campaign: losing 1-0 at Tianjin Teda.
Despite that loss, victories over Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentwon quickly put Lippi's side on the verge of a third consecutive title. Even a desperate Shandong could do little at home to hamper the rampant Guangzhou, who prevailed 4-2 to provide official confirmation of what had long been inevitable.
The style in which Guangzhou secured this season’s championship is reflective of the club’s impressive squad. Their seven Chinese internationals, spearheaded by captain Zheng Zhi, provided a dependable backbone, while the star dust was sprinkled on by a collection of star imports.
Brazilian Elkeson, a new signing, was the revelation of the season, emerging the league's top marksman with 24 goals. His compatriot Muriqui, though managing just nine league goals of his own, ran riot in the Champions League, scoring 13 times to set a new tournament record as Guangzhou stormed into the final. Aside from excelling in his creative role, Argentinian playmaker Dario Conca also found the target 14 times.
Race to the podium
With Guangzhou dominating throughout, the focus switched to the race for second and third and, with those positions, the chance to represent China in next year's AFC Champions League. Shandong, arguably the only side capable of posing a threat to Guangzhou, made light work of securing runners-up spot, despite trailing Guangzhou by 11 points.
It was, though, a different story for Beijing Guoan and Guizhou Renhe, both of whom entered the season aiming to clinch a second successive continental appearance. They vied for that honour throughout the season but, despite swapping places with their rivals in the top four on several occasions, it was the capital side who laughed last by finishing third.
At the other side of the table, meanwhile, the battle intensified in the closing stages as a series of strugglers, notable last year's runners-up Jiangsu, fought desperately to avoid relegation. Qingdao Jonoon, despite some brilliant showings early in season, dropped down a division after losing the closing game at Beijing by 1-0, and will be joined in the second tier by bottom side Wuhan, who struggled throughout.
Though it was another season in which foreign stars dazzled, the emergence of several local youngsters also provided some encouragement for fans of the national team. Stealing the show was Shanghai SIPG forward Wu Lei, who notched up 15 goals as the newly promoted club maintained their place in the top-flight.
Dalian Arebin’s Yu Dabao also exploded on to the scene with consistently impressive showings with both club and country, while Jiangsu midfielder Sun Ke and Zheng Long, who joined Guangzhou on loan from Qingdao late in the season, thrilled the watching public.
Elsewhere, Beijing's Zhang Xizhe became his side's second top-scorer with 11 goals, with the 22-year-old midfielder emerging as his team’s key player. Having made their presence strongly felt, these hopefuls will be hoping to continue their progress and make an even bigger impression in next year’s competition.