HONG KONG (Reuters) - Tianjin Quanjian coach Paulo Sousa says his side are still learning how to juggle domestic and continental commitments and believes they will need time to generate the kind of consistency it takes to be successful on two fronts.
Tianjin booked their spot in the knockout rounds of the Asian Champions League on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Hong Kong’s Kitchee, but while Sousa’s team are impressing in Asian competition they are struggling in the Chinese Super League.
After finishing third in the domestic title race last season, Tianjin are currently in 13th, having won just once in their first four games of the campaign.
Despite the slow start, Sousa, who took over in December after Fabio Cannavaro left for champions Guangzhou Evergrande, says his players are handling the situation well.
“You are in Asia, travelling, recovering,” said the former Fiorentina coach.
“Physically, but especially emotionally, for the players it’s not an easy task all the time.
“It changes the way of football also. We missed a quality performance in one game, against Beijing Renhe at home.
“All the other ones we were good enough and we performed well enough to win the match but unfortunately there are times where, individually, you can’t control things and this can happen especially in Chinese football and Asian football.”
Tianjin, who travel to face Guizhou Zhicheng on Sunday, are nine points behind league leaders Shanghai SIPG.
They boast a line-up featuring Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel, former Brazil striker Alexandre Pato and French forward Anthony Modeste but have only won once in the league to date, against Henan Jianye on the opening day of the season.
That contrasts with their form in the Asian Champions League, where they have beaten two-time champions Jeonbuk Motors as well as notching up two wins over Kitchee and drawing with Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol to advance to the next phase with one round of group games remaining.
“Of course, the foreign players are more used to this rhythm, to switch on and off different styles of football but, particularly for the Chinese players, it’s something we need to get used to and to get more experience,” said Sousa.
“What we are looking for is to be more regular in all of our matches, against different opponents but also during the match. This takes time.
“We are working three months and I’m really glad and positive about what my players are giving to us, because they understand it quite quick and they want to deliver.
“We want to grow, to make the step and this year is going to help us make that step.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford