The Chinese Super League (CSL) may be well known for its generous salaries and financial rewards, but there is a merciless side to the league that is not so widely known. With foreign players expected to carry a large burden of responsibility every time they enter the pitch, even at this early stage of the season judgements are being made about their contributions.
The CSL can be an unforgiving environment and with just three games played, there are a number of big names whose performances will be coming under the microscope. In the topsy-turvy world of Chinese football, everybody is replaceable. Here are five CSL stars who are under pressure to perform this weekend.
It's been a difficult start to life in China for Tianjin Quanjian forward Pato, having missed a hatful of chances on the opening weekend only to squander a penalty against 10-man Shenhua a week later. Tianjin Quanjian earning their first win of the season last time out will have helped to relieve some of the pressure building around the club, but Pato will be acutely aware he is yet to find the target this season.
Of all the fixtures they could have wished for this weekend, a home tie with Yanbian is one of the more favourable and Pato will be expected to contribute. If he does not, Pato may quickly find that Brazilian compatriots Junior Moraes and Geuvanio are handed starting berths in his place. Quanjian will expect three points this weekend, but a good performance from their striker is perhaps just as important long-term.
Shanghai Shenhua striker Tevez's opening salvos in the CSL have been mixed to say the least. Having been well below peak fitness as his side crashed out of the AFC Champions League, he bounced back with a fine first league outing against Jiangsu. However, his two follow up efforts -- a frustrating lone role in a 1-1 draw with Quanjian and a disappointingly ineffective contribution against arch-rivals Beijing Guoan -- have failed to inspire in quite the same manner.
This week's away visit to Hebei China Fortune is potentially tricky and Gus Poyet needs to keep some kind of momentum to his side's season. A strong showing from his centre-forward would be particularly helpful after a rough couple of weeks. Rumours have flown about Tevez's supposed unhappiness off the pitch, but with one sole penalty goal to his name thus far, it may soon be his employers feeling uneasy about his presence in China.
Ighalo's record-breaking transfer to Changchun Yatai was one of the shocks of the offseason, with the previously relatively frugal club lavishing a reported £20 million on the Nigeria international. However, after three games the North-East side are bottom of the league and have managed just one goal from three (admittedly challenging) games to date. Ighalo is yet to score.
Ighalo's early drought is compounded by a missed penalty which would have given his side the lead over Guangzhou R&F in Week 2, a match they eventually lost 1-0. Club-record signings are heavily scrutinised, particularly when details of their new salary make headlines worldwide. He still has time to turn things around, yet faces a bigger challenge than most due to the poor quality of the team around him. This weekend's clash with Liaoning is a real opportunity to get the ball rolling.
Unlike those featured above, Jiangsu Suning's Ramires is now into his second CSL campaign and has also been performing perfectly adequately in his midfield role. Where his pressure comes is that he is currently being looked at to carry his side in the continued absences of forwards Alex Teixeira (suspension) and Roger Martinez (injury). It has not gone to plan.
Jiangsu are supposed to be title challengers, or AFC Champions League qualifiers at a minimum, yet have just one point from their opening three league games. While unlucky with player availability, their wage bill and transfer outlay mean more is expected.
In Chongqing Lifan this weekend they have another seemingly good chance to register a first win of the 2017 CSL season. To do so, though, they will need Ramires contributing at both ends of the pitch to a far greater extent than he has thus far. While he is not in danger of falling out the side, Ramires has undeniably not stepped up his performance levels as hoped when Suning needed him most.
There can be no excuses this season for the coach of Hebei China Fortune, having been given the final five months of 2016 as a bedding in period to Chinese football. However, results at the start of the new campaign have not been as hoped -- two draws and a 1-0 victory over poor opposition -- and he will be heavily scrutinised heading into a month of tougher tests.
This weekend brings the visit of Tevez and Shanghai Shenhua in a challenging home clash. With the league campaign now gathering speed, Pellegrini needs his own foreign stars -- Ezequiel Lavezzi, Hernanes and Aloisio in particular -- to begin to step up.
Question marks hang over Pellegrini following his poor start to life last season and if he does not put them to rest early in this campaign, pressure could grow rapidly. Hebei have spent fortunes (pun intended!) and a mid-table position is not the return on their investment their generous owners would have been expecting.