AFC Champions League Preview: Seoul praying for second leg miracle

FC Seoul had a nightmare in the first leg of the 2016 AFC Champions League Semi-Final (East Zone Final) as they were soundly beaten 4-1 by a dominant Jeonbuk Hyundai side. Hwang Sun-hong’s men now have a steep hill to climb, though their one away goal gives them a foot to stand on in the second leg. Lineup & prediction after the jump!

First Leg Summary – Jeonbuk Hyundai 4:1 FC Seoul

FC Seoul were played off the pitch in the first half of the Semi-Final. Kim Shin-wook’s aerial threat wreaked havoc among the Seoul defense all game long, despite the capital club opting for a 5-back system. The 191cm centre forward had two assists and a goal, while Brazilian wingers Leonardo (2 goals) and Lopes (1 goal) enjoyed the space behind Seoul’s wingbacks and disorganized defensive structure.

Seoul got a rather fortuitous away goal against the run of play at the beginning of the second half. Joo Se-jong and Adriano combined off of kick-off, and that led to a brief period where the Seoulites had more possession and a few half-chances. Still, it was by and in large a disappointing night for Jeonbuk which leaves them with a steep hill to climb in leg two.

Match-fixing scandal

Of course, this was back at the end of September, before all of this controversy broke out. Fast forward three weeks, and Jeonbuk have been deducted 9 points due to match fixing, are level with Seoul in the K League title race after losing their first league game this season and still do not know if the AFC will suspend them from this competition because of said controversy.

Jeonbuk did field a very experimental side in their shock 3-2 loss at home against Jeju United this weekend, and none of the usual midfield 4 were in action. With crunch time ahead in the K League and reeling off of a busy international break, Choi Kang-hee was probably trying to rest up his players for the home stretch. That means we will have a completely fresh Lee Jae-sung and Kim Bo-kyung as the architects of Jeonbuk’s attacks. Seoul, however, with the notable exception of Dejan, went fairly all-out in their 2-0 win over Ulsan.

Starting Lineup Prediction

Jeonbuk will likely field a very similar XI to the one that beat Seoul 4-1. Kim Hyung-il is a strong candidate to return into central defense alongside Lim Jong-eun… that centreback pairing should be enough to cope with the more mobile Adriano (vs Lim) and more physical Dejan (vs Kim).

Hwang Sun-hong fielded a 4-3-3 on the weekend against Ulsan, but that formation only really works if you’re comfortable playing Adriano and Park Chu-young out on the wings. It would be an interesting tactical risk to take on Jeonbuk, giving them even more width, and therefore more options for diagonal balls to try and stretch out that pesky Jeonbuk press.

However, I expect Seoul’s aggressiveness will be a measured one, at least in the first half. Yun Il-lok should come into the side for a more attacking, direct edge to the midfield, while Park Yong-woo calling the shots in defensive midfield may be better at this point than out-and-out defensive midfielders Kim Won-sik or Yojiro Takahagi.

What They Said

Choi Kang-hee: Our players have been impressive all season and I will continue to have faith in them. We have confidence for the second leg.

Hwang Sunhong: We know that we need to score many goals to get the win. We will have to be clinical and aggressive going forward… There is still football to be played in this tie.

Prediction

Some of Seoul’s players may be in decent form, but you would think for Seoul to stand any chance at this point, they would need an early goal, convert their set-piece opportunities and have Adriano lace up his scoring boots. The ACL-leading scorer has cooled down after his 6-game suspension during the summer, and despite converting a penalty on the weekend, he hasn’t quite been the same.

If Jeonbuk want to rely on their highly effective pressing and try to hit Seoul on the counter, given their unparalleled, dynamic midfield, there is no reason as to why they would not have literally every success. Their away form has been a weak spot but the 3 goal deficit would take shocking levels of atrocity from Jeonbuk to blow. I’m pegging this one at a high-scoring draw. 2-2 (Jeonbuk win 6-3 on aggregate).

Over in the West

Lee Myeongjoo and UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s team, Al-Ain, are 3-1 up over Qatari side El-Jaish. We could be in for a real treat of Asia’s finest playmakers if Jeonbuk and Al-Ain both do not collapse at the final hurdle.

Check out Abdulrahman’s unreal talent for the UAE… THAT pass tho

About Tim Lee 231 Articles
The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?

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