ACL Knockout Stage: Melbourne v Jeonbuk 5:45 AM EST / 6:45 PM Korea today
First off, I’ve been really AWOL for the last bit and the last few months in general. Genuinely sorry, it sucks to see the site sort of dwindling in posts, but the truth is… we just haven’t had the time. Hopefully as the summer comes we start posting again far more regularly. Today will be a day with two posts – now that’s a start, isn’t it? In any case, Choi Kanghee’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have traveled to Australia for their 2016 AFC Champions League Round of 16 tie against the Melbourne Victory. Choi has long reiterated how important the ACL is to Jeonbuk, who have been a force of late in the K League but never with a deep run in Asia. This season is a massive opportunity for the Hyundai Motors to leave their mark in continental competition, and their first opponent in the knockout stages will be the Melbourne Victory.
How they got here
Jeonbuk have had a roller-coaster journey through the Asian Champions League and much of their season to start, despite only losing twice in 16 games across all competitions. They began back in February with a solid 2-1 victory over FC Tokyo, that wasn’t indicative of a dominant powerhouse but rather a collection of top players learning how to play together. That might explain the controversial, heated loss in Jiangsu a week later, where Jeonbuk’s defensive frailties were well exploited in a 3-2 defeat. They bounced back on March 15th however with a 2-0 victory over Vietnamese side Becamex Binh Duong, though taking 41 minutes to break them down at home brought some chagrin. It was what happened on the next matchday that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, however. Jeonbuk were simply outclassed by a Vietnamese side who played the game of their life at home. Jeonbuk conceded two penalties, both of which were scored by Nugyen Anh Duc in a 3-2 loss. A far from pleased Choi Kanghee retaliated by sending Erik Paartalu, Kim Changsoo and Kim Hyungil (the latter two who were sent off) to the reserves, and neither of the three players have featured on the bench since.
No matter what you think of the fairness of that kind of reaction by the Jeonbuk gaffer, at least he’s finally discovered consistency. He’s not meddling around so much with his team selection and that has straightened the Jeonbuk ship a bit. A 3-0 win away in Tokyo and a gritty 2-2 draw with Jiangsu on the final matchday was enough to send them to a first place finish in Group E.
Melbourne finished 2nd in Group G, besting Suwon Samsung on head-to-head (sort of). Despite having a worse goal differential than Suwon, they scored more away goals in their two draws, giving them the leg up on the head-to-head criterion. Their sole defeat in group play was in China, but at home, they have a solid record. Since the ACL group stage finished, Melbourne, who had a 6th place finish in the league, participated in the A-League Playoffs (think American-style playoffs, not England-style relegation playoffs), where they lost in the first round after collapsing at the death against Brisbane.
How Jeonbuk will lineup
Jeonbuk will only have five subs on the bench in this encounter, as they have only decided to bring 16 players down under to face the Australians. Notable absentees will be Ko Mooyul, Lee Jongho and Kim Shinwook, who are expected to feature in the Jeolla derby on the weekend against struggling Jeonnam. As such, Jeonbuk’s lineup will probably closely resemble the one that drew Jiangsu Suning. They don’t have to worry about rotation because the KFA rescheduled their previous weekend encounter against Gwangju for after this match, especially because of the long journey south these players had to make.
What to expect from Jeonbuk
Coming into the tie, it’s been fairly clear that Jeonbuk are the favorites to qualify. Expect them to take their game to Melbourne, who probably will be spending a bit more time ensuring the proper marking and controlling of certain Jeonbuk players in possession. We should see that same “flowing” attack, with a lot of the buildup coming through the middle and patient approach on the top of the box, with the occasional long distance threat from Leonardo. On the flip side, defensively, Jeonbuk will be exploitable as they never have fully recovered from the sudden loss of Kim Keehee in the waning days of the pre-season.
What to expect from Melbourne
Melbourne haven’t played a competitive match in two weeks, and so it sort of falls in that gray area between “fresh and ready for the match” and “rusty”. A lot will be riding on which Melbourne side shows up at AAMI Park. The Victory play a similar style to Jeonbuk, with an attacking 4-3-3 being their go-to system. However, their general season slump combined with the potential rust could allow Jeonbuk’s slightly more organized approach to triumph on the day.
What they said
Choi Kanghee: “Melbourne’s tactics are very good, so this should be a good encounter. We have momentum and this is a match we can win. But it will be difficult, because away matches are always tricky.”
Kevin Muscat (Melbourne manager): “It doesn’t come much bigger than Jeonbuk but we take a lot of confidence from the way we’ve played in the group games. We’ve had a very good attacking intent so we look forward to playing a good team.”
Although Jeonbuk has had the weekend off, trips to Australia are difficult for all teams. Jeonbuk have a knack of showing up when it counts but Melbourne will be keen to give stalwart Archie Thompson a triumphant home send-off in his final match for the Victory at home. Expect a high-intensity, high-tempo encounter. 1-1 draw.
Other Koreans in action
Nam Taehee and Lekhwiya will host fellow Qatari side El Jaish. Over in Saudi Arabia, Kwak Taehwi and Al-Hilal will take on Uzbeki side Lokomotiv. Tomorrow, FC Seoul hops the East Asia to play Japanese league leaders Urawa, and I’ll hace a full preview of that (hopefully) tomorrow.