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AFC Preview: Jiangsu Suning vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai's Lee Jae-sung taking control of the midfield against FC Tokyo in the Asian Champions League. Photo by Howard Cheng
Midfielder Lee Jae-sung taking control over Jeonbuk's last game against FC Tokyo. (Photo Credit: Howard Cheng)
After coming through a potentially tricky tie against FC Tokyo relatively unscathed, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors head to China on Tuesday to take on group favourites and big spenders Jiangsu Suning in the second ACL group game.

Goals from debutant Ko Moo-yeol and old head Lee Dong-gook ensured that Motors took control of the group, despite a defensive lapse costing them a clean sheet in the final five minutes. The club handed six starting debuts to a selection of the new acquisitions, whilst also offering debuts to Lee Jong-ho and Kim Shin-wook from the bench.

Notable first appearances for Jeonbuk were that of midfielder Kim Bo-kyung, goalscorer and man of the match Ko Moo-yeol and the much-lauded Kim Shin-wook. I also felt Lee Jong-ho looked very lively from off the bench and would be deserving of more game time if other players had not put in such a good showing. New foreign signings Erik Paartalu and Lopes also both put in pretty solid displays and should improve as they become accustomed to playing with their new team mates.

Jeonbuk may want to keep their marquee signing Kim Shin-wook happy, so I would not be surprised if space was found to accommodate him for this fixture. If he were to feature from the start, he would have to replace either Lopes, Lee Dong-gook or Ko Moo-yeol, but seeing as two of them scored against FC Tokyo, and it was Lee Jong-ho who replaced Lopes down the right, the Wookie may have to settle for the bench.

Furthermore, I would be surprised if Choi Kang-hee made too many changes to the starting line-up as the debutants played well in their first game and it would be unwise to tinker when they still need time to gel. The 4-1-2-2-1 formation employed also ensured the midfield was not completely overwhelmed against FC Tokyo so a repeat in Nanjing would make sense.

Jiangsu Suning


Former Chelsea midfielder Ramires making his debut for Jiangsu Suning against Binh Duong
Former Chelsea midfielder Ramires makes his competitive debut for Jiangsu Suning in their opening ACL tie.
(Photo credit: the-afc.com)
Jiangsu have been far from quiet this transfer window, breaking their's, and the Chinese Super League's, transfer record twice on two marquee signings.

The £25 million signing of 28 year-old Chelsea midfielder Ramires raised eyebrows across the globe, and marked a window of high spending from Chinese clubs. Ramires had a glittering career at Chelsea, joining in 2010 and claiming the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup and Premier League titles during his tenure in London. He had however found himself sidelined in recent months, making seven Premier League appearances this season, as Chelsea began a surprising decline down the table.

Jiangsu's other high-profile signing came in the form of Shaktar Donetsk's Alex Teixeira for a whopping €50 million. The attacking midfielder, and Ramires' Brazilian compatriot, was heavily linked with Liverpool before the Chinese side made an irrefutable offer to the Ukrainian club for his signature. The 26 year-old boasted a record of 67 goals in 146 appearances for his previous team and will now hope to replicate form this in Nanjing.

The third Brazilian making their way eastwards comes in the form of striker Jo. Being a Manchester City supporter, I have been afforded the opportunity to watch Jo in the flesh and was sadly very disappointed. City signed him for an incredible £19 million based on an impressive goal tally for CSKA Moscow (30 goals in 52 appearances). Unfortunately during his time in Eastlands he failed to live up to the clubs heightening expectations, scoring once during his 21 league appearances for the club, as well as five goals over 3 seasons in other competitions. Unsuccessful loan spells at Everton and Galatasaray were then followed by a return to Brazil and most recently a season in the UAE.

Jo may yet be able to provide a goal threat in the Chinese Super League, but it feels like a move purely to placate their other Brazilian signings  whilst helping with the club's marketing campaign of securing quality talent from the European leagues. To his credit, it was his awareness and interception of a mistake by Binh Duong on Tuesday night that assisted in creating Jiangsu's only goal. Jeonbuk's biggest concern though will be in shutting down his other two compatriots previously mentioned.

Other players Jeonbuk will be aware of include Ji Xiang. The 25 year old has spent his whole career at the club, racking up 139 appearances, and was the scorer of Jiangsu's only goal on Tuesday night. He provides a wealth of experience having played in all competitions with the club at some point. Captain and central midfielder Wu Xi is also a regular starter at the club with international experience for the Chinese national side.

Jiangsu's performance in Tuesday's 1-1 draw against Becamex Binh Duong surprised many people. With the money they have spent, the Chinese club is expected to top the group with ease, yet ceded a one goal lead and were then later unable to capitalise once Binh Duong went down to ten men for the final twenty minutes.

This is where the problem may lie for Jiangsu. Whilst the big money signings and noise across the continent has made them favourites to escape the group stages, they are still a team who finished 9th last season in the Chinese Super League, qualifying for this tournament through an FA Cup place. Seasons prior also saw them finish 8th and 13th. Despite a runner up place in 2012, this is a team who were not championship contenders in the last three years. They have also only ever been in this competition once before, crashing out at the group stages. Their signings will probably get them competing this season, but they may still be vulnerable in these early rounds whilst they try to make everything click.

Prediction

Like Jeonbuk, Jiangsu seems to be finding their feet. Based on the previous round however, it seems Jeonbuk are already a lot further along with integrating their new faces into the squad.

Jiangsu will fancy their chances a lot more on home turf though. A big attendance will be expected at the Nanjing Olympic Sport Centre and they will not wish to disappoint.

Jeonbuk, whilst having a wealth of exciting attacking options, are still questionable in defence. The late goal they conceded against FC Tokyo points to this and is perhaps further highlighted by the surprising removal of defender Lim Jong-eun for attacking midfielder Leonardo in the dying minutes whilst defending a one goal lead.

Overall, I do not imagine any clean sheets from this fixture with both teams boasting players capable of posing credible threats to one another's defence. Jeonbuk would happily take a draw from this, playing for the win during the return fixture, but the optimist in me says that perhaps more is achievable.

Jiangsu did look blunt going forward against Binh Duong, and they are not yet a cohesive unit. One week will probably not be enough to have them firing on all cylinders. Jeonbuk looked hungry against Tokyo, the first time in what seems like ages, and have the ability and the opportunity to stamp their mark on this group before their domestic campaign has even begun.

Predicted Score: Jiangsu Suning 1 - 2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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