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AFC Preview: Shanghai SIPG FC vs. Suwon Bluewings


(Photo courtesy of www.bluewings.kr)

The opening round of ACL fixtures saw two contrasting displays from these teams. Suwon shocked just about everyone in Korea by dominating Gamba Osaka for the majority of their game. They played confidently and authoritatively, and in defence limited Gamba to only one real goal scoring opportunity, which they in turn squandered. Cash rich Shanghai SIPG, on the other hand, had a disastrous start to their campaign, with their superstars losing on the road to A-League side Melbourne Victory. 

With both sides yet to pick up a win, this game could be very interesting. On paper, this is Suwon Bluewings' toughest fixture of the group stage so maybe they would accept a draw and take just the one point home from China with them. But with Shanghai suffering an embarrassing loss last week then maybe Coach Seo Jung-won's aspirations could be higher. Shanghai SIPG will undoubtedly be looking for a home win, and I imagine that they will attack relentlessly for the whole 90 minutes. And with the attacking talent that they have at their disposal it could be a long night for the Suwon defence. 

Shanghai SIPG

Shanghai SIPG are not exactly a Chinese powerhouse. Having only been formed in 2005, the club have played the majority of their football in the lower leagues of China, finally gaining promotion to the Chinese Super League in 2013. Since then, they have gone on to record finishes of 9th, 5th and 2nd. 

What is apparent though, is that this is a team on the rise. The heavy financial backing that they receive undoubtedly makes them the envy of all Korean football supporters. Not only do they have 3 talented and expensive foreign players, they have also assembled some of the very best Chinese players within their squad. Because of the players they have at their disposal they play a very attacking brand of football, at times almost playing with a front 4 of Gyan, Elkeson, Wu Lei and Yu Hai. 

Obviously, the biggest threat in their squad is Asamoah Gyan, a man who is reportedly being paid $250,000 a week to turn out for Shanghai SIPG. Gyan has scored over 150 league career goals so far, and has also scored 48 goals for Ghana and holds the record for most goals scored in World Cup Finals by an African player. . I am very familiar with the Ghanaian having followed him closely during his time in the North East of England playing for Sunderland. During his brief stint in the English Premier League he put in some impressive performances and became Sunderland's most important player and a fans favourite. He is a strong centre forward who likes to get in behind defences and cause problems, rather than come out of his position to look for the ball. He has a terrific first touch and he is a handful for any defence. His decision to move to Al Ain in 2011 was a strange one as he had really become a standout player in the English Premier League and the feeling was that he could eventually go on to play for one of the biggest teams in Europe, but the lure of $250,000 a week must have been too much. The good news for Suwon is that Gyan was carried off injured in the 59th minute of the defeat to Melbourne on Wednesday night and he is a huge doubt for the upcoming game.

If Gyan is injured and cannot play, Suwon still have the attacking threat of Elkeson to deal with. Elkeson has been a sensation since moving to China in 2013 from Botafogo. He took no time settling in and in his first full season bagged 24 goals and 10 assists in 28 games. That season Guangzhou Evergrande (Elkeson's club at the time) went on to lift the ACL and Elkeson was named in the tournament's dream team. The next season was also an unqualified success for the striker as he went on to score 28 goals in 28 games in 2014. 2015 brought a big money transfer and he moved to Shanghai SIPG for 18.5 Million Euros. Elkeson is a quick and skillful striker who can be devastating when he has the ball at his feet and is allowed to run at centre backs. Park Hyun-bum will have to have a strong game and be alert in the times when Elkeson peals away from the centre backs. Suwon will be reliant on him to get near the striker and stop him from having an easy run at the defence.

In midfield Shanghai boast the threat of current Chinese national players Wu Lei and Yu Hai. Wu Lei is the key player in Shanghai's midfield and is someone who could pose a significant threat to the Suwon goal. The midfielder is well known for his attacking capabilities and plays the majority of his game in the opposition's half. He is able to make penetrating runs ahead of the strikers and can score goals using both feet. It will be a difficult task for Suwon the keep the ball away from this promising, young player.

Prediction

Seo Jeung-won sent out a surprising team last week against Gamba Osaka. The coach switched from his favoured 4-2-3-1 system that he adopted for much of last season and instead opted for a more attacking 4-1-4-1 system. This allowed for him to play his three best attacking players (Ki-hun, Chang-hoon and Santos) in their preferred positions. And it was a gamble that almost paid off as Suwon controlled the majority of the game and should have taken all three points.

Whether he will change this when he takes his squad to Shanghai is something only he will know, but I believe that he will change it. And I also believe that would be the right call. Melbourne demonstrated last week that if you can defend resolutely with men behind the ball then you can stifle this Shanghai team. The key will be for Suwon to attack with purpose and pace when they can.

The major headache for the coach will be where to ask Kwon Chang-hoon to operate. The midfielder is at his most dangerous when operating just behind the striker, but if Jeung-won is to play his preferred 4-2-3-1 system Santos will most probably play in the number 10 role. This would result in Chang-hoon being pushed to the right of midfield to accommodate the Brazilian. With Chang-hoon on one wing and Ki-hun on the other, Suwon would have quality in the wide areas but would be severely lacking in pace, and pace is something they will need if they are to successfully counter attack a strong Shanghai team. It's a major issue for the manager and it is something he will need to think long and hard about.

The game against Gamba Osaka also saw centre forward, Kim Gun-hee make his professional debut and he put in an extremely confident performance. He was strong and tidy on the ball and created a couple of good goal scoring opportunities. He was comfortable with the ball being played in either to his feet or aerially and he showed a composure on the ball that you don't often see in players his age. I am certain he will be asked to lead the line again in Shanghai and Suwon should aim to utilise his strength as much as possible. In a game where they are likely to see less of the ball than their opponents Gun-hee's ability to hold the ball and bring other people into play will be fundamental if Suwon are to return from China with anything to show for their work.

After Suwon's showing against a strong Gamba team and the news that Gyan is a doubt for the game I am confident that they can bring something back from Shanghai. 

Predicted Score 

Shanghai SIPG 1 - 2 Suwon Bluewings

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