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Writers Chat: Shanghai SIPG vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors AFC Preview

Writers Chat: Shanghai SIPG vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors AFC Asian Champions League Preview
After three months of anticipation, the quarter final stage of the AFC Champions League is upon us with Chinese Super League's Shanghai SIPG playing host to reigning K-League Classic champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. We have invited Chinese Super League aficionado and FC Insider columnist Peter Hampshire to speak with our site's Jeonbuk correspondent Matthew Binns and discuss what is set to be a tense and engaging affair.

Peter asks, Matthew answers

Peter Hampshire: Do you feel Jeonbuk’s comfortable K-League season with little serious competition at the top allows them to be more focused on the ACL? Or will a lack of recent pressure-match experience count against them?

Matthew Binns: I think the K-League's format, with top six teams playing each other four times across the length of the season, means that a ten point gap is perhaps more surmountable than in it's Chinese counterpart. This is not to say Jeonbuk's lead isn't impressive but, with another two games against FC Seoul yet to come this year, a potential points deduction that is yet to be resolved (and will not be until their involvement in this competition is over), and other teams fighting for the remaining Champions League spot, it would be naive to think the season is wrapped up completely. That said, serious sustained competition other than FC Seoul has been difficult to come by and you could argue this could hinder them. Jeonbuk do have a tendency to win when required though which has not just been evident in the league from their number of comeback victories, but also in the Champions League when they most notably looked to have moved out of contention in the group stages before earning the required results to progress against FC Tokyo and Jiangsu Suning in two thoroughly professional and ruthless displays.

PH: Jeonbuk haven’t made it past the quarter-final stage since they were losing finalists in 2011 and much is made of their ageing strike force. Does this have to change if they are to progress further?

MB: Not necessarily. At 37, Lee Dong-gook's better days are admittedly behind him. While he has still scored eight league goals this campaign though, I do find the AFC likes to overplay his influence in their press releases mainly due to his legacy in their competition's history. This image of a 'zimmer frame strike force' has been further compounded by the summer re-signing of a 34 year old Edu but there is more to Jeonbuk this year than these two players. The midfield quartet of Leonardo, Lee Jae-sung, Kim Bo-kyung and Lopes have made up just under 50% of the league goals scored so far this season, in addition to being responsible for most of the assists for the strikers. Furthermore, their contribution has helped Jeonbuk find the net 50 times already this season, whereas their last two seasons in which they secured the title only saw them score 53 and 54 in total. Lastly, the signing of the much younger striker Lee Jong-ho is starting to bear fruit, with the ex-Jeonnam man finally getting a decent run in the team, scoring 5 goals in recent matches, and looking like the best striking option ahead of Tuesday evening. So to answer your question, I think Jeonbuk have already made the required changes to progress further this year, despite still having two ageing strikers on the books. They have managed to find alternative reliable outlets for goals this season who have been able to share the burden while also offering threats from all over the pitch.

PH: You have seen Jeonbuk lose at home only once in all competitions this season. Do you feel manager Choi Kang-hee should try to keep it tight in Shanghai with the second leg in mind?

MB: In Jeonbuk's case, having the second leg at home could prove to very advantageous. Jeonbuk definitely seem to up their game on their home turf. By K-League standards, it is a ground whose intimidating atmosphere is only matched by that of Suwon Bluewings and FC Seoul. That said, a large crowd is hardly something new to Shanghai SIPG, who face much hotter cauldrons when playing away in the Chinese Super League. They therefore should not be too phased when they visit Jeonju, but their ACL away form thus far would suggest otherwise. I hope Choi Kang-hee does not bank completely on winning the home leg, as I think Jeonbuk are playing Shanghai at the right time given their recent form. Opting for something similar that we saw against FC Tokyo (away) with Jeonbuk ceding possession for strict defending and quick counter attacks would surely be the correct tactical approach for the K-League champions this coming Tuesday.

PH: The Jeonbuk midfield is touted as one of the most creative in Asia. Who out of this midfield do you see causing Shanghai SIPG the most problems over the two legs?

MB: Leonardo has caught the eyes of the AFC in their official pre-match build-ups and rightly so, along with highlighting Lee Jae-sung, Kim Bo-kyung and Lee Dong-gook as other notable players to watch out for. While Leonardo is certainly very threatening on the pitch and deserving of the praise, I think Lopes has been unjustly overlooked. Lopes currently leads Jeonbuk's scoring charts with nine league goals and five assists, meaning that he has had a direct contribution in a quarter of all Jeonbuk's league goals this season. The player was not offered much of a chance early on in the competition, but played well in both legs against Melbourne Victory, providing the assist for what proved to be the winning goal. Furthermore, his last six goals have been scored during his last seven appearances. The Brazilian is very much in form coming into his fixture. Sven's men would be wise to pay particular attention to him.

PH: Predicted score for the first leg?

MB: I am going for a share of the spoils through force of habit. Jeonbuk do rely heavily on their home form in all competitions and could look to sit back here. However, they may be right to do so as I think this will be Jeonbuk's toughest away fixture this year, but if they set up in a disciplined manner, looking to play on the counter with both Lopes and Leonardo manning the flanks, I see no reason why they cannot score what would be a crucial away goal, even if they only return to Korea with a draw.

Predicted Score: Shanghai SIPG 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Matthew asks, Peter answers

Matthew Binns: Shanghai SIPG have recently been undergoing a bad run of form. What has been going wrong for Sven's men?

Peter Hampshire: Shanghai SIPG are now 4th having won only two of their last seven league games, conceding 13 in the process. A leaky defence has been their downfall with a clean sheet in only a third of their games this season, compounded by the recent absence of Kim Joo-young. Sven has bemoaned injuries to key players and has reportedly been rebuffed in targeting Marcus Rojo from Manchester United to sure up the defence. Up front, the busy treatment room, coupled with an underwhelming Asamoah Gyan, has forced SIPG to rely heavily on Jean Kouassi and the ever-present Wu Lei. Unfortunately for Sven, key attacking midfielder and former ACL winner Dario Conca, who had only played twice since June, returned to the starting line-up last Friday in their CSL match vs Shijiazhuang only to be stretchered off with a knee injury. Early reports suggest he could be sidelined for a number of months.

MB: Jeonbuk were granted the weekend off from playing in order to prepare this game. How much of an effect, if any, do you think this could have on the outcome?

PH: While I’m sure Sven had his midweek commitments in mind, he did field a strong side at the weekend and his side had to work hard through a tough first half before winning comfortably in the end. Group winners in their maiden ACL appearance, SIPG won each of their four weeknight home games along the way. Their latest victory, a last gasp winner from Talisman Wu Lei against Tokyo in the round of 16. Traditionally, Shanghai SIPG and their previous guises have focussed on youth, nurturing some of the country’s best talent. 34 year-old captain Sun Xiang doesn’t fit this mould, and with games coming thick and fast he is perhaps someone Jeonbuk’s strong midfield could exploit. Sun Xiang has also had to suffer the implications of his involvement in Demba Ba’s injury of late.

MB: Chinese transfer-record signing Hulk has been out of action since picking up an injury in his first game. Reports suggest he could return for this fixture. How likely do you think he is to feature and what kind of impact do you expect him to have on this Shanghai SIPG side in both this match and the rest of the Chinese Super League season?

PH: Hulk trained with the first team last week for the first time in a month. He wasn’t risked against Shijiazhuang but Sven has assured fans he will make it for this clash vs Jeonbuk. Having Hulk back would be a huge boost to SIPG’s league campaign. Much like in the K-League for Jeonbuk, it’s probably unrealistic for anyone to catch Guangzhou Evergrande this season, and Sven seems content to be judged on whether he qualifies for next years’ ACL. Hulk has consistently scored over a goal every two games in his whole career. He’ll be complimented well by those around him, for example Kouassi who I was very impressed with when I watched him against Guangzhou R&F. Hulk scored 12 goals in his last three Champions League campaigns in Russia and he would be my first choice in a CSL fantasy team. Obviously he hasn’t proved himself at all in Asia yet, but one goal in 20 minutes isn’t a bad start.

MB: How do you see Shanghai SIPG approaching this fixture in terms of formation and tactics?

PH: The style of play adopted against Tokyo in the round of 16, particularly the first leg in Japan, was frantic. They looked incredibly susceptible from wide areas. For me, Sven must know that he can’t allow this to happen against Jeonbuk. I treated a room full of sports journalism trainees in Leeds to viewing both legs, and they were shocked at how open and exciting it was. So there’s a positive. The first goal will be crucial as SIPG have only come behind twice to win in 90 minutes since July 2015. However, they did manage it over two legs against Tokyo. Sven likes to use a 4-2-3-1 with this team and I can see him dropping Elkeson into the three as a number 10 to accommodate Hulk. SIPG’s ACL campaign so far suggests that they shouldn’t play cautiously in the home leg, as this has been their saviour in the competition from some poor performances on the road.

MB: Finally, what is your score prediction for this first leg?

PH: I feel Jeonbuk may make the mistake of sitting back with the second leg in mind. In this case, they may find it difficult to live with the power of SIPG’s front four. I’m tipping Kouassi to be man of the match and Wu Lei to carry on his knack of being in the right place at the right time.

Predicted Score: Shanghai SIPG 2-0 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Have your say:

Disagree with either of our writers' opinions? Make sure to leave your own predictions in the comments section below and we'll be sure to reply. Alternatively, make sure to have your prediction accounted for by voting in our Twitter poll below!

A big thanks to Peter Hampshire on joining us for this piece. Peter is a trainee sports journalist in addition to being a former reporter and connoisseur of Korean football. He now writes for Chinese Super League-dedicated site FC Insider as well as Belgium National Team experts Belgium Red Devils. He is also an avid Barnsley fan, but we don't hold that against him (we do put up with Scott after all!). You can follow and quiz Peter on a range of footballing topics by visiting his Twitter or Wordpress pages. 

Furthermore, if you wish for more information on the Chinese Super League then please pay a visit to FC Insider who specialise in all things Chinese football, providing exclusive articles and transfer news in one of the world's most rapidly growing leagues. You can find the website here or follow them on Twitter to keep up-to-date.


  1. Since the publication of this article, Shanghai SIPG manager Sven-Göran Eriksson has confirmed in his pre-match press-conference that Hulk is still not yet fully fit and will sit out of this first leg.

  2. No Hulk and Conca, Jeonbuk should try to attack Shanghai and get 1-2 away goals.

    1. Definitely. This will be their best opportunity now that both of those players are out. As long as they still make sure keep tight at the back, especially with the likes of Elkeson, Kouassi and Wu Lei. Should be an exciting game.

  3. Having the 1st leg on the road was already a nice advantage, Hulk and Conca being out takes that to another level. Should be coming home with much more than a 1 goal margin of victory. Need to pile on while they have the chance.

  4. bookies favourite jeonbuks with give SIPG +0.50


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