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Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Shanghai SIPG AFC Preview (2nd Leg)

Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Shanghai SIPG AFC Champions League Preview (2nd Leg)
A far from dull goalless draw was the outcome when the K-League's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors traveled to China to face Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG in the first leg of this Asian Champions League quarter final. With the second leg now balancing on a knife edge, we invited FC Insider's Peter Hampshire to return and discuss with our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns on what to expect when these two sides meet in Jeonju this Tuesday evening.

Matthew asks, Peter answers

Matthew Binns: Shanghai SIPG are in need of a win or a score draw to progress. How do you see the Chinese Super League club approaching this game?

Peter Hampshire: Sven needs to get his team back in the habit of winning again if they are to achieve anything this term. However, while he does rotate his players slightly around the front four, the 4-2-3-1 seems set in stone. Apart from long-term absentee Dario Conca, Shanghai SIPG have all their big hitters in good condition. Watching Sven’s teams over the years, he’ll want to keep it tight for the first half and trust in individual brilliance to win it for him late on. He’ll certainly approach it different to his CSL game of late, where it’s been all out attack pushing for the top 3.

MB: The first leg ended goalless in Shanghai. Do you think Shanghai SIPG will have been satisfied with that result or should they have been coming to Korea with a win?

PH: While this is arguably the most exciting and anticipated fixture in SIPG’s history, their first ACL quarter final, it is also likely to be their most testing. The 0-0 draw in Shanghai was ultimately a disappointment, lacklustre in front of goal with only 8 attempts, they should have taken a more gung-ho approach. Post-match Sven himself seemed unsure whether to be pleased with the 0-0, focussing on the positives of a clean sheet. Jeonbuk, in fact, fired more meaningful warning shots in the first leg and without an advantage travelling to Jeonju I am fearful for SIPG’s chances of progressing.

MB: Shanghai have had more time off than compared to Jeonbuk, with a game against Beijing Guoan this weekend being their only taste of competitive action. Do you think there could be some rustiness in need of shaking off on Tuesday?

PH: While Friday’s 2-2 draw with Beijing Guoan did them no favours in reaching this competition next year, I didn’t really see any rustiness in their play. They showed good character to equalise late on in a scintillating second half. Wu Lei, one of the stand out players of the ACL this year, didn’t look at his sharpest however and went missing in a right-sided number 10 role. I am sure Sven would have relished more fixtures between the two legs to keep his players fresh and give Hulk more game time.

MB: Who would you identify as Shanghai's player to watch for this nail-biting second leg?

PH: I absolutely can’t wait for both this match, and Wednesday's clash in Jinan involving FC Seoul. There will be unbounded pressure on Hulk to perform on his ACL debut, but I’m convinced a man of 15 goals in his last 3 seasons of International club competitions will rise to the occasion. He stood out as early as his first full appearance on Friday as much more than a burly focal point. The Brazilian showcased his sublime touch and Asia’s most thunderous left foot by whipping in a 25 yarder, followed by a firm last minute penalty under pressure. Wu Lei is suffering somewhat of a barren spell (0 goals in 4), but has provided vital goals in SIPG’s ACL campaign. I love watching Kouassi, but his end product from out wide seems off recently.

MB: Finally, what is your score prediction?

PH: I believe this is the end of the road for SIPG this year, leaving them to focus on the league. They endured a few hair-raising warning shots at home and looked uncomfortable at the back. When the game opens up I feel they’ll leave themselves exposed to Jeonbuk’s eye-catching midfield.

Peter's Predicted Scoreline: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Shanghai SIPG

Peter asks, Matthew answers

Peter Hampshire: A 13 point gap and the title is surely secured but Jeonbuk had the Jeolla derby to contest 3 days prior to the SIPG game.  How much did this take out of Choi Kang-hee's men or did you feel they played with Tuesdays' game in mind?

Matthew Binns: The Jeolla Derby proved disappointing in the end for the champions as they let a two goal lead slide late on to finish with a 2-2 draw. However, the team sent out did have notable changes with both key central midfielders not even in the match day squad, Lee Dong-gook on the bench and nearly ever-present keeper Kwoun Sun-tae afforded a rest as well. Whilst the defence and wingers will stay the same, it is clear that Choi Kang-hee has shifted his focus onto the other competition as the league title is now nearly wrapped up. It should hopefully be a different team come Tuesday, with Lee Jae-sung and Kim Bo-kyung returning to bolster the centre of midfield.

PH: There's worry in Korea that the K-League will inevitably become a feeder league for the CSL. To what extent do you feel this is already the case and how much would a Jeonbuk win disprove this?

MB: Unfortunately there's no actual short answer for your question here but I will try to be succinct. The CSL is indeed a very attractive financial proposition in addition to being a league that will grow in quality. With this in mind, the best K-League stars (and managers) could catch the wandering eyes of Chinese sides, especially if a team's Asian player spot required filling. Jeonbuk have arguably already suffered just before the start of this season when the highest fee for a K-League player (US$6m) was received from Shanghai Greenland Shenhua for the champion's centre-back Kim Kee-hee. Given Jeonbuk's number of winter acquisitions though, hopefully that particular influx of cash was and will be suitably dispersed to other domestic clubs as inter-league transfers occur. Furthermore, if these are the levels of fees to now be expected, then surely the K-League may eventually see some benefit to China's loosened purse strings. It all depends if Chinese sides wish to purchase from Korea instead of more marketable and established talent from the European leagues, and at the moment I am not sure the best CSL clubs want to.

Jeonbuk winning this Tuesday will not disprove the feeder league inevitability, although it would reaffirm that the K-League is still ahead on terms of quality sides at present. With Chinese sides purchasing high-level talent in their prime though, as well as heavily investing in youth infrastructure to develop a competitive team for a 2030 World Cup bid, it will only be a matter of time before CSL clubs regularly win the AFC Champions League.

PH: What tactical changes do you see Choi imposing for the return leg? Will he crack a smile if you win?

MB: I am unsure if he will make a change to the formation, most likely opting for a 4-1-4-1 if he has the players at his disposal. However, due to recent injuries, two of the last three benches have seen five attacking players, a defender and a goalkeeper, so there is only one way he can effectively change it and that is to include more forwards. Jeonbuk have proved more deadly on the counter though and, despite being at home, may opt to wait for Shanghai SIPG to venture forward. This strategy did not pay off in the away leg however and may struggle to bear fruit again if Shanghai come and defend with the aim to steal a goal and hold on. Jeonbuk do have attack-minded wingers and wing backs though who are very capable of stretching tight defences. If Shanghai prove to be a tricky proposition to unlock at the back, we may see the likes of Choi Chul-soon and Park Won-jae moving forward to overlap Lopes and Leonardo respectively in a bid to get in behind back line and create chances for the striker (most probably Lee Dong-gook).

PH: We already know of Jeonbuk's incredible home record this season (unbeaten in league and ACL). What is it that makes Jeonbuk so strong at home and what kind of atmosphere are you expecting for this clash?

MB:  It seems Jeonbuk definitely seem to have more confidence when in front of their home crowd. Choi Kang-hee does tend to be more liberal in his attacking mentality at home, but this is perhaps because the large, expectant crowd demands it. The team has one of the country's highest attendances in Korea making it one of the most intimidating for visitors, especially on a domestic level. Furthermore, the absence of a running track means that all four sides of the stadium are much closer to the action and therefore arguably more atmospheric and worthy of the ticket price, which is something that cannot be said for a large portion of Korean stadiums.These relatively high crowd figures are partly due to the team's performance and success in the last decade or so, but also because the Jeonbuk province lacks a rival football club or (more importantly) a baseball team to detract from the attendances. In addition to this, like many K-League clubs, Jeonbuk's outreach programs into the community and local schools has helped strengthen their ties with locals. This large and regular crowd has also helped lead to stronger ties and a sense of belonging within the fan base, which is not just evident from the ever-singing north stand, but the considerable away support Jeonbuk brings to most domestic games. Looking at Chinese Super League attendances though, and the cauldron-like atmosphere of certain Chinese grounds, I doubt the crowd intimidation factor will phase Shanghai SIPG too much.

PH: If you had to choose one player for a chance to fall to in order to break a late stalemate, who would it be?

MB: Sadly, I do not think it would be any of Jeonbuk's strikers, although the possibility of Kim Shin-wook cementing himself into Jeonbuk folklore with a last gasp, world-class, injury-time winner, despite his numerous glaring misses throughout the season, does have a Hollywood narrative of redemption to it that this fixture would deserve. However, I would be much more relaxed if it was Leonardo bearing down on goal to save the tie. The Brazilian winger recently scored two superb volleys against FC Seoul, a penalty at the weekend, as well as hitting the post from afar in this fixture's first leg. He continues to be one of the best and most consistent players for the K-League champions, therefore making him the worthy recipient of such a historic moment if it came to fruition.

PH: Finally, your score prediction for this second leg?

MB: I see Jeonbuk just edging this on their quality as a side. They have looked formidable in the league for the most-part, even if they have often lacked the ruthlessness to put games to bed quickly or see them out. They rested their central midfield at the weekend though and will be fired up for this game. I expect them to edge it, with Leonardo helping them through.

Matthew's Predicted Scoreline: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Shanghai SIPG

Have Your Say

What do you think of this mammoth tie? Don't fully agree with either of our writers' opinions? Perhaps you have your own answers to some of the questions posed here? If so, then we'd love to hear your take! Make sure to leave your comments and predictions below in addition to our Twitter poll to see how others are feeling about it.
Once again, a huge thanks to Peter Hampshire on returning for the second leg of this piece. Previously a reporter specialising in all things K-League, Peter is now a trainee sports journalist in addition to writing for Chinese Super League-dedicated site FC Insider and Belgium National Team experts Belgium Red Devils. He also enjoys following and passing the occasional comment on his beloved Barnsley. You can follow and discuss with Peter 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 their website here or follow them on Twitter to keep up-to-date.

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