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Writers Chat: FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors AFC Preview (2nd Leg)

Writers Chat: FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors AFC Champions League Semi Final Preview (2nd Leg)
After a weekend that saw both teams draw level in the K-League title race, FC Seoul prepare to host Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the second leg of the AFC Champions League semi-final. With the visitors having racked up an impressive 4-1 lead in the first leg, Korea Racing's Alastair Middleton steps in to talk with our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns (myself) about both teams' recent form, potential areas for improvement and how FC Seoul will look to salvage something from this tie.

Alastair asks, Matthew answers

Alastair Middleton: Jeonbuk have been docked nine points and gone from having an unassailable lead in the K-League to now only staying top on goals scored. Their iconic manager could well be away at the end of the season and their unbeaten record came to an end at home at the weekend. It’s all going a bit wrong, isn’t it? 

Matthew Binns: It certainly hasn't been pleasant lately for Jeonbuk supporters, but there should still be no reason to panic as the team, when actually played, is more than capable of seeing this through. The loss to Jeju, although disappointing given how close the team came to an unprecedented unbeaten season, is still not the worst result when looked at out of context. It was, after all, a second string Jeonbuk losing 3-2 to an in-form team in third place. However, the underwhelming performances away from home this season against what are now confirmed as lower half teams has certainly been disappointing (just 13 points collected from a possible 27) and will definitely need to be the starting point in any post-season autopsy if they do not claim this title after being first for so long. In regards to the manager leaving, I think he has offered all he can to the club and, while it is risky to let an admittedly successful manager go, it would now be nice to now see what someone else could achieve with this team at their disposal.

AM: Choi Kang-hee told reporters at the K-League’s little get together last week that “We lost points because of the scandal but this actually stimulates our players”. It didn’t look like that on Saturday against an admittedly good Jeju. How does he raise them for this game when complacency could be their biggest/only danger?

MB: Unfortunately the manager himself has been setting the example when it comes to complacency, as evidenced at the weekend when he opted for a new look squad in an unfamiliar formation despite only having a slim lead in the title race. If Jeonbuk win the double, then these managerial decisions will be justified, but it's certainly concerning at the moment. As for the players, well they have no excuse about not being well rested for this fixture. They will hopefully see the Jeju result as infuriating and will look to prove a point here before Seoul can gain too much momentum. If certain players are not motivated at the reward of being in the Champions League final then I am not sure they should be on the pitch.

AM: Jeonbuk have been playing some exquisite stuff this year, despite Saturday’s setback. Besides the obvious contenders, which players have stood out this season?

MB: It's difficult to select ones that haven't been mentioned repeatedly throughout the course of the season. Lopes and Kim Bo-kyung stand-out as the best signings whereas the best players could easily be usual suspects Leonardo and Kwoun Sun-tae. A couple of alternative names who have not been mentioned so much would be the two defenders Kim Hyung-il and Choi Chul-soon, mainly due to the defence being criticised more times than it has been praised this year. I have bemoaned the defence's lapses in concentration, but my ire has mostly been aimed at the likes of Lim Jong-eun whose purchase from Jeonnam Dragons last January looks increasingly questionable. When Kim and Choi have featured in the defence however, there has been a certain amount of reassurance. Kim Hyung-il worked his way into the squad over the summer from injury and possibly internal punishment (see Jeonbuk's defeat to Binh Duong) after Choi Kyu-baek headed out to the Olympics. His inclusion coincided with Jeonbuk's most impressive spell of the season and his often fully committed performances certainly help lead the rest of the back line by example. Unfortunately, his recent injury means he may not be available for selection this Wednesday. Choi Chul-soon on the other hand has worked well on the flanks this season but has been able to fill in any position capably required along the back line. His effective link up play with Lopes down the right wing is also another reason why the Brazilian has been earning all his deserved plaudits.

AM: Come next March (or late February as it seems to usually be) when we reassemble for the first round of the Champions League, how different do you think Jeonbuk will be to now in terms of playing and coaching personnel…and will they be starting the season as defending champions in one, two or no competitions?

MB: I am of the opinion if the team wins both the league and the Champions League that the team could see a number of key personnel depart the club having achieved all that has been targeted. Lee Dong-gook, despite still having a year left, has suffered with injury this season and would most likely want to end on a career high. Talk of Lee Jae-sung's departure to a European side has been ongoing for what seems like 18 months now, so I also expect him to leave for pastures new, especially if he can do so with three league medals and an ACL one around his neck. In terms of staff, well as you've mentioned, rumours persist that Choi Kang-hee will leave this season but perhaps the general manager may also as part of the delayed fallout from the bribery scandal. In terms of incoming players, Jeonbuk certainly need at least one strong central defender, an adequate replacement for Lee Jae-sung and a more reliable striker. Given their spending last season though, who knows how many they will bring in this time around. Regardless of recent form and off-field factors, I still expect them to be defending two competitions at the start of 2017.

AM: Prediction for Wednesday?

MB: This is certainly a rarity for Jeonbuk. The last time they took a lead into a second leg in any competition was the narrow 3-2 lead they had going into the ACL final back in 2011, and we all know how that eventually played out. Given the ground Seoul will have to make up over 90 minutes, Jeonbuk must not be complacent as the home side's intensity from the off could catch them on the back foot. That said, given his players were rested for Jeju, Choi's side should have enough to maintain their aggregate lead and progress to the final.

Matthew's Predicted Score: FC Seoul 2-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Agg: 3-6)

Matthew asks, Alastair answers

Matthew Binns: After a humbling 4-1 defeat in the first leg, FC Seoul have been handed the unenviable task of turning around a three goal deficit. While it may eventually be too much to ask, how do you see Seoul going about trying to progress to the final?

Alastair Middleton: Seoul essentially need a Jeonbuk implosion.  If Seoul can score early (and ideally, often) Jeonbuk could get rattled. Under Hwang, Seoul have only scored three or more on two occasions; the home leg against Shandong and a week earlier away at Jeonnam so they have to do something different as even three probably won’t be enough. I felt Seoul played well in two stages in the first leg – in the first half up until Kim Shin-wook’s dive for the penalty and then in the first 20 minutes of the second half. They have to play like that again but this time make it count. Jeonbuk will be expecting this of course and it would be a surprise if they didn’t. 

MB: FC Seoul still have two other realistic opportunities to claim silverware this season if they fail to turn around the scoreline here. Do you feel Hwang may need to prioritise in terms of squad rotation in order to compete on both these fronts or will his preferred eleven have enough in them until the season close?

AM: Starting with the Ulsan game, it’s 7 matches in 23 days through to the end of the season (plus hopefully an FA Cup Final afterwards) but the majority of the squad comes in off plenty of rest during the international break. While there is still any sniff of a chance of progression, you have to play your best team in an ACL semi-final. This is the trophy the club wants to win more than any other. Whether Hwang Sun-hong yet truly knows what his best team is remains open to question. All of a sudden, Seoul have the opportunity to win a Double so I don’t expect anything to be held back.

MB: Adriano and Dejan have both led the scoring charts for FC Seoul this season, yet have both failed to score in open play in any competition since the quarter final first leg with Shandong Luneng back in August. Any suggestion as to what has led to this dry spell in front of goal and should FC Seoul be concerned?

AM:  Adriano picked up that 6-game ban for stupidity against Seongnam at the end of June and hasn’t been quite as prolific since and that also coincided with the team’s barren spell at the beginning of Hwang’s tenure. I think the figures are something like 58 goals in 25 games under Choi and only 30 in 23 since but early thrashings of sub-par Buriram and San Frecce distort things a little. The change in formation and the return of Kwak Tae-hwi has boosted the defence – they have three clean sheets out of the last five in all competitions – and the side seems to have more overall balance and shape. While it’s nice to have your strikers banging them in every game, both Adriano’s and Dejan’s contributions have remained positive and in some ways it’s good that what goals have been scored have been shared around. Hopefully Adriano’s penalty against Ulsan is the first of many goals between now and the end of the season.

MB: With the season drawing nearer to a close, what areas to you believe FC Seoul will look to strengthen based on this year’s performance?

AM: Dejan and Adriano get most of the attention but the likes of Ko Yo-han, Ko Kwang-min and Ju Se-jong, who I know you rate highly, have also been very important this year. Likewise Yun Il-lok doesn’t deserve half the stick he gets from some quarters so by and large, I’m happy with the squad. This is a cop-out but where Seoul need to strengthen will depend on who moves on. Should Adriano go back to China, they will surely look to bring in a replacement. Additionally, while I have nothing against Yoo Sang-hun or Yoo Hyun, I’d be surprised if another goalkeeper wasn’t acquired over the winter. 

MB: Predictions?

AM: I’d like Seoul to simply aim to beat Jeonbuk on the night and then see what happens – if only because I think that will be psychologically important to not have been beaten by them four times this year should the K-League Championship come down to the final game in Jeonju. Can they do it? Yes. Can they progress? No. Even a rattled Jeonbuk should be too good. 2-1 to Seoul on the night. 

Alastair's Predicted Score: FC Seoul 2-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai motors (Agg: 3-5)

Have Your Say

Disagree with the opinions above? Have additional thoughts you'd like to make? Make sure to leave your views in the comment section below and also take part in (what could possibly be pointless) Twitter poll below to see how others see this match going:

A massive thanks to Alastair for stepping in to join us on this particular piece. In addition to his work with the Korean Racing Authority, he can often be found indulging in a range of K-League action from Classic to Challenge with the odd R-League game thrown in for good measure. He's even been known to voice his opinion from time to time during the occasional guest spot on Korean footballing podcast 48 Shades of Football.

For more information on Horse Racing in Korea, make sure to visit his site here and also follow him on Twitter for all the latest racing updates.

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