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Writers Chat: Al Ain FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors AFC Final Preview (2nd Leg)

AFC Champions League 2016 Final Preview: Al Ain FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

After a pulsating 90 minutes in front of an impressive Jeonju crowd, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors now travel to the UAE to face Al Ain FC in the second leg of the AFC Champions League final. Having walked away with a  2-1 victory at home, the Korean side will now be looking to hold onto their advantage and hope that their hosts are unable to capitalise on what could be a crucial away goal. After joining us to help preview the first leg, The National's John McAuley returns alongside our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns (myself) to discuss this Saturday's clash.
John asks, Matthew answers

John McAuley: Having seen Al Ain up close now, how will Jeonbuk view their opponents and how confident are they of finishing the job?

Matthew Binns: I think the second half certainly demonstrated why Al Ain are a team Jeonbuk should not underestimate. You would imagine they could certainly be a stronger preposition when buoyed in front of their own sell-out crowd on Saturday. I was particularly impressed by the chances they created and felt that they had a number of decent opportunities to take something from this fixture. Jeonbuk's primary objective was to win that first leg though and they did so. They are now in the control going into this leg and will be quietly confident they should be able to at least draw this game.

JM: What will concern Jeonbuk most going into the second leg?

MB: The away goal throws up an interesting problem as Jeonbuk's lead is narrow and a 1-0 defeat will see them crash out. They certainly have the talent to attack and cancel out that away goal, but in doing so they could let Al Ain take the upper hand. I expect Jeonbuk will sit back and look to counter their opponents quickly. They will certainly be expecting more from Lopes though who had a quiet yet still solid first leg, notably missing a glorious chance in the 86th minute to further his team's lead. His pace, combined with Leonardo's delivery, could certainly be key to giving the K-League side a much needed goal in Al Ain.

JM: Choi’s decision to man-mark Omar worked for the first half, but the Al Ain playmaker soon solved the puzzle after the break. Will Jeonbuk go for this again, or what other options do they have?

MB: Unfortunately, after seeing Omar's quality in the second half, I am not sure what other choice they have unless they just decide to throw off the shackles and try to outscore their opponents. Choi Chul-soon did a magnificent job of tracking his man in the first half, yet the Al Ain playmaker seemed to drop back more into space to collect the ball after the interval, with Choi either reluctant to follow, or more likely instructed to keep the shape of the defensive line. There was a need for Jeonbuk to score on home turf though and, while they defended very well for the opening forty-five minutes, they created very little. When the Korean side switched to a more attacking focus, especially after the Al Ain goal and Lee Dong-gook was brought into play, the game opened up with both teams looking threatening. Seeing as Jeonbuk did come back to win, there is less pressure on them to attack here. Therefore they may resort to testing a similar man-marking strategy again, especially as Choi Kang-hee has tendency to hold back on the road unless his team is chasing. Jeonbuk have won only once away from home in this year's competition.

JM: How much pressure is there on Jeonbuk to win the title and how will their players handle it?

MB: I am sure there will be significant pressure behind the scenes to end on a high after a turbulent season. Jeonbuk invested heavily in the last winter window with the aim being to win this competition and have enough squad depth to retain their league title. Furthermore, after being found guilty in a bribery scandal from three years prior, not only was one of their strongest ever seasons not rewarded with silverware due to a point deduction, it also tested the faith of the supporters. While I am sure no Jeonbuk fan feels any of these players owe it to them given their strong performances throughout the year, a trophy of this magnitude would certainly go some way to repaying their loyalty.

JM: Predictions?

MB: After losing the league title on the last day of the season, I would like to think Jeonbuk have learnt quickly from their mistakes. That said, I do not see them winning this sole fixture. I predict Jeonbuk will score first, catching Al Ain on the counter, and hold on until the final whistle, possibly conceding one in the process.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Al Ain FC 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Jeonbuk win 3-2 on aggregate)

Matthew asks, John answers

Matthew Binns: Zlatko Dalic insisted post-match that Al Ain did not deserve to lose the first leg of this fixture. Would you echo his statements based on what you saw in Jeonju?

John McAuley: I think they were slightly unfortunate, but then again Jeonbuk would have scored a third goal late on had Fayez not headed an attempt off the Al Ain goalline. I thought Al Ain more than matched Jeonbuk for the majority of the game, although I still believed the hosts carried a greater threat going forward. Al Ain were devastated to lose the opener, espcially after being 1-0 up, and I think they’ll take a lot of confidence from having kept Jeonbuk at bay for large swathes.

MB: How will Al Ain go about winning this game without incurring the wrath of Jeonbuk's quick counter attacking capabilities?

JM: That’s the big question. I think Jeonbuk will score in the second leg – Leonardo, Ricardo Lopes and Lee Jae-sung are a real threat – so it’s now about how potent Al Ain can be at the other end. Undoubtedly, they possess the talent to score a few goals, but it all depends on whether they can dictate the match – and take those chances they create. They must not get carried away at the start, though.

MB: As you alluded to in our first leg preview, Zlatko opted to start Omar Abdulrahman in attack (although he did change his position during the second half). Do you imagine him repeating the same tactics in the 2nd leg?

JM: I don’t think he will. That formation has been used only when away from home in the semi-final and then last Saturday, while Dalic said afterwards that Al Ain need to score goals – simple. I’d imagine he’ll revert to type, with Douglas up top and Omar floating behind. That’s undeniably Omar’s best position, and should give Al Ain the opportunity to control possession and release the likes of Douglas, Caio and Danilo Asprilla.

MB: Are there any (other) areas of concern which you feel need to be addressed before Saturday evening?

JM: The full-back positions are obviously vital. In the first leg, Mohammed Fayez struggled to contain Lopes on Al Ain’s left flank, while Fawzi Fayez is not first-choice at right-back. Although on the whole, he did keep Leonardo quiet before the Brazilian struck the equaliser. The only other area of concern is Amer Abdulrahman. Is he fit enough to come back into midfield alongside Lee Myung-joo? Or will Ahmed Barman continue to deputise? Dalic has a decision to make there.

MB: Predictions?

JM: This is a really difficult one. I hope the occasion doesn’t get to Al Ain, but if it does, I’ll go 2-2. Jeonbuk to take the title 4-3 on aggregate. I hope I'm wrong, though, because the win would be brilliant for UAE football.

John's Predicted Score: Al Ain FC 2-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Jeonbuk win 4-3 on aggregate)

A massive thanks to John McAuley for joining me on this particular piece. As mentioned, John is a sports writer for The National newspaper, Abu Dhabi. For further information on UAE and Asian football, you can follow him on Twitter for his opinions, analysis and articles.

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