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Writers Chat: FC Seoul vs Western Sydney Wanderers

In a Champions League group that once looked destined for thrilling matches with some of the best teams Asia had to offer, both FC Seoul and Western Sydney Wanderers enter this match simply searching for pride. Both squads are winless in ACL and have each suffered a shellacking (or two) along the way. If either is to have a hope of international glory, this early match has suddenly become a must win. I'm joined by regular SBS - The World Game and FourFourTwo contributor Paul Williams to how they'll go about it.
(header images via hei.hankyung.com and westernadvocate.com.au)

Ryan Asks, Paul Answers

Ryan Walters: To say this has been a rough start to ACL for A League teams is to put it far too mildly. Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers, and Adelaide United have combined for just two goals, one point, and have a combined -18 goal difference. How has this poor performance been perceived in Australia? Is this indicative of A League falling too far behind the pack and requiring changes or is it still too early to tell?

Paul Williams: It’s been a bloodbath, and has been the catalyst for deep soul searching into where Australian football is heading and the current situation. But I would say it’s not indicative. If you look at two of the teams in Adelaide and Western Sydney, both are having terrible seasons so they don’t reflect the true quality. It’s just unfortunate they have dropped so far from last season.

RW: For Western Sydney specifically, things went downhill quickly after their respectable 0-0 first half vs Urawa. Since then they've conceded nine goals and have never really looked capable of stopping anything. What's gone wrong at the back and how can they fix it (or at least band-aid it) for Wednesday night?

PW: I’m not sure they can. Their defence has been their biggest issue all season, which is the complete opposite of the Wanderers that won the Champions League in 2014 on the strength of their defence, and they’ve done nothing to really rectify that. We saw how Shanghai SIPG were able to slice them open at will and with the quality in attack for FC Seoul I can’t see why they won’t be able to do the same.

RW: It hasn't exactly been going well for Wanderers at home either where they've won just 3 of their last 10 and have slipped to 6th place, clinging to a Final Series Playoff spot. With just two points separating them from Wellington Phoenix and only five matches to go, do you think the team will call it a day on ACL and shift their focus to the domestic campaign? 

PW: I think if you look at the teams he has selected Tony Popović has done that from the start of the ACL. He has a reputation as a tinker man, but he has clearly selected under strength squads for the ACL with a focus on keeping hold of that finals spot in the A-Laegue. The fact they’re all but out of contention in the ACL already will probably mean we just see that trend continue.

RW: In what looked to be a Group of Death, FC Seoul and Wanderers have fallen well off the pace of clear front runners Shanghai and Urawa, and now find themselves in a must win situation to even entertain the thought of advancing to the knockout round. How will manager Tony Popović line up his men to achieve this? Where are the goals that have been so sorely missing going to come from?

PW: As I touched on above, I expect he’ll put out a second string side with fringe players such as Abraham Majok likely be to given more of a chance. Goals have been their biggest issue all year and if it’s not Brendon Santalab, then it’s hard to see where they will come from.

RW: Score prediction?

PW: I’ll say 3-0 to FC Seoul with my man Dejan Damjanović and Park Chu-young to share the goals.

FIFA 17 Preview

Here's a look at what Marc Guay's FIFA 17 simulation predicted.

Paul Asks, Ryan Answers

Paul Williams: It’s been a slow start for FC Seoul too, which is in stark contrast to last year. Are they missing Adriano?

Ryan Walters: Boy are they. Replacing Adriano's record-setting 13 ACL goals from 2016 was always going to be a tall task, but Seoul has barely tried. In lieu of a mega-signing, they've placed their faith in winger Lee Sang-ho, who's started every match since coming over from arch-rival Suwon Bluewings, and veteran Park Chu-young. Lee has looked good so far and even netted in his first match against Suwon, but he's not an out and out goal scorer and shouldn't be expected to score at the clip Adriano did last year. Park Chu-young has shown flashes of poise up top, but is in a reserve role and can't really be counted on for much in limited minutes from the bench. In both of their ACL matches and league play Seoul has dominated possession and created a wealth of chances, but has lacked the ruthless finisher Adriano was. Personally I think they need to sign someone before the window closes at the end of the month.

PW: Choi Yong-soo left FC Seoul for Jiangsu Suning midway through last season. What has changed since Hwang Sun-hong has come in?

RW: One of the biggest differences Hwang ushered in was to move away from Choi's signature 3-man backline in favor of the more standard 4-man defense. Seoul had the talent to cover the gaps with just three at the back last year, but switching to four assured more cover and allowed the midfielders to roam forward with less caution and less responsibilities. The addition of Kwak Tae-hwi last season truly solidified the defense and could arguably be the move that propelled their late season title run.

PW: FC Seoul are the perennial bridesmaids in the ACL, always coming close but never lifting the title. Even though they’ve started slowly, do they have a squad that is capable of challenging for the title?

RW: Paul Neat and I chatted about this after Seoul's loss to Shanghai, and I have to stick to what I said then: I just don't think this is the squad that makes a deep ACL run. This is a well balanced team overall with few weak spots beyond Yoo Hyun in net, but they equally have few truly bright spots. Dejan can certainly still do a job up top, but he can't carry the team on his own. Seoul were so deadly last year because of the one-two punch offered by Dejan and Adriano. If defenses were able to stop one, then the other punished them for it. This year they don't have that second option and it's showed in the lack of scoring. If, by some miracle, they're able to sign a more reliable keeper and a truly dangerous striker, then yes, Seoul can cause some damage in ACL and even survive this group. If not... well... they'll have more time to focus on the league and FA Cup double they nearly claimed last year.

PW: Speaking of goals, FC Seoul copped five last time out against Urawa Reds. How do they recover from that? Will we see Hwang change goalkeepers after Yoo Hyun’s performance against Urawa?

RW: I generally have trouble blaming goals on the keeper. There are eleven men in front of him attempting to prevent the other side from even getting a shot off, and often times it's one of them that's left the keeper high and dry. That was certainly the case on Yuki Muto's wide open header to start the scoring for Urawa. However, Yoo was so comically bad on that goal as well as the third that some questioned if his intentions were true on the night or if the AFC had another Korean team to investigate. For those of us watching Korean football regularly, we know that he truly is just that bad. The problem for Seoul is they have no viable backup option. 25-year-old Yang Han-bin would seemingly be next in line, but he hasn't played a single minute of professional football since 2013 when he logged all of 16 minutes for Seongnam FC. The other two keepers on the roster (Kim Chol-ho and Son Mu-bin) haven't played a single minute in Classic. This is the goalkeeper no man's land Seoul put themselves in when they let Kim Yong-dae go to Ulsan last season and never brought in a replacement. While Kim's enjoying a strong run with Ulsan in ACL, Seoul are left wondering what they've done placing all of their eggs in Yoo's basket. There are rumors of Seoul still looking to upgrade in net, but they'll have to stick with Yoo for Wednesday night.

Honestly, Western Sydney seem to be the perfect way for Seoul to get over the Urawa beat down. As you said, Wanderers were sliced open time and again in their first two ACL matches and have done little to shore up the backline. Add that to the fact that Wanderers will likely be bringing a B-squad and Seoul seem primed for the offensive show they so desperately need in this tournament.

PW: Score prediction?

RW: I fully expect Seoul to have somewhere around 60% possession and a litany of shots, but few on target yet again. They'll get the job done, but I don't think it'll be the coming out party they need.

FC Seoul 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers

What do you think will happen Wednesday? Will Seoul turn around their Champions League campaign with a strong showing? Will Wanderers shock their visitors and pick up a home win with the reserves? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

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