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Writers' Chat: Shanghai SIPG vs FC Seoul

FC Seoul are in another must win ACL match this Wednesday when they travel to China to face off against the star studded Shanghai SIPG. Sitting in second place in Group F with 9 points, a draw would likely be enough for Shanghai to advance, but a win would certainly do it. Will manager André Villas-Boas send Oscar, Hulk, and company out to get the win or play it safe and go for the home draw? I spoke with FC Insider Owner and Editor in Chief Hans Dekker to find out what to expect from the Chinese Super League giants. 

Ryan Asks, Hans Answers

Ryan Walters: This will be Shanghai’s second of three matches in 10 days, do you see manager André Villas-Boas resting some of the regulars given the huge gap in Group F? If so, who are some of the bench players you’d like to see get time Wednesday night? If not, how long do you think he’ll leave in the Brazilian trio of Elkeson, Hulk, and Oscar?

Hans Dekker: Andre Villas-Boas might actually be forced to rest some of his superstars in this one. Hulk has been struggling with his fitness for the past 3 weeks or so after a nasty fall. After last weekend's CSL match, Hulk told the media he did not feel 100% yet and that he still needs some time to recover. Taking into account the huge gap in points that you mentioned he could well be the one rested in this match. This could mean newly signed Akhmedov will start two matches in a row for the first time since his arrival in Shanghai. Villas-Boas has been rotating him with Elkeson since the start of the season, but he probably does not have to on Wednesday.

As for Oscar, he will probably be given more time in a more controlling role in midfield. Villas-Boas recently stated that he likes the Brazilian for this role as with his exceptional skill he can control the match better from there. Because this position is fairly new to the former Chelsea star this match might be the perfect opportunity for him to get used to it.

There is really only one bench player we would like to see on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. 19-year-old defender Zhang Huachen has started all 6 CSL matches for Shanghai, but has only played a total of 100 minutes. Because of the new U23 regulations in the league, Villas-Boas has been using a tactic deployed by many coaches in the league: starting with the necessary U23 player only to take him off sometimes just 15 minutes into the game. A game such as this would be the perfect opportunity not only for Zhang Huachen to gain some much needed experience at the highest possible level, but also for Villas-Boas to help him regain some confidence. Besides the youngster there is also 22-year old winger Wei Shihao who recently signed with SIPG after playing in Portugal for 3 years. In the 21 minutes he got this season he actually scored, and it will be interesting to see what he could do if given more opportunities.

RW: After winning their first four ACL matches this year, Shanghai lost 1-0 to Urawa last time out. The loss was only their second in 2017, but it cost them top spot in Group F. Do you see SIPG looking to make a statement and going for all three points, or will they come out defensive knowing the lone point from a draw is enough to advance out of the group?

HD: Shanghai SIPG are currently sitting in second place in both the league and the Champions League and there seems no reason for them to go out of their way to impress here. On the other hand they have quite an easy schedule for the next 3 weeks in the Super League with matches against the 7th, 10th, and 14th placed teams, so the statement you mentioned could be something on the mind of Villas-Boas. That being said, Villas-Boas has never made it any secret he is looking to go far in the Champions League, so he will approach this game as professional as always. Ensuring that at least the one point necessary to progress is secured. So despite the huge gap, we probably won't be seeing anything too crazy from Shanghai.

RW: Having allowed 11 goals through only 4 ACL matches, the defensive concerns are apparent for Seoul. However, Shanghai appeared quite human in the Urawa match being held scoreless for the first time since September 2016. Of course Oscar should have converted at least one of his two penalties, but those goals still wouldn’t have been from the run of play. What did Urawa do well defensively in that match that Seoul can learn from?

HD: That was a very interesting match no doubt, and Shanghai will be left very frustrated after that one. Urawa actually played a very good match, and what stood out the most for us was their ability to switch from defense to attack quickly. When it comes to their defensive strategy, we also have to look at their formation used for this match. They actually played in almost a 3-4-2-1 formation, with the 4 midfielders playing very close to the defense. In this way it was very difficult for SIPG to find that extra man in attack, always being outnumbered in that area. However, this does not mean Urawa was mainly looking to counterattack, as they had 50% of the possession throughout the match. It may seem a cliche but a organized and disciplined defense is what is necessary to stop Shanghai SIPG from doing what they do best. Even against Urawa they were very dangerous at times and it will prove to be very difficult to stop them from scoring.

RW: Score Prediction?

HD: Shanghai SIPG 2-1 FC Seoul

Hans Asks, Ryan Answers

Hans Dekker: Unfortunately we haven't been able to keep up with the K-league action as well as we would have liked. How are FC Seoul doing?

Ryan Walters: On paper, things are fine for Seoul. They sit in 4th place in the league table and have only lost once this season. However, their on field performances have left quite a bit of room for doubt and it seems only a matter of time before the other shoe drops and they're exposed as a mediocre team. They've managed to eek out a number of wins so far, but the lack of depth up top resulted in them playing a 32-year-old center back (Sim Woo-yeon) as a striker in their FA Cup match last Wednesday. The decision may have been mind games from manager Hwang Sun-hong, but it may have also been a move that illustrated how dependent the team is on Dejan Damjanović or someone of his same physical build. Long story short: it's been alright, but there are plenty of concerns.

HD: In the first game Shanghai SIPG came away with a 1-0 win from Seoul. What did you think about this result and what have you learned from this match?

RW: Paul Neat and I chatted about the first Shanghai match post game from the stadium and unfortunately a lot of what was true then is true now. Seoul had a sputtering offense that couldn't capitalize on the few chances they managed to create and it cost them points. Hulk's moment of brilliance from an otherwise unimpressive Shanghai side on the night was enough to steal the win. I wouldn't go as far as to say it was an unfair result, but neither team was overly impressive on the night and I feel that match did more to expose the weaknesses that are still plaguing Seoul than anything else.

HD: In order to keep any hope of reaching the next round FC Seoul will need to win in Shanghai. Do you believe they will approach the game any different than usual?

RW: They'll likely approach this match the same way they approached Western Sydney last time out, which is largely counter attacking. Prior to that match Seoul had attempted to maintain possession and dictate the pace of play; a strategy they have enough talent to achieve, but the end result was always missing. The first Shanghai match was a perfect illustration of possession being utterly meaningless. Seoul saw 62% of the ball, but only managed 3 shots on target and lost 1-0. The following match at Urawa saw Seoul with 60% of possession and 5-2 losers. In the first Wanderers match, Seoul had an astounding 69% of possession, but still lost 3-2 with the two goals their only shots on target. Desperation led manager Hwang Sun-hong to try something new in Sydney and results followed. With only 42% possession, Seoul was much more efficient with their chances and scored twice from the run of play with only 7 shots total, and Dejan converted a PK to ensure they came out 3-2 winners.  They've since employed the same counter attacking strategy in league play and have looked much better.

HD: If FC Seoul are going to keep the attacking power of Shanghai SIPG contained they will need to bring something special. Who at the backline has what it takes? How are things organized tactically? 

RW: The timing for this must win match is about as good as it could be for Seoul with captain Kwak Tae-hwi back in the lineup at long last after suffering an injury vs Urawa back in February. The former Korean international was subbed on for an injured Osmar in their FA Cup match vs Anyang and started vs Incheon United over the weekend, and looked strong in both matches. Having silenced Graziano Pellè in Champions League last year, Kwak will be more than up for the challenge Wednesday night. He'll be partnering with former captain and long time Seoul stalwart Osmar as a formidable centerback pairing. Look for those two to anchor a 3-4-3 formation that will play more like a 5-2-3 without the ball.

HD: And of course they would need goals. Who is going to keep hopes alive for Seoul? 

RW: That's the million dollar question of the season: who's going to score goals. Dejan is currently tied for the league lead with 5 through seven matches, but desperately needs some help to take the defense's focus off him. Park Chu-young doesn't seem to be the answer and the rest of the attacking power on the team are wingers. Yun Il-lok has looked better of late and the brace he scored vs Anyang in FA Cup may be enough to get him going. Additionally, the Brazilian Maurinho has been a delightful surprise in the lineup providing a much needed sense of urgency and running ragged with a tremendous work rate. Maurinho may not put the ball in the back of the net on his own, but has been at the center of a number of Seoul's recent goals and should start vs Shanghai to try and spark the offense.

HD: Score prediction?

RW: Shanghai have scored 74% of their league goals and all but one of their 12 ACL goals before the 60th minute, so if Seoul can keep it scoreless until the half they may have a chance. However, even if the defense has a strong game, I can't see Seoul winning a shootout with Shanghai.

Shanghai SIPG 2-1 FC Seoul

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