Writer's Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Eastern SC
They say that good things come to those who wait, and Suwon and Eastern will both be hoping that that's the case after a one month break in the ACL. Both teams are in need of 3 valuable points, Suwon to cement their hold on a place in the knockout rounds, and Eastern to give themselves a fighting chance of achieving the same. Here, our Suwon columnist, Scott Whitelock is joined by Jeff Hardbattle, Managing Editor of the Offside.HK
First, Scott asks and Geoff answers
Scott: Suwon dominated against a severely weakened Eastern team when they met a month ago, with several Eastern players ruled out through injury. Has the Eastern injury list improved since that day in March?
Geoff: There’s definitely a little more cause for optimism for Eastern, as they welcome back four players that have played a big part in their success in the league this season. As well as playmakers Diego Eli and Ju Yingzhi (who also featured for the Hong Kong national team against Lebanon last week) and defender Wong Tsz Ho returning to the squad, the big plus is that their top scorer Manuel Bleda Rodriguez will be in contention for a place in the starting eleven. He already has 15 goals to his name this season, and will provide some much needed firepower going forward for the Blues. They still have a few important players missing, however, such as Xu Deshuai (injury) and Roberto Affonso Junior (suspension), and while they do have more options this time around, this will no doubt be another stern examination of the Champions League newcomers.
Scott: In the last game, Eastern performed admirably and limited Suwon to a single goal with a fine rearguard performance. However, with Eastern needing a win to realistically keep their chances of progression to the knockout stages intact, do you expect Chan Yuen-ting to alter her tactics at all in the return fixture?
Geoff: It’s still very plausible to expect Chan Yuen-ting to continue with a more defensively-minded formation, as their time in the competition is a work-in-progress and thus any point gained will be seen as a massive plus for the team. It’s also been a formation that has seen them put in some respectable performances, as with their 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale and making life difficult for Suwon for a large part of their match despite ultimately losing. They will look to break on the counter through the speed of players such as Jaimes Mckee and will be hoping that Bleda will be able to continue his fine goalscoring form by nicking one, but I think fans can expect another match where Eastern will be happy to soak up the pressure and there’s no doubt that Chan Yuen-ting would be elated with a draw. Eastern are also in the midst of a tough championship battle in the Hong Kong Premier League with rivals Kitchee, and it might not be too farfetched to suggest that they would prefer to focus their efforts on winning the league and coming back to the tournament next year with a more complete squad.
Scott: A lot was made pre-tournament about the impact that Chan Yuen-ting could have on the ACL. How would you assess her performance against some of the best teams in Asia, thus far?
Geoff: I think it’s fair to say she’s had a respectable campaign given the fact that this is the first time that a team from Hong Kong has participated in the group stages of the ACL. Much of the pre-tournament hype was based around her being the first female manager to be in the competition, but she has generally kept a humble low-profile throughout and has gone about her business in a calm fashion. She was unlucky in her first game in the 0:7 defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande as she saw her side go down to ten men very early on in the game, but since then performances have improved. Eastern came into the competition as massive underdogs but she has certainly assembled a side that is capable of causing bigger teams a few headaches, with her defensive organisation being particularly impressive in the last two ACL matches.
Scott: What is your prediction for this game?
Geoff: Although Eastern do have a few of their better players, I still believe that Suwon are a much more competent outfit and this coupled with the fact that the match will be played on unfamiliar soil for the Blues leads me to believe that Suwon will be victors here. I don’t think it will be a dominant victory as far the score line goes, however, so although my heart says it will be a goalless draw my head says it will be a 2:0 win for the home side.
Now, Geoff asks and Scott answers
Geoff: Suwon have had some disappointing results in the last five games (in all competitions), with the closely-fought victory over Eastern their only victory. Given their recent form and with Eastern welcoming back some of their better players, is their a chance of an upset on the cards?
Scott: I certainly wouldn't rule that all. It's not only Suwon's results that have been disappointing, but their overall performance in the last 2 weeks has been underwhelming to say the least. 2 weeks ago, after playing some decent attacking football, Suwon managed to blow a 2 goal lead in the last 15 minutes of the game and could only manage a draw against their local rivals, Incheon. And the game at the weekend saw them hit new lows as they meandered their way through a 0-0 draw at home to Sangju. The performance at the weekend was particularly poor from what is looking like a flat footed and misfiring attack. The game was punctuated by misplaced passes and a general lethargy that ran right through the team. If Suwon produce a repeat of that performance then there is absolutely no reason as to why Eastern couldn't leave Korea with all 3 points in their bags.
Geoff: Suwon need a victory to put them in a strong position to qualify. Can you see them going for an all out attack in the match?
Scott: Their performance at the weekend would suggest maybe not. There were high hopes at the beginning of the season that this Suwon attack would terrorise Kleague defences, but thus far they have underwhelmed. The key duo of Yeom Ki-hun and Johnathan are yet to get up to speed and without them playing to their potential Suwon aren't as powerful as was expected.
Moreover, Suwon have 8 games to play in the month of April, and so it's expected that Seo Jung-won will try to utilise the depth of his squad as much as possible. He may see the Eastern game as a chance to hand debuts to some of the younger players that were signed over the winter transfer window, and as such, a more conservative approach to the game would be sensible. I expect Suwon to attempt to dominate possession and try to tire their opponents out before they go for the jugular.
Geoff: Jonathan Aparecido came off the bench to score the winner in the last match. How has his game looked in the K League and who are the other dangermen that Eastern need to look out for?
Scott: As I touched upon above, he's not been firing at all and has been quite disappointing. Although the service to him hasn't been the greatest, his touch also seems to be a mile away from where it should be. He's squandered a couple of goal scoring opportunities, which is out of character, and his 2 goals in the league have come via penalty situations. On his day, he is the most dangerous player in the Suwon squad, but fortunately for Eastern, these don't seem to be his days.
Geoff: What is your score prediction for the match?
Scott: I've been fairly ambitious with my predictions this season, including predicting that Suwon will win the league in Korea. But after recent results and performances, I can't see beyond this game finishing as a stale draw. Eastern have shown enough in their ACL games so far to suggest that a win isn't far away and Suwon were woeful in possession and attack at the weekend. If luck is on their side, Eastern could even steal the 3 points, but a draw is probably the most likely result.
Predicted Score: Suwon 0 - 0 Eastern