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ACL Writer's Chat: Guangzhou Evergrande vs Suwon Bluewings

Suwon and Guangzhou Evergrande meet on Tuesday night in the final round of games in the group stage of the 2017 Asian Champion's League. And with Kawasaki virtually all but guaranteed 3 points at home to struggling Eastern, and with it, a place in the knockout stages, the stage is set for a 'winner takes all' contest in South China. Here, our regular Suwon columnist, Scott Whitelock, is joined by South China Morning Post sports writer, Andrew Mullen. 

First, Scott asks and Andrew answers:

Scott: With both teams ACL lives on the line, how do you expect Guangzhou to approach this game? Will they go for broke and look to attack Suwon, or will they sit back and play for the single point that they need to progress to the knockout stages?

Andrew: The AFC Champions League is vitally important for Guangzhou. Winning the league is a foregone conclusion most seasons, and having tasted it twice in recent years, progress in the AFC Champions League is a must. A second consecutive failure to progress beyond the group stage will not be tolerated, with rumours Luiz Felipe Scolari will be replaced in June already surfacing, So I expect Guangzhou, who have found their groove in the Chinese Super League after a slow start to the season, to come out fighting and go for the win.

Scott: In the first meeting between these two teams, back in early March, it could be argued that Suwon had the better chances and much of the play as the teams played out a 2-2 draw in Korea. However, the brilliant performances of Guangzhou's 3 foreign players, Paulinho, Goulart and Alan, saved Guangzhou from defeat. How have the trio performed recently, and could Suwon be lucky enough to catch them a little off colour? 

Andrew: Guangzhou are bang in form and the three Brazilians are vital. The same way Elkeson, Muriqui and Dario Conca were in 2013 when they dominated the tournament. The fact Paulinho is starting for Brazil despite “only” playing in China shows how well he is playing at the moment, and he is scoring goals. Goulart has seven goals in the league, while Alan has handed Scolari another option.

Scott: Guangzhou faced a stern test on Friday night, when Gus Poyet and Carlos Tevez's Shanghai Shenua team visited. Do you think the exertions from that night may effect the team in this fixture?

Andrew: The fact the game was played on Friday will give Guangzhou enough time to prepare. Unlike some countries, China give their AFC Champions League teams the chance to move games, especially when playing away from home, with the rest key. They also have the depth, highlighted by Yu Hanchao replacing Zheng Zhi after 60 minutes against Shenhua and being involved in the two goals inside the final 20 minuets that won the game, including netting the 86th minute winner.

Scott: What is your prediction for this game? Will Guangzhou or Suwon progress to the knockout stages?

Andrew: With Kawasaki certain to beat Eastern, the second spot in the last 16 in Guangzhou’s to lose. I expect Guangzhou to win. Scolari can’t afford to fail to progress to the last 16 and he wont take any risks.

Now, Scott takes a more detailed look at Suwon 

Last Time Out for Suwon

What had promised to be a superb month for Suwon was slightly scuppered at the weekend as they lost 2-1 at home to Ulsan. A run of 7 games unbeaten, including superb away victories at Gangwon and Jeju, had propelled Suwon up the table, leaving them sitting only 3 points away from the summit of the table, before kick off on Saturday. However, with one eye on this crucial match, and having played 8 games in the last month, Seo Jung-won fielded a weakened team to face Ulsan, with only Johnathan and Koo Ja-ryong being recognised starters.

And the second string team struggled to perform against an almost full strength Ulsan line-up. Ulsan scored a fortuitous first goal, after backup goalkeeper Yang Hyung-mo, fumbled a savable shot into the path of the onrushing Kim Seung-jun, who comfortably finished. A counter attack from a Suwon corner saw Ulsan score their 2nd goal of the game just before half time, as Ulsan centre-back, Richard Windbichler, was able to out sprint the entire Suwon team, and finish a swift and incisive attack.

However, as weak as Suwon were in the first half, their 2nd half performance was possibly the best they have played this calendar year. The manager made two vital substitutions, bringing on Yeom Ki-hun and Kim Min-woo, but more vitally, he finally switched his formation to 4-3-3, playing Ki-hun in his natural left-wing position. The decision paid off as Suwon spent vast periods of the half camped in the Ulsan half, and had it not been for superb defending from Ulsan combined with good goalkeeping, Suwon would have ended the game with at least a draw.

The loss knocked Suwon back out of the title race, for now, but the league is proving to be rather unpredictable this year, and there may just be time for Suwon to wrestle themselves back into the thick of it.

Match Preview

Koh Seung-beom aside (the midfielder has been ruled with a muscle injury), Suwon have traveled to China with a full compliment of players, and it appears that Seo Jung-won will have a fully fit squad to select from. Of these players, it is most pleasing to see the return of Jang Ho-ik from his recent injury. The right-back played his first full 90 minutes at the weekend after having spent a month and a half out through injury.

It remains to be seen if Seo Jung-won will stick with his formation change, but with Suwon needing to win this game, it would be beneficial to have Suwon's best attacking talent as far up the pitch as possible. Seo Jung-won's favoured 3-4-3 formation has worked well defensively, with Suwon not conceding from open play for 8 games until the loss to Ulsan at the weekend, but it has left Suwon looking a little blunt in attack at times. There are a number of options open to the manager, but with their ACL lives on the line, this is the time for him to throw caution to the wind and attempt to take the game to Guangzhou.

(Possible starting lineup for Suwon vs Guangzhou Evergrande)

Guangzhou have the danger of their 3 foreign super stars, but Suwon showed in the first meeting between the two teams that they can match their Chinese rivals, and if lady luck is on their side, there is a chance that they could pull of an unlikely upset and return home with 3 points and their place in the knockout stages of the 2017 Asian Champions League confirmed. 

We would like to extend our thanks to Andrew Mullen for joining us on this article. Andrew is a Chinese football expert who reports for the South China Morning Post. A number of his articles can be found found online here. 

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