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ACL Writer's Chat: Melbourne Victory FC vs Ulsan Hyundai

The Tigers are back! Ulsan begin their 2018 campaign with an early kick-off Down Under as they take on A-League runners-up Melbourne Victory. Ulsan lifted the ACL trophy back in 2012, but have their work cut out for them this time around in a tough looking Group F that also contains Shanghai SIPG and J League Champions Kawasaki Frontale.  To preview the game, our columnist Daniel Croydon chatted with For Vuck's Sake's Dave Srhoj.
(copy and paste image credits here)

Daniel Asks, Dave Answers

Daniel Croydon: The A-League season is in full swing. How is it going for Victory and do you think the fact this is Ulsan's first competitive game of the season gives your team an advantage?

Dave Srhoj: It has been a frustrating season, bereft of any consistency. When we appear to capture some form, we lose it fairly quickly. The squad is quite unbalanced and lacking in depth. The season started with lots of injuries and international absences, which did not help our cause. As a consequence we’ve been playing catch-up all season. Being a little more match-hardened will certainly help against Ulsan – at the very least from a fitness point of view.

DC: Melbourne have recently lost Socceroo Mark Miligan to the lure of the Middle East. How much of an impact will this have on Victory's ACL campaign?

DS: The loss of his international experience in the ACL will hurt. Particularly as he is a flexible player that can be called upon to play in both the midfield and defence. Melbourne Victory do have cover for him in the midfield – the recent signing of Terry Antonis does soften the blow somewhat. However, in terms of Australian talent Milligan is irreplaceable. Melbourne Victory now begin their ACL campaign with only one marquee player (two marquees are permitted; players paid outside of the A-League salary cap) and no Asian confederation foreigner. Victory fans are once again frustrated by the club yet again opting to not take advantage of the 3+1 foreigner rule permitted in the ACL.

DC: Both A-League and K League teams struggled in the 2017 ACL campaign. How optimistic are you that Victory can get out of this group?

DS: We don’t have much optimism at all. This is Melbourne Victory’s sixth ACL campaign and we are still yet to win a game off Australian soil. We will rely heavily on our home form to accumulate points. The aforementioned lack of squad depth will become even more pronounced if there are injuries to any key players. In particular up-front – we really only have one senior, experienced striker in Besart Berisha. The only positive most Victory fans envisage from this ACL campaign is an opportunity to see more of some of our youth prospects; who have been starved of opportunities in the A-League this season.

DC: Which way do you think the game will go?

DSMelbourne Victory 2-1 Ulsan Hyundai

Melbourne Victory simply have to win their games at home if they are to have any chance of a fruitful campaign. The fact that we are well into our season should prove to be a big advantage and I think we will come away with a 2-1 win.

Dave Asks, Daniel Answers

Dave Srhoj: Domestically, do the Ulsan fans feel they have strengthened their squad sufficiently to challenge for the K-League title?

Daniel Croydon: Well thankfully we have moved to address some problems which were painfully obvious towards the end of last season - most notably our lack of bite up front.  We've signed an experienced striker in Yohei Toyoda who averaged around a goal every two games in six seasons at his previous club.  Add to that Junior Negrao who had a decent campaign in the  K League with Daegu last season and Ulsan fans are cautiously optimistic. Can we challenge for the title? Probably not. But hopefully we will be a bit more fun to watch.

DS: Ulsan won the ACL back in 2012. Do the fans feel they have what it takes to once again be crowned Champions of Asia?

DC: Short answer - no. Ulsan were disappointing in last year's competition as we failed to get out of the group stage.  It became clear that Asian football has changed a lot in the last 6 years since we won the ACL. I'm not just talking about the money in the Chinese league - the Southeast Asian teams have improved a lot in recent years, while the K League, and particularly Ulsan, has stood still.  Having said that I do think we can get out of this group. We tend to travel well and don't give away many goals, so with a bit of luck we can sneak through.

DS: Australian fans don’t get too see much of the K-League, who are the players we really need to be wary of over the course of the two games we will face up against Ulsan?

DC:  We have a pretty established backline, with our big Austrian mensch Richard Windbichler holding it all together. With the addition of Korean international Park Joo-ho from Borussia Dortmund we should be as hard as ever to break down.  Going forward most of our threat will come down the wings through Mislav Orsic and Kim In-sung. Both players bagged braces in the 6-0 thrashing of Brisbane Roar in the opening fixture of the ACL twelve months ago and if they are given space, they may just do it again.

DSScore Prediction?

DCMelbourne Victory 0-1 Ulsan Hyundai

The victories home and away against Brisbane Roar were the only bright spots for Ulsan fans in last year's ACL.  In fact Ulsan have only lost one in six against Australian opposition. I'm expecting a tight game, as we may be a little off the pace. But I think Ulsan will do enough to take all 3 points.

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