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ACL Writers Chat: Ulsan Hyundai vs Kawasaki Frontale

Ulsan Hyundai welcome Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale  to Munsu on Tuesday night in the Horangi's first home game since they lifted the FA Cup back in December last year.  After earning a point in a frankly bonkers opening tie against Melbourne that saw them thrice give up the lead, Ulsan will be hoping to get back to winning ways by overcoming the reigning Japanese champions.  Our Ulsan columnist Daniel Croydon  previews this vital Group  F match with blogger Neil from Frontale Rabbit - the internet's premier English language Kawasaki Frontale blog.
(image courtesy of wwos.nine.com.au)

Daniel  Asks, Neil Answers

Daniel Croydon: How has the off-season gone for Kawasaki?

Neil : Better than the actual season has gone till now! But that’s not so difficult as we’ve played two and lost two so far this year with two really lacklustre performances. The highlight of the off-season has to be the signing of Manabu Saito from our local rivals Yokohama F Marinos. Their fans were not very happy about losing their number 10, captain and talisman to their neighbours. Also, Yoshito Okubo returned after a season at FC Tokyo to the delight of many Frontale fans. Whether this is actually a good thing is yet to be seen.

On the pitch, who knows? We never seem to really play that many meaningful pre-season games and judging by the starting line up in our first game of the season, the Fuji Xerox Super Cup, the aim for this year is to go with the same team as last season. We were woeful in that game, looking well off the pace and totally out of form, so I guess that suggests that whatever happened in pre-season wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.

DC: You made the quarter-finals in last year's competition before losing to J league rivals Urawa Reds. Can you go one further this time round?

N: I’m not sure to be honest. I think we were a little unlucky to go out against Urawa last year as we had a big lead going into the second leg and then folded after we got a possibly unfortunate red card. Personally speaking, I think the league is more important for us this year, but many people at the club are talking about the ACL. Obviously, losing our first home game against Shanghai wasn’t part of the plan and has left us with some work to do if we want to get out of the group. From my limited viewing of that game from the highlights against Shanghai they didn’t look as fearsome as their big name players might suggest they are, so there could be hope. But, they still beat us…

DC: Who should Ulsan be watching out for at Munsu on Tuesday night?

N: Good question, and difficult to answer as in the two games so far, I’d say we are more a danger to ourselves than the opposition. Normally I’d say that our attack is our strength, but we only had two shots on target against Shanghai so something’s not clicking there at the moment. Last year, Yu Kobayashi was our top scorer and also the top scorer in the league, so if he get’s his game in order he’ll be a threat. Behind him, I don’t think we really know who we should be playing at the moment. Against Shanghai we were apparently pretty slow and immobile in that area. If Elsinho plays at right back, he’ll be a threat, but whether there’ll be anyone to get on the end of his passes and put them away is a whole different matter. Also, defensively, a crucial player for us last year was our Korean keeper Jung Sung-Ryong. He saved us on numerous occasions and I’m sure will be looking to keep a clean sheet back in his home country. I’m guessing he’ll be busy on Tuesday. As you can see, I’m not hugely optimistic about 2018 at the moment.

DC: How do you think the game will go?

N: Tuesday’s result has given this game added significance. We need a win to get the season going, but might have to play with a bit more caution as another defeat for us would give us serious problems. We're not great at the whole caution thing though. If we are in the mood, I think we can probably beat most teams in the competition. It’s just a matter of finding that mood. I think it will probably be a draw with us having loads of chances but being unable to put any away until the last ten minutes of the game where we sneak an equaliser after gifting you an early lead from a defensive blunder.

Neil Asks, Dan Answers

N:  What do you think is Ulsan’s priority this season? And what are your expectations?

DC: Well history suggests Ulsan should always start out by aiming to win the league. However the reality is in recent years our budget has not been big enough to give us any more than an outside chance. Seoul, Jeonbuk and Suwon can all afford bigger wages than us. The fans are becoming a little more, shall we say, pragmatic?  We hope that we at least appear to challenge the other top clubs by being competitive and committed, especially at home.  As far as priorities are concerned, it has to be the league. Ulsan have become somewhat stagnant and predictable in the last few seasons and we've let the other Hyundai club grab too many headlines. The ACL is a welcome adventure as long as it lasts, but domestic football is where our focus needs to be.

N: How satisfied were you with the first ACL game? Did it go as you expected? 

DC: It's always great to get that spark of optimism and enthusiasm when your team plays continental opposition, and sunny Australia looked like a great place for Ulsan to kick-off the new season. It was a game I thought we would win, but I thought it would be tight, decided by just the one scuffed finish or deflected header. How wrong I was. It was a real ding dong battle for which team could be the more disorganised. Looking at the positives, our Croatian winger Orsic clearly spent his winter break in Portugal practising set pieces til the wee small hours. His goals and overall contribution were fantastic to see.  On the other hand though, lets just say there is room for improvement on the defensive side of the game. Giving away a goal so soon after we got our noses in front was gutting. Doing it a second time was even more frustrating. By the time we did it a third time it just became ridiculous! Overall though I suppose a point is better than nothing away from home. And it is clear what we need to work on before Tuesday's game.

N: Who are your key players? What kind of game can we expect?

DC: Well until I saw us against Melbourne I would have said it you should expect a slow boil of a game that only gets going after the hour mark. However we seem to be adopting more of a high tempo pressing style than last season. I have a feeling it will be another open high scoring game.  Orsic showed off his considerable shooting skills Down Under and I'm sure he will still be brimming with confidence come Tuesday night. Elsewhere I think our midfield will be key to getting a result against Kawasaki, so I'm picking Lee Young-jae as our key player. If he can dictate the pace of the game in the middle of the park, as Ulsan fans know he can, we should be in with a decent chance of coming out on top.

N: What’s your prediction for Tuesday?

DC: I expect an offensive line-up from manager Kim Do-hoon with Toyoda, Orsic, and Hwang Il-su again forming the three pronged attack. So I'm going for a 3-2 Ulsan win.   Ulsan will most likely take the lead again, look comfortable for a while, before they almost throw it all away in the last 20 mins. But then again, my prediction last week was way off, so if I were you I'd put money on 0-0.

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