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ACL Preview: Tianjin Quanjian vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Han Kyo-won and Kim Shin-wook celebrate the Star Wars combo of Wookie and Han as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors thrash Tianjin Quanjian in the AFC Champions League

With one week having passed since K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors demolished Chinese Super League outfit Tianjin Quanjian in Jeonju, the two sides face one another yet again for the fourth round of AFC Champions League group stage matches.
(Photo via Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

Last Time Out

These two sides faced up to one another just over a week ago to quite the performance, with the home side Jeonbuk first falling a goal behind, before then hitting six in reply and then allowing the visitors two more late on to try and balance the scoreline. The North Jeolla side’s 6-3 result and resounding attacking performance drew plaudits from across the continent and left a Tianjin Quanjian side, boasting impressive international talent, concerned for their progression to the knockout stages.

However, despite qualification being almost assured, Jeonbuk still sent out a semi-rotated yet strong squad at the weekend away to Incheon United, a side widely tipped to struggle. Choi Kang-hee’s men were outfought by United and, despite keeping the home team under relentless pressure, did not really show enough to deserve anything from the game. Two goalkeeping blunders from normally solid backup ‘keeper Hwang Byeong-keun grabbed all the post match headlines, but questions should also be asked about Jeonbuk’s defensive line, which was at full strength with four of South Korea’s recently called up defenders included. It seemed apparent there were some poor communication between the defence and the man between the sticks.

The reigning K League champions were often left exposed down the centre without defensive midfield cover, caused by a change made by the manager so he could feature both Adriano and Kim Shin-wook in the team. Kim Jin-su also had an uncharacteristically bad game, with the left back being outwitted numerous times by Incheon’s new signing Kwabena Appiah. With so many first team regulars not performing to the standards expected of them, an improved showing will be needed for this upcoming Champions League match and the visit from sworn rivals FC Seoul the following Sunday.

Fortunately for Jeonbuk, they are lucky that the defeat has came early into a long season, without major damage to any of the competitions they are participating in. The manager will be hoping the loss will serve as a wake up call to his players, and perhaps the fans to some extent, that complacency needs to be guarded against. They are widely tipped to do well in all competitions for a reason, but the worst thing possible would for them to start believing their own hype just two league games into the new campaign.

Highlights for Jeonbuk's 3-2 defeat to Incheon United can be viewed here.

Last weekend’s Chinese Super League also saw Tianjin Quanjian fall to defeat, losing 2-1 at home to recently promoted Beijing Renhe. The visitors opened the scoring after a low cross into the box was missed by goalkeeper Zhang Lu and turned in accidentally by unsuspecting Tianjin defender Chu Jinzhao. Tianjin quickly went in search of an equaliser before the break, yet wayward shots from Lie Yu and Pato failed to trouble the Bejing Renhe goalkeeper.

It only took two minutes into the second half for the visitors to double their advantage. With Tianjin caught on the break Moukandjo took his chances with an unlikely long range shot which the goalkeeper would have had covered, yet defender Liu Yiming ran into the shots path in an attempt to block it, deflecting it into the path of the unmarked Cao Yongjing who cooly finished.

Surprisingly, the visitors then continued to have the better chances, yet a late Pato goal offered the home side some eventual consolation. The result will not have been the bounce back from a heavy defeat the fans would have wanted, and any optimism ahead of Wednesday may very well have been dented.

Highlights for Tianjin Quanjian's 2-1 defeat to Beijing Renhe can be viewed here.

Team News

Jeonbuk centre back Hong Jeong-ho will likely return to the starting eleven after missing out in the home fixture through suspension. Ricardo Lopes will face suspension however after collecting his second yellow card of the group stages. He will likely be replaced by Tiago. Right back Lee Yong may also be absent after picking up a shoulder injury after colliding with Alex Witsel last Tuesday, but having been selected for the Korean national squad over the break, the injury appears to be less serious than first feared.

The Adversary

Tianjin Quanjin qualified for this competition after finishing third in last year’s Chinese Super League and then progressing through playoffs in early February. Alongside Kashiwa Reysol, they were expected to fight with Jeonbuk for qualification from the groups yet both sides have been left somewhat lacking and currently look set to be duelling for the runners up position. In domestic competition, they have played two matches, winning one and losing the other.

Last week against, Tianjin Quanjian set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in a bid to pack out the midfield. Despite the heavy loss in Jeonju, it would still seem foolish to attempt a bolder strategy and risk getting further exposed on their home turf. Perhaps a defensive midfielder or a back three could be employed to try and counter the threat posed by the K League side, but given a 3-4-3 shape saw them fall to Beijing Renhe at the weeked, there might be some hesitation to repeating the experiment when the stakes are high.

Who to Watch

Like a number of Chinese Super League clubs, Tianjin Quanjian boast a number of high profile international players in their ranks. Alexandre Pato is perhaps the most noteworthy, having joined at the start of the 2017 campaign from La Liga club Villarreal, after just half a campaign with the Spanish side. The attacker has also spent a season at English Premier League side Chelsea, as well as both Sao Paulo and Corinthians in Brazil, but is perhaps best remembered for his six season stint at AC Milan, where he scored 51 goals in 86 league appearances. At 28 years of age, he is a player plying his trade in China at his supposed prime and undoubtedly a huge asset to a Tianjin team desperate to build on last year’s positive season.

There squad also includes highly talented individuals Anthony Modeste and Alex Witsel. 29 year-old French attacker Modeste was plying his trade in the Bundesliga for Köln before joining the Chinese side last summer. He made just eight appearances in the league for Tianjin, but managed to find the net on seven occasions, and has also helped himself to three goals in this competition so far. Witsel, on the other hand, is a 29 year old Belgian central midfielder who joined the Chinese Super League outfit at the start of 2017 having previously spent five seasons at Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg. As seen last Tuesday, he is a highly talented individual and can prove to be quite a handful when given time on the ball.

As for Jeonbuk, given the way they exposed the Tianjin backline with a series of aerial crosses into the box, Kim Shin-wook is in prime position to take all the headlines again after bagging a hat-trick against the Chinese outfit last Tuesday. The towering striker also added to his tally with a goal against Incheon United on Saturday and will be hoping that a trip to China could reap further rewards, especially with international friendlies coming up for which he has been selected for and will hope to start.


With an important league match against arch rivals FC Seoul the following weekend, plus the possibility of perhaps an easier three points when Kitchee SC visit in round six, there is not a great deal of pressure on the Jeonbuk manager to take his strongest side to Tianjin. However, having now suffered a humiliating defeat to the hands of supposed strugglers Incheon United, Choi Kang-hee could also be wanting to right the wayward ship quickly and get back to winning ways. A win would also effectively wrap up the group campaign for Jeonbuk as likely top seed, an ideal milestone to reach given their K League rivals are far from a similar position and will have to manage their squads accordingly.

It would seem the Jeonbuk side that will be fielded on Wednesday night should still have more than enough talent to see off the threat posed by Tianjin Quanjian though, regardless of whether they are playing on Chinese soil. Perhaps the scoreline will not be as emphatic as last week, but likely to still be comfortable.

Predicted Score: Tianjin Quanjian 0-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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