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ACL Writers' Chat: Cerezo Osaka vs Jeju United

With only two matchdays left in the group phase of the Champions League, Jeju United face a stiff test as they travel away to Osaka to take on Cerezo, knowing that only a win will leave them with any hope of progressing through to the knockout stages of the competition.  Cerezo won the first match between the two sides when they played on Matchday One on the island courtesy of a goal right on the stroke of regular time.  The Japanese side are still very much in the mix, and a win could be enough to seal their progress through the group.  K League United's Branko Belan and Football Tribe Japan's Dan Orlowitz sat down to chat about the upcoming clash.

Dan asks, Branko answers

Dan Orlowitz: Are you surprised at all by Korean clubs' performance in the ACL thus far, with Jeonbuk cruising and Jeju the only K-League team that needs outside help to reach the Round of 16?

Branko Belan: I am not surprised by Jeonbuk at all.  They won the Champions League in 2016, and with a lot of their players getting callups to the Korean national team for the international break, it speaks to the amount of quality they have in their side.  They also spent a lot of money in the offseason to bolster their roster, so their run in the competition thus far is not a surprise at all.  

Suwon Bluewings and Ulsan Hyundai are also good possibilities to go through to the knockouts.  They have been quite enjoyable to watch in the ACL this season, even though their league form has left much to be desired.

That leaves Jeju, who have struggled to find their form since the beginning of the season, and with questions abounding about who is going to spearhead the attack, their prospects of advancing look a bit bleak.  But, Jeju have proven to be a team that can go out and get a result when their backs are against the wall, and they will have to hope for the same against Cerezo.

DO: What do Korean fans think of the struggles of Japanese clubs in the tournament? Are they taking particular glee or do they see it as just a swing of the pendulum?

BB: I think it's very possible that some Korean fans are quite happy to see the Japanese sides struggling this season.  They believe that there are bragging rights on the line between the two leagues.  Others who are supporters of the Korean clubs in the competition just want to see their clubs do well and be competitive, and if it means getting through to the knockout stages, then anything can happen.  

I can recall being at Munsu Stadium back in 2012 the night Ulsan Hyundai won the Champions League, and it was sheer pandemonium at the final whistle.  More than anything, fans will be excited to see if their teams can make a deep run this season.

DO: Jeju have struggled similarly to Cerezo, opening the K1 season 0-1-2 but rebounding before the international break with a win at Ulsan. What's behind their slow start, despite only conceding two goals in the domestic campaign?

BB: They are lacking the killer instinct that has defined them over the past two seasons.  This team bagged goals at a terrorizing clip in league play, but Jeju also has a recurring problem of having a revolving door, with players often coming and going from the club after a season or so.  

Marcelo left at the midway point last season, and it was feared that it would derail the rest of the campaign, but didn't.  Frederic Mendy left for Thailand in the offseason, and the new Brazilian signings are not panning out just yet.  Both have been non-factors when on the pitch.  As I recall, Thiago Marques was practically invisible when he started against Cerezo on Matchday One, and Roberson has looked confused in attack when called on.

DO: Do you expect a full strength squad after the match against Suwon on Saturday afternoon? What tactics will they come out with?

BB: I would hope that they will come out with a full squad.  Last year's captain Oh Ban-suk is finally back, and provided stability at the back against Ulsan, and Lee Chang-min is back following his stint with the Korean national team, where he made a case for himself to be included in Korea's final squad when they head to Russia, thanks to a solid performance against Northern Ireland, following that up with his first goal for the senior team against Poland.

Jeju have yet to have a breakout performance in the league this season, and with a bit of wind in their sails, I would think they would come out and attack at will.  Jeju have never really been known as a team to play defensive football.  Because their home is on the island, not a lot is known about them in football circles on the continent, but the brand of football they play when they are clicking is very attractive to watch.

DO: What result do Jeju need, and what do you expect they'll get?

BB: Only a win would do for Jeju, anything else and they wouldn't stand a chance of going through.  With their goal difference standing currently at minus three, thanks to back-to-back losses against Guangzhou, ideally they would need a considerable result to have a clearer picture of what they could achieve ahead of the final group match against Buriram.  

Whether they will get the result they need is another matter, but if they come out and play aggressive, anything could happen.  They played Gamba in Osaka last year on Matchday Two and won 4-1.  If the right Jeju team shows up, they may just pull a surprise.

Branko asks, Dan answers:

Branko Belan: Through four matches in the J League this season, Cerezo are winless, including a 2-0 defeat to Vissel Kobe last time out.  Although it is still early days in the campaign, is there any cause for concern, or is Cerezo a team that usually starts slowly out of the gate?

Dan Orlowitz: Japan always has a couple ACL teams who struggle to find their domestic rhythm for whatever reason (usually a combination of fatigue and not enough reinforcements). Cerezo had one of the shortest off-seasons of any J League club as their season didn't end until January 1st and started in mid-February, lost some attacking depth to injury (Ricardo Santos), lost a very key player due to injury (Hiroshi Kiyotake), their former K-League arrivals have taken time to adjust to things in the J League...there's a lot of excuses here but at this point I don't think they're in danger of relegation.

BB: The standings in Group G are still quite tight.  The last time these two teams met, the Japanese were able to snatch a late winner in injury time.  What strategy will Cerezo have going into this match?

DO: After taking just one point from two matches against Buriram United they're really in trouble and I think they need to go on a scoring rampage to get their GD up and improve their position going into the away match at Evergrande. They can't play for a 1-0 win; they they need a Roman triumph along the lines of 3-0.

BB: Cerezo have conceded seven goals in four league matches so far this season.  How would you assess the play of the back line?  Do any adjustments need to be made?

DO: I don't think Cerezo have a better starting back four than their current squad; the team's weakness comes from their attacking struggles which ultimately leads to far more pressure on the defenders. With healthy players this squad should be capable of doing a lot, but they just haven't had enough bodies. Osmar should help in the J League but with Souza injured, they've got another issue at midfield.

BB: Cerezo have managed only two draws on home ground in the Champions League this season.  How can they swing things in their advantage against Jeju?

DO: No more messing around and sending out the teenagers. They need to put out their best squad against Jeju and prove that they want be in the tournament.

BB: How do you see the match playing out?  

DO: I can see Cerezo having a good start, getting a 2-0 lead by 60', and then giving up a late goal to end the night with 0 for their goal difference. That's about what they're capable of at the moment.

NOTE: At the time of writing, the weekend's fixtures had not been played yet.  Jeju lost at home by a score of 1-0 to Suwon, while Cerezo picked up their first win of the season against Shonan, also at home, by a score of 2-1.

We at K League United would like to extend our thanks to Dan Orlowitz for providing his expert analysis for our preview of the match.  Dan is a football photographer and journalist for Football Tribe Japan.  You can visit the Football Tribe website here.  You can also find them on Twitter


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