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ACL Writers' Chat: Jeju United vs Buriram United

Jeju United vs Buriram United AFC Champions League Group Stage Preview
On paper, Jeju United FC and Buriram United are heading in different directions with Jeju officially eliminated and the Thai giants still able to qualify for the knockout phase if they win. Our Branko Belan and ESPN FC's Paul Murphy sat down to chat about what to look for as the group phase comes to a close.

Branko asks, Paul answers

Branko Belan: The last time these two teams met was on Matchday 2 when Jeju won 2-0 in Thailand. What is different with the Thai side compared to then?

Paul Murphy: The main difference is that Buriram were just two games into the league season back then and had yet to build any momentum. Two months on, they are comfortably on top of the league and have had three confidence building results in the ACL.

The home defeat to Jeju was a huge blow after they opened the campaign with an unlikely point at Guangzhou. However, the Thai champions have shown great resilience to keep their hopes alive.

They have often played a 3-5-2 system, which seems to work to their strengths, and the players have adapted well to it.

And, importantly, Diogo Luis Santo has been in excellent form up front. He gives the team a lot of confidence when he is on his game.

BB: Buriram struck late to draw level and steal a point against Guangzhou on Matchday Five, keeping them in the conversation for the knockout stages. What was the formula to shut down Guangzhou's high powered attack?

PM: Buriram are generally a very organised side and head coach Bozidar Bandovic seems to have coached them well to sticking to their tasks. Any team can be tough to break down when the players keep their discipline in a system that is designed to stifle the opposition.

They also enjoyed a fair bit of luck and had goalkeeper Sivarak Tedsungnoen to thank for a number of fine saves.

Nevertheless, Buriram hit back well in the second half and gave Guangzhou a few scares before netting a last-gasp equaliser. This is a team with a lot of fight as their opponents have found out.

As expected, Guangzhou enjoyed more possession (55%) but Buriram were not totally outclassed.

BB: What are Buriram's chances of getting a result, knowing that Jeju will be looking to play spoiler?

PM: In many ways, this will depend on Jeju’s attitude to the match. As they are out of the running, they may choose not to play a strong team in this one. Theoretically, this would give Buriram a better chance.

The Thai champions are certainly capable of winning as they very nearly did at Cerezo Osaka on Matchday Four.  However, it may also prey on their minds a little that Jeju beat them comfortably on home soil on Matchday Two.

Buriram should still be the underdogs away from home but their greater motivation gives them a chance. If Jeju are not too interested, the Thai side can get the win they need. If Jeju are desperate to regain a bit of pride after a poor campaign, it could well be a home win.

BB: What should Jeju expect in the reverse fixture? Much of the same as in the first match, or will the tactics be different?

PM: Buriram’s system is not especially flexible but it is generally effective, which is why they may have the same starting XI as in the reverse fixture.

They have three determined centre backs, an industrious midfield and two strikers who have proved they can score at this level.

Buriram can be particularly dangerous at set pieces, with Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri’s deliveries tough to deal with and they will hope to take any opportunities that come from that.

It is unlikely there will be any significant differences unless injuries force any key players to miss out.

BB: How do you see the match playing out?

PM: It’s very tough to say without knowing Jeju’s mindset towards the game. Buriram may have missed their best chance of qualifying when they conceded late at Cerezo Osaka.

With Jeju having won in Buriram, they may have a psychological edge. Buriram will, as usual, set up defensively and try to hit on the break and exploit set pieces.

But Jeju United have players who can hurt Buriram if they play their full-strength side. A draw looks a decent possibility.

Paul's Predicted Scoreline: Jeju United 1-1 Buriram United

Paul asks, Branko answers

Paul Murphy: How are Jeju likely to approach this match given that they are already out of the tournament?

Branko Belan: I would certainly hope that Jeju take a positive approach to the match. If anything, it would be smart of them to at least play for pride and try to establish better form at home, where they have been lacking so far this season.  

It has taken Jeju quite a while to get off the ground with a host of new signings still not figuring prominently on a consistent basis. Adding to this, Jeju have lost both matches at home in the Champions League this season, and it would look quite terrible should they bow out with another loss. This team is much better than the lack of quality they have displayed thus far.  

PM: Have Jeju United fans generally been surprised by Buriram's results against other sides given that they beat them comfortably in Thailand?

BB: Buriram deserves a lot of credit for their performance this year. Jeju may have won the match in Thailand, but they did not look threatening for long stretches of the match and had a lot of trouble moving the ball.  

They have showed themselves to be a tough outfit to play against and are more than worthy to still be in a position to progress to the knockouts. Their results against Guangzhou in particular are perfect proof of this.  

They strike me as a very disciplined side who can take the pitch against a lot of the top teams on the continent. I wouldn't say based on my observations that Buriram have been a total surprise, and Jeju fans would have to agree.

PM: The Buriram result aside, why have Jeju had a poor campaign?

BB: There are a lot of different answers to this question. First and foremost, however, is the lack of a game-plan going into matches. Tactically, Jeju have looked nowhere close to the team they have been in the domestic league the past two seasons, having finished third two years ago and runners-up last year.

Too many players who were pivotal to last season's success in particular are now gone, and the replacements have not been up to standard thus far. With the domestic front looking quite crowded into the near future, failure to advance in the Champions League could end up being a good thing for the club as they can now focus their energy on building team chemistry and a balance between the front and back ends of the eleven on the pitch.  

In all, Jeju have looked as though they are too overstretched schedule-wise to be able to handle the match load with a group of players who have taken longer than expected to gain match fitness.

PM: Buriram have shown they can be dangerous from set pieces. How good are Jeju at defending them?

BB: Set pieces have been a concern for Jeju in the Champions League this season. In their last match against Cerezo Osaka, a corner led to the opening goal, and from that point on, Jeju was constantly under pressure. The Osaka side had more than several opportunities to pad their advantage, and Jeju looked quite shaky at the back while defending them.

If this indeed turns out to be the case against Buriram, the Jeju back line could be in for a long night.  Kim Won-il in particular has not impressed this season, so if he does in fact get the start, from the standpoint of strategy, he would be the man to attack going in search of a goal on balls into the box.

PM: How do you see the game playing out?

BB: Jeju come into the match off of consecutive victories over Jeonnam and Incheon United by a combined score of 7-2 (3-0 away and 4-2 at home, respectively) showing signs that the octane may finally be getting injected into an attack of which so much has been expected this season.

While only pride is at stake for them now, it is a great opportunity for the islanders to set their focus for the domestic campaign, go out and get a positive result.

Branko's Predicted Scoreline: Jeju United 2-1 Buriram United

We at K League United would like to extend our thanks to Paul Murphy for joining us for our preview of the final matchday in Group G.  Paul's work has been showcased widely on online media, and most notably for AFC and ESPN FC.  You can have a look at his work on the Thailand football blog here.

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