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ACL Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Kitchee SC

AFC Champions League 2018 Match Preview:  Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Kitchee SC

The final match of the AFC Champions League group stage sees K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors welcome recently re-crowned Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC to Jeonju. The North Jeolla outfit are already through to the knockout stages, but still must determine whether they go through as the top seed or not, whereas the visitors are already out of the competition but will be looking to salvage some pride for Hong Kong football. Our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns spoke with Offside.HK editor Christie Leung about what to expect and look back at both teams' performances in the competition thus far.

Matthew asks, Christie answers,

Matthew Binns: Despite already having no possibility to progress, it was still somewhat of a landmark season for Hong Kong football in the AFC Champions League, with Kitchee recording their first ever win for a HK side in the competition with a memorable victory over Kashiwa Reysol. Do you think Kitchee’s participation in this competition has been beneficial for football in Hong Kong?

Christie Leung: The participation and the somewhat unexpected 3 points definitely helped promoting local football in town. On the pitch, it demonstrated a Hong Kong team was capable to compete against  the top teams in Asia. Off the pitch, it proved there was still a great market in local football. Despite Kitchee raising the ticket prices a lot, the attendance was very acceptable and successfully generated good income for Kitchee.

MB: Next season, due to lower coefficients, the Hong Kong Premier League clubs will not be able to enter the competition directly, yet will be able to also enter in continental football via the AFC Cup. While it is disappointing to lose a seat at the table, do you think this move will better suit the growth of Hong Kong sides in Asia? 

CL: Hong Kong sides are used to being at the AFC Cup so it feels rather like 'things going back to normal' and sadly we won't see players with class of Diego Forlan coming in along with the number of fans he has attracted, at the AFC Cup level. Awareness and interests of AFC Cup would definitely be lower than of the Champions League, therefore investments into the teams and attendance would more likely to drop again. Result-wise, our best achievement was falling short to West Asian sides in the semis but fans won't feel as optimistic too. As the AFC adjusted the Cup format since we last played, we would be expecting North Korean sides in the group, so getting out of the group would be much tougher than it's used to be.

MB: While they were seen as underdogs in the group, playing against sides with far greater resources to draw from, were there any areas of this Kitchee SC side you felt could have performed better?

CL: The lack of experience at this level was obvious but inevitable especially in the first two games. But as players caught up the pace and gained more confidence, there was little to complain of the team's performance in both Kashiwa games and at home against Tianjin.

MB: As this game is effectively meaningless for Kitchee, yet they have already claimed the league, how strong do you think the team will be in Jeonju?

CL: Kitchee has a relatively small squad so the room for rotating is little. Kitchee has just secured the league title last Friday evening so confidence will be high and they will be less restrained to give it all to hopefully threaten Jeonbuk more than they did last time. Kitchee's coach Chu Chi-kwong stated that they would still fight hard for a better coefficient for Hong Kong in the future but some changes should be seen with fatigue players as well as wanting to give most players a taste of experience at this level.

MB: How do you see this match playing out?

CL: Kitchee should have a better display this time after 3 great ACL games since they last met. However the quality gap between them and Jeonbuk is massive so Kitchee should realistically focus on narrowing the scoreline from 6-0 and attempt to find the back of the net to finish off their ACL campaign.

Christie's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-1 Kitchee SC

Christie asks, Matthew answers

Christie Leung: Jeonbuk came out as the easy winner in their last encounter with a strong squad in Hong Kong. As this will be Jeonbuk's 5th game in 14 days, do you think we will see some rotations on Choi Kang-hee's selection?

Matthew Binns: Choi Kang-hee has been quite sensible in managing his squad over the last few games, mainly keeping the defence together but mixing the midfield and attack with a combination of first and second choice players for each match. I expect this trend to continue on Wednesday, with even goalkeeper Hong Jeong-nam possibly given another opportunity in goal given that the stakes are somewhat lowered. That said, seeing that Adriano was taken off early at the weekend, Kim Shin-wook making just a late cameo, and also Tiago unused, I would imagine they too will likely get considerable playing time in this game.

CL: Jeonbuk is already through to the next round and might possibly meet Guangzhou Evergrande next. As Evergrande will play Cerezo Osaka on Tuesday to decide who tops their group, is it likely that Jeonbuk will watch that result and avoid seeing Evergrande early or pick who they want to meet next? 

MB: Given the recent squad selections, I think Choi Kang-hee already has his eyes on an alternative line up and probably will not change that regardless of if they need to win or not. Those players should also be motivated to prove a point to their manager for future starting berths. I suppose the logic would be that versing whoever finishes in second in that group, even if it is Guangzhou Evergrande, that Jeonbuk should prefer playing that particular side. Then again, we all know the power that the South China team possesses, and facing Cerezo Osaka or Buriram United could prove more ideal. It is a difficult situation because there will be no way to ignore what happens in Guangzhou 24 hours before, and I think the AFC should have addressed this by having these two groups play on the same day. It really is poor planning by Asia's football governing body, but sadly no longer unexpected.

CL: In their last meeting, Adriano notched a hat trick in his Jeonbuk debut while Kim Shin-wook had a MoM display in Jeonbuk's recent match against Gyeongnam, who do you think will be the main man Kitchee should watch out for on Wednesday?

MB: I think you have perhaps named both of them there! Kim Shin-wook and Adriano are both challenging for a regular starting place in a team that often plays in a single striker formation, and their performances are often being overlooked by 39 year old Lee Dong-gook, who is enjoying quite the Indian summer to his career. Whoever starts out of those two (if not both), will be highly motivated to prove their worth to this team. If I were to choose one, then I would say that Adriano did not look like he enjoyed being substituted at the weekend and may once again see a match against Kitchee as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the goalscoring prowess that Jeonbuk bought him for.

CL: Jeonbuk has had a good start of the season and is on course for their targets. Do you think the team has enough to keep going on to win the ACL this year?

MB: At present, the biggest challenge facing Jeonbuk on the continental stage is the next round as two of their best defenders, Kim Jin-su and Hong Jeong-ho, are out for a few more weeks and will likely be absent for at least the first leg, and lacking match fitness for the second. Whilst the North Jeolla side's backup defenders Choi Bo-kyung and Park Won-jae are doing an excellent job at present in the league, it would be nice to have the two national team players available for theoretically heightened competition. When at full strength, I genuinely believe this squad is stronger than the 2016 iteration in terms of individual talent bar perhaps one or two positions, and by the latter knockout rounds they could even be stronger as an actual team. They should have enough to go all the way in the tournament, but they must focus on the closer task at hand for now.

CL: How do you think the game will go?

MB: Teams rarely come away from Jeonju with a single point, let alone all three, and I do not see Kitchee breaking the trend on Wednesday evening. Even if Jeonbuk do play an alternative lineup, I still think those who are fielded will be driven and up for the task. I do not see it being a repeat of the away fixture, but it is difficult to envisage anything but a solid home win.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-0 Kitchee SC

We like to once again extend our thanks to Christie Leung for working with our site on this preview. Christie is an editor for Offside.HK, Hong Kong's first English football magazine. For all the latest news on Hong Kong football, visit their website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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