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ACL Writers' Chat: Kashiwa Reysol vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

AFC Champions League 2018 Preview: Kashiwa Reysol vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Having squandered the opportunity to secure passage to the knockout stages after four matches, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel to Japan to face J.League outfit Kashiwa Reysol knowing that a draw will see them through. Reysol will have other ideas though, knowing that they require a victory to ensure they stand a chance of progression themselves. Our site editor and Jeonbuk columnists Matthew Binns sat down with Football Radar's Sam Robson to discuss what to expect when these two sides meet on Wednesday evening.

Sam asks, Matthew answers

Sam Robson: Jeonbuk did not compete in last years AFC Champions League after the bribery scandal, meaning they were unable to defend their 2016 title. Has that exclusion provided any extra motivation for the team this season as they look to return to the top of the Asian mountain?

Matthew Binns: The return to the Champions League has certainly had an affect on the club's spending policy this season, with notable transfers in including Adriano, Tiago and Hong Jeong-ho in the hope of improving squad depth so as the compete for titles on multiple fronts. They even signed Kim Jin-su from Hoffenheim last season on the promise of the competition so there are players already in the squad itching to compete as well.

The resulting punishment of the bribery scandal was difficult to take, especially as the shameful actions had taken place only in domestic competition three years prior. Also, the hypocrisy of the AFC governing body who had allowed more corrupt clubs like Phnom Penh to return to their respective competition months earlier left a sour taste. This was all in addition to Jeonbuk being allowed to enter the group draw, only for the AFC to open investigations after fellow group member Adelaide United complained. No other team had raised their voice prior. While the decision was ultimately correct, the way it was handled covered nobody in a glory, and there is a sense of injustice felt by a club who had already served a domestic punishment and subsequently lost the 2016 K League because of it. It was felt the then reigning Asian Champions were being made an example of, which still stings given the AFC's following failures to act on other issues such as the farce of Eastern's ticketing fiasco last season. For Jeonbuk, reclaiming their continental crown has been stated by the manager as the aim for the season.

SR: After storming through the opening three games, scoring 15 goals in the process, Jeonbuk came unstuck in the last match day losing another thriller 4-2 away at Tianjin Quanjian. Has that result called into question Jeonbuk’s tactics away from home against stronger opposition, or will it be seen purely as a blip which can be rectified this week in Japan?

MB: It is not the first time Jeonbuk's defence has been called into question this campaign, which is surprising to most as they had the strongest defensive unit during the 2017 K League season. There is the thought that perhaps the increase in quality opponents is exposing the defence, but I do not believe the issue is as simple as that. This year, it appears manager Choi Kang-hee has been instructing his team to push forward more, almost irresponsibly at times, which has also allowed for the club's young goalkeepers to be exposed to counter attacks and unfairly suffer the wrath of the local press for their costly mistakes. However, in their last two matches against FC Seoul and Sangju Sangmu, the side have appeared more restrained, possibly as a response to that Tianjian defeat. Hopefully, the recent losses will prove just to be a blip in the long run, but the club would be foolish if they attacked Kashiwa in the same unrestrained manner as they attempted previously. I therefore expect them to be more conservative regardless.

SR: In Adriano, Kim Shin-Wook and Lee Dong-Gook, Jeonbuk possess an embarrassment of attacking riches. Also on the books though is former Shimizu S-Pulse forward Tiago Alves, how has he managed to fit back into Korean football while facing serious competition for game time?

MB: Tiago Alves was first rumoured to be joining the club over a year ago, but the deal reportedly fell through after Jeonbuk were disqualified from competing in the Champions League. Now back in the competition, the North Jeolla side have purchased their long sought after target outright and will be hoping that he can eventually replace the void left by Leonardo on the left wing who departed after the 2016 season. Tiago's performances so far have been solid yet not outstanding, but he has also only been given a few starts while the manager rotates his squad to handle cup commitments. Tiago will likely start to see more regular game time in the coming weeks though, with the hope that regular minutes will see him reach and potentially surpass the incredible standards he set himself during his six month spell with Seongnam FC in 2016, lighting up the K League and becoming a real neutrals' favourite. There are high expectations of Tiago in Jeonju, and many fans have been patient so far as they wait to see what they are sure he is capable of. Hopefully they will not have to wait too much longer.

SR: Veteran Lee Dong-Gook proved to be the difference off the bench in the first meeting between these two sides, but who do you think will hold the key this time for Jeonbuk?

MB: Though he may not start given the probable rotation, Adriano could still have an impact on proceedings even if just a cameo appearance. The ex-FC Seoul striker has scored a goal in each of his last four matches across all competitions, and has seven in total for the 2018 campaign. The Brazilian has a real poacher's instinct, with the majority of goals coming within six yards of the goalmouth, usually on the end of a well weighted cross. He was not match fit when these two sides faced each other in mid-February, but since then he is quickly returning to the reliable goalscorer that Jeonbuk bought him to be. Kashiwa will have to keep a close eye on his delayed movement into the penalty box, especially if he appears late on when legs are tiring.

SR: Finally, prediction? 

MB: With the visitors only needing a draw to progress to the knockout stages, I do not imagine Jeonbuk will bring the game to Kashiwa, but rather sit back and wait on the counter attack, calling upon the fast attacking talents of Lopes, Lee Jae-sung and Tiago in midfield, two of which were rested at the weekend, to break away when the home side give away possession. It will likely be a highly disciplined performance from Jeonbuk and, providing there are no defensive lapses, they should be able to edge a narrow victory.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Kashiwa Reysol 1-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Matthew asks, Sam answers

Matthew Binns: There has been some vocal criticism of J League teams fielding weaker sides in this year's tournament and accusations of them not taking it seriously enough. Kashiwa Reysol’s shock defeat to Kitchee in the last round of games will have only helped to unfairly fuel this. How has the fallout been domestically from that defeat and how much of a priority would you say the AFC Champions League is for Kashiwa?

Sam Robson: J.League clubs are never too far away from criticism for playing weakened sides in the Champions League, especially when most of the teams are struggling. Often this is understandable, but I do feel it a little unfair in Kashiwa’s case. They rotated fairly heavily in both games against Kitchee, however, at the start of this season, Reysol are playing twice a week nearly every week so a balance does have to be found to avoid player burnout. In the home game they were still good enough to come away with a victory and will have felt that the team which started in Hong Kong was good enough to win again there. If it wasn’t for an early red card and a late wonder goal, I feel Kashiwa would have won that game and would not be facing the same level of negativity.

MB: Masashi Kamekawa saw a straight red early on against Kitchee. Having featured regularly for Kashiwa Reysol, how big of an impact will his two match suspension have on the club’s chances of progression to the knockout phases and who will the club look to replace him with on Wednesday?

SR: Ordinarily, the loss of Kamekawa wouldn’t be seen as too great an issue. The young left back signed from J2 side Avispa Fukuoka is for the most part seen as second choice in the Reysol squad. However due to the limitations on foreign players, Korean international left-back Yun Suk-Young was not registered, with fellow Koreans Park Jeong-Su and Kim Bo-Kyung joining Brazilian forwards Ramon Lopes and Cristiano in the Champions League squad.

Reysol are left with two options. 19 year old Taiyo Koga, who struggled in his only appearance (away at Kitchee in the last Matchday) and the versatile Japan U21 international Yuta Nakayama. I would expect Nakayama to fill that void competently and while he is not completely comfortable on the left of the defence, he will bring more defensive stability than either Kamekawa or Koga, though perhaps offering less going forward

MB: I was impressed with Kashiwa’s attacking intent when they came to Jeonju, and it required the K League outfit to dig deep and call upon the heroics of a 38 year-old substitute in order to turn the scoreline around. How do you think Reysol will approach this particular clash tactically?

SR: I don’t think Reysol have it in them to play a defensive minded game and will always look to attack whatever opposition may be in front of them. They showed in Jeonju that they can cause Jeonbuk problems and will focus on the holes they exposed in their defence. The pace that Reysol have in attack lends itself well to a counter attacking game, and even in the second half of the previous meeting, when Jeonbuk were laying siege to the Reysol goal, Kashiwa could and perhaps should have killed the game off with the chances they created on the break. I expect a similar open feel to the game, especially as anything less than a win would likely see Reysol exit the competition.

MB: Who would you see in this Reysol team as causing Jeonbuk the greatest concern when these sides meet on Wednesday?

SR: Reysol’s strength is in their attack (and Goalkeeper), but in particular I feel Junya Ito would be of greatest concern to the Jeonbuk back line. Ito has carried on his fine form from last season and was a touch unlucky to be overlooked for the most recent Japan national team squad in my view. He is a pacy winger with terrific acceleration who is able to beat a man with ease and off the ball he makes very intelligent diagonal runs in behind the full back.

MB: How do you see this game playing out?

SR: I feel this game, like the first meeting, has goals written all over it (Cue drab 0-0). There is too much attacking firepower on both sides, and with Kashiwa requiring a victory I feel they may leave a few too many holes at the back, come unstuck and find themselves out of the Champions League.

Sam's Predicted Score: Kashiwa Reysol 1-3 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

A massive thanks to Sam Robson once again for sitting down to join me on this preview. Sam is a football analyst for Football Radar, covering J.League 1. You can find out more about Football Radar by visiting their website, or you can follow Sam on Twitter by clicking here.

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