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ACL Writers' Chat: Kawasaki Frontale vs. Ulsan Hyundai

Ulsan travel to Japan for Matchday 6 of this year's Asian Champions League safe in the knowledge they are already through to the Final 16.  Their opponents, Kawasaki Frontale, are already out after an extremely disappointing run of results which has left them with just two points from five games. So with nothing up for grabs, what can we expect from Wednesday night's encounter? Will Frontale salvage a sliver of pride? Or will someone from Ulsan's reserves catch their manager's eye? Daniel Croydon speaks to Neil from Frontale Rabbit Blog about this final Group F game.   

Game: Kawasaki Frontale vs. Ulsan Hyundai
Venue: Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium
Kick off: Wednesday 18th April, 19.00 KST

Daniel Asks, Neil Answers

Daniel: As reigning J League champs, many thought Frontale would go far in this year's Champions League. What happened?

Neil: I think the club thought the same thing as they’d stated it was a priority this season. Obviously, that now looks a bit embarrassing!  I think our manager is starting to flounder a little. Our main system with our first choice players won us the league last year, but as we proved when we were knocked out of the ACL last year after starting with a big first-leg lead, when things don’t go to plan and we have to adapt, we keep coming up short.

Also, we’ve been really struggling to put away chances so far this year. I think we only had three shots on target in the first two ACL games. Not the way to get through the group. Even after the first two defeats though, we still had a chance, but two horrible performances against Melbourne showed exactly how far off the pace we were, particularly after Ulsan thumped them, eliminating us before we’d kicked a ball in our fifth game.

D: Was there any key moment in particular that led to Frontale's downfall?

N: Probably the late penalty awarded to Melbourne in our home game against them. We’d not done particularly well in the game, but it looked like we were going to get a win which might put us back on track but ended up drawing with a team that had offered very little for 90 minutes.

After this result, the remaining matches became a lot more important. The following game, away against Melbourne saw our manager pick a weakened starting line-up and we conceded late on in a match utterly devoid of quality from both teams.

More generally though, you could probably say that the failure was more down to our tactics and performances than any one moment. But that late penalty certainly did a fair bit of harm to our already fragile confidence.

D: Does this match have any significance for Frontale? How would you like to see your side approach it? 

N: I hope not. This is the deadest of dead rubbers for us and we’ve got to just get the game out of the way and forget about this year’s ACL campaign. I’d like us to really play the reserves, to be honest. I’d be furious if our manager picked our main players as we’re not really doing the business in the league at the moment, so we really don’t need to be wasting them on a game that we can get nothing out of.

But, he has made some bizarre selections recently so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him pick the usual suspects and then rest them in our next league game. As you can probably tell, I’m not his biggest fan at the moment.

D: How do you see this game going?

N: A lot depends on who we play and how we approach the game tactically, but as that’s up in the air, it’s all a bit of a mystery. It would seem foolish to predict anything other than an Ulsan victory given how things have gone so far. Maybe we might want to claw back some respectability with a win and try not to finish bottom of the group, but to be honest, I reckon a draw is the more likely than us winning.  Hopefully, it will be an entertaining match though.

Neil Asks, Daniel Answers

N: After a pretty bad start in the league, you seem to be coming into some form. Do you think the ACL games have distracted you from the league or have they been responsible for the recent upturn in fortunes?

D: The games against Shanghai SIPG were definitely a distraction. Well no, actually it seemed more like the league was the distraction from the ACL.  Our manager, Kim Do-hoon, clearly made beating Shanghai SIPG at home a priority, so much so that he put the reserves out for our opening home league game.  Unfortunately, we lost both games which clearly shook everyone's confidence.  Kim seemed to lose his head for a while and this transferred itself onto the pitch. No one seemed to know what they were meant to be doing.

Then came the thrashing of Melbourne.  We got a bit of luck early on with the opener as Junior blocked a kick from their keeper and it bounced into the net.  But it was just the kind of goal we needed to get some confidence back. Then as another goal hit the back of the net, and another, and then a few more, you could see the cloud over the stadium lifting. Everyone looked so much hungrier than before. Since then we have won three league games in a row and the future for this season is looking a lot brighter.

N: How far do you think you’ll be able to go in the competition? And how much of a priority is it for Ulsan? 

D: It does seem to be a high priority for the club.  Hyundai would definitely like the prestige and to a lesser extent the increased prize money on offer in the later rounds. And with both us and Jeonbuk through into the knockouts, they'll no doubt be urging both teams' managers to play first choice elevens from here on.

I think Ulsan have a decent chance of making it to the semi-finals. We seem to enjoy our home games, even though there is a distinct lack of atmosphere.  We have no problems scoring either, so I think we can be confident of beating most teams over two legs.

N: I’ve noticed some pretty low attendances in your home games in the ACL. Are the people of Ulsan and Korea not that bothered about this competition? And any suggestions on how to make things a bit more appealing?

D: Ulsan has had a comparatively small core following for a few years now. The fan groups are now made up of only about twenty members each.  Anyone else that shows up is usually a casual spectator who decides whether or not to attend on the day.  Unfortunately, it's very hard to attract this kind of people midweek, especially if the weather isn't great.

Of course, more success on the pitch would help increase attendances, but in the long-term, like many K League teams, Ulsan needs to move to a more suitable stadium that offers a more exciting football experience.

N: As it’s a dead rubber for you too, do you think you’ll just send the reserves? Do you anticipate an exciting game because there’s no pressure on it, or 90 minutes of sideways passing? 

D:  Yes, like you I would be shocked and frankly pretty angry if we sent over any first-team regulars, especially as we have a busy couple of weeks coming up in the league.  I really don't know what to expect of the players we do send over.  I watched our second string lose to Sangju earlier this season and to be honest, they did not seem a very inspiring bunch.  But then again if any of them wants to make the step up to the first team this is the perfect opportunity to show the manager what they can do.  At the very least, I hope Yohei Toyoda will get his first goal for the Horangi - he deserves it for all his hard work in the earlier ACL games.

FIFA 18 Preview

If this is anything to go by we are in for another high scoring ACL game for the Horangi!

We'd like to once again extend our thanks to Neil for working with our site on this preview. Visit the blog Frontale Rabbit for news and chat about the reigning J-League Champions.

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