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ACL Writer's Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Sydney FC


Suwon Bluewings and Sydney FC face off  in Group H of the 2018 Asian Champions League on Tuesday night and as both teams are reaching the business end of the group stages there is a real 'do or die' feeling about this game. A Suwon win will comfortably see them through to the knockout stages with a game to spare but for Sydney, anything less than 3 points will see them eliminated from the competition. Here, our Suwon columnist, Scott Whitelock, is joined by Sydney FC blogger and expert, Grant Muir

Grant Asks, Scott Answers

Grant: Now that the K League season has started what have you learned?

Scott: There's not a lot that we have learned that we didn't already know about about Suwon from last season. They are still extremely vulnerable at home and are yet to pick up a home victory since January. The manager is also still prone to making strange decisions such as the one to drop new signing Christovam from the squad after only 4 games, despite the Brazilian having no injury.

Suwon are still tepid in attack and it's no surprise that their four victories have come away from home where the onus is less on themselves to attack the game. At home though they are yet to put any team under real pressure and at least part of the reason for that has been the manager's shortsightedness and his refusal to play Waguininho behind Dejan in a traditional number 10 position. It's no surprise that Suwon's best football this season has been played when the Brazilian was fielded in an advanced, central position and Seo Jung-won's stubbornness is preventing Suwon from really taking control of games at home.

GM: Are there any new standout players in Suwon's playing squad?

SW: Just about every player signed in the winter transfer window has been a disappointment so far. Dejan is yet to score the goals that his terrific career has promised, Lee Sang-hyub is very inconsistent and Christovam looks like a liability in defence. But Suwon have found a new crowd favourite in left wing-back Lee Ki-je. He has been one of the few standout performers so far and he has already scored 3 goals this term. He is solid in defence but also offers something going forward and he has more than filled the void left by the out-going Kim Min-woo.

Kim Jong-woo has also had a good start to the season and has been involved in much of the good play that Suwon have fashioned during the last month. He is the only forward thinking midfielder in the squad and there is a huge onus on him having a good season. He is not the most fashionable player in Suwon but I personally think that his talent is vastly underrated and Suwon fans should be happy that he is seeing more game time this season.

GM: What's been the biggest surprise for you so far in Group H?

SW: The fact that Suwon could seal their passage to the next round with victory in this game is, and should be, a huge shock. Group H looked, on paper, to be the toughest group in the competition but in reality both Shanghai Shenhua and Sydney FC have been hugely disappointing.

Although Shanghai have only lost one game, a home loss to Suwon, they have never looked like a team that is comfortable at this level and have spent much of their time in the competition either defending for their lives or time wasting. And Sydney's vulnerability at home (losing to both Suwon and Kashima) has left them in a precarious position.

This Suwon team is yet to click and are struggling in their domestic league but the failings of both Sydney and Shanghai appears to have handed the Korean team an easy pass into the knockout stages of the tournament.

GM: Do you feel that Suwon as a club has put the correct level of focus on the ACL?

SW: I think Suwon targetted a deep run in the ACL in pre-season and they have certainly focused their efforts on the competition. Full strength teams have been fielded in every game and the manager played an extremely weakened team in their league fixture against Daegu to accommodate for Suwon's trip to Shanghai only 3 days later.

Suwon have a good tradition in the ACL but as of recent years they have struggled to stamp their authority on the competition. The feeling within Suwon is that if they can solve their issues domestically they can have a real shot at the tournament in 2018. With Dejan, a player who is renowned for his goals in the competition (he's now scored 30), in tow Suwon have a better opportunity than they have had over the last few years. But once you get passed the group stages and you are faced with the real powerhouses of Asian football the competition becomes extremely difficult to navigate. The quarter-finals would be a realistic aim for Suwon and if they can make it to that stage of the competition it would be deemed as a success.

GM: Score Prediction?

SW: Suwon have been awful at home so far this season and I don't expect that to change any soon. However, Sydney have their own deficiencies and I expect that Suwon will just about nick this one.

Suwon Bluewings 1- Sydney 0


Scott Asks, Grant Answers

Scott:  It seems like a long time has passed since Suwon's win at Sydney in February but what did you make of that game and what can Sydney do to improve on their performance in that game?

Grant: It does seem like an age ago, doesn't it. The game itself was disappointing for us, we were very flat in comparison to our A-League performances. We clearly had difficultly stepping up to the higher level of the ACL and in the end were found wanting. That said we weren't completely outmatched, both goals came from uncharacteristic defensive errors. For the upcoming match I think the back line is more familiar with each other and with the premiership won you may well see a more relaxed and aggressive Sydney FC.

SW: When the two teams met earlier this year Sydney were dominant in the league and were marching their way towards consecutive titles. Is that situation still the same or have Sydney had a blip since then?

GM: We actually won the league last Thursday (29-3), first ever back-to-back premiers in the A-League! We definitely hit a rough patch, losing 5 consecutive games in the league and ACL, including a loss to Newcastle, the team in 2nd place, we had our lead cut from 11 to 5 points during that period. We've since recovered our form somewhat with 2 consecutive wins, so we're back on track

SW: Bobo is perhaps the key component of the Sydney FC team but he was largely ineffective in the last game against Suwon. Is he likely to start this game and what attributes does he bring to Sydney?

GM: I think he's very likely to start, he's been hot and cold recently, but he just scored 2 goals on Thursday against Perth making him the highest scorer ever in a league season with 24 goals in 25 games and we still have two to play. Bobo encapsulates the Sydney FC philosophy of defending from the front, he plays a key role in putting pressure on defenders to force mistakes, as a striker he's a natural goal-scorer and, importantly, a gifted goal poacher.

SW: Is there any hope left that Sydney FC can qualify from this group and how do you expect this game to finish?

GM: I wish I could say yes, but in truth, it's a chance on paper only. The good news is that we've qualified for next season's tournament and hopefully we'll have learned from this campaign about what's needed to progress. It was always going to be difficult to qualify from this group, the quality of opposition is very high, though I don't think we were genuinely outmatched in any of our games, and with a bit more luck and a more fearless attitude I think we could have qualified. I'm already looking forward to next year's campaign.



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