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ACL Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings [1st Leg]

AFC Champions League 2018 Quarter Final Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings

One of the K League's fiercest rivalries takes to Asia's biggest stage this Wednesday evening as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to Suwon Samsung Bluewings in what is sure to be an exciting first leg of the AFC Champions League quarter finals. Our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns spoke with Suwon writer Scott Whitelock about what to expect.

Matthew asks, Scott answers


Matthew Binns: Suwon Bluewings fans made their discontent at their manager’s performances known this weekend, enacting a “no supporting” protest in which flags and songs were halted and banners shown. Will their victory against second-placed Gyeongnam at the weekend go some way to temporarily placating their concerns?

Scott Whitelock: Although it wasn’t vintage football, that win over high flying Gyeongnam should have satisfied a few of the disgruntled supporters. But, unfortunately for Seo Jung-won, the win was more a result of Gyeongnam missing their talisman and Kwak Kwang-seon scoring a glorious long range effort, rather than brilliant football winning it for the home team.

The protest itself was nonsensical and very poorly timed. Suwon have been in a 3-4-3, Seo Jung-won influenced black hole for the best part of two years and hardly an utterance of discontent has been made in that time. But suddenly, right before the biggest game Suwon have faced for years, some fans took it upon themselves to publicly ridicule the team in humiliating circumstances. Suwon needed all the help they could get going into this huge tie but, instead, their “supporters” stabbed them in the back.

MB: One of the fans’ main complaints was in regards to the manager’s tactics. While it is difficult to see him budging from his 3-4-3 shape, can you envisage Seo Jung-won making any changes to Suwon’s approach in order to counter specific threats from Jeonbuk?

SW: As you said, the discontent around Suwon at the moment has been caused by one man: the manager. Seo’s stubborness to never shift from his preferred tactics, regardless of the situation, has put his own players in the firing line. He continues to show a basic lack of tactical knowledge and the favoritism that he shows to some players, whilst banishing and neglecting others, should have no place in modern football.

There is zero chance that Suwon will do anything but field a 3-4-3 again on Wednesday and there probably won’t be any changes to Seo’s status quo. The two central midfielders will be given licence to support attacks, as they always are. The two wing-backs will sit deep and will rarely pose any attacking threat or provide any meaningful width. All the work will fall upon the shoulders of veterans, Yeom Ki-hun and Dejan, to do something special to score a goal.

The problem for Suwon is that there is no clear tactical plan coming from the manager and the stale performances will persist until a major change is made. It’s becoming more and more likely that Seo Jung-won will lose his job over the coming months. Another big loss, against a major rival, in this game might bring his end just one step closer.

MB: Suwon are yet to score against Jeonbuk this season, having been shut out twice both home and away. Can third time prove the charm and, if so, what are Suwon’s best ways of doing so?

SW: The good news for Jeonbuk is that Suwon are a team completely out of form. They came into that Gyeongnam game after suffering three consecutive defeats and have only managed to score six times in their last four games, which may seem not too bad on paper, but becomes worse once you realise that four of those goals were scored in a crazy 6-4 defeat to relegation threatened Jeonnam.

But, this season aside, Suwon tend to raise their game for this fixture and they have a number of match winners in their team. Dejan Damjanovic has six goals to his name in this season’s ACL, and is not far away from beating his record of eight ACL goals in one campaign. The Montenegrins goals have tended to decide the games that they have come in, with goals against Sydney, Shanghai and Kashima all securing vital wins. He may not be the perennial pest that he once was, and he certainly needs more help from his teammates, but if the striker does get on the score sheet in this game Jeonbuk may not find this match to be as easy as it seems.

Club legend, Yeom Ki-hun, has struggled for goals and assists over the last month, but he is a player who really rises to the big occasion and despite his age he still has undoubted talent. Suwon have found positive results hard to come by in this fixture but when they have ground out wins or draws against Jeonbuk, Yeom has always had a hand in the goals. He has scored goals in two of Suwon’s last three wins against Jeonbuk, and came up with two assists the last time Suwon got a victory against the K League champions. Suwon desperately need their leader to turn up in this game if they are to get anything from it.

MB: In the recent K League United Podcast, you talked about Suwon often playing to win this fixture as being a key factor as to why this rivalry bears both more red cards and a more entertaining spectacle than the official “Super Match” against FC Seoul. With this match being a two-legged affair however, can we expect the same level of intensity here?

SW: For Suwon, anything less than a score draw or a win in the first leg will be a disaster. With their home form, being as bad as it is, they can’t afford to go into the 2nd leg needing to overturn a deficit. So with that in mind, Suwon only have one option; to attack this game like it is a one off final. They can’t afford to enter this game cautiously and if they do I imagine it would be an easy game for Jeonbuk to navigate, a point echoed by Dejan in our recent podcast.

Jeonbuk aren’t perfect. There are chinks in that impressively strong armour, no matter how small they are. If Suwon go out and give free reign to their attacking talents, whilst fighting and scrapping for every single ball, they will give Jeonbuk a real game and might just pull off a huge shock.

MB: Suwon have usually not fared well results wise in this fixture over the past few seasons, yet there’s been no doubt the games have been hard fought, passionate affairs. How do you see this first leg playing out?

SW: Everything is on the line in this game, and despite everything I have said, I really think Suwon can go to Jeonju and at least give a good account of themselves. It will be a tough task and Suwon will need a generous amount of luck. But they’ve shown time and time again in this ACL campaign that they have the mental fortitude to persevere in difficult situations. Nobody expected them to bounce back after difficult losses to Sydney and Ulsan, but bounce back they did, and in impressive fashion. This will be the toughest game that Suwon have played since the 2016 FA Cup Final but you would be a fool to write Suwon’s chances off before a ball is a kicked.

Scott’s Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-1 Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Scott asks, Matthew answers


Scott Whitelock: Jeonbuk appeared to be cruising to victory on Saturday, when they took an early 2-0 lead against Sangju Sangmu. But a red card and two late goals saw them fail to win, after taking the lead, for the first time in five league games. Do you think that late collapse will play on the manager’s mind going into this game?

Matthew Binns: Saturday certainly served up an eventful spectacle in Sangju. Perhaps the most telling aspect was manager Choi Kang-hee losing his cool with the referee and being sent to the stands at half-time. The fluctuating run of form and constant defensive reshuffling due to injuries and red cards looked to take it's toll on the coach and perhaps, at a stretch, it can be seen as a measure of some slight fraying at the seems. However, he is man with a strong track record at the helm of Jeonbuk in these high pressure situations and will perhaps see the change in competition as an opportunity to right the weekend's mistakes. I imagine the defeat will likely be used to garner a reaction from the players, though perhaps there will be some reluctance to go all out whilst this leaky defence persists.

SW: Centre-back, Hong Jeong-ho, was stretchered off with a serious looking injury in that Sangju game and it appears that he will be sidelined for this game. With Kim Min-jae already missing, due to his commitments at the Asian Games, is there any worry about Jeonbuk’s backline?

MB: It is certainly not ideal, as each victory Jeonbuk have claimed this season has always involved at least one of them in the starting eleven. In Lee Jae-sung and Choi Bo-kyung, the club have two assured centre backs who had little issue last season, but Lee's one-minute red card on Saturday will not have pleased his manager. There is also the option of pulling Choi Chul-soon into a central defensive position if need be, who is no stranger to the pressures of this competition. The manager could even go as far as to make it a back three as he is certainly not averse to matching Suwon's formation.

The main issue with the Hong's injury however is the current goalkeeper who's lack of confidence appears to be rubbing off on the players positioned ahead of him. Reserve goalkeeper Hwang Byeong-keun is set to play his eighth game in a row yet is still finding it difficult to regain the assuredness he had shown in the title-run in last year, with each mistake visibly taking a toll on the player.

SW: Kim Shin-wook has been the main man for Jeonbuk in this year’s ACL campaign but the towering striker hasn’t exactly been in vintage form in the K League this year. A recent flurry of goals, from the big man, might suggest that he is improving but do you think there is a danger of Jeonbuk relying too much on Kim in continental competition?

MB: I think Kim Shin-wook has repaid the manager's faith in him on the continental stage this season, but I think it could prove a mistake to use him here. This is a match against K League opposition, who are very much aware of his threat. Going by the previous two encounters between these sides this season, opting for pace in the form of Adriano could prove the better option. Lee Dong-gook might also prove a more effective alternative for his creativity, even if he lacks the speed. However, Kim Shin-wook has proven his worth more in terms of assists this season, especially in supplying the likes of Lopes who will be the biggest threat to the Bluewings. Kim may also prove more of an asset to have on the field for defensive set pieces, especially given Jeonbuk's current defensive frailties. I imagine the manager will start with him, before introducing either Lee or Adriano later on to try and take advantage of a tiring Suwon defence.

SW: As you said, Suwon are yet to register a goal against Jeonbuk this season but Jeonbuk’s early season defensive solidity has disappeared as of late. If Suwon are to finally get on the scoreboard what do you assess to be Jeonbuk’s weak points that Suwon should attack?

As alluded to previously, Jeonbuk's weakest position at present is the man between the sticks. With first choice goalkeeper Song Beom-keun at the Asian Games representing Korea, and with second choice Hong Jeong-nam recovering from surgery, Hwang Byeong-keun has been recalled to the team, yet has been unable to overcome the nerves that have came with slipping into Song's gloves. Song is currently leading the clean sheet tables by a sizeable gap, whereas Hwang's seven league appearances to date have accounted for over half of the goals conceded by Jeonbuk all season. Each time he concedes, whether culpable or not, Hwang appears visibly frustrated to an unnerving degree. With each goal, comes more mistakes, with the goalkeeper having recently been guilty of flapping at aerial balls and spilling catchable crosses and shots. He is also indecisive as to whether or not to come off his line at times. These are all areas Suwon's attackers should look to exploit.

Hwang Byeong-keun is not a bad goalkeeper. His role during the title run-in last season showed some promising displays, yet he is unable to escape this negative spiral he now finds himself in. Ideally, he would have been given a reprieve from first team duties, but with Hong Jeong-nam still lacking in fitness, he has been forced to try and overcome his demons in the public gaze. The manager will likely keep his faith in him for Wednesday night. Hwang just has to rise to meet the occasion, and not let himself be overwhelmed.

SW: Finally, with everything on the line in this first leg, how do you expect Jeonbuk to approach this game? Will they look to keep things tight or will they look to kill Suwon off in the first leg?

MB: Ideally, I feel Choi Kang-hee will look to use the home advantage to try and secure a solid victory, but perhaps with an emphasis focused on not conceding. The away leg will see the return of Kim Min-jae and Song Beom-keun from the Asian Games, so perhaps Choi will feel confident on guarding a narrow lead in the second leg if it comes to it. An away goal for Suwon though could really make that visit to The Big Bird a nerve-wracking one. Unfortunately for Jeonbuk fans, given the team's issues at the back, I cannot see the home side keeping a clean sheet, leaving it all to play for in three weeks time.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Suwon Samsung Bluewings

*EDITOR'S NOTE: This article, and all predictions made, were published before the surprise announcement of Suwon Bluewings manager Seo Jung-won's resignation 24 hours prior to kick-off. To find out more about this story, click here.


The K League United Podcast


The latest edition of the K League United Podcast sees an extension of this Writers’ Chat as Matthew Binns sits down with Scott Whitelock to discuss the history of this fixture, how they see this match playing out, and why does this matchup make players see red more than in any other.

AFC Champions League legend and Suwon Bluewings striker Dejan Damjanović also joins editor Paul Neat on the phone as they talk about his playing career in this competition.

You can listen to the podcast below.



You can also listen and subscribe via iTunes, TuneIn Radio and SoundCloud.

AFC Champions League Quiz: Dejan Damjanović


In addition to our podcast, Paul Neat also quizzed Dejan on his AFC Champions League career to see just how much of the nine seasons in the competition he remembers. You can catch how he got on over on our YouTube channel.

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