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ACL Writers' Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors [2nd Leg]

AFC Champions League Preview: Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors [2nd Leg]

An incredible performance in the 1st leg has left Suwon Bluewings with one foot in the 2018 Asian Champions League semi-finals. But Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will be looking to pull off an unlikely upset, when they travel to Suwon, looking to overturn a three goal aggregate lead in the 2nd leg of this all K League quarter final. Here, our Suwon columnist, Scott Whitelock, and our Jeonbuk columnist, Matthew Binns, discuss that surprising first leg, Jeonbuk's attacking options and what Suwon need to do to reach their first ACL semi-final in seven years. 

Scott Asks, Matthew Answers

Scott: I think most followers of Korean football were shocked by the nature of Suwon's win in the first leg of this Quarter Final, but how did you assess the game? Was it a case of Suwon playing well or Jeonbuk just having a terrible night?

Matthew: Now that the dust has somewhat settled, I think one of the main contributing factors for the defeat was the sudden change in Suwon leadership and, subsequently, the tactics. This is not to say they reinvented the wheel in the way that they lined up, but all of Jeonbuk’s scouting would have become partially redundant and would have led to manager Choi Kang-hee being caught wrong-footed and forced to alter his plans.

The element of surprise may have been one of the responsible factors, but it still took a team to enact those tactics and, with full credit due to them, Suwon did just that. Chances may have been seldom, but when they arose, they were duly taken. All three of the goals were well worked and exposed a Jeonbuk side eager to press against a stubborn Bluewings defence. The home side’s inability to effectively change at half time only exacerbated matters further.

SW: Kim Shin-wook went into the first leg as the leading assist maker in the 2018 Asian Champions League but he did very little to influence that game. Do you think there is a case for the target man to be dropped in this game?

MB: It probably wouldn’t be the wisest move to start him. Kim Shin-wook does have something to offer in terms of the chaos he causes, and could possibly provide that later in the match if needed, but Choi Kang-hee should probably look towards his more technically capable attackers to start with. Furthermore, Kim’s ineffective performances in both that leg and against Jeju United at the weekend do not warrant a starting berth. He offered little against The Islanders on Saturday, spurning his chance to get on the scoresheet with a poorly taken penalty kick that was easily saved.

Ideally, I hope Adriano will be selected to start this match. It only took five minutes to prove his point when Jeonbuk faced second-placed Gyeongnam a few days after the Suwon defeat. A fantastic header from a Son Jun-ho corner offered ample evidence to his manager as to why he should be selected and, given how well he played when he came on at the Big Bird earlier this season, means he should be considered. The Brazilian’s directness and ability to be in the right place when required would prove useful against what could very well be a defensively minded Suwon side on Wednesday evening.

SW: Choi Kang-hee originally lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, in the first leg, but changed his formation to mirror Suwon in the second half. Do you think that was a mistake by the manager?

MB: Given they were goalless at half-time and finished three goals down come the final whistle, it certainly should come under scrutiny. A change looked as if it had to be made but this seemed to be a rare occasion where Choi Kang-hee got it wrong. The home side looked both out thought and outfought by Suwon but the manager’s decision only served to compound matters.

Switching to a 4-4-2 and introducing Lee Dong-gook into play has paid off before this season but, at the time of said change, it was not a must-win situation. Suwon had been the better side in the first half, but they had also only carved out one real opportunity. There was enough threat though that it should have been seen that removing a midfielder for a second striker would give Suwon more freedom in the middle of the park. While it would have been ideal to claim victory in Jeonju, it would have not been disastrous to play it safe for a bit longer against a clearly invigorated away side.

SW: Jeonbuk are up against it, but we have seen upsets like this happen before. What is your prediction?

MB: Two ruthless performances against Gyeongam and Jeju United suggest that Jeonbuk have not taken the defeat well, with the fragmented remains of a title race further trampled on as they moved up to sixteen points clear at the weekend. One of the main characteristics of this side over the last two seasons is their reaction to embarrassment. They often play to their best when they are brassed off. Furthermore, the team received heavy investment during the winter with the main purpose being to reclaim their crown, and to possibly lose that opportunity to arch rivals would be mortifying.

To think Suwon will roll over though would certainly be naive. If any team could pull this back, it would be Jeonbuk, but the fight shown by the Bluewings in that first leg was something to take note of. They have sorely missed this drive this season, making you wonder where they could have been with this talented squad if they had changed managers earlier. I see the away side, with no choice but to attack, taking the second leg by storm but just falling short at the final hurdle. It should certainly be an entertaining affair for the neutral.

SW: Score Prediction?

MB: Suwon Bluewings 2-4 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Matthew Asks, Scott Answers

Matthew: A man supposedly without an alternative plan, manager Seo Jung-won shocked many when he played the ultimate tactical gamble in the first leg, by resigning from his post twenty-four hours prior to kick-off. It paid off for Suwon though, as the Bluewings recorded an incredible 3-0 win. How much of an effect did caretaker Lee Byeung-keun’s tactics have on proceedings or was this simply a side unshackled?

Scott: I think the way that the playing contingent responded to the surprise announcement, that Seo had quit his post, played a huge part in the victory. Suwon played with freedom and adventure, and I think their positive attitude caught Jeonbuk by surprise. Almost every player, to a man, stood up and gave their best performance of the season and their 3-0 win didn't flatter them at all.

But, the switch in formation is ultimately what allowed Suwon to perform in the way that they did. The 3-4-3 formation that Seo had stuck to religiously had become dull and was nullifying all of Suwon's key attacking threats. But with Lee Byeung-keun opting for a more attacking 4-4-2, Suwon looked dangerous almost from the first kick-off. Dejan was in imperious form, and he used the power of Park Ki-dong to create his own space. The midfield two of Lee Jong-sung and Elivs Saric dominated the middle of the park, even when they were outnumbered by Jeonbuk's three central midfielders in the first half. Both full-backs looked to be more assured and Yeom Ki-hun was afforded more space to carry the ball.

Everything clicked into place for Suwon and it wasn't just a coincidence. It's difficult to imagine, but a simple change in formation could have saved Seo Jung-won's job, if only he had realised it a month or two earlier.

MB: Whilst Dejan rightly stole the headlines with his brace, credit must be given to Elvis Sarić for that assist to his compatriot. The midfielder has also seen his efforts rewarded with a national call up over the break and a subsequent goal against Northern Ireland. Just how big of an influence has he had since joining in the summer and will he be the man that makes the difference not just in this game, but in ensuring a strong end to the season for the Bluewings?

SW: The influence that the Bosnia and Herzegovina international has on the team shouldn't be underestimated. A combative, but graceful, midfielder by nature, his energy and drive in central areas has improved the team five fold. He has unfortunately arrived at a difficult time for the club, when results haven't been fantastic. But he has the potential to be K League's break out star in 2019, once all the complications at the club have been ironed out over the winter.

The Incheon game at the weekend was his first back with the team since that Jeonbuk game, and his absence has been felt. Suwon lacked enough running power in midfield when they succumbed to Daegu (a game for which Saric was suspended). And they also missed his creativity when they played out a boring 0-0 with Jeju during the international break.

Saric might not be the first name on the team sheet just yet, but it's difficult to see Suwon being able to play in a 4-4-2 formation unless he is fit and firing, and much of their season will depend on his form and availability.

MB: Given that Jeonbuk will have to bring the game to Suwon when these two sides meet at the Big Bird, can you see Suwon lining up in this match with the objective being not to lose? 

SW: It would be extremely naive of Suwon to think that they can just shut up shop and see this game out, and recent history would suggest that if they try to do that then Jeonbuk could just pull off an upset. But having said that, given their poor home form, I do expect them to take a common sense approach to the game. Suwon will most likely try to keep compact, invite Jeonbuk pressure and then hit them on the break, a point that Yeom Ki-hun alluded to this week. 

Jeonbuk have been reeling from that 3-0 victory in the first leg and have warmed up for this game by destroying Gyeongnam and Jeju, scoring seven goals and conceding zero in their last two games. Jeonbuk have the fire power to be able to pull off the incredible fete of overturning a 3-0 deficit and Suwon need to guard against that first and foremost. If they can frustrate Jeonbuk for as long as possible, then the odds of them reaching the semi-final stage will improve with every minute that passes.

MB: With that first leg victory, surely Suwon have a foot firmly in the semi-finals. How do you see this match playing out?

SW: Jeonbuk are a quality team and it's going to take some effort by Suwon to keep their attacking talents at bay. I imagine that the away team will try to mount an onslaught on the Suwon goal and will probably score a few. But Suwon are in such an incredible position that they can afford to concede a couple of goals and still progress. Jeonbuk will run them close, but surely Suwon can't mess this one up.

MB: Score Prediction?

SW: Suwon Bluewings 1-3 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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