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ACL Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Urawa Red Diamonds

AFC Champions League 2019 preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Urawa Red Diamonds

After leaving Japan with a hard-fought victory a fortnight ago, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to Urawa Red Diamonds in Jeonju for the fourth round of Group G matches in the AFC Champions League. Our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns spoke with football coach and Urawa Reds follower Ryan Steele to preview the clash

Matthew asks, Ryan Answers

Matthew Binns: The previous encounter saw both sides battle it out in a closely fought affair, with Jeonbuk edging it 1-0 after Adriano’s goal. Were there any aspects of Urawa Reds’ performance that disappointed you or you felt did not work during that match? Were there also any positive points they could take away from it? 

Ryan Steele: Not being able to keep any points at home is a poor outcome, regardless of the score. While the Reds might take positives out of being able to test Jeonbuk's defensive capabilities just as well as the other way around, they struggled with loose and second balls, being able to hold possession to go into transition - especially in defensive areas. Urawa would regularly re-gift possession to Jeonbuk from loose ball situations, which maintained pressure on their back line and made it difficult to push Jeonbuk back.

If they're capable of improving in this area - which recent domestic league matches would suggest is yet to be the case - then momentum could swing more in their favour for the match in Korea.

MB: Do you envisage there being any significant changes ahead of the rematch between these two sides? What potential options are open to Urawa Reds manager Oswaldo de Oliveira?

RS: I can see personnel changes being more likely than anything for this match, as Oliveira has been somewhat reluctant to make any drastic (or lasting) changes to the style of play beyond minor tweaks in position.

Daiki Hashioka came off early in Friday's domestic league match against Vissel Kobe, leaving few options beyond Ryota Moriwaki resuming the same role we saw down the right flank in the match in Saitama, though there's questions over Oliveira's faith in defender Takuya Iwanami to return to the starting XI, having been relegated to the bench for recent matches. It's possible a youngster could take up that position on the right, while Moriwaki partners with Mauricio and Tomoaki Makino at the back.

Ryosuke Yamanaka is likely to play on the left in place of Tomoya Ugajin, but it's looking likely that the rest of the squad from the previous ACL match will remain unchanged.

MB: Having now faced this Jeonbuk side and seen how they play, is there any Urawa player you think that could make a real difference in this second match-up if utilised correctly?

RS: While there are improvements required across the whole backline, both in the areas mentioned earlier and in handling one-on-one situations with the Jeonbuk attackers, it's a player just in front of them that - if he can return to earlier form - can be a major asset for the upcoming encounter.

Defensive midfielder Takuya Aoki is a player that can be important in breaking up Jeonbuk attacks and blocking passing channels that will make the lives of the Urawa back line so much easier. On top of that, the importance of his positioning in transition to help bring the ball into the attacking half for fast counter attacks is needed just as much as the interceptions.

That being said, there's definitely major room for improvement across the board with each player within the squad and it's surely going to be demanded that more is seen from everyone involved.

MB: How do you see this fixture playing out?

RS: Given the importance of this match following the loss, and some more positive results (two narrow 1-0 wins) in the domestic league, I'm somewhat confident in putting my name against a draw despite the struggles Urawa have traditionally had when traveling to Korea.

These next two matches, both away to Jeonbuk and away to Buriram, have become vital for Urawa to reach the knockout stages. Reds fans consider ACL competition an important part of their history and a major source of pride, which places significant pressure on the squad to take points away from this encounter.

Ryan asks, Matthew Answers

Ryan Steele: The win in the last match day was a great result for Jeonbuk, but what do you feel needed improvement?

Matthew Binns: It was a great result considering how evenly matched the teams appeared to be. Jeonbuk did get significantly more shots away that their opponents however (19-12) yet were only on target four times in comparison to Urawa's five. This has not been too unusual for Jeonbuk this season either, with them leading the K League in number of shots yet just over a third have been on target. This comes with the side having the most touches and passes within their opponent's box indicating that these are perhaps not just speculative long range shots with low accuracy, but an issue with their strikers' close-range conversion. Given that Adriano, the goalscorer against Urawa Reds, has been injured for the rest of the season, there is the possibility that they may continue to find scoring difficult on Wednesday.

RS: Jeonbuk have continued their winning trend through the league (let's not touch on the cup), do you think that momentum is what will carry them through? What do you think have been their strongest attributes in this run?

MB: Their recent run in the league has come against some of the sides enduring poor form, having faced five of the bottom seven teams since the international break. The fixture list has provided a welcome reprieve for manager Jose Morais who saw his side struggling to get the season into gear in the opening rounds and, as a result, they now sit top of the K League table. The Urawa result offered evidence to suggest that the team were beginning to click but the result to FC Anyang in the cup has scuppered that perception somewhat, leaving some quarters still unconvinced.

In fairness, the Anyang result saw significant rotation with an untested backline combination to further complicate matters. They should have still earned a result, but that match is in isolation to the momentum of the main team.

Jeonbuk's defence is perhaps their strongest attribute, particularly in this recent run. The back four are not yet at full strength with right-back Lee Yong yet to return from a pre-season injury he picked up, yet still they remain solid. This is thanks to the centre back pairing of Hong Jeong-ho and recently signed Kim Min-hyeok who look to have formed a good understanding with one another, even in these early rounds. Against Urawa two weeks ago, it is telling that when it came to conceding possession, Jeonbuk lost the ball just seventeen times in their defensive third in comparison to Urawa's 36. I expect them to be just as important in getting a result on Wednesday evening.

RS: After seeing the match in Saitama, who can you see being the biggest threat for both teams?

MB: Winger Ricardo Lopes remains Jeonbuk's strongest asset, with another well taken goal and an assist at the weekend. His influence visibly lifts the side, as evident when he was introduced against FC Anyang in the cup with the team seemingly shifting up a gear until conceding late on. I am also interested to see if Lim Sun-young features in attacking midfield. He is not the go-to name when people consider Jeonbuk threats but he put in an eye-catching display at the weekend and has also fared well in other matches this season. Given that preferred AM Lee Seung-gi was rested though, I imagine Lim will be reduced to the role of substitute in place of him.

As for Urawa Reds, I am particularly interested to see more from Ewerton. I understand he has not set the J.League alight upon his arrival but seemed to be quite involved against Jeonbuk, with good passing accuracy (88%) in addition to winning just under half of his duels. He also scored his first goal the weekend after that match and I feel there's every chance his momentum might lead him to be a key figure on Wednesday evening.

RS: Fancy a certain result for the match?

MB: Given the travel involved for away games, it is vital to win your home matches in this competition and Jeonju World Cup Stadium has been somewhat of a fortress in helping the club achieve that, with Jeonbuk losing just twice at home in this competition in the last twenty games (and both of those defeats were to fellow K League sides). Furthermore, Kashiwa Reysol were the last J.League side to win at the ground way back in May 2013. While some Korean sides are often criticised for their low attendances in this competition, there is no doubt that Jeonju is not an easy place for sides to visit.

That said, it is still very early days under the new manager's tenure but another hard-earned victory in this competition might go some way to endearing him further to the fans. This is also a competition that tends to see the best of the players so I expect Jeonbuk to eek out another win, but it will be close.

We'd like to thank Ryan Steele once more for contributing to this piece. If you wish to follow Ryan, you can find him on Twitter here.

2019 AFC Champions League Guide: here

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