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ACL Preview: Kashima Antlers vs Gyeongnam FC

Following a heartbreaking late loss in their previous meeting, Gyeongnam FC head to Japan to square off against Kashima Antlers once more with their ACL fate hanging in the balance. To preview the must win match for the Reds, Ryan Walters spoke with Football Radar's J.League Analyst Sam Robson once again. 

Ryan Asks, Sam Answers

Ryan Walters: FC Tokyo handed Kashima their first loss in all competitions five days after the Antlers comeback win in Changwon. Was that loss about travel fatigue or were there some lessons Gyeongnam can learn from Tokyo?

Sam Robson: I think a variety of factors were at play in that loss. Firstly FC Tokyo look a good side this season; top of the table and looking very difficult to beat. Kashima, of course, had their travel back from Korea, and that fatigue added to the injury list which saw Kwon Suntae added as well. The fatigue definitely contributed to Kashima’s slow start which saw them 3-0 down inside half an hour. As for lessons that Gyeongnam can learn, I’d look to Tokyo’s second half performance. Once they had the lead, Tokyo were rarely troubled and Kashima only scored due to a goalkeeping error from a long range shot. Tokyo kept their shape well, were very disciplined and did not overcommit players forward. If you leave yourselves open against Kashima, as Gyeongnam found out two weeks ago, they have plenty of players who can hurt you, so if Gyeongnam do get a lead in this game they should look to be a bit smarter in the way they try to see it out

RW: The defense got a much needed clean sheet against Vegalta Sendai last time out in a narrow 1-0 victory. How much of that was Kashima’s doing and how much was it Vegalta just not being that good so far this season?

SR: The clean sheet at the weekend will definitely be a confidence booster for this young and make-shift Kashima defence, who were definitely helped by the return of Kwon Suntae in goal. Additionally, they were grateful to be playing against Vegalta Sendai, one of the teams really struggling this season with just six goals in eight games, three of which came against the league’s bottom club, Sagan Tosu. There are still mistakes in this backline which Gyeongnam will be confident of exploiting. Especially at right back as neither right winger Hiroto Taiki, or young Itsuki Oda have really got to grips with the position in the absence of regular full backs Atsuto Uchida and Shuto Yamamoto.

RW: Kashima currently top the group with seven points. A win would surely see them through, but they’re on slightly tired legs due to a congested schedule. Do you see manager Go Oiwa going for the win to take it easy in the remaining group games or potentially resting players midweek?

SR: Go Oiwa will have to rotate his team to some degree due to the congestion, though of course the injury pile-up limits those options. Kashima’s two injury time goal scorers two weeks ago (Serginho and Kanamori) were left on the bench at the weekend, so I’d expect them to come back in. Kento Misao and Yasushi Endo were also saved with this game in mind, so I’d expect a strong Kashima line-up as they look to seal qualification. There will be frantic digging around for a centre back though with Tomoya Inukai facing a suspension. Kashima will be desperate to patch Jung Seunghyun up and send him out for this game. If Jung can't go, then 18 year old rookie Ikuma Sekikawa may well have to make his professional debut

RW: Prediction?

SR: I think this game will be just as open as the first one between them, but can’t see past Kashima at home. I think they will win 3-1 and seal their progression to the knockout rounds.

Sam Asks, Ryan Answers

Sam Robson: Gyeongnam’s 3-3 draw at the weekend gives no suggestion that they might be looking to operate more defensively against Kashima in this away game. Do you expect them to try to attack Kashima on Wednesday, or might they be a bit more cautious away from home?

Ryan Walters: Given their third place standing in Group E and the fact attack-minded football is pretty much all they know, I don't see much of a choice for Gyeongnam heading into this one. Obviously they will need to be more disciplined at the back than they were against Kashima at home, but I don't think the overall strategy needs to change much. If they could have kept their focus for the final ten minutes, the Reds would have had a shock victory at home and would be top of the group. To me, it's not so much a need to switch things up tactically and play more conservatively, but more about executing the game plan for a full 90 minutes.

SR: Following the defeat two weeks ago, Gyeongnam have drawn their two league games and are down in 8th place in the K League. With only two points from their opening three ACL games, is there any suggestion that focus may switch to the league, or will Gyeongnam go all out here to keep their ACL hopes alive?

RW: That all comes down to this match in Japan. A win against Kashima would see Gyeongnam on five points and right in the thick of Group E. The trip to China to face Shandong is a bit daunting, but a draw would do fine as Gyeongnam will be heavy favorites in the home match against Johor and could finish on nine points if all goes well. However, a loss in Japan this week would see them all but mathematically eliminated from Champions League and I wouldn't expect much in the Shandong or JDT matches. Long story short: I think Gyeongnam are willing to sacrifice league form just a bit longer in an attempt to progress in ACL.

SR: Lee Bumsoo, who has been in goal for the majority of the season and every ACL game so far was dropped at the weekend, do you see him returning for this game? If not, do you see Son Junghyun as a positive replacement?

RW: In spite of all the goals conceded, Lee has been decent between the sticks for Gyeongnam and I viewed Son Junghyun's start as more of an opportunity for Lee to rest than anything else. That said, Gyeongnam have the worst defensive record in K1 with 17 conceded in just eight matches, and as Kashima fans know well, it's not much of a different story in ACL. Lee Bumsoo has been a solid shot stopper for the Reds for a few years now, but he's yet to hold a clean sheet this season and manager Kim Jongboo might see replacing him as the change the club needs to get going. Unfortunately, Son also conceded en masse this weekend, so I'd expect to see Lee back in net just for consistency's sake.

SR: Score Prediction?

RW: With their inability to keep the ball out of the net and inexperience traveling internationally, I just can't see things going well for Gyeongnam in Japan. Hopefully they will keep it close, but an early goal for the Antlers might turn this into another shootout.

Gyeongnam FC 1-2 Kashima Antlers  

2019 AFC Champions League Guide: here

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