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ACL Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Buriram United

AFC Champions League Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Buriram United

K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors welcome Thai League 1 title holders Buriram United to Jeonju in the final match of this year's AFC Champions League group stage with both teams' fates already decided. Thai Football expert Paul Murphy joins our Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors columnist Matthew Binns to look what's ahead for the Korean side, where it all went wrong for Buriram and which players we should be looking to keep an eye on within these rotated lineups come Tuesday evening.

Matthew Asks, Paul Answers

Matthew Binns: This match is somewhat of a dead rubber with both sides unable to change their final standings in the group. On the whole, how have you rated Buriram United's efforts this year in this competition? 

Paul Murphy: It has been a very disappointing tournament for Buriram. With the exception of 2016, they have been competitive in the ACL in all of their participations so it feels like a huge backward step to have limped out of the competition so meekly. The home match with Jeonbuk was the only time we saw what felt like the true Buriram – intense, focused and defensively strong. In other matches, they have been outclassed.

MB: Is there anything you feel the side should have approached differently over the course of the group stages? 

PM: I don’t think the problems have been with the ‘approach’ but they all relate to the club’s recruitment in the close season. Foreign signings are absolutely key to ACL success and they got these all wrong. Diogo Luis Santo, Osvaldo and Yoo Jun-soo were always going to be difficult to replace, but the club did worse than anyone could have anticipated. Striker Modibo Maiga was so unimpressive that he had his contract terminated, while Hajime Hosogai arrived injured and wasn’t included in the ACL squad. Pedro Junior has started to prove his worth but that has taken time and it is now too late.

Something that has possibly been overlooked has been the frequent absence of left wing-back Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri. He may not be the best defensively but his set pieces create chances and when you are often up against it, this can make the difference in tight games. Korrakot has spent most of the season on the bench but he may have made an important contribution if selected.

MB: What positives can be taken from this campaign for Buriram and which particular players have stood out for you? 

PM: The only real positive has been the experience it has given Buriram’s youngsters, with 20-year-olds Supachai Jaided and Supachok Sarachat getting another campaign under their belts. We also saw striker Suphanat Mueanta become the youngest ever scorer in the tournament at 16 years old.

Overall, performances have been disappointing so you have to hope that the young players have learned from it and will be stronger in their next participation.

MB: With only pride to play for, is it likely we will see a rotated side for this one and, if so, which players should neutrals be looking to keep an eye on? 

PM: Buriram will probably give some game time to players who have not featured too frequently, especially as they play bitter rivals Muang Thong United the following weekend.

It would not surprise me to see Suphanat being given a start. He has looked completely unfazed playing at this level at such a young age and it would be a great experience for him.

Luong Xuan Truong is another who has been used sparingly but the Vietnamese midfielder has the quality to pick a pass and score from distance. He is one to watch out for.

Korrakot may also get a run out and if Buriram get lots of free kicks and corners, his deliveries will be tough for the Jeonbuk defence.

MB: How do you see this fixture playing out?

PM: With little at stake, I don’t expect a thriller. Neither side will want to risk too much and we are probably going to see a lot of fringe players starting.

It would not surprise me if the teams played out a tame draw but Buriram have been very weak defensively this year and that might give Jeonbuk the edge. They will also want revenge for the defeat in Thailand so a home win is the likeliest result.

Paul's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Buriram United.

Paul Asks, Matthew Answers

Paul Murphy: Given Buriram’s strong performances last year and victory at home to Jeonbuk this year, have fans in Korea been surprised that they have done so poorly overall?

Matthew Binns: I do think fans have been far more wary of the threat they pose this season but, as far as expectations go, Buriram United have fared as predicted due to the opponents in the group. Jeonbuk were also anticipated to struggle against Urawa Red Diamonds and Beijing Guoan, so to claim twelve points form those ties is seen as quite a coup. With Buriram claiming a scalp against Jeonbuk, and looking better than the K League side for most of the match, I think there is an acknowledgment of the growing reputation of Thai football in Korea and that teams from the region should not be underestimated. With the K League looking to introduce an ASEAN quota next season, it seems that even the governing bodies acknowledge that the quality exists and is there to take advantage of rather than continue to overlook.

[Listen: ASEAN Player Quota]

PM: What do you see as the main difference between this year’s Buriram and the side that pushed Jeonbuk all the way in the last 16 in 2018?

MB: The most obvious difference from purely K League fans' perspective is the lack of Edgar Silva. His display in last 16 looked as if it shook Jeonbuk, with his first leg goals posing difficult questions of a side that was running away with their domestic division. His absence has perhaps been further emphasised by his move to Daegu not long after that fixture, where his displays in the K League, FA Cup and this year's Champions League have underlined what an acquisition he was.

Despite the victory over Jeonbuk earlier in this group, there was a feeling that if Buriram had been more ruthless with the chances they created, they could have further hurt the K League champions, and this may have been due to the striker's absence and time still being required for new acquisitions to bed in.

PM: Are Jeonbuk likely to rest many of their first-team regulars for this one? If so, are there any exciting fringe players to watch for?

MB: Wholesale changes are expected to the Jeonbuk line up given that they are now trailing in the league and must concentrate on clawing themselves back into top spot. So far, manager Jose Morais has mostly stuck with the players that were already at his disposal when he arrived but this would be a prime opportunity to trial some of the winter acquisitions once more. Hopefully Lee Keun-ho and Han Seung-gyu are given a sizable amount of minutes. While Han has featured infrequently throughout the season, Lee has played just once despite showing huge promise last year at Pohang Steelers. The youngster can play as a striker though and, while he does have established names ahead of him in the queue in Lee Dong-gook and Kim Shin-wook, the fact that Adriano is injured for the rest of the season means the manager should start to entrust his new signing so he can get valuable minutes and offer a viable backup solution for the rest of the campaign.

PM: Can Jeonbuk go all the way this year and repeat their triumphs of 2006 and 2016?

MB: At present, Jeonbuk's biggest threat in this competiton looks to be fellow K League teams, with the side having not yet defeated one of their Champions League rivals in the division this year. Ulsan Hyundai could really pose questions over two legs if the sides were to meet but, with both teams topping their groups, they will fortunately not encounter each other in the last 16. Jeonbuk certainly have the team to go far in this competition and, despite the defeat to Buriram, have had four impressive victories against teams that were deemed potential stumbling blocks at the start of the competition. They should, however, only be concentrating on the next round where they could face tricky opposition in Shanghai SIPG or Kawasaki Frontale.

PM: How do you see this fixture playing out?

MB: Like you suggest, I can see this match falling somewhat flat given that there is nothing to play for. I do expect Jeonbuk's rotated sqaud to feature players with a point to prove however, and therefore envisage them having enough to see out the tie.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Buriram United

Once again, we'd like to thank Paul Murphy for his contribution in this preview and our recent AFC Champions League podcasts. For those wishing to know more about Thai football, Paul runs the site Thai Footie and has also contributed to the likes of ESPNFC, The AFC and others. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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