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ACL Preview: Shandong Luneng vs Gyeongnam FC

AFC Champions League Preview: Shandong Luneng vs Gyeongnam FC

It's match day five of the AFC Champions League and Gyeongnam FC are looking to continue their continental journey through to the round of 16. The Reds will visit Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng on Wednesday night. It is not expected to be an easy game in the slightest, yet Gyeongnam will likely need a win if they want to progress to the next stage.

Last Time Out

Shandong Luneng 2-0 Hebei China
The 4th-ranked team in the CSL invited Hebei, currently in the relegation zone, to town last weekend. Although the visiting team is led by Chris Coleman, Wales' former outstanding manager, the level difference between the players was stark. The home side pressed the visiting team hard from the beginning and got the results they wanted in 12 minutes. The goalscorer was Graziano Pellè, of course, and 10 minutes later, the Italian doubled his tally with a penalty kick.

Shandong's attack continued in the second half as well. In the 55th minute, Hebei put in former Gyongnam's star player Marcão, but the Brazilian seems to need more time to adjust to the league. Neither team made much progress in the second half, and the game ended in a 2-0 home victory. Pellè looked very good, and Fellaini seems to have adapted to the CSL perfectly.

Highlights: here

Jeju United 2-0 Gyeongnam FC
It was a game in which Kim Jongboo's agony deepened. Admittedly, he seemed to have given the main players a break for the AFC, but the team didn't bring the desired result. Gyeongnam kept attacking  Jeju's defenders but lacked a finishing touch to score goals, and Jeju goalkeeper Lee Changkeun's incredible super saves frustrated Gyeongnam FC players further.

Jeju, on the other hand, finally earned three valuable points with their first win in the league, despite the mess the team could have found themselves when their manager resigned on the eve of this match. The home team brought the atmosphere by using Aguilar to cause havoc to the visitors' midfield. Although the first half ended 0-0, Jeju didn't give up pressing the Reds in the second half, and Magno eventually headed in Kang Yoonsung's cross twenty minutes after the restart. The urgent Gyeongnam made a strong push to find an equaliser but couldn't get the result. Rather, the home side won 2-0 by scoring a goal through a counterattack late on. It was the Gyeongnam manager's decision to give the starting players a break because the next game is the ACL, but in the end, losing the match will not have helped matters as Gyeongnam continue with their stuttering start.

Highlights: here

Previous Meetings

The first and only showdown between these sides was a 2-2 draw in the last ACL group stage match. During this match, the Reds showed weaknesses in aerial duels and ended up allowing a goal from Pellè in the 20th minute. However, Gyeongnam seemed to have their first ACL victory by scoring 2 consecutive goals in the 60th and 68th minute. Yet, Shandong's Italian star did not want to lose the match and ended up scoring another goal in the 77th minute. The match ended up 2-2.

After this match, there are some things to note. Shandong were not able to show dominance over Gyeongnam except for Pellè and were often exposed to the lack of concentration in set-piece situations. Also, except for Pellè and Fellaini, the rest of the players were unable to dominate the Reds. Interestingly, most of Shandong's players just passed a ball to Pellè rather than trying to do something.

Team News

Shandong Luneng is the fourth-ranked team in the CSL. This Chinese team had ups and downs in the early part of the season, but Marouane Fellaini seems to have adapted well. Also, Graziano Pellè has played in all competitions this season and has scored more than one goal in each game. With the exception of three games this season, this former Southampton player is leading the team's victory by playing the full 90 minutes regularly. He also scored two goals in the last match against Gyeongnam FC, leading to the draw. So far, none of the team's main players have been injured and they have recently won three consecutive games at home.

In the case of visiting team, Gyongnam FC is on the opposite path compared to Shandong Luneng. The Reds have one win and two losses in their last three away games and also suffered a lethargic defeat against the weakest team in the league, Jeju United. Most of all, Kunimoto, Luc Castaignos and Jordon Mutch, who played in the matchday 1 against Shandong at Changwon, will not be able to make it to the match. Manager Kim Jongboo announced in an interview that he would definitely win the game, though it would be difficult due to a large number of injuries.

The Adversary

Gyeongnam FC has no place to step down to anymore. Other than winning this game, other results mean elimination from the ACL group stage. They must win the match by all means. Yet, the situation around the team is not strong enough. Shandong will have their best XI in their starting line-up. Also, Shandong has a very good chance of advancing to the round of 16 with just a draw in this match. Gyeongnam FC, on the other hand, have many injuries and this is their first visit to Shandong. Fortunately, the main players of the team are relaxed and physically fit since they did not play against the Jeju United in their last league match.

Who To Watch

Shandong Luneng - Graziano Pellè The Italian shows no mercy in the aerial duel. He is a player who constantly bullies defenders by using his strong physical condition and makes sure to head the ball the way he wants. He is also adept at using his feet. So far, Pellè has 15 goals in 13 matches, which means he scored at least a goal in every match he has played. If the opposing team doesn't stop Pellè, it will be difficult to win the game.

Gyeongnam FC – Lee Kwangseon
Sadly, with the exception of Lee Kwangseon, Gyeongnam has no notable players to look out for. Luc Castaignos is back from injury but he still needs time to reach full fitness and Kunimoto will go to Shandong with the team yet is unlikely to play due to injury. Jordon Mutch is suspended from the match after picking up several yellow cards. Therefore, Lee is the only reliable player on the field. If he can find room to create in the midfield, he could open up the path to Shandong's goal under the condition that Kim Seungjoon and Kim Hyogi can proceed to finish it properly.


Unfortunately, it will be hard for the Reds to win the match. Gyeongnam’s recent away matches were not only very poor, but  they are also key players missing due to injuries. Shandong, on the other hand, has been strong in recent home games, and Pellè's scoring ability is at its peak. As like the last encounter in Changwon, though it is unlikely that Shandong will win if Gyeongnam is able to stop the Italian. Manager Kim Jongboo will have to find a way to minimise his presence on the field. Also, Gyeongnam FC midfielders will have to keep Marouane Fellaini from disturbing Lee Kwangseon. Otherwise, the Reds will likely have to give up their dream of advancing to the round of 16.

Predicted Score: Shandong Luneng 2-1 Gyeongnam FC

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