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ACL Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Shanghai SIPG

AFC Champions League Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Shanghai SIPG

After a tense 1-1 draw in Shanghai, K League 1 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to Chinese Super League winners Shanghai SIPG in the second leg of the AFC Champions League Round of 16. After previewing the first leg over on their site, we welcome Wild East Football's Shanghai SIPG columnist Jeff Beresford-Howe to ours in order to get his insights on what to expect coming into this match. Jeff spoke with our Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors columnist Matthew Binns to preview this highly-anticipated clash.

Matthew Asks, Jeff Answers

Matthew Binns: How has the 1-1 draw from the first leg been taken by the SIPG fans and local media? Is there any feeling that perhaps it was a missed opportunity?

Jeff Beresford-Howe: Well, to give you some idea of how things are in Shanghai, the lead post-match story today in one local paper was, "Shenhua stares into black hole of relegation." The local media is transfixed by the smoking crater being left by Shanghai's oldest and best-supported team, Shanghai Shenhua, which is mired in the drop zone about halfway through the Chinese season.

Per SIPG, the local media is taking a wait-and-see approach. After all, the last time Jeonbuk and SIPG hooked up, the Chinese leg also ended with a draw, and that ended catastrophically for the local boys.

For SIPG fans, the quick opening goal, a comedy of errors by Wei Zhan and Yan Junling, was a body blow, and right at that moment, if you'd offered SIPG and their fans a draw, they would have lapped it up.

But then the missed chances began to add up. There's a sense that a 2-1 victory, at least, was there for the taking and SIPG missed it. (I would imagine that Jeonbuk feels the same way.)

MB: SIPG were perhaps initially caught wrong-footed by the intensity Jeonbuk started the match with, but found their way back into it as the game progressed. Which SIPG players stood out for you in particular?

JB: SIPG is simply unaccustomed to a team as quick and clever as Jeonbuk. The Korean side is much better than any of the Chinese teams SIPG has faced this year. The only team we've seen that's comparable is Kawasaki Frontale. About halfway through the first half, SIPG finally adjusted their play to keep pace with Jeonbuk and the match was pretty even after that.

Individually, after his rather poor effort on the goal, Yan Junling bailed SIPG out with two match-saving stops. He's the undisputed MVP of SIPG's season so far and Chinese football is alive with rumors that he'll leave for Europe in the summer transfer window. Wang Shenchao's goal was delightful, kind of like a step-back three in the NBA. Yu Hai's cross was a bit behind him. Wang stopped on a dime and went back for it while Jeonbuk's back line kept going, which gave Wang the room for a very professional header across his body.

It took Hulk most of the first half, but he eventually started to look like the dominant force he can be on the right night.

MB: With SIPG trailing on away goals, they will have to score in Jeonju. How will the manager approach this match and can you envisage any tactical tweaks or personnel changes?

JB: I think Pereira will be pleased with SIPG's attacking successes against Jeonbuk, except the finishing. I think he'll go with basically the same line-up and same philosophy and depend on SIPG's front-line talent to deliver. Fair warning: SIPG doesn't often play two matches in a row in which they miss a lot of chances. Also, the team's CSL matches before and after the trip to Korea are against bad teams, with opportunities to rest regulars, so you'll see SIPG's best shot in Korea. Whether that line-up includes Wei Zhen, who stunk up the place in Shanghai, and not for the first time this season, we'll have to see.

The return of Lyu Wenjun from a broken arm had been expected by now and it hasn't materialized. Injury information is notoriously sketchy in the People's Republic. Lyu is a premier ballhawk. Saturday night in Shanghai, veteran defender Yu Hai, who got a head laceration in the Jeonbuk match, wore a protective helmet against Beijing Renhe. Unfortunately, Yu slammed that helmet to the turf in frustration after sustaining a leg injury late in the match. He had to come off even though that left SIPG with ten men, and I would expect him not to make the trip to South Korea. Yu, a steadying influence on defense and a sparkplug on offense, will be missed if he can't make the trip.

On the upside, Hulk took Saturday night off -- SIPG won 3-0 anyway against bottom-feeding Renhe - and will be fresh against Jeonbuk.

MB: The tie is delicately poised for an entertaining finish. How do you see this one going?

JB: Playing twice in eight days seems likely to benefit SIPG; I don't think the Red Eagles will be as slow out of the gate in the re-match. I'm going to go bold: an early goal by Oscar and then a late goal on a counter as Jeonbuk chases the match will give SIPG a 2-0 victory and advancement to the ACL quarterfinals.

Jeff's Score Prediction: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 0-2 Shanghai SIPG [SIPG win 3-1 on Aggregate]

Jeff Asks, Matthew Answers

Jeff Beresford-Howe: The final score on Wednesday was 1-1, but there could have been seven or eight goals. There were loads of opportunities created by awful defensive play on both sides. Jeonbuk and SIPG defenders were bailed out repeatedly by inept finishing. For SIPG, Elkeson and Yu Hai got a bit under wide-open headers. Hulk hit the post with an open net staring at him. Zhang Wei simply wasn’t good enough to convert a chance walking in alone. Oscar, like Moon Seon-min and Ibini-Isei, was a victim of some really good goalkeeping. Kim Shin-wook missed a sitter. SIPG’s defensive woes can mostly be traced to a series of misfortunes by Wei Zhen, who was the worst player on the pitch. How about Jeonbuk?

Matthew Binns: Bernie Ibini has received some negative online criticism due to his role in SIPG's equaliser yet the rest of his performance suggests he had a reasonable match. One player who did underperform in my view was centre-back Kim Min-hyeok. Kim is a new signing at Jeonbuk and has played above a reasonable standard throughout the season, yet the match statistics from Shanghai show that his actions in defence were the least successful and often led to the ceding of possession. On the pitch, he had the lowest passing accuracy, with 50% of all passes forward not reaching their target. In fact, he also has the lowest number of completed passes for an outfield player in his team as well as attempting the fewest passes in the match. This may be due to the nature of his position, however, yet his defensive statistics were also below par. He engaged in the fewest defensive duels yet still had the lowest success rate, winning zero defensive duels, zero aerial duels and winning one loose ball for the entire match. For comparison's sake, he was equalled or bettered in nearly every metric by his other three defensive partners.

Admittedly, none of what he did led to the goal but, given his showing, he may have just been lucky not to be tested. On Sunday, Kim was substituted at half time and it remains to be seen if this was merely tactical or if he suffered an injury. If fit, however, he is expected to start on Wednesday alongside Hong Jeong-ho at centre-back, with Lee Yong and Kim Jin-su in the full-back roles.

JB: The Australian Bernie Ibini-Isei — who had a cup of coffee with SIPG in 2013 — saw his first start in the Champion’s League for Jeonbuk and only his third overall this year. Ricardo Lopes didn’t suit up against Incheon on Saturday or SIPG on Wednesday. What’s up? 

MB: Korean teams also have a particularly annoying habit of covering up injuries and so proved the case with the previous leg. The usual team photos of the side travelling were not published and it was only reported on the day of the match that both attacking midfielder Lee Seung-gi and winger Ricardo Lopes were injured and did not travel with the squad. Lopes' injury was fortunately only an illness and he has since recovered, featuring in the second half on Sunday against Suwon. Lee Seung-gi has a more serious injury regarding his medial ligament and there was no timeframe on when he is expected to return. Naturally, he is not expected to appear on Wednesday.

As for Bernie Ibini, he came into the season carrying a knock and has had to fight his way into the side against strong competition. However, he has featured in the last three matches, playing 90 minutes in Shanghai and also at the weekend. With playing time, his ability is finally beginning to show through. While he was at fault for Shanghai's equaliser in the first leg, he didn't put many other steps wrong. He looked encouraging once more on Sunday but he may start on the bench on Wednesday as Lopes and Moon Seon-min are still the first choice wingers and are expected to start.

JB: Jeonbuk has their draw and has their away goal. Will they play cautiously on Wednesday in Jeonju, or will they keep to an attacking mentality?

MB: I certainly do not think Jeonbuk will regress into a solely defensive mentality, but they are far likelier to play to their countering strengths. They boast pace on the wings in both their wingers and full-backs and will likely try to coax SIPG forward to create space behind for Jeonbuk's players to run into and counter quickly. As you say, they have their goal and it is up to SIPG to find a way back into this game. A Jeonbuk goal, however, will go some way to ensuring their passage to the quarterfinals and I expect the home side to still attack, when possible, to try and kill off the tie.

JB: The match in Shanghai was tight and entertaining, but it wasn’t an advertisement for elegant football. Do you expect sharper play from Jeonbuk at home?

MB: The weekend saw Jeonbuk change eight players from the team that started in Shanghai, despite being at home against rivals Suwon Samsung Bluewings. It did allow a lot of players to rest up for this match so they should be fresh for SIPG's visit. With the team likely to be bolstered by the presence of Ricardo Lopes this time, Jeonbuk's attack should be far more potent.

Historically, Jeonbuk have often tended to fair better at home in this competition (ignoring the visit from Suwon last year in the quarterfinals) and it was their home form in 2016 when they won the competition that proved vital, with the team only winning one match on the road. The team have a habit of rising to the occasion in front of their own crowd and they will definitely prefer playing the second leg in Jeonju.

JB: Prediction?

MB: While resting players at the weekend did cost them two points in the title race, especially as it seems they could have postponed their games upon request as Ulsan did, Jeonbuk are fresh coming into this game and are perhaps in a better state than they were in the first leg. More ruthless finishing will be required from them if they are to progress but I do see the defence holding strong once more, setting it up for a Jeonbuk win.

Matt's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Shanghai SIPG [Jeonbuk win 3-1 on aggregate]

We'd once again like to thank Jeff Beresford-Howe for taking the time to shed some light and provide valuable insight on Shanghai SIPG going into this match. Jeff is the SIPG columnist for Wild East Football. For all your Chinese football news, you can visit their site or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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