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ACL Playoff Preview: FC Seoul vs Kedah FA

ACL Preview: FC Seoul vs Kedah FA
FC Seoul take on Malaysian Super League side Kedah FA on Tuesday night the AFC Champions League Qualification Playoff for what will be the first competitive match involving a K League team in 2020. Kedah, who won the Malaysian FA Cup in 2019, beat Hong Kong side Wofoo Tai Po in the previous round to set up Tuesday's clash. To get the lowdown on what FC Seoul fans can expect from the Red Eagle, K League United spoke with Goal.com journalist Kin Fai.

Paul Neat Asks, Kin Fai Answers

Paul Neat: How has Kedah's pre-season preparations gone? Have there been many new signings?

Kin Fai: Pre-season started early for Kedah because of the ACL playoff. They were the last team to play last season, featuring in the 2019 Malaysia Cup final on November 2nd and only had five weeks break before returning to prepare for the new campaign, including a playing tour in Cambodia. The way Kedah performed their transfer business showed the preparation they had done. Swiftly swapping out 11 players for 11 new ones. Notable names include the strike pairing of Kpah Sherman and Tchetche Kipre who were both amongst the top scorers in Malaysia for the past two season.

PN: Which players will Kedah be looking to to get a win against FC Seoul?

KF: The focus will be on the partnership of Kipre and Sherman, what with Kipre already kicking off his Kedah career with a hattrick against Tai Po. Both players are more known for their finishing and it is still early days to know how Aidil Sharin wants to use them. Captain and club legend Baddrol Bakhtiar remains the heartbeat of the team operating at the base of the midfield, his pinpoint passes particularly useful to launch quick counter attacks.

PN: Kedah made light work of Tai Po in the previous round, how would you assess that performance?

KF: The gap is a considerable one between the two teams not helped by the fact that Tai Po trailed after just three minutes played. From then on, it was an uphill climb for them. I do not think Kedah were particularly overworked but it did put some miles in their pre-season clock. What would've been encouraging for coach Aidil to take away from the match would be the seemingly already good understanding between Kipre and Sherman.

PN: How do you think Kedah will set up tactically/formation wise?

KF: Aidil prefers the 4-1-4-1 formation last season and the players that the players that he has brought in for the 2020 season backs that up. He's someone who sets his team up to be a tad bit patient but not necessarily a possession dominant kind of team. What he does emphasise and looks to hurt other teams is during transitions, with speedy front five who can switch quickly when they win possession of the ball.

PN: What are your thoughts on this playoff format? The odds are stacked against Kedah, it seems.

KF: The format is always catered towards favouring the big nations by having these matches as a single match at the home ground of the bigger nation. But it is the way football is and it's not only in this part of the world.

PN: Score Prediction?

KF: Last year, Ulsan trashed Perak but I do believe the gap is narrower between Seoul and Kedah. Hard to see Kedah progressing but I see a hard fought 2-1 or 3-1 loss for the Malaysian side.

Eulji Lewis

Kin Fai Asks, Paul Neat Answers

Kin Fai: How much has the squad changed from last season?

Paul Neat: In truth, not a lot has changed. FC Seoul’s transfer business has been limited to just two senior players thus far: wing-back Kim Jinya, who is unlikely to feature in this match on account of him being part of the Korea Republic squad which won AFC U23 Championships, as well as midfielder Han Chanhee, dubbed the next Ki Sungyeung on account of his technique and versatility.  Han has come in to replace Lee Myoungju who moved to Al Wahda.

There are question marks over the future of Aleksandar Pešić as the Serbian striker has been back in Belgrade for the majority of the winter so far, and did not join up with the rest of the team in the pre-season training camp in Portugal. Seoul were already light up top, but without Pešić they are a little bit workman like and find it difficult to break teams down. However, despite no official announcement from the club, it appears as though Adriano has returned and so could feature.

KN: The last competitive game for Seoul was early December. Given the quick turnaround to this match, how has that impacted the players?

Paul Neat: It won’t have been easy, I’m sure. The team will have began their winter break immediately after the 0-0 draw against Daegu on the final day on 1st December, but returned to training during the first week of January. The first day of the K League season isn’t until 29th February and so two months of pre-season will be tough but this match against Kedah will be most welcomed I’m sure, not just for the players but for the fans too, as a break in the routine and from fitness work.

KN: Park Chuyoung is understandably a very recognisable name in the FC Seoul squad, how has he been since returning from Europe?

Paul Neat: Park is a legend at FC Seoul. Nine times out of 10, you will see his name on the back of fans’ replica shirts. He had a dismal 2018, as did Seoul for that matter but had something of a comeback year and contributed a lot in 2019, scoring 10 goals and providing seven assists whilst playing in a front two. He returned to Seoul in 2015 and has never been prolific so a 10-goal haul isn’t bad. He has a knack for scoring in big games, has good temperament and has laid on some key assists so will one to keep an eye on come Tuesday night. I’d expect him to start up front alongside defender-turned-striker Park Dongjin.

KN: Can you provide a probable XI?

PN: Due to injuries to the likes of Go Yohan, captain and first choice right wing-back, centre back Kim Wonkyun, defensive midfielder Jung Hyeoncheol, and promising forward Cho Youngwook, who all remained in Korea receiving treatment, as well as wing-backs Yoon Jonggyu and Kim Jinya’s involvement in the AFC U23 Championships, the team will pick itself. Pešić will be out but Adriano’s return may be confirmed in time for him to at least feature of the bench on Tuesday.

Expect a 3-5-2 with wing-backs, two up front and most likely a back three of Osmar, Kim Namchun, and Hwang Hyunsoo. Manager Choi Yongsoo rates young defender Kim Jusung too so he may get the nod over Kim Namchun, and often does due to K League’s U22 rule, but Seoul should look something not too dissimilar to this.

Possible FC Seoul starting XI vs Kedah FA, AFC Champions League Qualification Playoff
KN: It was announced last year that K League has approved an ASEAN slot for import players. But why hasn’t there been any big signings and what’s the opinion of Malaysian players/teams there?

PN: I think that due to one or two players from the region who came to K League and found life difficult, some of the larger clubs in particular will be a little bit cautious about recruiting ASEAN players initially. Not all teams even fill their AFC quota either so I don’t think it’s a slight against players from South East Asia, more that there isn’t a great deal of knowledge of the players in that part of the continent.

It may be a case that we may see teams dip their toes into the ASEAN market slowly but surely. I would imagine that as soon as one star from Malaysia or elsewhere in South East Asia then more will follow. Unfortunately, the perceived failures of Vietnamese stars Nguyễn Công Phượng and Lương Xuân Trường, who played for Incheon United and Gangwon respectively, the ASEAN spot may initially be vacant at a lot of teams in K League 1 in particular.

KN: Score Prediction?

PN: I would also go for a 2-1 or 3-1 Seoul win. Seoul played four pre-season games whilst in Portugal, drawing three and losing once so I don’t think it will be easy for them, particularly in the final third, but if they can make the most of home advantage and start brightly then the result may just be that little bit more comfortable.

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