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ACL Preview: FC Seoul vs Melbourne Victory

ACL Preview: FC Seoul vs Melbourne Victory
FC Seoul take on Melbourne Victory for what will be their first AFC Champions League match in nearly three years. Both teams have ACL wins under their belts already, for Seoul a qualification playoff win over Kedah FA, for Victory a qualification playoff win of their own, as well as a 1-0  group stage triumph over Chiangrai United. To preview Tuesday's match, which will be the first ever meeting between the two sides, FC Seoul columnist Paul Neat spoke with Melbourne Victory fan, journalist and co-host of the Asian Game Podcast, Paul Williams.

Paul Neat Asks, Paul Williams Answers

Paul Neat: In the league, Victory have four defeats and a draw from their last five matches and sit ninth in the table. What seems to be the problem with the team this season?

Paul Williams: There are a multitude of reasons, but primarily it comes down to poor recruitment - of coach and players. The decision to hire Marco Kurz to replace Kevin Muscat was not one that I thought was ever going to work, it smacked of the Victory board taking the easy option given his relative "success" at Adelaide United. But his style of play and management contrasted with that which Victory claimed to stand for, and there appeared to be issues almost immediately. In the A-League so much is determined by the success or failure of your foreign players, and Victory got it wrong this season with the likes of Kristijan Dobras, Jakob Poulsen and Migjen Basha not able to reach any great heights. Given the importance of those players to fill holes in the squad, without them firing Victory were left depleted. There has been gradual improvement under Carlos Salvachua, but it will take time now to reverse the damage was done.

PN: Robbie Kruse will be a huge miss, who can we expect to see in his place and what does his absence mean to Victory's chances in this match and to qualify from the group?

PW: Kruse is a massive loss for Victory, because when he has played this season he has looked like the Robbie Kruse of old. But Victory benefit from the signing of Marco Rojas in January. He still is one of the most exciting players the league has seen, and in his brief cameos since returning to the side he doesn't appear to have lost any of his zip or zing. So after a few weeks coming off the bench as he builds up his fitness, I would expect him to start in Seoul and be a straight replacement for Kruse. Given Victory don't lose a lot going from Kruse to Rojas, I don't think it will have a huge impact on their chances of progressing, but it depletes the depth to not have him there if anyone else were to pick up an injury.

PN: How can you foresee the team being set up tactically?

PW: Since Salvachua has come in he has utilised a back three (or back five depending on how you look at it), and it worked really well away against Kashima. It's more pragmatic than Victory have been in the past in the ACL, but I suspect that is a good thing and is a better template for success. So I expect Victory to be more pragmatic, to sit in a deep defensive block and look to play mostly on the counter in the hope of picking up at least a point.

PN: Score Prediction?

PW:  I think the ACL is Victory's clear priority for the remainder of the season, so they'll be putting everything into this game. The weather will be a factor, given the conditions are so different to what they're used to in Melbourne. I'm not sure FC Seoul being out of season will have a huge impact, as we saw Chiangrai take it to Victory last week and they hadn't played since October and the K League season is almost upon us.I'll put my Victory hat on and say a 1-1 draw with Ola Toivonen to score for Victory.



Eulji Lewis

Paul Williams Asks, Paul Neat Answers

Paul Williams: Since they made the ACL final back in 2013 (and SF in 2014 and 2016), it's been a bit of a lean period for FC Seoul - have they finally turned the corner and what has changed?

Paul Neat: After a disastrous 2018 campaign, when Seoul got sucked into the relegation battle and had to overcome a second division over two legs in the relegation playoff, the team announced their return to prominence last year. This was mainly down to the return of Choi Yong-soo, a club legend and a manager who guided them to the league title in 2012 and an FA Cup in 2015. He also built the team which won the league in 2016 but left midway through the year. His return has given Seoul an identity again. He knows how to get results and can be very shrewd tactically. He's very good at man management too and seems to know how to get the best out of certain players, which should bode well with Adriano returning. Labelled as a bit of a 'problem child', his best years in K League came under Choi Yong-soo in an 18-month spell.

PW: Victory fans probably wont know a lot about the players for FC Seoul, they may recognise the name Park Chu-young from Arsenal. Who are the key players for FC

PN: The aforementioned Adriano, a Brazilian striker, could be one to watch if he is fit enough to play. He hasn't played first team football since last spring, however, after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. He is no stranger to the ACL though and finished as the competition's top scorer in 2016 with 13 goals, a blistering return. He didn't sign in time for the playoff match against Kedah and with question marks over his fitness it remains to be seen if he will be part of the 18-man squad but he may be given a cameo off the bench.

Another is former Serbian Super Liga golden boot winner Aleksandar Pešić who is on loan from Al Ittihad. Pešić has Europa League experience and finished as Red Star Belgrade's top scorer in 2017/2018, scoring 25 goals in 35 appearances. Pešić is unlikely to start as he has only recently joined up with squad for pre-season training and so will most likely appear from the bench.

Park Chu-young is a near certainty to start and will probably partner Park Dong-jin up front. Park Dong-jin is an interesting one because he was bought by Seoul as a defender, initially joining as a centre back. But, with a lot of competition for places in that area, he reinvented himself as a right back and featured there for the majority of the 2018 season and did fairly well. But, manager Choi Yong-soo was desperate for an attacker and so tried to turn him into a striker due to his energy and ability to chase down loose balls and make a mischief of himself. He grew into the role and ended the year with six goals. Park is already up and running having scored the second goal in Seoul's 4-1 win over Kedah.

Seoul's squad is deep enough to cope with the injury problems they currently have and have some quality individuals such as Osmar who captained the team to the 2016 title and can play as a centre back of as a midfielder, fellow midfielder Ju Se-jong, who got the assist for Son Heung-min's goal for Korea against Germany in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and Ikromjon Alibaev, an Uzbekistan international attacking midfielder who is a certainty to start.

PW: The K League hasn't started yet, will that be a disadvantage for FC Seoul at all?

PN: That's definitely a possibility, especially given that Seoul's first group stage game with Beijing Guoan was re-arranged. Seoul have some players out through injury such as club captain Go Yo-han, young forward Cho Young-wook, central midfielder Han Chan-hee, and potentially left wing-back Ko Kwang-min, and have only played one competitive match this year. But, they seem to have prepared well, and the manager has mentioned that he has made some tactical tweaks from last year. He lamented the lack of energy due to burn out but with reinforcements in midfield, Seoul should be raring to go. They looked good in the second half against Kedah and will be looking to build on that I'm sure. They'll be used to the weather too.

PW: Score Prediction?

PN: I think I'll also go for a 1-1 draw. It will be important not to lose this first group stage match and a draw wouldn't be too bad of a result. It depends if Seoul's attacking options, Adriano and Pešić are fit and are given a chance to make an impact.

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