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ACL Preview: Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Vissel Kobe

After a year away, Suwon Samsung Bluewings are back in AFC Champions League and face a talented and red hot Vissel Kobe side hot off Emperor's Cup and Super Cup titles. To preview their first ever encounter, Ryan Walters spoke with DAZN and J.League Regista's Gabriele Anello.

Ryan Asks, Gabriele Answers

Ryan Walters: Kobe got their first ever ACL campaign going in emphatic fashion dismantling a talented Johor Darul Ta'zim side 5-1. Was this simply a case of a talent gap or did manager Thorsten Fink have a strong game tactically?

Gabriele Anello: I think the 2020 version of Vissel Kobe will be a less humoral squad than 2019. The roster from last year wasn't built properly, despite the win in the Emperor's Cup. This time, the roster is thinner, but the key-pieces are clear and Vissel actually had one of the best signings in Japanese Winter football market transfer bringing in Douglas from Shimizu S-Pulse. However, I'm still not betting on Fink because the season is long and ACL will drain a lot of energy.

RW: Andrés Iniesta is still playing at a world class level and picked up two assists in the win over JDT. What, if anything, have J.League teams done to effectively slow him down or remove his influence from the match?

GA: It's tough to stop someone like him. Despite playing only 23 league games last year, he was a solid pick for the Top XI. This speaks highly of his skills and qualities despite being injury prone and almost 36 years old. It's gonna be tough to stop him, but I think he'll have more issue in ACL rather than J. League because there are some teams in Asia playing a tough style for Japanese clubs.

RW: Keijiro Ogawa was the hat trick hero vs JDT, nearly equaling his 2019 tally of five goals in a single match. Was this a one off or are bigger things expected of him this year? How much should the Suwon defense focus on him in their planning?

GA: I think Suwon should be aware of the fact the offensive trio of Furuhashi, Douglas and Ogawa, (with Fujimoto who could come in) is the best force of Vissel. They're not so great in defense, despite the acquisition of Kikuchi from Renofa Yamaguchi and the experience of Vermaelen. Iikura still has some strange moments, Dankler isn't fit to be a starter and Nishi is a "regista," but suffers from time to time. That said, Gotoku Sakai has been the smartest bargain Vissel have ever done under the Mikitani reign.

RW: How do you see this one playing out?

GA: South Korean gigs aren't easy for Japanese clubs. Just look how Marinos dominated against Jeonbuk, but didn't win easily despite being two men up at one point. A draw could work anyway while waiting to see how Guangzhou Evergrande will face this competition after the Coronavirus  outbreak and the delay of Chinese Super League's start.

KLU Pod ACL Preview 

Gabriele Asks, Ryan Answers

Gabriele AnelloSuwon didn't play in ACL last season, but won the FA Cup to qualify for 2020. How are they approaching this year's competition?

Ryan Walters: Suwon had a few decent signings this winter to prepare for ACL, but they're still not an overly deep squad. Bosnian forward Sulejman Krpić was brought in to help fellow 2019 Golden Boot winner Adam Taggart up top. The 29-year-old scored 28 goals in 50 appearances with Željezničar and should provide the secondary scoring option that has been lacking for Suwon. Additionally, 26-year-old Canadian defender Doneil Henry joined from MLS side Vancouver to shore up the backline. Still pretty young, Henry should help solidify a defense that was scattershot at times in 2019. Beyond those two, this is largely the same squad that failed to impress in the league last season, so they will need to get off to a strong start in ACL if that competition is to remain a priority.

GA: Lee Lim-saeng got the job last year after being the KFA Technical Director and spending a lot of time abroad. After mixed fortunes in 2019 winning the FA Cup, but finishing 8th in the league, is he the right man for the job?

RW: That's honestly the biggest question facing Suwon in 2020. Lee Lim-saeng's squad selection often seems to be done on a roulette wheel and even included a six defender lineup that still conceded multiple goals. He froze striker Dejan Damjanović out of the club despite the teams goal scoring woes, but never found a second option. And tactically he often looked out of his depth against more experienced managers. With no disrespect to their opposition, Suwon also had one of the easiest paths to the FA Cup in history with third division Gyeongju HNP, fourth division Hwaseong FC, and third division Daejeon Korail their final three opponents. For a club that has traditionally been a part of ACL, and one that seems to want to stay there, his performance in this competition paired with early season league results should determine whether or not he'll finish the season in Suwon.

GA: Vissel Kobe had a great showing in their debut against Johor Darul Ta'zim. Will Suwon be able to overcome such a club, since Kobe isn't exactly consistent in their performances?

RW: Kobe's inconsistency is one of a very few things Suwon have going for them in this one. The Bluewings last competitive match was all the way back in November when they finished the season with a 4-1 loss at Sangju Sangmu. In that same time span Vissel Kobe has won the Emperor's Cup and Super Cup, and dismantled JDT to open their ACL campaign. Shaking off that must winter rust against an in form side that has been playing much more regularly looks too tall a task for Suwon in their return to international football.

GA: Score Prediction?

RW: Suwon struggles at home as it is, so if Kobe get an early goal this could get ugly. They're likely to be set up quite compact in the first 45 to prevent such a thing from happening though, so if that goes well they could keep it close. But, again, with that much winter rust to shake off, that's a big if. Look for Kobe to get at least two or three in their first visit to Big Bird.

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