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ACL Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Shanghai Shenhua

Ulsan Hyundai will get their AFC Champions League campaign back underway this Saturday evening against Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League. The Horangi will want to bounce back after narrowly missing out on domestic league and cup titles this season, but they could be haunted by some familiar faces amongst the Shanghai ranks. Dan Croydon previews this one for us.

Match: AFC Champions League Group F
Ulsan Hyundai vs. Shanghai Shenhua
Venue: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar
Kick off: Saturday 21st November, 10.00pm KST

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 FC Tokyo
The Horangi kicked off their 2020 ACL campaign against J.League runners-up FC Tokyo way back in mid-February.  

A fairly makeshift Ulsan side had to come from behind to grab a point after former Suwon Samsung Bluewings striker Diego Oliveria gave the visitors the lead midway through the second half. 

Ulsan's equaliser came from a set piece, with another of Tokyo's Brazilian imports, Adailton, putting through his own net from a Shin Jin-ho delivery.  

Perth Glory 1-2 Shanghai Shenhua
Last year's Chinese FA Cup winners, Shanghai Shenhua, were unable to play any of their ACL matches before the suspension, and so were looking to get off to a winning start against an inexperienced Perth Glory side.

Some neat first half goals from widemen Peng Xinli and Yu Hanchao ensured they did just that, although Glory did mount a late challenge with Jonathan Aspropotamitis getting a goal back in the 81st minute.

Shanghai held on take the three points though, ending a poor run of 16 games without a win in the competition. 

Previous Meetings

This will be the first time these two sides have met, although neither are strangers to this competition. 

Ulsan have qualified for the group stages a total of eight times, including in all of the last four editions. Their overall record against Chinese teams is a positive one -- five wins, two draws, and three losses over the years. Most recently, they lost to Shenhua's city rivals SIPG 5-0, although Ulsan fielded a heavily rotated team for that one having already guaranteed top spot in their group.

Meanwhile, Shanghai Shenhua have struggled of late in the ACL, failing to qualify from their group in any of their last three appearances and even getting knocked out in the qualification playoffs in 2017. 

In the 2010s they faced Korean opposition four times in the shape of Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The Chinese giants managed just one goal and one point from those games, so no doubt they'll be happy to be facing a different K League team this time round.  


Team News

Ulsan Hyundai
The big news here is that the Horangi will be without four first team players due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Korea's recent national team training camp in Austria. 

First-choice keeper Jo Hyeon-woo tested positive and is currently quarantined in Austria, while defenders Kim Tae-hwan, Jung Seung-hyun and midfielder Won Du-jae are isolating in Ulsan's team hotel in Qatar; they have tested negative so far, but are yet to join training over safety concerns.

Johnsen and Junior will be the dangermen on Saturday
Their absence presents opportunities for back-up keeper Jo Su-huk, who did not make a league appearance this season, along with Aussie fullback Jason Davidson and veteran defender Kim Ki-hee. 

Look out for 6'5" Norweigan international striker Bjørn Maars Johnsen alongside Brazilain marksman Junior Negrao in attack -- the pair have been deadly this year, with Junior setting records on his way to 26 goals in 27 league games. 

Shanghai Shenhua
K League fans will see some very familiar faces among Shanghai's ranks this Saturday -- manager Choi Kang-hee won six league and two ACL titles in two spells with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, while striker Kim Shin-wook won this competition with Ulsan in 2012 and Jeonbuk in 2016.

Choi Kang-hee spent a total of fourteen years at Jeonbuk before leaving in 2018
Despite spending much of this year sidelined through injury, Kim Shin-wook has travelled to Qatar, but his absence from the bench in Shanghai's opening win over Perth suggests he is unlikely to feature much, if at all, this Saturday.

And that is just the start of Shanghai's troubles. Choi Kang-hee's squad is looking more than a little threadbare. Colombian playmaker Giovanni Moreno has not travelled, nor have  recent Ecuadorian arrivals Miller Bolaños and Fidel Martinez.

But with experienced players like ex-Sevilla and Marseille defender Stéphane M'Bia and 2015 ACL winner Yu Hanchao in their ranks, Shanghai can still field a team capable of getting a result. Followers of K League certainly know never to discount a side led by Choi Kang-hee.

What To Watch

Can Ulsan put their domestic woes behind them?
For the second year in a row, the Horangi were pipped at the post in the  K League 1 title race. Despite occupying top spot for much of the campaign, late-season losses to rivals Pohang and Jeonbuk saw them drop to second in the penultimate round. Jeonbuk went on to lift the trophy for a record fourth year in a row, leaving Ulsan still waiting for their first title in 15 years.

Shortly after that, Jeonbuk made it a double, defeating Ulsan 3-2 on aggregate in the FA Cup Final and adding even more fuel to the fire that has been licking at Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon's feet of late.

Kim Do-hoon is under pressure after his side finished league runners-up for the second year in a row  

But results against Jeonbuk aside, this is an Ulsan side that has shown themselves to be capable of beating anyone on their day.  The Horangi lost just once this season when they weren't facing their fellow Hyundai club, they won eight in a row on the road, and finished the season with by far the best goal difference in the league.

It is clear that the ACL represents one last shot at redemption for Kim Do-hoon and his players. They did nothing to dispel their reputation as chokers in domestic competition this year, but perhaps escaping to a bubble in Qatar is exactly what they need to put their disappointments behind them and show Korea and the rest of Asia exactly what they are capable of.    

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