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ACL Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Sydney FC


On the back of winning a domestic double, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors face a difficult task in turning around their Asian Champions League campaign. Jose Morais' side meet A-League champions Sydney FC with neither side having won a game yet in this year's competition. K League United's Peter Hampshire spoke to All Sides of the Harbour's Jamie Dunkin for more insight ahead of the game.

Jamie asks, Peter answers

Jamie Dunkin: What was the end of season run-in like for Jeonbuk? Did the players keep in good form and fairly injury free?

Peter Hampshire: Thanks to the K League's split system, Jeonbuk were pitted against the other sides in the top six in their final league games. Difficult on paper, the freshly crowned Champions' experience and quality shone through to edge out Ulsan Hyundai and claim a fourth successive title. Beating rivals Ulsan once more in a two-legged FA Cup final ensured consecutive trophy-lifting weekends at their Jeonju World Cup Stadium home.

While form and performances improved towards ACL involvement, Jeonbuk's starting 11 has taken a hit somewhat. Right back Lee Yong and Takahiro Kunimoto both suffered injury in the FA Cup and will sit out the tournament, while left back Lee Ju-yong joins recently anointed K League MVP Son Jun-ho as an absentee due to positive Covid19 cases at the Korean National Team's international camp. Sydney fans may remember Kim Jin-su playing against them last time out but he now plies his trade for Al Nassr, meaning Jose Morais resorted to playing centre back Koo Ja-ryong at right back with the versatile Choi Chul-soon filling in at left back against Shanghai SIPG. 

JD: What are the expectations for Jeonbuk in this year's ACL? After a strong season do you expect them to see themselves as favourites?

PH: At one point this season it looked as though Jeonbuk could be in the rare position for them of collecting no silverware. While they no doubt boast a disrupted squad with key players missing, confidence grew after eventually winning their season-long tussle with Ulsan. Just like Sydney, Jeonbuk lost games against Yokohama F. Marinos and Shanghai SIPG either side of the 2-2 draw between the pair in March, whereby Han Kyo-won secured a point with a late equaliser. 

Sitting five points off second and knockout qualification in Group H, progressing to the latter stages may be seen as the most impressive and unlikely part of Jose Morais' two-year tenure at the club, which could be coming to an end this winter. I feel Jeonbuk will see themselves as favourites for this one however, mainly because they have played far more competitive football than Sydney of late, even though they do not have the strength in depth they are accustomed to. In fact, Jeonbuk had to field three natural wingers in a five-man midfield last time out.

JD: Which players really make this Jeonbuk team tick and who do you think Sydney should focus most on?

PH: Fortunately for those of a Sydney persuasion it is the absent Son Jun-ho who controls the ebb and flow of this Jeonbuk side as a deep-lying central midfielder. Shin Hyung-min is capable of taking his place but has not enjoyed much game time this season. With Son and Kunimoto both missing from the middle of the pitch, this places a large burden on the shoulders of Kim Bo-kyung as Jeonbuk's only remaining natural attacking central midfielder. Wednesday would be a great time to grab his first ACL goal since 2016.

Mid-way through the season Jeonbuk dipped into the transfer market to secure a much-needed boost in the July signings of Modou Barrow and striker Gustavo. The former in particular is looked to in terms of creativity, having also scored for Gambia in the recent international break. Han Kyo-won only featured from the bench against Shanghai but I would expect him to start after a stellar season on the right wing. 

Peters asks, Jamie answers

PH: How have Sydney and the A-League in general been dealing with Covid19 and how has it affected Sydney's ACL preparations?

JD: It's been pretty hectic and uncertain. Many players have departed their clubs early to pursue opportunities overseas and the lack of clarity affected a lot of the clubs, but Sydney least so. Heading into the off season, we had 20 players already contracted for the next season, whereas some clubs only had four to five senior players contracted and many academy players.

The biggest impact on Sydney's preparations I feel has been the quarantine and weird pre-season. We returned to training before most A-League clubs but are still very rusty defensively and with our passing. We played four friendlies in the lead up to Qatar but with a lot of rotation.

PH: Both these sides have endured poor starts to their ACL campaigns, how do you expect Steve Corica to set up his side in what could be described as a must-win match should they proceed to the knockouts?

JD: Knowing Corica, I think he'll keep things very cool, calm and collected. He's not one for showing the pressure of the situation and strongly believes in his group of players and playing style. Even when under the pump they stick meticulously to the passing game.

Corica I feel thrives under being the underdog - both as a player and manager. He's not the loudest or the most aggressive but he's very sharp and a strong motivator. The biggest change will be the loss of goalkeeper Thomas Heward-Belle (suspension), with most likely Adam Pavlesic taking up the gloves against Jeonbuk. He's highly rated and a star of the Australian U-17's last World Cup campaign. 

PH: Many Asian football fans will know about the prowess of the departed Adam Le Fondre, what are the Sky Blues best options in filling his absence?

JD: Alfie is still a huge loss, and the void it has left is a massive point of contention among fans. Corica has often shown faith in his young players to step up, and so far Trent Buhagiar seems to be his top pick to replace the Englishman. Buhagiar is a lightning fast player who started out as a winger before being moulded into a number nine by Corica. He's shown a great eye for goal and has grown into the partnership with Kosta Barbarouses up front. Buhagiar has scored in five of his seven starts for Sydney FC (cheers @SFC_stats) and his form in pre-season was strong. 

The other option of note is Luke Ivanovic, who's very different to Buhagiar. Ivanovic is a strong player, known best for rampaging runs, calm finishing and willingness to fight for the ball. If any Korean football fans remember Matt Simon from a few years ago, he has that same drive and desire that have made him hugely popular with fans. 


Thank you to Jamie for collaborating with us once more to provide this match preview. You can read more of his work at All Sides of the Harbour.

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