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scouting

AFC Champions League Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Kitchee SC



Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host Hong Kong champions Kitchee in the first group stage match of their 23/24 AFC Champions League campaigns. Both sides hope to put the heavy defeats they sustained at the weekend behind them as they face off in the ACL for the first time in over five years.

Recent Form

Jeonbuk comes into this fixture on the back of a 3-1 home defeat to relegation-battling Gangwon FC. Despite the waterlogged pitch in the second half that did make the game almost unplayable and probably should have been abandoned, it was yet another substandard performance from Dan Petrescu's men who went from 1-0 leaders to trailing 2-1 within a couple of minutes in first-half injury time. A well-deserved defeat that marks their fifth game without a win and is also their eleventh loss of the season, which is the club's worst loss record in a decade. It is currently the worst form in all of K League 1. The club faces potentially finishing in a Final B place for the first team since 2007, a catastrophic season for a football club aiming to win the treble.

As for Kitchee, they started well in the first two fixtures of the Hong Kong Premier League by beating Tai Po and HKFC 3-0 and 8-0 respectively. The latter match saw former Jeonbuk striker and two-time ACL winner Kim Shin-wook bag a hattrick albeit against semi-pro opposition. Kitchee then suffered a devastating 4-1 defeat to Lee Man before travelling to Jeonju.

Team News

The big news of the upcoming fixture is that 'The Wookie' will not be able to return to face his former side as he picked up an injury in the Lee Man fixture, subsequently not travelling with the team.

Song Min-kyu, Park Jin-seob, Bak Jae-yong, Kim Jeong-hoon and Paik Seung-ho are all featured at the Asian Games and therefore unavailable for Jeonbuk. 
 

Head-to-head

Both teams got drawn into Group E of the ACL in 2018 alongside the now-dissolved Tianjin Quanjian and Kashiwa Reysol. The Green Warriors inflicted a ravaging defeat on Kitchee in Hong Kong. 6-0 victors with goals from Adriano (x3), Kim Jin-su, Tiago Alves and Lee Dong-gook.

The second group game in Jeonju ended with another positive result for Jeonbuk. 3-0 with goals from Lee Seung-gi, Lim Sun-young and now Kitchee forward Kim Shin-wook.



Kim Shin-wook celebrating his goal against Kitchee in 2018.

Who to Watch

Jeonbuk - Han Kyo-won

It's currently difficult to pinpoint a standout player in Jeonbuk, as their performances have been unsatisfactory lately. However, Han Kyo-won is a highly experienced winger who, despite being unpredictable in terms of scoring, has the ability to shine for the North Jeolla club when he does perform well.

He has scored some of the most significant goals in the club's history, including the winner of the 2016 ACL final. His goal against Urawa Reds in the semi-finals last year almost sent Jeonbuk to the final. Last month, Han found a strong vein of form for a couple of fixtures, scoring and assisting against Incheon, then scoring again the following game against Suwon. On his day, he might not score the most spectacular goals, but he can still help Jeonbuk win matches even if the team is not performing well.



Kitchee - Jakob Jantscher

Jantscher recently signed for the Hong Kong outfit from Austrian side Sturm Graz. The striker could be one to watch in this fixture since the Jeonbuk defence can be incredibly unsteady and unstable. If he stays alert and is ready to capitalise, then the 23-time capped Austrian international with experience at club level in European competition could net more than once for Kitchee if the Jeonbuk defence is yet again shaky and stand-in goalkeeper Jeong Min-ki has another disappointing showing like he did against Gangwon.




Final Thoughts

The modern-day Kitchee team has more experience playing in the ACL than the team that Jeonbuk defeated in 2018. This, combined with Jeonbuk's decline, could mean the upcoming game will be closer than previous meetings.

They have a good chance of getting a result. In the previous season, they made it to the knockouts in a group that included Vissel Kobe and Chiangrai United. They have the experience. Despite being heavily defeated in their last game, which could have affected their morale, they should still be confident about their chances of getting a positive result against Jeonbuk, who have really been struggling this season and as of late.

Kitchee may have gained even more optimism knowing some crucial players for Jeonbuk are unavailable. And going off Dan Petrescu's comments and the team fielded against Gangwon, it looks like Jeonbuk will be rotating with the Gwangju fixture on the weekend looking like the priority amid the top 4 race still being on and the club looking to avoid the bottom 6.

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