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AFC Champions League Preview: Yokohama F. Marinos vs. Incheon United


For the first time in their history, Incheon United will compete in the AFC Champions League this week. The group stage gets underway on Tuesday night with arguably their toughest game - a trip to the reigning Japanese champions Yokohama F. Marinos. Despite going into the game as underdogs, the Durumi will hope their good domestic form translates into a positive performance and potentially a good result in their opening group match.

Recent Form

Fresh off an injury-time win at the weekend over Jeju United, the Blue-Black will look to maintain a run of form that has seen them lose only twice since the end of June. Impressive domestic wins over Ulsan, Daejeon, Seoul and Jeju have seen Incheon climb the table and put themselves in contention for continental qualification for next year. 

Having made a slow start to the season, and after a few long-term injuries to key players, the squad seems to be finally finding its feet and putting in performances that resemble those of last year. The reintroduction of Mugoša to the squad after a torrid year in Japan has only served to bolster the attack and raise the expectations of the fans.

However, despite the good run of form, wins haven't always been the easiest to secure. A late win against Jeju on Saturday, thanks to a stunning Hernandes goal, was preceded by a lacklustre defeat to Pohang Steelers the week previous, and a late, late win away at Suwon FC following the Champions League play-off against Vietnamese outfit Hai Phong FC. If Incheon hope to secure anything in Japan this week, they'll need to be on top form and firing on all cylinders.

Yokohama F. Marinos are second in J.League and just one point behind league leaders Vissel Kobe. But the 2022 Japanese champions are on a run of three without a win in the league with two defeats preceding a 1-1 draw last Friday to Sagan Tosu. At home, though, Yokohama F. Marinos have lost just once all season. 






What to Watch

Incheon United

The club has a history of pulling out surprising away results, and have beaten Pohang, Ulsan Hyundai, FC Seoul and Daejeon on the road this year, despite the home sides being the favourite in each match. Coach Jo Sunghwan has a tendency to go against the grain when it comes to team selection away from home too, opting to bring in players who aren't always in the main line-up. Whether we see a repeat of this tactic, or whether the boss goes all out with his best players is yet to be seen.

Around five hundred Incheon fans are expected to travel to the Nissan Stadium this week to see Incheon's first taste of continental football, and with that backing one would expect Incheon to be on top of their game. Away form this year has actually been better than home form for the visitors, with Incheon picking up six away wins in the league for a return of 1.5 points per game - the third-best return in K League 1. In comparison, they have only picked up five wins at home despite playing two more games at Sungui, for a total points-per-game ratio of 1.375. 

Yokohama are currently second in the J.League, however, they have the best home form in the league this season, having lost once at Nissan Stadium all year. Their sole defeat was a 1-0 reverse against Kawasaki Frontale in the middle of July. They also have a lot of pedigree in this competition, having qualified on multiple occasions - most recently making the Round of16 last year. 

A tough test awaits Incheon, but the perennial underdogs are never scared of a fight.

Yokohama F. Marinos

The reigning Japanese champions score a lot of goals - 50 is the most in the division - but also concede a fair few. A total of 33 shipped after 27 games is more than any team in the top nine of the 18-team league. The team's xG of 44.78 is the third-highest in the division but 46.87 expected goals against is the second-highest with only Shonan Bellmare having a worse record (54.23). There's scope for goals in Tuesday's match.

Who to Watch

Incheon United

Whilst Stefan Mugoša has received a lot of airtime in the build-up to this game due to it offering him a quick return to Japan following his transfer in June, Incheon's Gerso Fernandes is Incheon's player to watch in this game. Everything the team has done well in recent months has involved him. With his lightning pace and tricky skill, he's a headache for all defenders on his day.


The former Jeju winger has six goals and seven assists in the league this season, in addition to two goals in the play-off with Hai Phong in August. In his short time playing with Mugoša, they've shown a good understanding of each other's style of play, assisting each other in recent weeks. Running in behind the defenders, he creates space and opportunity for others, in addition to creating chances for himself. 

Rested at the weekend against his former club, Gerso will be raring to go on Tuesday night, and he is expected to start up top in a 3-5-2 formation alongside Mugoša.


FNR

Yokohama F. Marinos

As for the hosts, the team's top scorer Anderson Lopes, formerly of FC Seoul, has 17 for the campaign but hasn't found the back of the net in each of his last two matches. The Brazilian trio of Anderson Lopes, Élber, and Yan Matheus lead the team's scoring charts with 17, seven, and five goals respectively. The latter two also have eight assists each while Anderson has one. 



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