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scouting

AFC Champions League Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Wuhan Three Towns

Two weeks after starting their 2023-2024 AFC Champions League journey with three points away from home, Pohang Steelers will host Chinese side Wuhan Three Towns. Pohang Steelers columnist Zeno Jo previews the first-ever meeting between the two sides.

Match Information

The match between Pohang Steelers and Wuhan Three Towns will take place on Wednesday, October 4, and kicks off at 7 p.m. KST (10:00 a.m. GMT). It will be played at the Steelyard in Pohang, South Korea. It will be the first meeting between the two clubs, as Wuhan is making their AFC Champions League debut in this campaign. Hosts Pohang Steelers are currently second in their domestic league, K League, currently eight points behind league leaders Ulsan Hyundai, who are in Group I of the ACL. Visitors Wuhan Three Towns are seventh in the Chinese Super League. The defending champions are currently 17 points behind leaders Shanghai Port FC.

The current table for Group J is as follows:

1. Pohang Steelers
3 points | +2 GD | 4 goals scored, 2 goals allowed
2. Wuhan Three Towns
1 point | +0 GD | 2 goals scored, 2 goals allowed
Urawa Red Diamonds
1 point | +0 GD | 2 goals scored, 2 goals allowed
Hanoi FC
0 points | -2 GD | 2 goals scored, 4 goals allowed 

Recent Form

Before starting their respective ACL campaigns, Pohang Steelers and Wuhan Three Towns were in good form. Wuhan had gained twelve points in the month of September, where they won four of their five matches. When they started continental play, Wuhan had slim to no chance at contending for a second-straight title, but could have pushed for an AFC Cup or ACL qualification spot. Since drawing 2-2 against the ACL's defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Wuhan has lost two straight CSL matches. The CSL's defending champions will need a miracle to qualify for any continental football in the 2024-2025 season. 

Before the beginning of Asia's premier club competition, Wuhan Three Towns were reported to be "in danger of dissolution".


Pohang Steelers have similarly also had a dip in form after their ACL opener. They won 4-2 against Hanoi FC, who made their ACL debut, after leading 4-0. Go Young-joon's absence, which is due to national team duties at the Asian Games, seemed to have been dealt with well in that game, but their two league matches since then have shown reasons to be concerned. 

In the two matches since beating Hanoi, Pohang has scored no goals and has allowed no goals. There seems to be a need for something new, especially since the two draws come at a crucial time in the season when the club are pushing for a title. 

Team News

Wuhan Three Towns will be without their versatile midfielder Xiaobing Zhang left due to an injury in the team's 2-1 loss to Shandong Taishan. 

Pohang has been injury-plagued this season, with fullbacks on either side Sim Sang-min and Kim Yong-hwan injured. Jung Jae-hee suffered a severe hamstring injury earlier in the season, though he is rumored to be returning soon. To make matters worse, left winger Wanderson, who had been covering at left-back since Sim's injury, suffered a jaw fracture against rivals Ulsan Hyundai and is expected to be out for the remainder of the season, according to Sports G.

As mentioned before, Go Young-joon is unavailable due to duties on the national team. 

Wuhan is expected to line up in a 3-4-3 formation, while Pohang is expected to play in their usual 4-2-3-1.

Storylines

Wuhan Three Towns also made their AFC Champions League debut this season. This will be the first time that these two sides ever meet. 

Pohang have gone up against Chinese clubs before. Since winning it all in 2009, they have gone up against the likes of Guangzhou Evergrande, Shandong Taishan twice, Beijing Guoan and Tianjin Jinmen. In ten matches, they've had four wins, four draws and two losses. 

Wuhan Three Towns recently recruited Park Ji-soo. The former Gyeongnam FC, Gimcheon Sangmu and Suwon FC center-back made the move back to Asia after a short stint in Portugal. For half a year at Portimonense SC, Park was teammates with Pohang youth product Kim Yong-hak. 

Kim Gi-dong's Pohang Steelers have been known to struggle against teams that use formations with three defenders, which will make this particular clash an interesting one. 

Who to Watch

The Steelers have been struggling to score goals as of late. Go Young-joon was typically the go-to guy to turn things around in goalscoring droughts, so the team will need somebody else to step up. Speedy veteran Kim In-sung played a big role in the win over Hanoi FC, scoring two goals. He's expected to start again, and goals are to be expected from the 2020 AFC Champions League champion and All-Star Squad member. 

Wuhan Three Towns will look to Aziz, their 24-year-old Ghanaian striker. He's scored the most goals for them this season, with 16 in all competitions. Their next-best goalscorer has five.

Kim Seung-dae (left) and Marcão (right) pictured in 2018, the last time that Marcão played at the Steelyard. He scored three goals in a 3-0 win for Gyeongnam FC.
Zeca's clash with the Wuhan defense will be an interesting one to watch. He notched three assists against Hanoi. He's expected to come off or on at some point, with Lee Ho-jae being the second deputy. Park Ji-soo isn't the only former K-Leaguer in Wuhan's squad. Marcão, who was named to the 2018 K League Team of the Year after scoring 26 goals in 28 appearances for Gyeongnam FC.

Expected Lineup for Pohang Steelers

Given the unavailabilities and injuries, Pohang's team picks itself for this match. Given the absence of ball-winning midfielder Xiaobing Zhang for Wuhan Three Towns, Kim Gi-dong could be more inclined to field an attacking midfield, like he did against Hanoi.

Here's how we could expect Pohang to lineup this week:

Formation: 4-2-3-1
Goalkeeper: Hwang In-jae
Defense: Shin Kwang-hoon, Ha Chang-rae, Alex Grant, Park Seung-wook
Defensive Midfield: Oberdan, Han Chan-hee
Attacking Midfield: Kim Seung-dae, Kim Jong-woo, Kim In-sung
Attack: Lee Ho-jae

Zeca played nearly the entire match against Ulsan, coming off in the 87th minute for Kim Jong-woo. While Yun Min-ho could be expected to start again, but his mysterious exclusion from the squad against Ulsan might be cause for concern. Baek Sung-dong could be somebody who steps up, as he made his return in the Donghaean Derby draw and will be looking to maintain fitness. 

Pohang has little to no issues with depth in the attacking third, with the aforementioned Baek, Yun and Hong Yun-sang available as substitutes in this predicted eleven. Their midfield depth is also solid, with Kim Jong-woo able to move down and Kim Jun-ho also available. 

However, there are depth issues in defense. Pohang's right and left-backs, Kim Yong-hwan and Sim Sang-min, have been out with long-term injuries with no timetable to return as of yet. The team will find solace in the fact that Shin Kwang-hoon has returned, but the 36-year-old veteran is still far from his best. Wanderson's recent injury means that Park Seung-wook will again have to do his best Swiss Army knife impression. It's been an on-and-off season for Park, but he's always done what's asked of him, regardless of the position. 

FNR

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