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scouting

AFC Champions League Round of 16 [2nd Leg] Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

After a first leg that saw the momentum switch hands numerous times and result in the hosts earning a 2-0 victory, the matchup moves to the Steelyard, where new manager Park Tae-ha will look to avoid elimination in just his second-ever game at the helm for the Steelers. 

Venue: Pohang Steelyard

Date: Tuesday 20th of February

Kickoff Time: 19:00 (KST)
 

The first match was an indication not just of how the second leg would go, but maybe an early one at how Park Tae-ha's Pohang may play. The first leg was a clash between a team that was still figuring its identity out and a team that had finally found its identity. 

With the match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium rendering the Steelers scoreless, Pohang will need to protect their own goal while looking to outscore the Motors by at least two. 

Team News

Jeonbuk's Hernandes, who opened his Jeonbuk banking account with the opening goal of the first leg, is said to be unavailable. 

"He told me he picked up an injury when he tried to shoot from 40m," Manager Dan Petrescu told AFC.com. Former Steeler Lee Soo-bin also suffered an injury to his face, while Kim Tae-hwan suffered what Petrescu seemed to chalk down as a fitness-related injury. 

The timetable for Oberdan's return is still unknown. He is recovering from an MCL rupture that he suffered in the team's 1-0 loss to Suwon Samsung last October. The team's deputy goalkeeper, Yun Pyeong-guk, was also left out of the squad, leading to rumors he may be injured. Jeong Jae-hee, who suffered a hamstring injury last season, was also out of action and is not expected to return soon. 

Head-to-head

Prior to last week's loss, the Steelers were undefeated in their last five encounters with Pohang, which included the FA Cup final that saw Pohang victorious, 4-2.

Last Five Encounters:
29th of May, 2023: Pohang 1-0 Jeonbuk, K League 1 Round 15
21st of July 2023: Pohang 2-1 Jeonbuk, K League 1 Round 24
28th of October 2023: Jeonbuk 1-1 Pohang, K League 1 Round 35
4th of November 2023: Pohang 4-2 Jeonbuk, FA Cup Final
14th of February 2024: Jeonbuk 2-0 Pohang, AFC Champions League Round of 16

Who to Watch

Jorge Luis Teixeira (Jorge)

The new signing will make his Steelyard debut on Tuesday. He's got big shoes to fill, with the club bringing him in with the objective of replacing Zeca, who joined Chinese Super League side Shandong Taishan in the winter transfer window. 

In times that midfielders, typically Han Chan-hee, had trouble moving the ball into the attacking third, Jorge dropped deep to assist in the buildup. This was especially effective in the second half, when he had pacy attacking options like Hong Yun-sang. 



The former Chungbuk Cheongju FC striker was a standout in an otherwise unimpressive showing in the first leg. He won duels on the ground and in the air while making up two of the team's three registered shots on target in the game. He also played 90 minutes, which was a luxury that Kim Gi-dong did not have with Zeca.

New manager Park Tae-ha chose to use him alongside Lee Ho-jae to start the match in a formation that could be seen as a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2. After just under a week of being able to see his team train more, it remains to be seen if Park has figured out what his best eleven is. 

What to Watch

Can Pohang break down Jeonbuk's block?

The term to sum up Jeonbuk's style of play in 2023 may be "counter attack". While this counter attack was rather stagnant and uncreative at times, this year's is different. They win the ball back and move the ball to the attacking third at an almost terrifying speed. Oberdan's availability is still questionable, meaning the Steelers will have to find a way through, around or over the Jeonbuk defense. 

The 2-0 scoreline comes despite Pohang leaving Jeonju with 62% of the ball. In the words of Jose Mourinho, "they can take the ball home, I take the three points." Pohang had extended periods of time with the ball at its feet, but with little danger. Kim Jeong-hoon had just three saves to make and never had to leave his own box in urgent fashion. 

Keeping an eye on if Pohang can be more creative will be one of the biggest watching points for this match.


Does Pohang have an answer for the speedy Jeonbuk attack?

The 2024 version of Jeonbuk is a lot flashier than what was shown in 2023. Their attackers are flashier and faster, and they also have better options behind them in the midfield. The combination of Lee Dong-jun, Song Min-kyu and Tiago Orobó caused problems for the Pohang backline, which is still getting up to shape. 

Jonathan Aspropotamoitis and Park Chan-yong played together for the first time, and appeared to have trouble getting on the same page at times. A change in defensive scheme or personnel may be needed to combat the fast motors attack.

While it's not known if Petrescu is a fan of basketball, Jeonbuk's mindset with each possession is akin to it. Every possession results in a shot, no matter what. This approach results in either a shot on target to challenge the keeper or a corner, which Jeonbuk had eight of in the first leg. Pohang, for comparison, had just three. Keeping the Jeonbuk attackers in front of them will undoubtedly be the task for the Pohang defense in the second leg. 

Final Thoughts

Pohang have their work cut out for them: score and don't be scored on. The first leg's clean sheet will provide Jeonbuk with a two-goal advantage in the second leg. While Jeonbuk's squad have had half a season to learn the footballing ways of their manager, Pohang has had just under two months. A win in the second leg, regardless of the overall outcome, will be crucial to set the tone for this season. 




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