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scouting

ACL Semifinal Leg 2 Preview: Yokohama F. Marinos vs. Ulsan Hyundai

Reigning K League champions Ulsan Hyundai take a 1-0 first-leg lead to Japan for this Wednesday's AFC Champions League semifinal second leg. A positive result in Yokohama will mean a second ACL final in four years and, potentially, a third Champions League crown.

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: 2023-24 AFC Champions League Semifinal, Leg 2
Venue: Nissan Stadium, Yokohama
Date: Wednesday 24th  May 2024, 19:00 KST
Streaming: Naver (Korea only)

With the tie on a knife-edge, a place in the AFC Champions League final, an opportunity to reach Asia's summit, awaits the winner of Wednesday's clash between Yokohama F. Marinos and Ulsan Hyundai. Or even just a draw would do it for Ulsan who hold a 1-0 aggregate lead. Awaiting in the final is Al-Hilal or Al Ain who meet on Tuesday night in the Saudi capital.

Ulsan head into the first second leg of a semifinal since 2019 with the last three editions of the ACL being played in neutral venues and knockout matches over one leg. From 2013 to 2019, no team that lost the first leg made it to the final. The only teams which have done in the ACL's 21-year history (in it's current format) are Seongnam (2010) and Jeonbuk (2006).

Under Hong Myung-bo in the AFC Champions League, Ulsan have played 26 matches, winning 18, drawing three, and losing five. Away from the Munsu - including games played in neutral venues - it's seven wins from 12 matches with just three losses. One of those losses was against J.League giants Kawasaki Frontale. Both teams had the weekend off, meaning both will be just as fresh as each other heading into Wednesday's huge clash.

How They Got Here

Ulsan were placed in Group I and finished second after two wins over BG Pathum United, one against Johor Darul Ta'zim, and a draw against Kawasaki Frontale. In the Round of 16, Ulsan overcame Ventforet Kofu 5-1 on aggregate after a 3-0 home win and 2-1 away. In the quarters, the Horangi knocked out fellow K League side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Jeonju and a 1-0 win at the Munsu.

Yokohama F. Marinos were drawn into Group G with Incheon United, losing to the Durumi home and away. However, the J.League giants picked up two wins each over Kaya-Iloilo and Shandong Taishan to finish top of the group. In the first knockout round, Yokohama F. Marinos eased past True Bangkok United 3-2 on aggregate following a 2-2 draw in the Thai capital and a 1-0 extra-time win in Japan, courtesy of a 122nd Anderson Lopes penalty. In the quarters, Marinos again locked hours with Shandong Taishan, winning 2-1 away and 1-0 at home.

Ulsan vs. J.League opposition

Ulsan are no stranger to facing Japanese opposition in the ACL, likewise Yokohama F. Marinos with teams from K League.

Ulsan's record against J.League reads 15 wins, six draws, and seven losses. This season, from five meetings with J.League opposition, it's three wins - including two against J2 outfit Ventforet Kofu and the semifinal first leg - and a draw and one loss against Kawasaki Frontale. During Ulsan's march to ACL glory in 2020, the Horangi earned four points from six in the group stage against FC Tokyo and beat Vissel Kobe in extra time in the semis.

Yokohama's record against K League opposition is three wins, one draw, and five losses. Two of those losses were against Incheon in the group stage of this season's competition while Yokohama's last win over a K League side was in 2020, beating Jeonbuk 4-1.

First Leg & Recent Form

Ulsan earned a 1-0 win in the first leg thanks to a Lee Dong-gyeong goal in the 19th minute. Ulsan earned an xG of 1.36 with Joo Min-kyu's shot on 67 minutes from inside the area classes as his side's best chance. Lee Dong-gyeong's goal was given an xG of 0.14. For comparison, Yokohama F. Marinos earned an xG of 1.8 with Yan Matheus' chance on 81 minutes regarded as their best with an xG of 0.58. Yokohama, despite being the away side, had most of the ball with 60% possession. The J.League outfit had better passing accuracy too (88% to 80%), had more shots (21 to 8), and more shots on target (5 to 4).

Form Last Six (All Competitions)

Yokohama F. Marinos: LDWWDL
Ulsan: DDLWWW

Highlights

Press Conference

Hong Myung-bo: "The atmosphere within the team is good. The players all have a firm mindset of wanting to have a go. We have to forget about the first-leg win, we have to do all we can to make the final. We're not going to back down.

"It's a pity (that Lee Dong-gyeong leaves soon). He'll leave with himself and the team in good form. I too and the players are grateful. We'll be together for this away match in Yokohama."

Lee Dong-gyeong: "I was disappointed by myself last season. With the time that's left I really just want to help the team before I start my service. I got myself ready step by step during pre-season. This second chance has given me motivation."

What to Watch

How Ulsan cope with having little of the ball

Yokohama F. Marinos are no strangers to having much of the ball. In fact, in J1 this season, Harry Kewell's men sit second for total possession with 59.2%. Ulsan, meanwhile, top K League for ball possession with 56.8%, so last Wednesday's first leg will have been a different experience for the Horangi as Even in the ACL, Ulsan have dominated possession. 

At the Nissan Stadium on Wednesday, though, Hong Myung-bo's men don't necessarily need to be on the front foot as they have the aggregate lead. But as Hong has said, the Horangi will be looking to forget the first leg and treat Wednesday's return fixture with a fresh mindset. If they are going to be proactive then they'll need to see performances from the likes of Joo Min-kyu, Um Won-sang, and Seol Young-woo from an attacking sense, and Lee Gyu-sung when it comes to recycling possession.

Ulsan will have to be ready to face a lot of shots or at least look to prevent Yokohama from dispatching any. In the ACL this season, the J1 outfit are top for total shots with 191 and second per 90 with 15.01. Ulsan, though, have better shooting accuracy - sitting fifth in the East side of the competition with 42.5%. Yokohama's 33% places them 18th. Ulsan are ninth overall for total shots, fifth among teams from the East with 108.

Anderson Lopes is Yokohama's most accurate shooter with 50% of all shots finding the target, placing him joint-fifth overall and second among players from the East side of the competition. Wingback Kota Mizunuma is third for deep completions with 21, first from the East, with teammates Yan Matheus and Elber not too far behind with 19 and 18 respectively. Seol Young-woo is Ulsan's best in that regard with 14 in total, placing him seventh among players from the East. In terms of key passes, Yan Matheus is third with 10, Mizunuma sixth with nine, and Elber seventh with eight. Um Won-sang has eight key passes as Ulsan's highest-ranked player in that regard.

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