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Preview: K League in AFC Champions League Matchday 4

Everything, everywhere, all at once. No, not the Oscar-winning film but the current calendar for the K League sides in the AFC Champions League. With the FA Cup semifinal and final being wrapped up in a matter of days, and with huge K League fixtures coming up this weekend, attention momentarily turns to ACL Matchday 4 with what could be crucial fixtures for the Korean contingent. 

Riding high, Pohang Steelers will be looking to build on their FA Cup triumph at the weekend with a fourth win in as many ACL games this season when they host the current champions of Asia Urawa Reds on Wednesday. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will be looking to put their defeat to Pohang in the FA Cup final behind them with an away trip to Singapore, but before that K League champions Ulsan Hyundai take on Malaysian champions JDT and Incheon United are seeking revenge against Shandong Taishan.

Tuesday 7th November 2023

Shandong Taishan (CHN) vs. Incheon United (KOR) - 19:00

Incheon United head to China to take on Shandong Taishan in what is the reverse fixture from Matchday 3 just a few weeks ago. On that night Incheon lost 2-0 at home with Cryzan and Marouane Fellaini on target for Choi Kang-hee's Shandong. The result meant Incheon slipped to second and Shandong shot up to first. Both, along with Yokohama F. Marinos, are locked on six points, leaving the group on a knife edge heading into what will be a pivotal Matchday 4.

Incheon have surpassed most people's expectations so far in the ACL with two wins from three. And in terms of expectations in front of goal, the team's xG of 5.71 with nine goals scored perhaps reflects that. Shandong's, for comparison, is 4.72 with five scored. Incheon, though, have enjoyed most of the possession in their games so far with 52.1% compared to Shandong's 46.4%. This was reflected in the previous meeting, too, with Incheon having 53.3% and Shandong 46.7%. Both sides will be looking to improve their shooting accuracy, though, with Incheon landing 33.3% of their shots on target, ranking 17th in the East side of the competition in that regard while Shandong are 13th with 36.8%.

In terms of team news, Gerso Fernandes is a major doubt while Harrison Delbridge and Shin Jin-ho are definitely out. Incheon are now on a run of one win in their last five in all competitions; Shandong, on the other hand, have just one loss in five and won 5-1 last time out. Shandong's record against K League teams reads played 20, won four, lost 11 and drew five. At home, it's three wins, one draw, and five defeats from nine matches; the two defeats to Daegu in 2022 (7-0 and 4-0) were played in Thailand.

Johor Darul Ta'zim (MAS) vs. Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) - 21:00

K League 1 champions Ulsan Hyundai's next port of call is Malaysia for the return fixture with Johor Darul Taz'im, another side that has already wrapped up its domestic league title. Ulsan ended a run of four without a win by beating JDT just a couple of weeks ago and, following the 2-0 title-clinching win over Daegu FC, have managed back-to-back wins for just the second time since July. When JDT visited the Munsu on Matchday 3, Ulsan earned a 3-1 win thanks to a brace from Gustav Ludwigson and an early opener from centre back Jung Seung-hyun. Jung actually got the assist for Ludwigson's second in a match that had seen Ulsan go 3-0 up with just 18 on the clock. Six points is enough to sit second in the group, three behind Kawasaki Frontale and three ahead of JDT. The outcome of Tuesday's context will have a big impact on how Group I looks heading into Matchday 5.

JDT lost to Kawasaki Frontale in their first ACL match this season but rebounded in Matchday 2 to earn a 4-2 away win over BG Pathum United. In the league, JDT haven't lost since April 2021 - with an incredible unbeaten run that has lasted for 57 games. In the current campaign, JDT are 15 points clear of Selangor at the top of the table with three games to go and the title already wrapped up. Against K League opposition, though, JDT have managed just two wins from seven fixtures with one draw and four losses but said wins came against Ulsan in 2022 - both by the same 2-1 scoreline. Ulsan have a record of winning two and losing two against teams from Malaysia including the 5-1 win over Perak in early 2019.

JDT have actually managed more shots so far in the ACL this season with 40 compared to the Horangi's 29. In terms of accuracy, Ulsan's is slightly better with 41.4% to 37.5%. JDT have had more touches in the box than Ulsan but Ulsan have a better passing rate, meaning more passes per minute of possession with 15.5 compared to JDT's 14.7. 


Wednesday 8th November 2023

Lion City Sailors (SIN) vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors - 19:00

Looking to put their FA Cup final defeat behind them, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel to Singapore to take on Lion City Sailors this Wednesday. Dan Petrescu's side had been on a run of five unbeaten in all competitions with four wins, including the 3-0 win over Lion City Sailors at Jeonju Castle on Matchday 3. Jeonbuk got off to a winning start in the ACL this term, if not a little convincingly, with a 2-1 home win over Kitchee before losing to Bangkok United in Matchday 2. Six points from three games put the Green Warriors in second, three behind the Thai Premier League outfit and three ahead of this Wednesday's opponents. A win for Jeonbuk would all but secure passage to the knockout rounds likewise a loss would practically mean Lion City Sailors are out.

Lion City Sailors haven't actually played at all since the 3-0 loss to Jeonbuk on October 25th. The Singapore Super League season is finished with Lion City Sailors finishing second. They do have the Singapore Cup to look forward to, though, so are not done on the domestic front just yet. In the ACL, Lion City Sailors' only win so far against Kitchee, 2-1 away in Matchday 2. Jeonbuk's 45 shots on goal so far puts them seventh among the teams in the East, fourth per 90 minutes (14.01), but an accuracy of 37.8% only ranks them 10th. However, with 12 attempts on goal, Moon Seon-min sits second for total shots in the East side of the competition. Moon is Jeonbuk's most accurate shooter, as well, with 41.67% of all shots finding the target - the seventh-best in the East.

Pohang Steelers (KOR) vs. Urawa Reds (JPN) - 19:00

Pohang Steelers on Saturday sealed their first trophy in 10 years, winning the FA Cup following a 4-2 victory over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Celebrations will have been kept at a minimum, though, as on Wednesday, Kim Gi-dong's men have the Asian champions visiting the Steel Yard. Urawa Reds will be seeking revenge for the 2-0 defeat in their own backyard just a couple of weeks ago with Goh Young-jun and Jeong Jae-hee on target for Pohang. It was Pohang's third win in a row in the ACL, putting them five points clear of Urawa and Wuhan Three Towns. A win on Wednesday would put them on the brink of a place in the knockout rounds. Pohang are on a run of five unbeaten in all competitions with just one loss in 19. Urawa, on the other hand, are on a run of three without a win including the loss to Pohang and lost in the J.League Cup final on Saturday. They sit third in J1 League, six points behind Yokohama F. Marinos in second and eight behind leaders Vissel Kobe with three to play.

Zeca, fresh from his FA Cup final heroics, heads into Matchday 4 the joint-leader of the combined goals and assists charts along with Cristiano Ronaldo, Anderson Talisca, and Aleksandar Mitrović but first from the East side of the competition. Zeca has three assists and two goals and his second overall for key passes with six, first in the East. His shooting accuracy of 75% is also the best outright in the competition. Kim Seung-dae has four, the same number as Cristiano Ronaldo, to sit third in the East.

The two teams have met twice before this season, back in 2016 when they played out a 1-1 draw in Saitama in May that year and Pohang emerged as winners at the Steel Yard 1-0 that March Pohang vs Japan. Pohang have a very good record against Japanese opposition, winning 11, drawing five and losing just two in 18 matches. As for Urawa Reds against K League opposition, the record reads played 24, won eight, drawn four, and lost 12.

Alex Grant Interview

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