ACL Preview: Melbourne Victory v Jeonbuk Motors

Jeonbuk Motors have failed to fire in the ACL so far this term, but should they find their best form than Melbourne Victory could be in trouble, writes Asian football expert John Duerden.

Melbourne Victory is preparing for a first ever appearance in the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday against a team that has made it this far eight times before.

There are not many clubs with the continental pedigree of Jeonbuk Motors and fans down under will get a chance to see the Korea Republic powerhouse in the flesh for the second time in three years.

Back in 2014, Jeonbuk just managed to finish above Melbourne in Group G as the Hyundai A-League team was eliminated. A thrilling 2-2 draw in Australia was followed by a goalless statemate at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium.

Jeonbuk is keen to add to its 2006 continental title and equally keen to put the penalty shootout defeat in the 2011 final to bed.

Jeonbuk Motors.

Almost as painful was last year’s quarter-final exit against Gamba Osaka. The Koreans were heading through until the Kansai club scored in the last seconds.

That made 2016 even more important. The group stage was not as comfortable as it should have been. There were two avoidable defeats away. The first a 3-2 loss at Jiangsu Suning and the second by the same scoreline at Binh Duong in Vietnam. Jeonbuk was ahead but two late red cards made a difference.

A fine 3-0 win on the road to FC Tokyo in the penultimate match got the campaign back on track and the point the team needed to clinch top spot in Group E was achieved with a nervy draw at home to Jiangsu.

Now in the knockout stage and with bitter rivals Guangzhou Evergrande out of the running, Jeonbuk fancies its chances of going all the way.

Last weekend’s K-League game was rescheduled until next month meaning that the Motors could arrive in Melbourne nice and early.

Coach Choi also rested players in last Wednesday’s FA Cup win over second tier Anyang and said he will do the same in next weekend’s league derby with Jeonnam Dragons.

Choi Kang-hee

 The target is: get through to the quarter-finals that take place in August and September and then in the meantime, focus on the league and an attempt to win a third straight K-League Classic title.

It is just two years since the two teams last met but of the 18 players in Jeonbuk’s squad on that night, it is likely that only four will be around this time.

Lee Dong-gook scored twice in Australia and the record goalscorer in the AFC Champions League may now be 37 but is still the main goalscorer and should start.

Plenty of talent has come and gone in the meantime.

Lee Jae-sung is partnered in midfield by Kim Bo-kyung, now playing in the K-League for the first time after spells in the J.League and the English Premier League. Kim can play anywhere in Jeonbuk’s advanced line of four in their recent 4-1-4-1 formation.

Kim and Lee make for the exciting midfield pairing in Korea, and there can’t be many better in the entire continent. Clever, creative with considerable vision, Kim especially has an eye for goal. He was suspended for the draw with Jiangsu and was missed.

Kim Bo-kyung.

As eye-catching as this duo is, much also depends on 19 year-old holding midfielder Jang Yun-ho, should he get the nod, as he has of late.

The back four is perhaps not quite as impressive as in 2014 especially in the middle. Alex Wilkinson has headed home and Kim Kee-hee was tempted to join Shanghai Shenhua for big money just before the season started.

It didn’t leave much time to find a replacement for the international. Centre-backs Choi Gyu-beak and Lim Jong-eun lack a little of the authority of the former pairing but that may change if they can come through this test.

Going pretty well in the league, second behind FC Seoul, and safely through to the second round, there is a feeling that the team has not quite clicked yet. If it does in the next few days, Melbourne better watch out.