First off we asked him a few questions about the green team from Korea.
Jeonbuk’s most recent outing was a (4-1) win against Anyang in the Korean FA Cup. Is this strong form?
The Anyang game saw heavy rotation in preparation for this fixture so that particular result should not be assigned too much importance. FC Anyang are a lower league side currently struggling within their division. The fact it took Jeonbuk so long to break them down, as well as let them equalise before half-time, will be more concerning to the manager’s second team though.
Jeonbuk have been on a run of good form recently though, almost finding a settled eleven that has been able to obtain the results required when the pressure is on. In the final group game of this tournament, Jeonbuk came back from behind to an expensively-assembled Jiangsu Suning to earn the draw they needed to ensure their qualification. Despite facing heavy attacking pressure towards the end, they nearly won the game but for some poor finishing from Seo Sang-min at the death.
Their last K-League game against Suwon Bluewings also saw an upturn in fortune away from home, recording their first win on the road in the league this season against one of the league’s more difficult teams. While that time luck favoured them in an unusually harsh, yet accurate, second booking to Suwon’s Shin Se-gye for time-wasting and gaining an unfair advantage from a throw, Jeonbuk still had to recover from a goal down, playing excellent passes and quick counter attacks to earn a 3-2 victory. Apparently their victory was not enough to impress the Melbourne Victory manager Kevin Muscat though, who had flown over to scout the K-League champions before this tie, claiming that the Australian side will have “an opportunity to beat them, without doubt” on Melbourne Victory’s official site.
Despite this recent pick-up in results, Jeonbuk have still made their supporters sweat a lot this season, often losing leads away from home resulting in draws and having also only beaten one team in the league by more than the single goal. Their defensive frailty has been well-documented as well as the manager’s uncontrollable urge to change things, often attributed as the cause for their previous form’s inconsistency.
How long since Erik Paartalu had some game time? Do you see a way back into the starting eleven for him?
Erik has now spent a considerable amount of time out of both the line-up and substitutes for the first team squad (nine games across all competitions), playing reserve football and waiting patiently for his return after bizarrely becoming the scapegoat for Jeonbuk’s woes in Vietnam.
Given his experience playing with both Melbourne Victory’s Besart Berisha and Kosta Barbarouses during his time at Brisbane Roar, as well as having only just come from playing in the A-League, you would think it makes sense to include him for this fixture and that he could provide a valuable asset to the squad. It is unfortunate however that Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee has inexplicably lost faith in his new acquisition and has subsequently not included him for this game (unless he is doubling up as the photographer in the club’s Melbourne training pictures that is).
I was fortunate enough to interview Erik when he signed for the club and the impression that came across was one of a player very driven and hungry for success. His arrival was greatly anticipated by the supporters as well for his experience so it is sad that we are now at a point where we are considering whether or not he will ever return to the starting eleven, or even a place on the bench.
As painful for him it might be, by not featuring in this game he most likely will be afforded a chance when the manager most likely heavily rotates for the weekend. The minutes he may be given must then be taken to stake his claim and win back his manager’s trust. With the following weekend game being against a struggling Jeonnam Dragons, it would be the ideal opportunity to press his influence on the pitch and in the manager’s thoughts.
Erik will then likely be rotated out of the squad for the second leg of this fixture, but if he does enough in the game in between, he may be able to work his way onto the bench. The steps may be small, but through patience and effort, I think he will be able to work his way back into the squad. Whether Choi Kang-hee thinks the same as me though is another matter.
Jeonbuk won Group E of the ACL but weren’t that convincing. Can we forget the loss against Binh Duong?
The loss to Becamex Binh Duong was the most embarrassing result of the season, with the repercussions being evident in the manager’s team selections since. Not only did Erik fall victim to the managers post-game cull, it also spelt the end for Kim Hyung-il and Korean national team defender Kim Chang-soo who both saw red in that game. The manager has rarely included them since.
The fixture was also the last time the manager heavily rotated his squad, a irrepressible habit he has had this season. He made eight changes for that game from the team that played the weekend prior and it showed. Since then, the manager has rotated less and has slowly started forming a starting eleven which has seen an upturn in performance.
I hope the defeat is not forgotten quickly as it serves as an ideal lesson to a manager who does not seem to often listen; do not underestimate less favoured opponents.
Jeonbuk have conceded more goals than any other team that advanced through the Group Stage with nine. With that in mind, what style of play can we expect when they visit Melbourne?
Shortly before the first group game, Jeonbuk lost their best defender Kim Kee-hee to Shanghai Shenhua in a K-League record fee of $6 million. With time running out on the clock to make use of these finances, the manager decided to stick with the initially lacking defensive options at his disposal.
With a new defensive line to decide upon and assemble, matches have sometimes seen confusion among the back four, resulting in goals being conceded that should have been preventable. The manager’s constant toying with the starting four (or five when we versed FC Seoul) also has not helped build consistency or reliability, but fortunately we have a keeper often voted the best in the league, Kwoun Sun-tae. Without him between the sticks, our position in the domestic and continental tables might look a whole lot different.
I imagine a line-up and strategy very similar to that we saw in FC Tokyo. That night marked a change in the manager’s line-up selections, with him choosing a strong team for a second consecutive time after dramatically overcoming a tricky fixture to Seongnam the weekend before.
That evening, Jeonbuk played with a high degree of professionalism and discipline, keeping one of only their three clean sheets in all competitions this season. Not only did the Japanese side have no shots on target, Jeonbuk waited patiently for their opportunity before ruthlessly counter attacking. Once the first goal went in, and FC Tokyo had to respond, Jeonbuk continued to counter attack and help themselves to two further goals. It was the first time this year (and even some of last year as well) that I felt we were actually watching a team that were befitting of their league champions status.
Seeing as this game is also away from home, I see the manager opting for a similar strategy, with an emphasis on not conceding but to snatch a goal if possible. He will wait for the home leg before he will rely on his midfield to try and carve open more chances.
In terms of the starting eleven, manager Choi Kang-hee will probably send out a line-up similar to that which started against Suwon Bluewings.
In defence, expect Choi Jae-soo, Lim Jong-eun, Choi Kyu-baek and Choi Chul-soon from left to right respectively. The central midfield pairing of Jang Yun-ho and the returning Kim Bo-kyung (having been suspended for the Jiangsu game) will sit behind Lee Jae-sung in attacking midfield. Leonardo and Lopes will most likely adorn the left and right flanks with Lee Dong-gook playing as the lone striker. Kwoun Sun-tae will also be in his usual position between the sticks.
What are your predictions?
Jeonbuk continue to prove themselves when they really have to. While it has cost them points against less-favoured teams in both competitions, their ability to step up when willing has seen them earn unlikely wins against FC Seoul (H), Seongnam (H), Suwon Bluewings (A), FC Tokyo (A) and, although not technically a victory, a required draw against a tricky Jiangsu Suning. With time being made available by the KFA to recuperate beforehand, and also having more experience in this competition, I see them being able to repeat this feat with either a draw or potentially a rare win on Australian soil.
Melbourne Victory have done well to get this far, yet it was via an away goal scored on head to head comparisons that ultimately saw them through. Even when faced with a non-plussed, second string Gamba Osaka in their final group game, they still allowed themselves to concede in the last ten minutes to create a tense finale.
Melbourne Victory’s A-league form was considerably lower than expected and will struggle with one of the biggest tests they have faced in the competition thus far. While they will most likely find a way through Jeonbuk’s defence (and who doesn’t these days!), they will not have enough to stop Jeonbuk’s midfield dictating the play and creating chances.
With the departure of three beloved Melbourne players in this fixture though, I hope that destiny does not have a say in the final score.
Predicted Score: Melbourne Victory 1-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Now Matt gets his chance to ask the questions.
Having only played one competitive fixture in nearly a month, do you think this period of downtime will be of help or hinderance to the Melbourne Victory players?
At the Melbourne Victory media conference yesterday, Kevin Muscat was emphatic, “If there was any concerns, or worry about having the longest period for us without a game, it certainly has been dispelled for us in the last few days . . .”
Personally, it is hard to imagine Melbourne Victory not being affected by such a stretch without competitive football. On the other hand, the most recent match against Gamba Osaka saw a fresh Melbourne outfit dominate their opponents and though Gamba did claw their way into the match late I don’t believe that was related to any decreased fitness levels.
However, adding a further two weeks break, I would expect that fitness levels will decrease slightly and by the time the second leg arrives, they will have dropped to even lower levels. I certainly don’t expect players to have suddenly lost their ability to control the ball and link with teammates in such a short time, especially given training would have continued close to normal.
My verdict on the first leg is that Melbourne Victory will still be firing on all cylinders. Perhaps the second leg is a fixture where match condition could influence the result.
Historic progression in the Champions League has helped divert some of the eyes away from a fairly underwhelming season in the A-League. What factors have led to such a disappointing showing on the domestic front in 2015/16?
Usually teams experience a form slump at some stage of the season before working their way back to peak performance. In 2015/16 Melbourne Victory never really recovered from their mid season slump.
Earlier in the Asian Champions League I theorised to the root cause of Melbourne’s A-League woes. My best ideas were; a) The loss of Mark Milligan added to Carl Valeri’s sudden illness creating a midfield vacuum; b) player unrest; and c) plain old staleness.
In hindsight and having seen Melbourne Victory emerge as an unlucky loser in the A-League Finals, I feel the club may have been carrying a few players who had become stale.
Kosta Barbarouses’s form has peaked again recently. He finally made clear his intentions to depart the club in March and since then he’s been that prominent figure that we know him to be. Then there was the Finkler disaster. Back in February poor old Mr Muscat was tasked with whittling his foreign contingent down to three players, as per ACL squad quota requirements.
When he omitted Gui Finkler the Argentine declared his unhappiness publicly. Cue a stale Gui appearing in the ensuing rounds of the A-League.
Two such influential players being down in the dumps can have an enormous influence on the team’s performances.
However, with contractual concerns negotiated and players’ minds at ease, Melbourne Victory do look to have turned the corner. Even if the outcome was a loss of two key players, their minds are now clear. Throw in the return of Carl Valeri and Melbourne Victory are back to their best.
This game notably marks the last home appearance for three of Melbourne Victory’s most influential players in Archie Thompson, Matthieu Delpierre and Kosta Barabarouses. What is it about these players that will make their particular departures so difficult to take?
Archie Thompson: What a contributor to the A-League this guy has been. Along with former teammate and current manager Kevin Muscat he has been the most influential personality over the 11 year history of the competition.
I still remember seeing Archie steal a point for Melbourne Victory in the first of the A-League’s ‘Big Blue’ (Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory) clashes at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Some of the hallmarks of Archie’s game were his speed, his ability on the ball and his self belief. His speed was the type to put doubts in defenders minds. The kind that has them adjusting their lines. On the ball he had something most A-League players couldn’t match. He could control at close quarters and in tight places. And Archie rarely doubted himself. He knew what he was capable of. Few will recall frustration that Archie didn’t shoot.
Off the field Thompson has been a humble champion, particularly important in Australia.
Melbourne will miss Archie’s, speed, guile, self belief and his popularity.
Delpierre: Delpierre has provided stability to Melbourne Victory’s backline. Pure and simple. The 35 year old Frenchman’s arrival put in the 2014/15 season brought an end to crosses and corners causing heart palpitations for Victrory fans.
With his 193cm frame Delpierre was instrumental in downsizing the goals against statistic for his A-League club. In 2013/14 Melbourne Victory conceded 43 goals. In 2014/15 with Delpierre’s influence, the club conceded just 31 goals in the A-League season.
His retirement will be a source of headache for manager Kevin Muscat in the offseason.
Kosta Barbarouses: The light footed kiwi has provided 16 goals over his three seasons at Melbourne Victory but there was more than that. Brought to the club during the short-lived Ange Postecoglou reign, Barbarouses has been a lynchpin in the pressing style of Melbourne Victory.
He’s someone that kids come along to the game to see. Like Archie Thompson, Barbarouses can dribble with the speed and adroitness that few in the A-League can. At twenty-six it’s fair to say that the kiwi’s best years are still ahead of him.
With Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors postponing their game at the weekend to ensure their strongest team could be ready for this tie (namely the team who beat FC Tokyo away 3-0), do you see Melbourne Victory making any tactical changes to deal with specific threats?
I doubt that Kevin Muscat would make any positional changes for the Jeonbuk clash. Melbourne Victory are a club that look to play an attacking and entertaining brand of football, and with all due respect to Jeonbuk (a huge K-League club) Melbourne aren’t often the type to alter their style for an opponent.
At home they’ll line up in their usual 4-3-3, with Thompson and Barbarouses supporting goal supply Besart Berisha. In midfield you’ll see Broxham and Valeri winning possession possibly supported by Ollie Bozanic.
The team will have a familiarity about it, so if Jeonbuk have done their research there shouldn’t be any surprises.
I think Muscat’s men will be given instructions on certain players such Kim, Bo-Kyung (13), Leonardo and of course Lee, Dong-Gook. Midfielder Kim was a regular in Cardiff City’s 2013/14 Premier League campaign and his goal against FC Tokyo was evidence of his threat in front of goal. Leonardo has a long range shot that needs to be monitored so he can expect attention, meanwhile Lee, Dong-Gook will be under the scrutiny of the centre backs.
Melbourne shouldn’t be troubled by standard ‘into the mixer’ corners or free kicks. If Jeonbuk use some variations, they may have some success there.
Finally, what is your prediction for the first leg?
The more I think about it, the more I see a Jeonbuk side walking away with the points. With Melbourne unlikely to compromise their style, they must take their chances. However, there have been matches in the A-League where striker Besart Berisha has become a solitary figure. A well researched Jeonbuk maybe able to affect the some circumstances.
There is a cutting edge and ruthlessness about the Koreans that has been lacking in Melbourne’s other ACL opponents. No doubt Melbourne Victory will be up for this fixture with some club favourites making their last appearances but I’ll go with the pragmatic K-League club.
Predicted score: Melbourne Victory 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.