Ahead of the second leg of Round of 16 ties in the East Zone of AFC Champions League 2019, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks at the four big questions.
CAN OLD DOGS EVERGRANDE GET THE JOB DONE?
In a real statement of intent to disprove the notion that they are a side on the wane, Guangzhou Evergrande claimed a slender advantage over upstarts Shandong Luneng with a 2-1 win last week.
Having already been usurped in the Chinese Super League by current champions Shanghai SIPG, Evergrande showed there is still plenty of life left in them against an opposition side boasting famous European names such as Graziano Pelle and Marouane Fellaini.
AFC Champions League 2019: Guangzhou Evergrande 1-0 Shandong Luneng (Wei Shihao 35′)
What made the victory all the more impressive was that young guns like Wei Shihao – while ably supported by Brazil international Paulinho – stepped up in the absence of Anderson Talisca and Gao Lin.
Nonetheless, there is still 90 minutes to go if Evergrande are to produce a full reminder that they still mean business.
DO GOAL-SHY SANFRECCE HAVE ENOUGH FIREPOWER TO OVERTURN DEFICIT?
Plenty has been made about Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s defensive capability this season as one of the main factors behind them reaching the knockout round, conceding just four times in six group-stage matches.
However, they have not exactly been firing on all cylinders in attack and, having lost to Kashima Antlers 1-0 in the first leg, do they have enough in attack to overturn the deficit?
Brazilian Douglas Vieira, their main man in attack, has only scored once in the ACL this year, and the supporting cast of Daiki Watari, Tsukasa Morishima and Yoshifumi Kashiwa are more industrious creators rather than genuine avenues to goals.
Kashima are far from the same side that went all the way last year but, unless Sanfrecce up their offensive game, the Antlers could just be comfortably advancing into the last eight.
CAN HULK AND OSCAR FIRE SHANGHAI SIPG INTO QUARTERS?
A 1-1 draw against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors may not be the worst result ever, but the lack of threat posed by Shanghai SIPG’s much-vaunted Brazilian front trio of Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson would have been caused coach Vitor Pereira much frustration.
Instead, it was down to the wing-backs to combine for what proved to be a potentially valuable equaliser last Wednesday, as Yu Hai’s inventive cross from the left was expertly nodded home by Wang Shenchao.
AFC Champions League 2019: Shanghai SIPG 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Wang Shenchao 39′)
Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson have all had their moments this season but went sorely missing in the opening encounter.
With Jeonbuk enjoying home advantage and with plenty of talent to call upon in the final third, SIPG can ill afford another anonymous showing from their Brazilian stars.
ARE ULSAN PROVING TO BE GENUINE CONTENDERS?
It is not always the worst thing to be flying under the radar, although many more will start sitting up and taking notice if Ulsan Hyundai continue to march on in the tournament.
While things initially looked bleak as they fell behind to 2017 winners Urawa Red Diamonds, the K League 1 outfit hit back through goals from Joo Min-kyu and Hwang Il-su to claim a crucial away victory.
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What made the win even more remarkable was the fact that they only had two of their four allowed imports on the field in Mix Diskerud and Dave Bulthuis, although – in Urawa’s defence – they only fielded Ewerton from their foreign contingent.
Seasoned campaigners such as Kim Bo-kyung and Park Joo-ho have been leading the charge without much fuss thus far, but it will take much longer for the ACL’s other challengers to start eyeing Ulsan with concern.