Melbourne Victory full-back Jason Geria will have to be at his best if the Hyundai A-League club is to overcome Jeonbuk Motors in the AFC Champions League’s (ACL) Round of 16.
Geria has generally been Victory coach Kevin Muscat’s preferred option at right-back throughout the 2015-16 season, meaning he could come up against two of the K League club’s best imports in the Round of 16 tie against Jeonbuk.
Victory will make their ACL knockout stage debut at AAMI Park on Tuesday before the return leg in South Korea on May 24.
Brazilian duo Ricardo Lopes and Leonardo have been Jeonbuk’s primary options at left wing in 2016, combining for nine goals in all competitions, including two each in the ACL.
“Both of those guys will put pressure in the wide areas, probably against Jason Geria – they tend to both play on the left-hand side – so he’ll have a huge say in how the game goes,” former Victory captain Adrian Leijer told Goal Australia.
Leijer, who now plays for Suwon FC, experienced Jeonbuk’s quality first hand last month when the reigning K-League champions beat his side 3-1.
Lopes was on the scoresheet that day, as was Jeonbuk captain Lee Dong-gook and impressive right winger Han Gyo-won.
Han has scored four goals in as many matches for Choi Kang-hee’s side but Lee – a familiar face to Victory fans – remains Jeonbuk’s lead man in the forward third.
“While his mobility isn’t what it used to be, he still has that quality to pick out a dangerous pass,” Leijer said.
“He’s good in the air [and] he always keeps the ball alive in the attacking third, so he’s still a very big contributor to what Jeonbuk’s all about.”
Lee’s ability to hold the ball up has been critical to Choi’s tactics since he took over at Jeonbuk in 2013, with the ‘Noksekjunsa’ – Green Warriors in Korean – known for playing direct football.
Leijer reckons this might suit Victory, as he believes Matthieu Delpierre and Nick Ansell should be confident in the air against Lee, while he has predicted Muscat’s men can have some joy pressing Jeonbuk’s inexperienced central defenders.
“As soon as you do put a bit of pressure on them, they tend to go pretty direct – they don’t take chances, they don’t try and really play their way out of the back,” he said.
“That suits [Victory] and especially at home Victory, I would say, will dominate possession.”
Having been criticised in the South Korean media earlier in the year, Jeonbuk are unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since Choi stopped tinkering with his line-up – although this hasn’t been good for Australian midfielder Erik Paartalu, who has missed all of those games.
Jeonbuk – ACL champions in 2006 – topped Group E ahead of FC Tokyo and Jiangsu Suning to reach the last-16.