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Jeonbuk hoping to see benefit of squad rotation in tight schedule

All Headlines 12:27 April 11, 2016

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korean pro football champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors hope to see their squad rotation system bloom during the tight schedule of the domestic league and the Asian premier club tournament, as they struggle to score three points in recent matches.

Jeonbuk, two-time defending champions of the top-flight K League Classic, posted a 1-1 draw against Pohang Steelers in their domestic league action Sunday after conceding an equalizer in the 89th minute. This was another winless result after they suffered a shocking 3-2 loss to Vietnam's Becamex Binh Duong at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League last Wednesday.

Though only four matches have been played so far, Jeonbuk are third in the K League Classic with two wins and two draws and second in Group E of the AFC Champions League (ACL) with two wins and two losses, far from the performance that fans have expected this season.

Jeonbuk have been considered the top dog to win the domestic league after signing a slew of local big names for the squad, with some local fans even calling them "Real Jeonbuk" or "Bayern Jeonbuk," comparing the four-time K League Classic champ to star-studded Spanish giant Real Madrid and German champion Bayern Munich.

But Jeonbuk's priority this season is to win the ACL, which they haven't triumphed in since 2006. In order to grab both the league and the ACL title this season, Jeonbuk head coach Choi Kang-hee said he will utilize a rotation system so that players can save energy in a tight schedule.

In a match against Binh Duong last Wednesday, Jeonbuk rotated eight of their players out of their starting lineup against Jeju United on April 2. Four days later, Jeonbuk switched seven players from the match against Binh Duong to start a K League Classic contest against Pohang. Only three players -- goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae, defenders Choi Kyu-baek and Kim Chang-soo -- have featured in both matches.

However, his policy of shuffling the team's starting lineup isn't as productive as planned, as both offense and defense are struggling.

Though it is only the early phase of the K League Classic, Jeonbuk have scored only four goals so far, tied with four other clubs for the least number of goals scored. In the ACL, Jeonbuk have scored eight goals but also conceded seven goals, the most among K League Classic clubs in the group stage.

Before the match against Pohang, Jeonbuk head coach Choi admitted that some players are confused about his serial tinkering and thus their plays on the pitch are not displayed as well as in practice sessions.

"I think some new recruits are feeling pressure because they are now with Jeonbuk," he said.

However, Choi, who turns 57 on Tuesday, hinted he will not give up his insistence on shuffling the pack, saying there is still a long road ahead to complete the season.

"The league is a long race, after all," he said after the match against Pohang. "We are disappointed about the draw, but we just have to win the next match."

But for the ACL, it's a different story. Coach Choi might have to use their best players in the next two ACL matches regardless of player rotation in order to pass the group stage.

Jeonbuk is not in a comfortable seat in Group E. As FC Tokyo are in the top position with seven points, Jeonbuk are in second with six followed by Jiangsu Suning with five and Binh Duong with four. In the ACL, the top two teams from each of the eight groups advance to the knockout stage.

"We failed in rotation for the away match in Vietnam," he said. "For the remaining ACL group matches, we have to put in all our efforts like it is the final."

But Jeonbuk has a tight schedule before facing FC Tokyo in Japan for their fifth ACL match on April 20. Jeonbuk on Wednesday have to travel to Incheon to face Incheon United and host Seongnam FC on Saturday for their domestic league campaign.

"We have to save our energy as much as we can before we travel to Japan," Choi said.

What makes Choi sensitive about players' stamina is that two defenders -- Kim Hyung-il and Kim Chang-soo -- can't play in the next ACL match after receiving red cards against Binh Duong, meaning his rotation system can't continue as planned. Making things worse, Kim Chang-soo was sent off again in a K League Classic match against Pohang, which means the 30-year-old will have to sit out domestic league matches right away, too.

"Kim is a veteran, but it's sad that he made some fouls in unnecessary situations," he said. "He had to take care with our matches before FC Tokyo, but it's disappointing he can't."

But what brings a smile to Choi's face is the return of midfielder Kim Bo-kyung who had been out of the action for more than a month because of a left ankle injury. The former Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic player played 58 minutes before being replaced in the second half.

"We can fight well in Japan as Kim has recovered his form fully," Choi said. "We hope to find his game rhythm as fast as he can."

kdon@yna.co.kr
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