Asian Champions League Preview 2016

Asia’s finest club tournament is set to kick off, and with more and more international superstars spread around Asia, this year could be the best ever.  Here comes a preview of all 8 groups:

Group A:

Al Ittihad (KSA):

Summary:

Only 4th place in the league last season, but have had a decent start this year and are in 3rd place, just 4 points behind 1st place after 17 matches. Got one of the best FWs in the league in Gelmin Rivas. Have a decent record in ACL, reached the semifinal in 2012, and progressed from the group stage in 2014 as well. Should be the best team in the group.

Key players:

DF Hamad Al Montashari
MF Sulley Muntari
FW Gelmin Rivas

Prediction: 1st place

Al Nasr (UAE):

Summary:

Only 5th place last year in the league, but qualified for ACL via the cup.   Are in 3rd place this season, but nowhere near the top 2 teams from UAE. Lost their best FW to China, but still got a strong duo up front in Nilmar and Kembo-Ekoko. Havent been in ACL since 2013, when they crashed out of the group-stage with a 0-1-5 record. Likely to struggle this year as well, but UAE-teams have been constantly improving a lot the last couple of seasons.

Key players:

MF Luis Jimenez
FW Jirès Kembo-Ekoko
FW Nilmar

Prediction: 2nd – 3rd place

Lokomotiv Tashkent (UZB):

Summary:

2nd place last year in PFL, but only 1-1-4 overall in ACL.   Likely to struggle this season as well, as they lack international experience and will be very surprised if they qualify from the group-stage. Will take most of their points at home, as it is a long travel from Western Asia. Djeparov is an exciting signing that add a lot of experience to their midfield.

Key players:

DF Nemanja Janicic
MF Sanjar Shaakhmedov
MF Server Djeparov

Prediction: 2nd – 4th place

Sepahan FC (IRN):

Summary:

Won the league last year, but are all the way down in 11th place after 21 matches so far this season. Lost their best FW and MF, and none of the players brought in have proven to be any successful so far. Have a rich history in ACL, but failed to qualify from the group-stage both in 2013 and 2014, so they are not what they used to be. Based on this year’s performance in the league, they are likely to struggle in ACL as well this season.

Key Players:

DF Abdullah Karami
MF Rasool Navidkia
FW Mohammed Reza Khalatbari

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Group B:

Al Nassr (KSA):

Summary:

Al Nassr won the league last year, but have had a bad season so far, and are all the way down in 7th place after 17 matches despite having kept most of their key-players. Had a disappointing ACL-spell last season and failed to qualify from the group-stage with a 2-2-2 record. Should have a decent chance to do better this year I think, as they can focus 100% on ACL.

Key Players:

DF Hussein Abdul Ghani
MF Adrian Mierzejewski
FW Mohammed Al Sahlawi

Prediction: 2nd – 3rd place

Bunyodkor (UZB):

Summary:

Only managed a 4th place in the league last year, and were a long way behind the top 2 teams. Not as strong as they were a few seasons ago, but they got a lot of experience from ACL which can give them a few extra points. Havent made too many changes since last season, but brought in a decent FW in Nasimov. Qualified from the group-stage in ACL both in 2013 and 2014, but lost 5 out of 6 matches last year.

Key Players:

DF Ivan Milosevic
MF Chaker Zouaghi
FW Bakhodir Nasimov

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Lekhwiya (QAT):

Summary:

Lekwhiya won the Qatar Stars League last year, and are in 2nd place after 19 matches so far this season. They lost the relatively important trio of MF Weiss, MF Mohd and FW Soria ahead of this season, but have managed to do well without them too. They got lots of experience in ACL, having qualified for the 5th consecutive season now, and they reached the quarterfinal both in 2013 and 2015. Should have good chances to qualify from the group-stage this year as well, and can even win the group.

Key Players:

DF Chico Flores
MF Nam Tae Hee
FW Youssef Msakni

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

Zob Ahan (IRN):

Summary:

Zob Ahan finished 4th last year in the league, and hold the same position after 21 matches this season. The distance up to 1st is only a few points, so might be that their main focus will be making an attempt at the league-title. Haven’t been in ACL since 2011, so they lack recent international experience. Iranian teams have been struggling a lot in ACL over the last couple of seasons, and I don’t rate Zob Ahan’s chances of progressing past the group stage as being too big either this year, especially as their main focus will most likely be the domestic league.

Key Players:

DF Ali Hamam
MF Ghasem Hadadifar
FW Masoud Hasanzadeh

Prediction: 2nd – 3rd place

Group C:

Al Hilal (KSA):

Summary:

The Saudi giants only finished 3rd last season in the league, but are currently in 1st place after 17 matches played this year. They got loads of ACL-experience, and have qualified every year since 2009, making it past the group stage on every single occasion as well. They lost their key AM Thiago Neves to Al Jazira ahead of this season, but the newly signed Carlos Eduardo have more than replaced him, scoring 12 goals in 15 matches so far this season. Will most likely get past the group stage this year as well, without too many problems.

Key Players:

DF Kwak Tae Hwi
MF Carlos Eduardo
FW Nasser Al Shamrani

Prediction: 1st place

Al Jazira (UAE):

Summary:

Al Jazira finished 2nd last season, but have struggled so far this year and are all the way down in 8th place after 17 matches played. They have lost important players like DM Jucilei and AM Lanzini since last season, and the new players haven’t managed to replace them just yet. Got lots of talent in their squad though, and should be a favorite for the 2nd place in the group behind Al Ain.

Key Players:

DF Fares Juma
MF Thiago Neves
FW Ali Ahmed Mabkhout

Prediction: 2nd place

Pakhtakor (UZB):

Summary:

Pakhtakor won the league last year, but have since then lost their best GK and best DF. Haven’t brought in any decent replacements yet it, so might struggle a bit defensively this season. Have been a regular contestant in ACL the last couple of seasons, but with little success overall. In a relatively tough group it will be tough for them to qualify this season as well, but Uzbek teams usually have a strong home-advantage.

Key Players:

DF Adnan Orahovac
MF Sherzodbek Karimov
FW Igor Sergeev

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Tractor Sazi (IRN):

Summary:

Tractor finished 2nd last year, but are all the way down in 7th place after 21 matches played so far this season. Been in ACL for 3 years in a row, but failed to make it past the group stage on all 3 occasions. Made lots of changes ahead of those season, and have particularly been struggling to replace the offensive players that left, and doesn’t really have any proper striker in the team at the moment.   They most likely have a tough task ahead of them this year as well, if they want to qualify from the group stage.

Key Players:

DF Cardozo
MF Bakhtiar Rahmani
MF Augusto Cesar

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Group D:

Al Ahli (KSA):

Summary:

Al Ahli finished 2nd last season in the league, and hold the same positon this year after 17 matches. Have had some very good results in ACL the last couple of seasons, with just 2 narrow losses in their last 19 ACL-matches.   Shouldn’t have too many problems qualifying from this group, alongside Al Ain.

Key Players:

DF Osama Hawsawi
MF Hussain Al Mogahwi
FW Omar Al Somah

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

Al Ain (UAE):

Summary:

Al Ain won the league for the 3rd time in the last 4 years last season, and are currently 2nd place just 1 point behind leaders Al Ahli after 19 matches. Since last year they have lost several important players, including key FW Asamoah Gyan and LW Miroslav Stoch. Ryan Babel, Fellipe Bastos and Douglas are brought in, so they still got a talented squad, but none who can fill Gyan’s shoes. Only lost 2 matches in ACL the last 2 seasons, and are one of the stronger teams from West-Asia. Even without Gyan’s services up front they should be a strong contender winning the group.

Key Players:

MF Omar Abdulrahman
MF Fellipe Bastos
FW Douglas

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

El Jaish (QAT):

Summary:

El Jaish have qualified for ACL for the 4th season in a row now, but have never made it past the group-stage, and last season even got knocked out in the qualifying round. Are currently 3rd in the league, but are miles behind 1st placed Al Rayyan. Got a very good FW in Hamdallah, that were signed ahead of this season. Likely to have to compete with Nasaf for 3rd place behind Al Ain and Al Ahli, as they shouldn’t be able to match either of those 2 teams.

Key Players:

DF Lucas Mendes
MF Sardor Rashidov
FW Abderazak Hamdallah

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Nasaf (UZB):

Summary:

Nasaf haven’t made too many changes compared to last season, when they failed to qualify from the group-stage with an overall 2-2-2 record. Finished 3rd in the league, quite far off the top 2 teams, and will most likely struggle to qualify from this group as well. Likely to be a fight vs El Jaish about avoiding last place.

Key Players:

MF Joao Vilela
MF Artur Geworkyan
FW Ilkhom Shomudorov

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Group E:

Binh Duong (VIE):

Summary:

Binh Duong made it to the ACL group-stage also last season, and were weighed a bit too light even though they did reasonably well at home. Likely to be a lightweight this season as well, as they haven’t really made any major changes to their squad. Might be able to take a few points at home, but will most likely end up last in the group.

Key Players:

MF Nguyen Trong Hoang
FW Dieng
FW Le Cong Vinh

Prediction: 4th place

Jeonbuk Motors (KOR):

Summary:

Jeonbuk have won the league for 2 seasons in a row now, and also done very well in ACL the last couple of seasons, making it past the group stage on almost every occasion. They look even stronger this season, as they have made some very interesting transfers, and could be a contender to go all the way.

Key Players:

DF Choi Bo Kyung
MF Kim Bo Kyung
FW Ricardo Lopes

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

Jiangsu Sainty (CHN):

Summary:

Jiangsu finished as low as 9th in the league last season, but qualified for ACL by winning the cup. Have made international headlines ahead of this season, signing Ramires and Alex Teixeira for record-fees, as well as splashed out on several expensive Chinese players. But lack experience in ACL, and have only qualified for the group-stage on one occasion before, in 2013 when they failed to get past the group-stage.   So many new players might need time to settle as a team as well, so it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.

Key Players:

GK Chao Gu
MF Ramires
MF Alex Teixeira

 

Prediction: 1st – 3rd place

FC Tokyo (JPN):

Summary:

FC Tokyo finished 4th in the league last season, and make their first ACL-appearance since 2012. Won 9-0 bs Thai-side Chonburi in the qualifier for the group-stage.   Have lost 2 key-players from last season in GK Honda and wingback Ota, but replaced them with Akimoto from Shonan Bellmare and former Japan NT-fullback Komano. Also signed a highly rated Korean DM in Ha Dae Sung, so looks more or less to be same strength as last season. Lack experience in ACL, and might focus mainly on the league, and could be in for a struggle against both Jeonbuk and Jiangsu here.

Key Players:

DF Masato Morishige
MF Takuji Yonemoto
FW Ryuichi Maeda

Prediction: 2nd – 3rd place

Group F:

Buriram United (THA):

Summary:

Buriram won the league for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons last year, and are the undisputed best club from Thailand. They have proven a competitive side for 4 years in a row in ACL now, beating big clubs from both China, Korea and Japan, and reached the quarterfinal in 2013. Lost one of their best FWs since last season in Macena, but have made several interesting signings, especially offensively. Both Kaio, Danilo, Alfaro, Kim and Moritz looks like players that could go straight into their offensive lineup. Buriram could therefore easily surprise this season as well, and compete for a top-2 finish.

Key Players:

DF Andrez Tunez
MF Suchao Nutnum
FW Kaio

Prediction: 2nd – 4th place

Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN):

Summary:

Sanfrecce won the Japanese league for the 3rd time within the last 4 years last season, and have established themselves as one of the absolute best Japanese clubs. They haven’t had as much success in ACL though, with a horrible 2013 group-stage where they failed to win a single game, and “only” a 1/8 final in 2014.   They lost one of their best players last season Douglas to Al Ain, but have replaced him with Peter Utaka, and the rest of the team is more or less unchanged. Have the qualities to win this group, but it remains to be seen how much focus they put on ACL.

Key Players:

GK Takuto Hayashi
MF Toshihiro Aoyama
FW Hisato Sato

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

FC Seoul (KOR):

Summary:

Seoul have some very strong results to show for in ACL over the last couple of seasons, but finished only 4th in the league last year which was disappointing.   They have lost 4 regulars since last season, including key veteran AM Molina, but still have an overall exciting squad. With their vast ACL-experience they should definitely be a contender for winning the group, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will be able to replace the players who left.

Key Players:

DF Kim Dong Woo
MF Osmar
FW Adriano

Prediction: 1st – 3rd place

Shandong Luneng (CHN):

Summary:

Shandong finished 3rd in CSL last season, and have qualified for the ACL for the 3rd year in a row. They failed to get out of the group stage on both previous occasions though. They lost their best DM ahead of this season, but expect Jucilei from Al Jazira to replace him. In addition, they also splashed out on CB Gil from Corinthians. Considering it was the defence that was their weakest link last season, that should be good news. Shandong should also be a contender for making it past the group stage, but both Seoul and Sanfrecce looks slightly stronger on paper.

Key Players:

DF Gil
MF Walter Montillo
FW Diego Tardelli

Prediction: 2nd – 3rd place

Group G:

Gamba Osaka (JPN):

Summary:

Gamba lost the Championship-game vs Hiroshima last year, and finished 2nd overall. They struggled initially in ACL, but ended up going all the way to the semi-final, where they lost vs eventual winners Guangzhou Evergrande. Haven’t made many changes since last season, and will field more or less the same squad with only Ademilson ( new from Yokohama F-Marinos) likely to see regular playing-time. Got qualities to win the group, but lacked focus in the opening rounds last year.

Key Players:

GK Masaaki Higashiguchi
MF Yasuhito Endo
FW Takashi Usami

Prediction: 1st – 3rd place

Melbourne Victory (AUS):

Summary:

M Victory won the league last season, but are all the way down in 5th place at the moment with just 7 matches remaining. They were last in ACL in 2014, and did fairly well then with an overall record of 2-2-2, but failed to qualify from the group-stage. They got a very good home-record in ACL, and will most likely take most of their points there this season as well.   Are in a relatively tough group, but if they deliver at home they still might manage to get through to the next round.

Key Players:

DF Mathieu Delpierre
MF Gui Finkler
FW Besart Berisha

Prediction: 2nd – 4th place

Shanghai SIPG (CHN):

Summary:

SIPG did extremely well to finish just 2 points behind Evergrande in the league last season, and will be playing in the ACL for the first time ever this year. They have signed perhaps Asia’s 2 best FW’s the last couple of seasons in Asamoah Gyan and Elkeson, and also have the highly-rated AM Dario Conca in their squad. On paper they should therefore be a serious contender for winning this group, but lack of any international experience as a club could affect them.

Key Players:

MF Dario Conca
FW Elkeson
FW Asamoah Gyan

Prediction: 1st – 3rd place

Suwon Bluewings (KOR):

Summary:

Suwon finished in 2nd place last season, but looks overall a bit weaker this season with several regulars having left the club – most notably Key GK Jung Sung-Ryong. Got past the group-stage last year, and are historically one of the stronger teams in Asia, but doesn’t seem that strong this year. In a tight group like this, they could easily end up in last place, but it is very open.

Key Players:

DF Yan Min Sang
MF Yeom Ki Hun
FW Santos Junior

Prediction: 2nd – 4th place

Group H:

Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN):

Summary:

Evergrande have won ACL 2 out of the last 3 seasons, and also the Chinese Super League for several seasons in a row now. Sold off Elkeson to rivals SIPG ahead of this season, and instead brought in Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid. Also spent over 5 Million GBP on a new Chinese GK, and shouldn’t have any problems qualifying from the group-stage. Urawa could prove a tough opponent, but Evergrande should still come out on top of this group.

Key Players:

MF Paulinho
FW Ricardo Goulart
FW Jackson Martinez

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

Pohang Steelers (KOR):

Summary:

Pohang finished 3rd in the league last season, and have lost of experience from ACL from earlier. They got to the quarterfinal in 2014 as their best result in recent years. Lost one of their best players in Kim Seung Dae since last season, and haven’t done too much to strengthen their team. They could be in for a tough group-stage as both Urawa and Evergrande should be a lot better than them.

Key Players:

DF Bae Seul-Gi
MF Kim Tae Su
FW Ko Mu-Yeol

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Sydney FC (AUS):

Summary:

Sydney finished 2nd last year, but are all the way down in 6th place of the league at the moment. This is the first time they qualify for ACL since 2011, so they don’t have much continental experience. Likely to struggle in a tough group like this, but might be able to pick up some points at home.

Key Players:

DF Matthew Jurman
MF Milos Ninkovic
FW Alex Brosque

Prediction: 3rd – 4th place

Urawa Reds (JPN):

Summary:

Urawa won the 1st stage of the Championship last season, but didnt made it to the final as they lost vs Gamba in the semifinal. Despite being Japan’s biggest club, Urawa have struggled in ACL the last seasons, and failed to make it past the group-stage on the last 2 occasions in 2013 and 2015. Got a very talented and big squad though, and should be able to compete both in the league and ACL. Not lost any players of significance, but brought in 2 new DF’s that should strengthen their squad. If they take ACL seriously they shouldn’t have any problems qualifying here, but will most likely finish 2nd behind Evergrande.

Key Players:

DF Tomoaki Makino
MF Yosuke Kashiwagi
FW Yuki Muto

Prediction: 1st – 2nd place

 

 

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