The 2019 AFC Champions League returns this week with Johor Darul Ta'zim continuing their maiden season amongst Asia's elites. Their Group E adventure takes them to China this time around where Shandong Luneng lies await. Goal pulls up all the important facts before their highly-anticipated encounter.
The venue, which TV channel and kick-off time
The match will be played at Jinan Olympic Sports Center Stadium in Jinan where Shandong is based. The kick-off time for the match is at 7:30pm Malaysian time. The match will be shown live on Fox Sports CH812/832 on Astro.
Where do they stand in Group E
After two rounds of matches played, Shandong are sitting in second place with JDT in last place. But only one point separates the two teams with Shandong twice achieving 2-2 draws in their first two matches while JDT claimed their first ever ACL point with the home draw against Gyeongnam.
Ex-EPL stars taking centrestage
Plenty of technically sound and impressive athletes in the Shandong ranks but it would be remiss to gloss over two particular individuals. Marouane Fellaini joined the CSL club in the last transfer window and the former Manchester United and Everton midfielder is undoubtedly the most eye-catching name on the squad. His towering presence inside the box will be a major threat to JDT.
The same could also be said about Italian Graziano Pelle who had been at the club much longer than the Belgian. The former Southampton FC star shares the same height and physical threat as Fellaini, and is the only player to have scored for Shandong in the ACL this season, with four goals to his name already.
No need for gloves
When JDT went away to play Kashima Antlers early in March, the weather was freezing cold with the temperature less than 5 degrees. Players have to play in the condition that they go in but it was still difficult adjustment for the JDT players to make. This time around the weather isn't quite Malaysia level but with the average of around 20 degrees, it is a much more manageable situation.
Coping with the heading capabilities of Shandong
There's probably no better headers of the ball in the Asian game currently than the combined power of Pelle and Fellaini. To make matters worse for JDT, they will have to do without Adam Nor Azlin who is suspended, leaving the question to be who will partner Mauricio dos Santos at the heart of the defence.
With Fadhli Shas looking like he has been sidelined and dropped several rungs in the pecking order, the call to arms may come for the experienced Aidil Zafuan. He has been a peripheral figure for the Malaysian champions this season but as shown in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, can rise to the occasion when required.
Just like Pelle, JDT has the same problem as Shandong
The Italian isn't the only one shouldering all the goalscoring responsibility as thus far, the same could be labelled at Diogo Luis Santo. The impressive Brazilian has taken to life at JDT like a duck to water, proving himself to be undroppable with some incredible performances already.
Like Pelle, Diogo is the only player to have scored for his club in the ACL this season and after a goal a piece against Kashima and Gyeongnam in consecutive matches, he will be looked upon as the major weapon for JDT against Shandong.
Insa-tiable desire to perform
One player who JDT has missed in their first two ACL outings is Ignacio 'Natxo' Insa as the midfielder was out injured since the opening Super League match against Perak in February. Now back in contention after having started the last two domestic league matches, Insa should line-up alongside Hariss Harun on Tuesday.
Insa's will bring incredible quality to JDT's play if his rustiness has gone away. Ability to nit the team together, his passing abilities could be the difference between JDT being able to break quickly or not. For the first time in the ACL this season, JDT could well be parading their best available team.
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