Group E: Ulsan Hyundai – Muangthong United

The surprising leaders of Group E, Muangthong United, with four points from two games, went to South Korea to face Ulsan Hyundai. Far less surprising was the fact that the hosts came out looking the far stronger side, putting their Thai guests under intense pressure that prevented them from any form of organised attacking play. It was mostly long balls toward Xisco, who was left stranded up front in Totchtawan Siripan’s defensively focused 4-5-1 formation, allowing Ulsans three attacking midfielders, supported by very offensive full-backs, to come at them in repeated waves of attacking play. Despite this, Muangthong where able to shut down the central areas of the pitch and force their opponents out on the wings. Limited to crossing, the Koreans only found the space behind the visitors central defence, composed of Célio and Naoaki Aoyama, at one occasion in the first half. That time, Kim In-Sung almost missed the ball completely, allowing left-back Peerapat Notchaiya to block the open goal and keep the score at 0-0 until the break.

Ulsan started the second half in furious force, but they still only managed to make their way around the wide areas, mostly via Croatian winger Mislav Oršić, and the crosses where handled by Célio and Aoyama with near Italian surety before reaching Oršić’s countryman Ivan Kovacec in the middle. The longer the goals failed to appear, the more confident the visitors grew and after roughly an hour of play they started moving bringing the midfield higher up when counter-attacking. Ex-Manchester City-forward (although a Thai-owned Man City at the time) Teerasil Dangda broke loose to get in one-on-one but saw his efford thwarted by the best save of the evening from Kim Hong-Dae. Kovacec, who scored once from about a hundred shots in Ulsans 6-0 win against Brisbane, was reaplace by Dimitri Petratos after 78 minutes and didn’t even get the chance to waste a single opportunity tonight.

The match ended in a goalless draw (Muangthong’s second away from home in this campaign) after Lee Yong-Yae failed to convert on what looked like a given goal for Ulsan in the dying seconds of the match. This means Muangthong, who have yet to lose in this year AFC Champions League, stays ahead of Ulsan but were passed by Kashima Antlers, who beat Brisbane Roar comfortably by 3-0 in Japan, in the table. The Australians are left behind by the rest of the group at 1 point and 0-9 goal difference.

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