ACL preview: Western Sydney Wanderers v Guizhou Renhe
Played: 1, Wins: Wanderers 1, Guizhou 0, Draws: 0
Guizhou 0-1 Wanderers, March 12 2014
Past five matches:
A point against Guizhou Renhe would guarantee Group H leaders Western Sydney a place in the AFC Champions League last 16. Tony Popovic's men enjoyed the weekend off, having finished second in the A-League to be straight through to the semi-finals. Guizhou are playing for pride and cannot qualify, but ended a three-game losing run in all competitions with a 2-1 win at Henan Jianye on Friday. With the head-to-head record unable to separate the Wanderers and second-placed Kawasaki Frontale, overall goal difference would be used if Popovic's side lose and Ulsan beat the J.League side. At +1, the Wanderers are a goal better off heading into the final matchday.
The big issue:
Wanderers – Western Sydney would undoubtedly have been grateful for the rest on the weekend, but Popovic still has decisions to make with a clash against Central Coast awaiting on Saturday. He has rotated his squad throughout both the domestic and continental campaigns, so expect more of the same. The Wanderers' planning has been meticulous and they have utilised the strength of depth at their disposal.
Guizhou – with little to play for and more important matters coming up in the Chinese Super League, questions remain over just what Lei Gong does with his team. He has nothing to gain by bringing the likes of Bosnian number 10 Zvjezdan Misimovic to Australia ahead of a winnable league game at Changchun Yatai on Saturday. They were largely unable to trouble in the Wanderers in a 1-0 loss earlier in the campaign, and there is little reason to expect otherwise this time around.
The game breaker:
Shinji Ono – the 34-year-old former Japan international remains a key player for the Wanderers, and his ability to make a serious impact in the attacking third could be decisive. Just how big a role he plays ahead of an A-League semi-final is unknown, but Ono – even if only off the bench – can split defences and set up team-mates. Guizhou must deny the masterful midfielder space or he will hurt them.
Prediction: Wanderers 2-0 Guizhou
While Popovic's men have plenty to play for and are fresh, Guizhou are the complete opposite. A point would do and Western Sydney would settle for a draw, but they are likely to have enough possession to do some damage in the attacking third. The Wanderers have made flying starts in almost all of their Champions League games so far, and another would put them a long way towards the knockout stages. With the likes of Ono, Tomi Juric and Mark Bridge potentially in attack, they can afford to ignore the other game in the group and should be good enough to claim all three points at home, regardless of who Popovic starts with.