Analysis: Pelle produces again as JDT exit nears
Johor Bahru: Graziano Pelle continued his purple patch of form with another goal as Shandong Luneng jumped to the top of Group E with an important 1-0 win over Johor Darul Ta’zim on Wednesday.
The victory keeps the Chinese side undefeated in this year’s AFC Champions League campaign and on track to reach the knockout stages of the competition for just the third time in nine attempts.
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Italian striker Pelle maintained his perfect scoring record with another goal – his sixth so far in the group stage – to help Shandong to another victory.
The 33-year-old has scored in every game of the 2019 tournament to date, and his size and presence caused issues for the JDT defence throughout the night.
But it was his general play around the ground, and his willingness to work hard, that was just as impressive.
Pelle completed 37 passes on the night at an accuracy of 73 percent, and highlighting his strength in the air, won eight of the 10 aerial duels he contested.
His touchmap (above) shows that not only was the striker active in dangerous attacking areas, but that his presence was felt all over the pitch in southern Malaysia.
JDT made some big calls pre-game, surprisingly opting to leave star winger Safawi Rasid on the bench along with off-season defensive recruit, Mauricio, who has UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League experience with Lazio and Sporting Lisbon.
It was a gamble that backfired, as JDT lacked the dynamism that Safawi offers while Shandong were able capitalise on Mauricio’s absence, with their goal coming from a failed clearance.
Safawi’s replacement, Akhyar Rashid, struggled to have the impact of the silky forward and while he had plenty of the ball, failed to penetrate regularly and create chances for the home side.
The young Malaysian international’s passing, as shown above, may have been largely accurate but was generally contained to one area of the field and more often than not he was forced to go backwards.
Another change to the JDT starting line-up was in goal, with Izham Tarmizi Roslan coming in for regular number one goalkeeper, Farizal Marlias. And the 27-year-old stood up to limit the damage with a number of crucial saves to keep his side in the game.
The JDT custodian made a total of six saves throughout the game to thwart the Shandong attack. Without his work between the posts, the scoreline could’ve been vastly different.
JDT are now six points adrift of second-placed Kashima Antlers with two games remaining, with the result all but confirming the debutants’ elimination.
The Malaysian champions will host holders Kashima in two weeks’ time knowing that nothing but a win can keep their faint hopes of qualification alive.
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