Back To Top

Ex-Premier Leaguers go head-to-head in their ACL debut

Two former English Premier League (EPL) stars went head-to-head in their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League debut here on Tuesday.

Jordon Mutch of Gyeongnam FC and Marouane Fellaini of Shandong Luneng FC made their Asian debut at Changwon Football Stadium in Changwon, some 400 kilometers south of Seoul, in their clubs’ Group E opener that ended in a 2-2 draw.

Both players joined East Asian clubs this winter after having stints in the EPL.

Mutch was a surprise signing from Gyeongnam, who qualified for the AFC Champions League (ACL) for the first time in their club history after finishing second in the K League 1, South Korea’s top pro football league, last year. 

Jordon Mutch of Gyeongnam FC (Yonhap)
Jordon Mutch of Gyeongnam FC (Yonhap)

The 27-year-old midfielder played 78 Premier League matches with teams like Birmingham City, Cardiff City, Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace.

Fellaini left the EPL after spending more than 10 seasons there with Everton and Manchester United. The 31-year-old Belgian, who won the UEFA Europa League and the FA Cup with United, joined Shandong in January for a reported fee of around US$14 million.

The two players already made their debuts with their new clubs last week. Mutch played as a second-half substitute in Gyeongnam’s 2-1 win over Seongnam FC in their K League 1 opener on Friday, while Fellaini scored the winner in Shandong’s 1-0 win over Beijing Renhe in their opening match of the Chinese Super League.

In Changwon, Mutch and Fellaini frequently clashed on the pitch as central midfielders from the start. With Mutch playing as a holding midfielder in front of the back four, focusing on ball distribution, Fellaini moved more like a box-to-box midfielder, looking for goals when his side were attacking.

Both players failed to put their names on the score sheet in their ACL debut. In the first half, Mutch unleashed a right-footed strike in the 40th minute but was blocked by a defender, while Fellaini attempted a curling shot in the box but it flew over the net.

Mutch came close to scoring a goal in the second half. In the 75th, he saw his curling effort hit the crossbar.

Fellaini had his chance to score in the 73rd, but his right-footed strike was stopped by Gyeongnam goalkeeper Lee Bum-soo.

Mutch said after the match that he enjoyed his duel against Fellaini.

“It was fun,” he said. “I have respect for every payer. We were here to play football and get a win.”

Mutch said he thinks Gyeongnam played a good game but that it would have been better if his side collected a win in front of home fans.

“I think everyone watching the game tonight knows we should have won the game,” he said. “We had lots of opportunities in the first half and the second half.”

Fellaini declined to talk with reporters in the mixed zone. But his coach Li Xiaopeng said the towering midfielder played well.

“He just arrived at the club and only trained with us for about 20 days,” Li said. “He worked hard and played well.”

While Mutch and Fellaini made their debuts, it was another former Premier Leaguer who made a big impact in the match.

Former Southampton striker Graziano Pelle, who has been playing with Shandong since 2016, headed down a cross in the 21st to put the visitors on the scoreboard first. With Gyeongnam leading 2-1, the Italian registered an equalizer and saved Shandong from defeat.

“I think we just made two mistakes in the game,” Mutch said.

“We dropped too deep, and Pelle didn’t miss an opportunity to score.” (Yonhap