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Writers Chat: Jeonnam Dragons vs Jeju United Preview



Duncan Elder of K-League Review stops by the discuss this weekend's Jeonnam vs Jeju matchup, United's odd goals scored to conceded ratio, the potential hex Jeju island has on visitors, ACL, and key players to watch.


I Ask, He Answers

Ryan Walters: Outside of Jeonbuk at the top and Daejeon at the bottom, the table's been tight all season. Jeju's currently three points from the dividing line to avoid the Relegation Round, do you see them making the cut? 

Duncan Elder: Of course there is every chance they can make it! It has been incredibly hard to predict this season with none of the teams seemingly able to put together the consistency required to cement their spot in the top half. Jeju have been no different and despite decent results and good home form they have faltered in some games they would have been expected to win. As with the other teams fighting for the top half it will likely be a case of whether or not they can keep key players fit, manage tiredness and sneak the odd win in those otherwise close games.

RW: Only Daejeon Citizen have a worse goals conceded average (2.05)  than Jeju (1.5) this season. What's been the reason for so many goals against?

DE: This is a very telling question that explains a lot about this season. In the first third of the season (up to game 13) we had one of the best defenses in the league and were well up in the top half. However star CB Alex Jovanovic got injured at the start of June and since then the goals have flooded in, and obviously because of that we have dropped down the table. Despite using a couple of different back up options, as well as experimenting with a back three, nothing really seemed to work. We have signed a back up CB (Baek Dong-gyu) from Anyang who will hopefully be able to provide better cover while players are injured in the second half of the season, which will hopefully result in a climb back up the table.

RW: On the other end of the pitch, only second place Suwon (1.55) and league leading Jeonbuk (1.68) have a better goals scored average than Jeju's 1.5. What's given the offense so much joy this season?

DE: Yea, combined with our goals against tally this has made for some interesting games! There have been a variety of factors really that have caused this. The signing of Lopes over the summer seems to been an inspired choice as he is high in both the goals and assists charts, while prior to his suspension Kang Su-il was also in great form. The form of these players combined with a fairly attacking (slightly more direct than last season) style of football has meant we are creating and scoring plenty of goals.

RW: United has conceded at least one goal in each of their 11 road games and are 2-3-6 away from home. Meanwhile, they've picked up roughly 70% of their season points at home going 6-2-3 at Jeju World Cup Stadium. How much truth do you think there is to the myth of traveling off the island affecting the team? Do you think it equally affects teams visiting from the mainland?

DE: Yea there has definitely been a big gap between home and away results, I have checked last season’s stats as well and it showed a similar theme. I’m not sure exactly what the reason is though as the flight should only add an hour or so to the journey! Either way we seem to have broken both records recently as we have two away wins in the last two away games and unfortunately.. two losses and a draw in our most recent home games.

RW: Jeju's currently five points back from the Dragons and being back in the top three. Do you think they can finish high enough to earn an AFC Champions League birth? How important is this weekend's head to head match to achieve that goal?

DE: They certainly can finish high enough, although it will require quite a turn around in form. A lot will depend on getting Alex back/Baek Dong-gyu fitting in quickly as well as finding a bit of consistency. We also have a few attacking players who were promising earlier in the season who should be on their way back from injury, as well as a new striker Ciro. If any of these options can help compensate for the loss of Kang Su-il that would be very welcome too. Perhaps the most important thing will be continuing our good home form while adding the odd win away from home! As for the game against Jeonnam, winning it will put us right back into mixer for the final ACL spot, while a loss will leave us six points behind so yea I guess it’s pretty important. Of course win or lose the most important thing will be consistency over the remainder of the season.

RW: The Dragons have been strong at home and Jeju's struggled on the road this season. What has to happen Sunday for Jeju to pick up the win?

DE: Most importantly will be to tighten up at the back a little, Ristic, Orsic and Lee Jong-ho will be quick to pounce on any weaknesses and I can certainly see them scoring if we aren’t at our best. Luckily RB Jung Da-hwan is back from injury, so hopefully he will be able to keep Orsic quiet. The biggest loss is again undoubtedly Alex. The battle between Alex and Ristic in the first Jeju-Jeonnam game was of epic proportions and it will be a shame not to see them do battle again at the weekend. I think our midfield will have a good chance of winning the midfield battle and our attackers should be able to cause your defense problems if they are on form. However if we play like we have done recently defensively it will likely not be enough.

Lineup

Unfortunately Alex is likely to still be injured. To make matters worse his regular partner at CB Oh Ban-seok will be suspended after getting a red in our win over Pohang. This will give a chance to either Kang Jun-woo or new signing Baek Jun-woo.

Score Prediction

I’m gonna predict an open game based on the attacking qualities of both teams, and of course, a Jeju win. 2-3.






He Asks, I Answer

Duncan Elder: The Dragons are currently third in the league due to some impressive recent form. What are the main reasons behind this turnaround in form?

Ryan Walters: Two things.  The first being Noh Sang-rae finally abandoning the "only lob it to Stevo" offensive strategy that was bogging the team down. While Ristić is a great target man, it was far too easy for opposing defenses to double team him in the box and stymie the offense entirely. Oddly enough it was after the previous loss to Jeju in May that he finally switched tactics and allowed the offensive midfields to attack more directly instead of playing strictly on the wings and lobbing it to the middle.

The second reason is Mislav Oršić. Once he began getting regular starts the team really hit its stride. I'm starting to sound like a broken record on here, but the man really can do it all. Amazingly fleet of foot, reads the offensive zone well, tracks back on defense, and makes intelligent runs off the ball. His emergence has also allowed more freedom for Lee Jong-ho on the opposite side of the field and has given the Dragons a three headed attack that should be feared by any K-League defense.

DE: For the second half of the season, what do you think about Jeonnam's chances of keeping K-League heavyweights such Seoul, Pohang and of course Jeju, out of that final ACL spot?

RW: It's a big ask. The Dragons will face all of the teams you mentioned before the season's over, so they certainly hold their destiny in their own hands. Though Jeonnam's done well in most of those head to head match ups, there's reason to be concerned. FC Seoul adding Adriano from Daejeon makes them quite a bit more threatening, Pohang's always a tough matchup, and they just can't seem to get a win against Jeju. The Dragons also have matches against Gwangju, Ulsan, Busan, and Daejeon, so the bottom of the table games are there for them to potentially pick up points.

However, as I've said in the FA Cup coverage, I think Jeonnam's best route for ACL is through that tournament. Barring a catastrophe they should be able to stay above the dividing line and avoid the Relegation Round, but Jeonbuk is way too far out of reach to even consider the league title. So the FA Cup not only offers the season's most realistic chance at silverware, but also an easier path to 2016 ACL. Hopefully they continue to prioritize that tournament and earn the birth that way, which would make the rest of the league season a bit less stressful.

DE: Who are the key Jeonnam players that Jeju fans should look out for in this weekend’s game?

RW: I'd like to say it's not Oršić, Ristić, and Lee Jong-ho just so I can talk about other players... but really those are the guys to watch. When they're on their game and supported well through the midfield there may not be a better attacking trifecta in the league. Also, if you haven't seen the magical mullet of our 45-year-old goalkeeper Kim Byung-ji, tune in for that.

DE: Who on the Jeju team will the manager be making special plans for? How do you think he will set up to beat Jeju?

RW: You've already pointed to him a bit, I think Ricardo Lopes is the man for the Dragons backline to watch. The defense has been OK lately, but as their recent road game in Daejeon proved, they're susceptible to a quality striker and can occasionally fall asleep on assignments. Hopefully the return of the human mini-tank that is Choi Hyo-jin will shore things up a bit at the back, but the CBs have lacked cohesion all year long. If Lopes can find some space in the middle, it may be a long day for the Dragons.

DE: What is your prediction for how the game will go this weekend?

RW: I was originally thinking of Wednesday night's FA Cup match as a good way to score some goals and gain confidence heading into this weekend. Now I'm just happy they didn't lose to a team as ridiculously named as the Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard Dolphins. Hopefully that match was much like the warmup shots that sail over the bar: get em out of of the way before they count. I think Jeonnam will be in much better form than they were on Wednesday and likely won't have to face a 5-man backline like they did in that match.

Predicting the Dragons get their first win against Jeju since May 2012 by the slim margin of 2-1.

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