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Jeonnam Dragons vs Seongnam FC Preview

(photo via dragons.co.kr)
Jeonnam looks to shake off winless August with substantial home test against 3rd place Seongnam this Wednesday.

After a hapless August that saw the Dragons score all of two goals and plummet down the table, the calendar mercifully flipped, offered up an international break, and provided Jeonnam with a much needed fresh start. Unfortunately for them that start will come against a surging Seongnam team who's recent loss to league leaders Jeonbuk was their first since mid-June. SFC have gone 6-3-1 in their last ten, picking up 21 of a possible 30 points and rising ahead of FC Seoul on goal difference to 3rd place. During this stretch, they've also held their opponents scoreless an astounding six times. Additionally, Seongnam is simply not a team that's hampered in the slightest by road travel. They've gone undefeated in their last six away games and didn't concede a goal in any of those matches.

However, there are a good number of silver linings for the Dragons heading into this matchup. While Seongnam's won at a good clip in their past 10 games, they haven't done so impressively. In their 6-3-1 run they scored a mere 11 goals and only scored more than 1 two times. In fact, 75% of Seongnam's games have had under 2.5 goals in total this season. As for the two matches when they managed more than one, both were against season-long cellar dwellers Daejeon. Which leads to the next crack in their form: four of their six wins came against Busan and Daejeon, two teams mired in inefficiency all season. Eliminate their narrow win over Suwon and this is a team that's simply holding serve and doing what they're supposed to. Usually gaining the full three points by the slimmest of margins along the way.

Additionally, that mid-June loss mentioned earlier was to the Dragons at Gwangyang Stadium. Granted that version of the Dragons hasn't shown itself in quite some time, but it gives a nice mental edge to Jeonnam knowing that they can and have beat this team at home before. Add in the fact that Seongnam struggles to score more than one goal per game and this is certainly a winable game for Jeonnam. Especially considering the Dragons have only failed to score in four of their 14 home matches thus far this season. So if the numbers play out, if the Dragons score even one goal they should be able to gain at least one point from this affair.

But therein lies the problem. The Dragons simply have not been scoring. In their most recent match against Busan the lone Jeonnam goal came from a 12th minute Ristić PK. The only other goal in the month of August was Lee Jong-ho's strike against Jeonbuk on August 19th that gave the Dragons a lead that looked as though it would stick... until it didn't. Jeonbuk eventually went on to win 2-1. With these being the only goals of the previous five matches that means the Dragons have a single goal from the run of play in their previous five matches. They were shut out in the other three.

Which begs the question: what the hell has happened to Jeonnam's offense? For a team that was regularly scoring 2-3 goals per game through June and July, the feeble month of August has left them below league average in goals scored at 1.18 per game. The once seemingly unstoppable Mislav Oršić has come back to earth and the rest of the team seems to have come with him. After a six week tear that saw him take the league by storm, it would now seem enough video of Oršić torching opposing defenses has been made available to K-League teams looking to shut him down. His emergence along with the strong play of Lee Jong-ho and Ristić is what propelled the Dragons to 3rd place, but the league caught on to the strategy. The burden to change tactics now lies squarely with manager Noh Sang-rae as he and the Dragons attempt to salvage this season and finish in the top half. His record for the remaining league games and in the FA Cup will almost certainly determine whether or not he's welcomed back next year. This team simply has too much talent to continue to settle for mid-table mediocrity.

But let's get back to those silver linings, shall we? For better or worse this isn't the first time this season the Dragons had a terrible month this year. In May they went 1-1-3 scoring five goals across five games and being shut out twice. Once the calendar flipped they began the 6-2-2 run that saw them march up to 3rd place with authority by the end of July. During that 10 game stretch they scored 17 goals and were only held scoreless twice. If they're able to emulate that kind of run with a win against Seongnam this Wednesday and Incheon loses on the road to Gwangju (which is a big ask), then Jeonnam will be back on the right side of the dividing line with a scant four matches left before the split.

In order to have a chance in this game the Dragons will have to do what they've had a penchant for doing at home this season: score early. 17% of Jeonnam's goals have come in the first 15 minutes this season, while Seongnam has yet to tally in the same timeframe. Grabbing the lead early at home will help to not only boost the morale of the Dragons, but will also help shift Seongnam's tactics to a more pressing position and will leave them open on the counter. The trick for Jeonnam will be fighting off complacency should they get the early goal. Coming out of a rough patch like this it's going to be tempting for Noh Sang-rae to park the bus if the Dragons get a lead at any point in the match, and I promise you this: it will doom them. While Jeonnam does well scoring early, Seongnam has quite literally been making a season of scoring late. An impressive 19.4% of their goals have come in the 60-75th minute, and an astounding 35.5% have come in the 75-90th. With over half of their goals coming in the final 30 minutes this season, it's a safe bet that's when SFC will make their push to equalize or win this match. A one goal lead going into the 60th will feel tenuous at best. A tied game at that point will feel calamitous.

Unfortunately for those of us that'll be clad in yellow this Wednesday, I don't necessarily see the Dragons getting that early goal. This offense is going to have to prove they're capable of scoring before I'm fully committed to the notion of them winning. Even at home.

Prediction: Jeonnam Dragons 0-1 Seongnam FC

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