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Writers Chat: Jeonnam Dragons v Daejeon Citizen Preview

With relegation all but official at this point, Daejeon look to play spoilers this Sunday against a Jeonnam team fighting to stay in the top six for the Championship Round. Jeonnam contributor Ryan Walters and Daejeon contributor Paul Neat discuss what's going to happen.

He Asks, I Answer 

Paul Neat: Jeonnam are on the cusp of the top 6 having slipped somewhat in recent weeks. Are you hoping for a top 6 finish or would you rather face the so-called "easier" opponents and see some wins to round off the season?

Ryan Walters: One of the best things about covering this league this year is how there aren't many "easy" teams. For the vast majority of the season 2-10 were all quite close and even now 3-8 are only 6 points apart, so it's been tough to pick out the weak ones... except Daejeon... sorry. However, after climbing as high as 3rd, falling under the division line would feel like quite the punch to the gut. There's also a fighting chance at a Champions League spot if the Dragons stay on the top half of the table, so that's definitely what I'm hoping for.

PN: It's extremely tight between Seongnam in 3rd and the Dragons in 7th, could a win against Daejeon kick start your push for a Champions League place?

RW: Fingers crossed. A narrow 2-1 win over then much lower ranked Incheon on June 6th kickstarted Jeonnam's 6-2-1 run that had them looking good in 3rd. I'm hoping just seeing themselves in the win column again will boost the team morale, so it's possible doing so against Daejeon could do the trick. The dubious thing is that anything but a win will likely be a death blow to staying in the top six. With Ulsan away, Suwon at home, and FC Seoul away the schedule is quite unforgiving the rest of the way, so failing to pick up all three points against your beloved Citizen will likely doom my Dragons to the bottom half.

I've said this before, but I still think Jeonnam's best shot at Champions League 2016 is through the FA Cup. With FC Seoul, Incheon, and Ulsan the only remaining competition it's certainly a tournament the Dragons can win, and honestly I'd argue it's one they should win. FC Seoul may see their best bet at getting into ACL being through the league and fighting Seongnam and Pohang for third, which could potentially leave them with tired legs when FA Cup rolls back around. The Dragons have had success against all of the remaining teams and the Cup is really where the man power should be focused for the remainder of the season, so missing out on 3rd isn't necessarily missing out on Champions League.

PN: What has happened since July? Things were looking so positive but since the start of August, as you alluded to earlier,  the Dragons can't seem to buy a win. What has gone wrong exactly?

RW: The offense just hasn't been able to finish whatsoever. The Dragons biggest loss in this 0-4-2 span was 2-0 at home to Incheon and they haven't allowed more than two goals in ages, so arguments against that side of the field should be put to bed right there. There's only so much the back line can do when the team's been shut out in three of their past six. Perhaps most troublesome in all of this is that Jeonnam have only managed one goal from the run of play when they have managed to score during the skid. Lee Jong-ho's tally against Jeonbuk back on August 19th was the most recent time the offense put it all together while everyone else was moving around. You have to go back to the 3-1 win over Jeju on July 26th to find the one before that.

As for the why, I put a lot of it on the return to Earth of Mislav Oršić and manager Noh Sang-rae. To be fair to Oršić few humans can keep up the run of form he had through June and July where he was getting a goal or an assist nearly every single match. The rest of the league got enough video on him and made adjustments to stifle him. His free kick goal against Seongnam recently showed the talent hasn't gone anywhere, he just needs to finish more chances and continue to be put into a position to succeed. And that's where I feel Noh is failing him a bit. Throughout the season there have been very few offensive tactic changes to speak of and even I could put together a defensive plan against the Dragons at this point. It's utterly predictable what Jeonnam will do when they have the ball so not only do other teams know how to defend them now, they also know how to counter. Additionally, a number of the goals against this season have come from set pieces, which - for better or worse - falls on the shoulders of the manager. Should he right the ship for the final four regular season games, finish in the top six, and make the finals of the FA Cup then he should be fine. If not, I'd argue it's time the brass at POSCO look elsewhere for a manager... but more on that at another time.

PN: Despite the winless run Ristić has still been in and amongst the goals a bit, surely that is a positive sign that a win could be just around the corner?

RW: Stevo has been exactly what the team asked for when signing him: a consistent threat around goal. He's currently tied for the team lead in goals with 9 mainly from putting himself in the right place at the right time. He's also been clutch from the spot converting PKs when we get em. The trick right now is getting him (or others) to score from the run of play. Which he can only do if he's in the damn game. Noh Sang-rae's decision to pull him with 20 minutes left on Wednesday against Seongnam is still sitting quite wrong with me. Starting eleven and substitution choices begrudgingly aside, the biggest problem facing Stevo right now is the predictability of the Dragons offense and defenses often double teaming him. Hopefully a rather rough backline like that of Daejeon's will be exactly what the big man needs to net another one and go on a tear.

PN: Daejeon are clearly the whipping boys in this league, for one reason or another, despite Jeonnams recent sticky patch, are you predicting an easy victory? If there's ever a side a team needs to play to get themselves a much-needed win the surely it's Daejeon?

RW: Well that's certainly the assumption... and that's why this is a potential trap game. A home matchup against the cellar dwellers before hitting the road could be easy to look past if the Dragons aren't careful. Throw in the fact that DCFC has absolutely zero to play for and can do whatever they feel and they become a bit dangerous. Can't make it all the way back to cover for the defender that made a run? Meh, who cares? It's not like a loss really means anything to DCFC at this point, so they can play with a reckless abandon Jeonnam just can't afford. With that said, the Dragons play well at home and I think they know how important this game is. I think they'll win and I hope it'll be a 3 or 4 goal romp, but I'm doubting that'll be the case.

PN: With the split approaching fairly soon, what do you think Jeonnam need to do to ensure themselves of a place in the top six? Has that been the minimum aim all season?

RW: To stay in the top six they need to do what they're supposed to do and beat the teams beneath them. Wins against Daejeon and Ulsan could potentially propel them as high as 3rd if miracles of the 34th Street variety happen, but anything less will likely doom them. Incheon plays in Suwon this weekend and Pohang hosts Seongnam, so the possibility of gaining ground and/or leapfrogging those teams is certainly there for the taking. If Jeonnam's in the top six in two weeks they'll have a tough task of Suwon and FC Seoul to close out the season, but those are two teams they've had success against and rolling into those matches off of two wins could be the morale boost needed to get some points from em.

As for minimum aims, I think top six would've been the goal at the beginning of the season. After the success the team's had this year and simply seeing the talent that's there, falling out of the top half would have to be deemed a failure at this point. This team is simply too good in too many positions to fall beyond sixth place.

PN: Jeong Seok-Min has been back in the side recently? How has he been doing? Can we have him back, please?

RW: While he's been seeing more minutes lately, it's been limited to essentially a half at a time. He was given the start against Pohang and Busan, but only played 56 minutes and 52 minutes respectively. Most recently against Seongnam he came on for the injured Kim Dong-cheol in the 32nd and played relatively well. He hasn't been lights out defensively, but he has an ability to connect positively and quickly on one and two touch passes and reads the game pretty well. Though they're technically listed as attackers, Lee Jong-ho and Oršić have been playing more of a midfield role this season and the drop off after them is vast. Seok-min has done well to position himself near the top of that group, but I think heading back to a team like Daejeon and getting more minutes would be better for him. So, if this is Football Manager or FIFA and I can pull the trigger on a trade, sure you can have him back.

Prediction: 2-0 Dragons

I Ask, He Answers

Ryan Walters: At this point in the season even catching Busan seems impossible for Daejeon. Do you think the glut of new members will gel well during the remainder of this season for a strong showing in Challenge next year?

Paul Neat: I think that new additions were needed but not quite so many. Coach Choi seemingly just signed as many strikers has he could then addressed what was actually the problem - the back four. He has said that he wants clear the decks and bring in his own players, which he has done now, so time will only tell. There are a number of players on loan so it depends who stay from those. If somehow they can keep Wanderson, he would score plenty of goals in the Challenge. Even if he is supposed to be a defender.

RW: With Álvaro Silva the oldest player on the roster at 31, there's something of a youth movement going on at Daejeon. Do you see them attempting to get even younger next year to build a core for a potential return to Classic?

PN: Daejeon aren't exactly flush, seldom ever have been, so opting to blood some of the youngsters is a wise move. Hwang In-Beom was a product of Daejeon's youth system and was impressing until he picked up his season-ending injury. But, Daejeon do need experience and leadership. Most great teams have had a good blend of youth and experience.

RW: The Brazilian Wanderson has 5 goals in 7 appearances. How's he managed to do what so few others have and netted multiple times for Daejeon?

PN: It's quite remarkable really. Wanderson was billed as a defender when he arrived but has been so much of a threat in the opposing penalty area that he has been utilised as a striker. He looks to be a very good player and hopefully one that would be willing to stay next season.

RW: Both of DCFC's wins have come on the road this year. Do you think there's a reason they're seeing better results away from home?

PN: Being 6 months into a season and having yet to pick up a home win in the league is scandalous. What it is about their own patch that they find so uncomfortable remains to be a mystery. It is quite a wide pitch at Daejeon World Cup Stadium, teams who can exploit space seem to enjoy playing there. Daejeon's poor passing ability in midfield and lack of ball retention has cost them at times. Perhaps a change of dimensions is needed.

RW: Daejeon's conceded at least one goal in each of their last 10 away games and in their last 13 overall. The Dragons offense has only scored one goal from the run of play in their previous six matches. Which streak do you think will be broken? Will Jeonnam finally get back to playing top flight offense or has Daejeon finally found the team they can hold scoreless?

PN: Daejeon's defensive frailties will always be an issue. Thus, I would expect Jeonnam to have some luck in front of Daejeon's goal at the weekend. Daejeon's innate ability to shoot themselves in the foot will surely come into play.

RW: Although it's definitely been a rough season for Daejeon, they have something the Dragons haven't had since the beginning of August: a win. On the road no less. Do you think they have it in them to surprise the Dragons and pick up all three points?

PN: I predicted three points last time and was proved to be incorrect so this time I shall err on the side of caution and go for a Jeonnam win. I think Daejeon will score, that hasn't been too much of a problem for them since Coach Choi took over. Being able to hold onto leads, though, has been. I think it will be a good game because Daejeon like to have a go.

Prediciton: Perhaps a 3-1 win for Jeonnam?

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