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Writers Chat: Jeonnam vs Suwon Preview

The reeling Dragons welcome a second place Suwon looking to close the gap at the top to Gwangyang for what's all but mathematically Jeonnam's last chance at the Championship Round. Jeonnam contributor Ryan Walters and Suwon Contributor/K-League Football's Steve Price discuss.

I Ask, He Answers

Ryan Walters: In a recent interview with Stevica Ristić he said Suwon is the toughest team to play in the league and that they would be the best team if they had a striker. Do you agree with that assessment? How much has losing Jong Tae-se affected the team?

Steve Price: Ristić gave some great insight into the league and I have to agree with his analysis. Suwon have a great defence and midfield, although they have conceded more than anyone else in the top half. If they had a few top strikers then they could well be challenging for the title. Look at Jeonbuk’s strikeforce: Players like Urko Vera and Lee Geun-Ho would walk into any other team in the league, and both Leonardo and Lee Dong-Gook have scored more than anybody for Suwon, and at the start of the season they had Edu who got them eleven goals too. Ristić also talked in that interview about the need for a physically strong striker who can hold the ball up for his teammates and in my opinion Jong Tae-Se was excellent at this role. His departure has been a big loss, and Mitsanski, who is a decent player, is still taking a bit of time to adapt to the league.

RW: Though Suwon's closed the gap with Jeonbuk from the ridiculous 13-15 point leads they had at one point, they've never really asserted themselves as a true threat to the league leaders. It seems lately when Jeonbuk loses, Suwon can't capitalize fully on it and leaves points on the table. Do you think it's a mental thing or have they just been unlucky?

SP: They were so far behind that even from early on in the season they were relying on Jeonbuk hitting a poor spell of form, which they haven’t really had. Jeonbuk haven’t lost two league games in a row all season so it would’ve required some spectacular form by Suwon to really close the gap. Jeonbuk seem to have that ability to get a win even when they are playing poorly, a sign of true champions, and something that Suwon themselves lack.

RW: We're only two games away from the split into Championship and Relegation Rounds. Suwon have Jeonnam and Gwanju on the road, and surely they're looking at those as six points for the taking. Will they pull it off?

SP: Both sides are off form, with Gwangju in particular really struggling for goals at the moment, so two wins out of two is possible. Suwon’s reaction to the defeat against Seoul is vital, that loss might have knocked their confidence a little bit.

RW: Meanwhile, Jeonbuk have Gwangju and Jeju on the road. Do you think they'll slip at all and allow Suwon to close the gap a bit before the split?

SP: Since their ACL exit, Jeonbuk have been able to focus on the league, and they will be wanting to use those two games to wrap-up the title before the split. Jeju are such a mixed bag, with their games always having plenty of goals for the sides involved, so that game is hard to call. The Gwangju match on the other hand has Jeonbuk 1 Gwangju 0 (Lee Dong-Gook Pen 89’) written all over it.

RW: Sticking with the Championship Round, is there any realistic chance Suwon catches Jeonbuk with the additional games?

SP: It is Jeonbuk’s to lose. The split helps Suwon in that Jeonbuk won’t have any easy three-pointers against Busan or Daejeon, but if they win their two games before the split then they will almost be across the finish-line by then anyway. If Suwon get to play Jeonbuk in the first round after the split, and if they win, then the nerves might start to show for Jeonbuk.

RW: Though they've gone winless in their previous eight, Jeonnam have only lost twice at home this year. What does Suwon need to do to get all three points from this game?

SP: They need to look for an early goal or two, when a team is on a bad run then it is very easy to sap their confidence. If Suwon score the opener, especially if it is against the run of play, then Jeonnam heads will drop. Although Suwon concede a lot of late goals, I think they will win this one if they get the first goal.

RW: The Dragons offense has been struggling of late, do you expect Suwon to try and score early and park the bus? How do you think they'll attack Jeonnam?

SP: Rather than park the bus, they should use their quality in midfield and hold onto the ball. Even at nil-nil this can be confidence sapping. Jeonnam need a win to keep their chances of a top half finish alive so if Suwon can frustrate them by keeping possession then they will start feeling the pressure.

Score prediction: 2-1 to Suwon

He Asks, I Answer

Steve Price: After four draws in a row, Jeonnam must have thought a win was on the cards after two early goals against Ulsan. How much will that defeat affect Jeonnam’s confidence?

Ryan Walters: As a big Men In Blazers fan I'm well aware that you can score too early and have it come back to bite you in the ass, but I was still feeling pretty confident with the two goal lead that early. Especially considering we finally got one from the run of play. However, the combination of manager Noh Sang-rae playing not to lose for 75 minutes and the vacant defending of Golden Boot leader Kim Shin-wook lost them what should've been three crucial road points. The loss leaves them three points behind Incheon, so it's still possible to climb back up, but after failing to beat cellar dwellers Daejeon at home the previous game this felt like a death blow. If there was a moment for the team's confidence to be any lower this season, I really don't know what it would've been.

SP: With a tough two games before the split, can Jeonnam turn it around or is their season basically over already?

RW: It's technically possible, but they missed out on Championship Round by failing to beat the bottom three teams in the league (Daejeon, Busan, Ulsan) in three of their last four games. Two draws and a loss against those teams simply isn't good enough, and frankly shows Jeonnam doesn't belong in the top half. Had they done what they needed to do and picked up all three points from each of those games, they'd be sitting on 49 points and challenging Pohang for the last Champions League spot through league qualification. So, other than seeing what some of the younger players that haven't had much time have to offer, yeah this season is basically over as far as the league goes. However, they're still fighting in FA Cup, and there's plenty to learn about the players that have been on the bench all year, so there's still enough to keep folks interested post split.

SP: Orsic has been Jeonnam’s standout player this season and is still only twenty-two. His parent club HNK Rijeka are one of Croatia’s stronger teams and regularly compete in the UEFA Cup (they went out to Aberdeen this season). When he returns to Europe at the end of his loan, how far do you think he can go? Can he make it in one of Europe’s big leagues?

RW: What an absolute delight that young man is to watch. Excellent on the ball, tremendous vision, tracks back, uses his speed well, and a hell of a shot. My selfish hope is that he'll stay in K-League next season. Unfortunately I don't think it'll be with the Dragons as he seems less than pleased playing in front of such small crowds. However, I think he's impressed the league enough for one of the bigger clubs to offer HNK Rijeka a decent transfer fee and get him to stay here. This is a league that fits him well and one in which I think he could continue to see minutes and develop his game.

That said, if he does head back to Croatia, then I think he has the potential to go quite far if he gets minutes and stays comfortable. He's proven this year that he's capable of handling a sizable workload and is quite versatile both in positioning and abilities. Has a hell of a free kick ability that could continue to be moulded into something truly special. For him to have a good shot in Europe he just needs to land where they'll play him the most. If that's Rijeka and he can play in UEFA competitions right away, that's great. If they're not willing to give him minutes I'd love to see his game grow in this league.

SP: With Jeonnam likely to finish somewhere between 6th and 9th in the league, but still in the FA Cup, what are their chances of winning the cup?

RW: That's pretty much entirely going to depend on where they play. I'm not overly afraid of any of the potential match ups, the Dragons have done well enough against FC Seoul, Incheon, and Ulsan over the course of the season (though... not so much recently), so that's not the biggest concern. They've been fortunate in the Cup and have only had to play four road games, and they went 2-0-2 with one of the road wins being the miracle result in Suwon. In league play they're 7-7-2 at home and a paltry 3-5-7 on the road with 25 goals conceded, so getting a road draw with the team in the shape they're in doesn't paint a pretty picture. However, if they're fortunate enough to get a home game, then anything's possible. The talent's certainly there for this team to turn it on and beat absolutely anyone in Korea. At this point they know the only way to salvage 2015 is through the Cup, so if they get a favorable draw in the Semi-Final I'd put them at equal or better odds than any of the other three teams to win it.

SP: Ristic ended his mini goal drought with a brace against Ulsan, can he repeat the trick against Suwon?

RW: It had only been two games since his PK against Busan before he netted those two against Ulsan, but it felt like it had been longer because the Dragons simply haven't been able to score from the run of play. At one point they had only scored one goal from the run of play in their six matches, so it was remarkably welcoming to see him net one early against Ulsan. Granted, it wasn't the strongest of goals, but often times that's all that's needed to get the confidence back and get on a run. Unfortunately for those of us that'll be wearing yellow Wednesday night, I don't think he has it in him to net two against a Suwon team that's only averaging 1.13 goals allowed on the road this year.

SP: How will Jeonnam deal with Suwon’s strong attacking midfield (Yeom Ki-Hun and Kwon Chang-Hoon)?

RW: My first reaction is to say the best defense for the Dragons will be a good offense. The entire season is on the line for this game, so there's truly no reason to hold back. If they can come out and dominate possession, hopefully score early, and keep their foot on the gas, then that's certainly one way to nullify opposing midfielders. In reality, I'd expect Jeonnam to line up in a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfielder essentially making it a five man backline. Unfortunately that means Ahn Yong-woo is either played out of position and asked to defend too much or is left on the bench. I can't see any version of a 4-3-3 without Stevo in the center flanked by Oršić and Lee Jong-ho, so there's really no room other than right wing for Yong-woo and it'd ask a bit too much defensively for him to lock down that entire side. Kim Pyung-rae's defensive capabilities will be key to keeping Jeonnam in the game.

Score Prediction: 1-1

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