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Jeonnam Dragons vs Gwangju FC Preview

In their last home game of 2015, the Jeonnam Dragons will look to slightly recoup their pride and pick up their first league win since July 26th

After being the first team to lose in Daejeon World Cup Stadium this year and getting thrashed at home to Ulsan, Jeonnam needs a win to save some face. Though the Dragons are safe from relegation, a loss would see them fall all the way to 10th with two away games left in the season. Given their road form this year, that likely means finishing 2015 winless in four months. Let me repeat that. Winless. In. Four. Months.

Unfortunately for the Dragons, this match to salvage pride comes against a Gwangju side they simply haven't been able to figure out this year. In May, the Dragons fell 3-2 and gave Gwangju their first win of the season. In June Gwangju handed the Dragons their first home loss and were the only team to beat Jeonnam in league play that month. In August the teams played to an uneventful 0-0 draw that was the first of the Dragons current 12 game winless streak in league play. The red and gold of Gwangju hasn't done much to inspire fear in their opponents this year, but Jeonnam will certainly have an uneasy feeling heading into this one given the history between the two sides in 2015.

Likely always expecting to be in the Relegation half of the bracket come November, things haven't been too bad post-split for Gwangju. They picked up a win against reeling Busan (who's now giving Daejeon hope of a Leicester City-esk great escape) and held FA Cup finalist Incheon scoreless at home. Having had the cruel misfortune of playing Seongnam, Jeonbuk, Seoul, and Suwon to close out their regular season, Gwangju is now assuredly breathing a little easier facing opponents more their speed. Nonetheless, it should be noted while they fell to expectations and indeed lost their last four games before the split, they weren't shut out during that stretch. Don't expect them to be on Saturday either.

Additionally, this may well be the last time several Dragons play in front of the Gwangyang faithful. Hyun Young-min, K-League legend Kim Byung-ji, team leading goal scorer Stevica Ristić, and potential Newcomer of the Year Mislav Oršić are all playing on expiring contracts and chances of any of them returning don't seem great. When asked about the possibility of Kim Byung-ji returning to Jeonnam next season, here's what Goal.com's Steve Han had to say:

Combine this with recent reports out of Croatia that Mislav Oršić's "transfer is very close, Rijeka accepted bid from Asian club" and it's quite clear the next time Jeonnam takes the field at home it'll be a very different roster. This already seems to be on the mind of manager Noh Sang-rae as backup goalkeeper Kim Min-sik and usual bench player Leandro Lima have both been given back to back starts since the beginning of Relegation Round. At this point winning honestly takes a back seat to finding out which players are worth building around next season and it's become clear those two will be auditioned from here on out.

Min-sik's been serviceable, but not stellar in his starts, though it's hard to tell what he's capable of given the amazingly porous defense in front of him. At 30 years old he's in his prime years as a goalkeeper and given the amount of time he trained as the backup for Jeonbuk, I'd be shocked if this isn't the beginning of an extended run for him. As for Lima, it's nice to finally see him get an extended run, but I feel he's been played in too many positions this season and hasn't been able to find his rhythm. Ideally these last three games would allow him to settle into a role similar to the one Oršić's excelled in all season as a potential replacement for next year, but it doesn't seem likely given how often Jeonnam play from behind. When Oršić had his sensational run of form this summer, the offense was firing on all cylinders and the Dragons were taking the game to the opposition. During this woeful 12 game run, Jeonnam's often playing from behind and fighting simply to gain possession. The result has been Lima occasionally playing in a holding CDM role, which is not only putting him out of position and denying him a chance at establishing himself, but is also hampering an already frail defense. But, if this season's taught us anything, it's that Noh Sang-rae will continue to do the same thing repeatedly regardless of results or the evidence staring him directly in the face. So expect Lima to get the nod on Saturday, likely out of position. Min-sik, however, will likely sit this one out so Kim Byung-ji can have a farewell match in Gwangyang.

Also of note regarding the lineup for Saturday, is the revolving door that is central defense. After last week's 5 goal tire fire of match, logic would suggest the pairing of Lee Ji-Nam Lee and Hyun Young-min needs to be dismantled and forgotten. The two have been the only regularly paired CBs since early September playing together a total of three times in all competitions. In those matches, the Dragons have been outscored 10-4 with a number of goals coming off set pieces with both CBs looking utterly lost and nowhere near their mark. For a defense that hasn't held a clean sheet since August 23rd it's hard to pinpoint just one thing to fix, but breaking up Lee Ji-Nam Lee and Hyun Young-min sure seems like a great way to start.

Regardless of the lineup put out there, the goals simply aren't coming for the Dragons right now and it's not likely to change on Saturday. Putting up 0s in the win column since August is depressing enough, but add in some poor coaching and contract strife and you're looking at a team that's simply ready to be done this year. Gwangju, on the other hand, are enjoying avoiding relegation battles in their return season to Classic and have their heads held high. They were able to score against four of the best teams in the country to close out their season, so it's highly unlikely the Dragons are going to be able to stop them come Saturday.

Prediction: Jeonnam Dragons 1-2 Gwangju FC

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