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Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs. FC Seoul Preview

The king and the threat to his throne: Jeonbuk Hyundai's seasoned striker and consistent high scorer Lee Dong-gook takes on FC Seoul's incredible Adriano who is in the form of his life.
The king and the threat to his throne: Jeonbuk's seasoned striker and consistent high scorer Lee Dong-gook takes on Seoul's incredible Adriano this weekend who is currently enjoying the form of his life.
The K-League finally returns this weekend with a blockbuster fixture sure to whet the appetites of supporters and neutrals alike. K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to FA Cup winners FC Seoul, with both teams signing a significant number of new faces ahead of the 2016 season. Jeonbuk contributor Matthew Binns (myself) and FC Seoul Contributor John Emanuelson take a look at Saturday's curtain raiser, discussing the transfers of both teams, their recent AFC fixtures, and what we can expect when these two teams go head-to-head.

He ask’s, I answer

K-League Classic Champions 2015: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
K-League Classic Champions 2015: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
(Photo credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
John Emanuelson: Last year, Jeonbuk walked to the title.  Do you expect the league to be more competitive this year for Jeonbuk?  If it is, will they be able to coast like they did last year?

Matthew Binns: I think, in terms of the league title competitiveness, there will be only FC Seoul and Jeonbuk in the race. I feel both teams have far surpassed their nearest challengers (Suwon Bluewings and Pohang Steelers) in terms of bolstering their squad in the winter and I cannot see anyone other than them for the top two. 

In regards to Jeonbuk, I see this season being far from the stroll they have had for the last two years. There will be no coasting this year, and if Seoul actually get off to a good start then it will be a different kind of test for them requiring a different kind of mentality; chasing down the pack leader. We could very well find ourselves in a "Who blinks first?" scenario as the season progresses, which would be fantastic for the league but stressful for the supporters.

Whatever the result of this game though, it is still a long way to the title and if Jeonbuk can continue to earn results in games they are clear favourites for, allowing this new team to find its stride, then they will still be in with more than a decent shot of silverware.

JE: His scoring record with Pohang was not very impressive, so other than looking like an awkward teenager in his Soccerway photo, what does Ko Moo-yeol bring to the table for Jeonbuk?

MB: It was definitely a less obvious move considering the reputation of some of the other names they brought in. That being said though, I think he’s settled in unnoticed. Whilst the commentators and fans yelp with excitement every time Kim Shin-wook touches the ball (myself included), expecting him to score with every opportunity presented, Ko has already helped himself to a goal and a man of the match (against FC Tokyo) in his two competitive games for the club, whilst also playing the full 180 minutes on offer. 

Ko’s time at Pohang was underwhelming on paper. As an attacker, perhaps 34 goals in 154 league appearances is not a ratio one would wish to have. However, he was still was presented with the K-League Young Player of the year award in 2013, having also earned himself a league and two FA cup medals. 

It's worth noting though he is not an out and out striker, often playing as an attacking winger. Though his assists record is also not too high, he does offer creativity and pace. With age on his side, and surrounded by both rising talents (Lee Jae-sung) and old-heads (Lee Dong-gook), this move could really see him shine.

JE: The defense seems to be Jeonbuk’s biggest weakness this year.  With the departure of key center back Kim Kee-hee, do you think Jeonbuk should have focused more on defense in the transfer window?

MB: It’s difficult to tell without knowing what went on with that Kim Kee-hee transfer. I would like to have thought that if they had known about Shanghai Shenhua's interest, then perhaps they would have prepared more accordingly. 

Jeonbuk were already lacking quality in depth, as well as acquiring a poorer defensive record than 2014, but if they had retained Kim then I think the likes of Lim Jong-eun would have been eased into the side and given more time to adjust to the system, offering them enough to get by in the short-term. 

Instead, what the club have had now is a situation of three big competitive fixtures on the bounce with a defence finding their feet and a lack of quality in reserve. A slower start to the year and this may have gone unnoticed, perhaps even enough to gain a significant points advantage. Now however, the spotlight on their frailty will continue to brighten on any errors they make in these early days, damaging confidence whilst potentially finding themselves chasing in a high-pressure title race.

JE: How would you rate Jeonbuk’s CBs Kim Hyung-il and Lim Jong-eun?  Will fielding Erik Paartalu as a DM help make Jeonbuk more secure in the back?

MB: As mentioned, I think Lim Jong-eun has been thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight with the departure of Kim Kee-hee. He is young and, despite sometimes having a tendency to stray away from his position, is still a promising talent to be moulded that should have been introduced slowly by shadowing Kim, and being used initially in games with considerably less pressure. He needs reliability around him now to build confidence. Kim Hyung-il is an experienced defender who needs to step up, playing in key games last season for Jeonbuk as well as Pohang for several years before that.

I think fielding Paartalu is crucial against Seoul. He has valuable experience of title chases from his time in the A-League, and can offer a shield for the back four, breaking down the play and distributing out to the exciting attacking options Jeonbuk have at their disposal. I think he also offers an additional threat from set plays alongside Kim Shin-wook so it is vital he makes his league debut from the first whistle.

JE: From FC Seoul’s squad, who do you think will pose the biggest problem for Jeonbuk?  What do you think Jeonbuk needs to do to keep FC Seoul’s attack quiet?

MB: It would be churlish of me to ignore Adriano here. He was already a good signing last summer that helped in salvaging FC Seoul’s season. His recent form though is certainly eye-opening. Allowing him even an inch of room to operate could definitely harm Jeonbuk’s chances. The issue with man-marking him specifically though would be the risk it poses to the structural integrity of an already questionable defensive line, especially when Seoul have players more than capable of using the space that is opened up.

Perhaps the key to slowing Seoul down will lie elsewhere. Dejan has dropped into more of a playmaker role and seems to be thriving. He had a key part in all three of Adriano’s goals. I was also quietly impressed with Shin Jin-ho during the Champions League game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The midfielder was instrumental in two of Adriano’s goals, unlocking the second one with that exquisite back heel. Jeonbuk need to shut off the supply to the strikers. By ensuring the likes of Dejan and Shin Jin-ho are closed down quickly and not given the time to play, they may well be in with a chance.

Adriano puts Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the sword, bagging himself a hatrick and taking his goal tally up to 7 in 2 games.
(Photo credit: Winnipeg Free Press)
JE: In their game against FC Tokyo, Choi Kang-hee brought on Leonardo for Lim Jong-eun.  Why did Choi choose to bring on an attacking mid for a defender when trying to hold onto a one goal lead?

MB: I am still scratching my head about this one and am narrowing it down to a lack of options, a push for a third goal, or just to give Leo a bit of a run-out. All three options seemed careless to me, unless there was an injury concern that went unreported. At least Jeonbuk came away unscathed with the three points in hand.

JE: In your prediction against Jiangsu Suning, you said you did not think Choi Kang-hee would change his lineup.  Do you think any of the decisions he made cost them the game?

I felt his rotation was made to placate his other squad members rather than winning the fixture. Squad rotation will be vital to Jeonbuk’s chances if they are to be fighting on all fronts convincingly this year. However, there had been plenty of rest with a week since the FC Tokyo game, and ten days without a fixture once they returned. I did not see enough reason to change it. It was a misjudged decision to start with the team he did.

The only real change I could see in on-field tactics was the reversion to route one football at times. Kim Shin-wook is a towering presence, but if the team was always planning an aerial assault as their main form of attack then why was Paartalu benched, instead of being able to assist with corners? 

The Wookie was often left isolated on his own up-front, with the burden of both winning the ball and creating his own chances weighing heavy on him. He played far better when Lee Dong-gook joined the action, allowing him to win the ball for Lee to convert. This should have been evident from the second half of the Tokyo game though, where the on-field pairing causing all sorts of problems. 

Kim Shin-wook has been brought in as a supposed suitable replacement for Lee Dong-gook who’s enjoying the sunset of his glittering career. The fact that the club still needs the 36-year old to bail them out though, despite the influx of new talent, is of great concern

There were passages of the game that were encouraging for Jeonbuk that should not be forgotten (as much as the broadcasters tried to make us!). The team never seemed properly out of the game, with enough attacking options brought on to cause a threat, although the two goal lead proved insurmountable with the time they had remaining. 

I was more alarmed by what Jiangsu would do every time they approached Motors’ defence, a fear I will be carrying with me throughout the ninety minutes on Saturday.

JE: What is your prediction for the final score?

MB: Seoul to win 3-2.

It really does not feel comfortable to start these predictions on such a negative and sacrilegious note, but I've really tried to look at this without my neon-green-tinted glasses on. I would be delighted to be proved wrong, but unfortunately I cannot see Jeonbuk winning this given what we have seen from both teams’ last two games. This match has arrived too early into the season. Seoul look bloody terrifying in attack whilst Jeonbuk are still gelling as a unit. Kim Bo-kyung is also a notable absentee with injury this weekend, having been one of the team’s better performers in both of the Champions League games.

I think the tie will guarantee goals though. If Choi Kang-hee opts for a team selection closer to that who played FC Tokyo then Jeonbuk will definitely prove a challenge and may still draw, possibly even stealing a narrow win if they are feeling cheeky. I think though, a jammy Adriano goal to seal it and break Jeonbuk hearts, followed by sweet, dramatic revenge in the away fixture later this year as they chase down Seoul for the title, assuming that Seoul finally get off to a good start this year that is!

I ask, he answers

Korean FA Cup Winners 2015: FC Seoul
FA Cup Winners 2015: FC Seoul
(Photo Credit: Facebook.com/FCSeoul)
Matthew Binns: Adriano has deservedly been grabbing all the headlines already this year with an impressive 7 goals in 2 games. It takes more than one player to make a team though, even if he is Adriano, so who else in the FC Seoul team do you see as being crucial to a good result this weekend?

John Emanuelson: The last time these two teams met in October, I felt as though Jeonbuk’s tactic to neutralize Adriano was to rough him up and make him angry.  It worked pretty well since he was a non-factor that day.  It would not surprise me if Choi Kang-hee instructs his team to do the same again, telling his players to stay close and foul Adriano when necessary. 

So, I would say that Dejan and Ju Se-jong will both need to have good games if Seoul want to win on Saturday.  To help Adriano, Seoul need another player that the defense is afraid of, so that is what I hope Dejan will be.  If they cannot just key on Adriano, then maybe he will be free to find space to continue his scoring run. 

However, I think the midfield battle will be the key.  I guess it depends on what formation Choi Kang-hee deploys, but I feel like Seoul’s trident of Ju Se-jong, Shin Jin-ho, and Takahagi can dominate Jeonbuk’s double pivot of Kim Bo-kyung and Erik Paartalu/Choi Chul-soon.  If Seoul wins the midfield battles, then Dejan and Adriano should receive adequate service and be rewarded for their runs in behind the defense. 

Defensively, I expect Seoul to struggle trying to contain Kim Shin-wook along with any of the runners Choi chooses to deploy, so therefore Ju Se-jong will have to help out the center backs.  He has to be cognizant of the space behind him and not stray too far forward when joining in with the attack.  It is a fine balancing act that I am incapable of playing or describing.

MB: You recently voiced your displeasure with Seoul manager Choi Yong-soo’s track record in your well-researched “Flat-Track bully" series. It’s only been two victories (albeit two very impressive victories) but can you see him changing your mind this season?

JE: So far, things have been great, so the simple answer to your question is absolutely.  On the whole, I think Choi has been a very good manager, but these last two years Seoul has not been a fun team to watch.  It felt like the offensive strategy was to stand around and pass for the sake of possession.  There were no chances and at times, it made going to the stadium an ordeal.  

However, at the end of the season and this year things have been different.  It helps that Adriano has played half a season, so he feels more comfortable, but I think Dejan’s return has helped as well.  Normally, a player returning to his former team does not work out, but so far this has not been the case.  He is a legend, the crowd responds to him, and it lifts the stadium.

Seoul seem to play with more style and joy now, whereas the last two years have felt like a slog.  Watching Osmar celebrate after Adriano’s third goal in the 4-1 win against Sanfrecce Hiroshima was almost as good as Shin Jin-ho’s pass to set up the goal itself.  By no means is the team in a hippie-free-for-all and I generally try to stay away from using new age bullshit terms, but there seems to be a positive vibe right now - their chakras are aligned, Venus is in the third house, etc.  If things continue in this manner, then I see no reason why I should have any disdain towards Choi Yong-soo. 

MB: You’ve made several nods towards the previous slow starts made by FC Seoul in your recent articles. What do you see as an ideal points tally from these first ten games to ensure that history does not repeat itself?

JE: I think it is more important how many points behind Seoul rather than total points.  If they are only five or six points behind after ten games then Seoul will be alright.   If they behind by ten or more, then I would say their chances are finished. 

However, I will be happy if they collect 20 points since that will represent 2/3 of the points available, which is an excellent start in any season.  Of course, if Jeonbuk won their first ten games and collected all 30 points, then I would have to bump that up to 24 points, but looking at the schedule, I think it will be difficult to reach this.  Six of their first ten games away and three of those are long trips down south to Jeonnam, Gwangju, and Ulsan.  Also, the first Seoul-Suwon derby will be at the Chicken Coop, so that is why I would be satisfied with 20 points in their first ten games.   

MB: Like Jeonbuk, Seoul have certainly had an active transfer window bringing in plenty of fresh faces. From what you have seen of the new signings thus far, who do believe will be the most valuable acquisition, both on Saturday and as the season progresses?

JE: I have praised Dejan quite a bit, but as with the Jeonbuk game, I think Ju Se-jong will be the most valuable acquisition.  Ever since Ha Dae-sung left, Seoul has had something lacking in the midfield.  As of now, I think he fixes that since he seems to be able to link the defense and attack.  I would say his assist for Adriano’s second goal against Buriram (great goal as well though) is an example of that.

I was told that Shin Jin-ho will leave for military service in June, so it will be interesting to see what happens then.  Will Choi Yong-soo push Ju Se-jong up into his spot and move Osmar back into the DM role?  Will he just slot Cho Chan-ho into Shin Jin-ho’s spot?  There are a lot of DMs on the team, which allows for flexibility, but in my opinion Ju is one of the few that has vision.  This is why I would say he will be the most valuable acquisition this year. 

MB: From the Jeonbuk squad, who do you believe will pose the greatest threat to Seoul’s chances this Saturday?

JE: I would say the obvious answer is Kim Shin-wook.  Every time I watch him, it feels like he shreds Seoul’s defense like Drogba did to Arsenal back in the day.  It is just absolutely depressing.  I looked on soccerway.com at the Wookie’s stats to see how well he has actually done against Seoul.  Since 2010, he has played Seoul 19 times and scored 8 goals, which does not seem like much, but if you eliminate the first three years, his stats improve significantly, having a return of seven goals in ten games.

Looming large: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors player Kim Shin Wook's aerial prowess could prove problematic for FC Seoul. (Photo Credit: Howard Cheng)
Looming large: Kim Shin Wook's aerial prowess could prove problematic for FC Seoul. (Photo Credit: Howard Cheng)
MB: Do you see any changes to Seoul’s line-up from the previous games for the forthcoming fixture, possibly to deal with particular threats?

JE: The team has scored ten goals in two games while only conceding one.  Defensively, outside of the first twenty minutes maybe, they were very solid against the Japanese champions.  Also, Choi Yong-soo does not shuffle his lineup all that often when things are going well, so with the long break I cannot see why he will not go with the same ten players in the outfield. 

The one player he might change out is keeper Yoo Hyun for Yu Sang-hun, since Yu Sang-hun has a bigger physique of the two.  I am still terrible with the metric system, but Yoo Hyun’s is listed as being 184 CM and 82 KG, while Yu Sang-hun is listed as being 194 CM and 84 KG.  It does not seem like much of a difference, but if Kim Shin-wook starts, maybe Yu’s height will allow him to patrol the box better and cut out crosses into the box from Jeonbuk players. 

MB: Final question, you have predicted two draws so far in both of the Champions’ League ties and have been pleasantly surprised in both. Therefore, will you be predicting another draw for this game?

JE: I am hesitant to pick a win because I do not want to jinx Seoul, but I do feel that I need to be more positive, so this time I am going to pick Seoul to win.  I am hoping this will be an open game with lots of chances. 

Final Score: Jeonbuk 2-3 FC Seoul 


  1. It would have been interesting to see what the Chinese broadcast would have been like if Jeonbuk had won the game.

    1. Probably how brave Jiangsu went down fighting to the bitter end, with more shots of their managers face. They really loved his emotional range.

      Interestingly, Jeonbuk have uploaded their highlights of the game (well taken from KBS Sports) and it pretty much encapsulates what went wrong with the coverage for the equaliser: https://youtu.be/Aimvpt9G1KA?t=2m36s (I've started it from where the confusion begins)

  2. You've done your homework on Paartalu. He is most threatening on those set pieces as you mentioned. Check out his Grand Final goal scored in extra time to take the big game to penalties. You might see a certain Mr Wilkinson too.m


    1. Cheers! I watched quite a lot of his highlights recently in preparation for an interview he kindly did with us a few days ago (http://www.kleagueunited.com/2016/03/the-erik-paartalu-interview.html). He seems a really nice guy. I hope he does well at Jeonbuk, they could really make good use his experience this season.

      It was an unbelievable comeback in that final you've referenced, the kind of goal you dream about scoring as a kid.

  3. Great read guys! Polite correction... It's Kim Hyung-il not Hyung Il-kim! ;)

    1. Cheers, good spot! Noted and amended. Sorry about that.


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