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Writers Chat: Jeonnam Dragons vs Jeonbuk Motors Preview

"Gwangyang Rooney" makes his return to the team that brought him into the pros as the two Jeollanamdo teams face off for the first time this season. Though the two teams are at polar opposite ends of the table, there are still a number of question marks for each squad. Jeonnam columnist Ryan Walters and Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns discuss the match ahead and how each team's coach may be handcuffing their side.

Matt Asks, Ryan Answers

Matthew Binns: While you were away, manager Noh Sang-rae resigned in the dressing room post-Incheon game only to be reinstated a day or two later by the Jeonnam board. While most are still unsure what exactly has gone on in regards to this, do you see his position at the helm lasting much longer?

Ryan Walters: Unfortunately I do. If the second half collapse last year, the abysmal start to this season, and the man himself throwing in the towel weren't enough, then I have no idea what will be. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks he never actually had any intention of resigning and it was simply a PR stunt he and the front office worked on together. Give him a bit of public shaming, show they "care" about the team, and then assuring him the team's his to manage. Obviously there's absolutely zero to back that up, but covering the Dragons almost always leaves me grasping at straws for logical conclusions, so why not jump the shark a bit? In a more rational sense, I think Noh will keep his spot likely through the end of the season simply due to the owners wanting to honor him for his services to the team as a player and not wanting to publicly shame him. It'll almost certainly be to the team's demise, but the Dragons front office seems as tied to Noh as a ship is to its anchor.

MB: Saturday’s fixture sees the first Jeolla-derby of the season, with Jeonbuk likely to be rotating their squad heavily after a trip to Melbourne midweek. In light of this, do you think we'll see a more attacking Jeonnam side come Saturday?

RW: At this point in the season there's absolutely no reason the Dragons shouldn't come out guns blazing for this match. If they come out too offensively and wind up getting punished on the counter to the tune of 4 or even 5 goals against, who cares? A huge loss to the defending champs is easy to write off and forget about. However, if they come out strong and pounce on a travel-weary Jeonbuk, this could be the statement win that turns the season around. The Dragons won't have a better opportunity this year to make their mark as this is the definition of a trap game for Jeonbuk. Playing the lowly Dragons (even on the road) likely won't register much for Jeonbuk players since the game's sandwiched between two crucial ACL matches with Melbourne Victory and the vast majority of their focus will be there.

So the conditions are right for Jeonnam to play more offensively, but they have a few things working against the concept becoming reality. The easy thing to point to is the lack of talent up top. Stevo's having an amazingly poor start to the year, but keeps getting the nod because there isn't a like-for-like replacement on the bench. However, that points to the much larger issue that'll prevent Jeonnam from playing more offensively: their aforementioned manager who continues to leave Cho Suk-jae chained to the bench in spite of his potential and what's he's shown in his meager minutes. Additionally, they're trapped in the wrong system. Noh continues to be tied to the 4-2-3-1 and seemingly refuses to change it in spite of Stevo's immense struggles this season. As long as the Dragons continue to come out in that formation, it won't matter how offensive they try to be

MB: The last fixture saw no further joy for the South-Jeolla side, losing away to an admittedly strong Jeju United side 3-0. While they were not expected to win (given Jeju’s home-form), what in particular went wrong for Jeonnam in that game?

RW: Same thing that's gone wrong in nearly every loss this season: calamitous defending. There's finally some consistency at the back with Choi Hyo-jin, Lee Ji-nam, Hyun Young-min, and Ko Tae-won getting the nod in 3 of 4 recent matches, but that hasn't helped. They still regularly lose their marks, are out of position, and honestly seem quite clueless as to the system they should be playing. Making mistakes is one thing, but this backline looks more befuddled than anything when they concede.

MB: This game will mark the end of the first round of fixtures, with Jeonnam being propped up by a very troubled Incheon after securing one win and three draws. While it is still early in the season, should Jeonnam fans be panicking yet?

RW: Absolutely. You're right that it's early, but this is a team that's yet to win at home, has a -6 goal difference, and has only found the back of the net 9 times through 10 games. More importantly, the man at the helm has absolutely no idea what he's doing and regularly substitutes the Dragons out of contention in a game. As long as Noh Sang-rae's in charge Jeonnam will continue to be mired in a relegation scrap this year. However, even with his bumbling, 4 of the Dragons 5 losses have been by a one goal margin, so it's not like they're getting blown out. Should the front office get wise this summer and finally fire their inept manager and sign a solid CB in transfer window, there's every chance the Dragons can climb to safety. Unfortunately I don't think the owners are bold enough to make those common sense decisions.

MB: Finally, what is your prediction for this game?

RW: Jeonnam Dragons 1-2 Jeonbuk Motors

Ryan Asks, Matt Answers

Ryan Walters: You've written quite a bit about Choi Kang-hee's "Roster Roulette" and how its affected the team. Do you think they'll make some moves in the summer window to relieve him of the burden of attempting to play so many offensive players? Anyone the Dragons could potentially swoop in for?

Matthew Binns: We have a very tall striker who has failed to impress so far if you are interested.

Seriously though, it's been hard to judge the new talent we've brought in because many have received so little game time, with Lee Jong-ho, Ko Moo-yeol and Erik Paartalu being perfect examples. The players have been bought so Choi Kang-hee can have nearly two different teams, allowing him to compete effectively on all fronts. While the logic behind this is sound, there are too many new players in both of these teams who are all trying to settle at once, all trying to adjust to the manager’s often vague tactics, and all understandably trying to be in the team that goes to play the glamorous tie in Melbourne rather than against the teams in the bottom half of the table (no offence intended).

Again, fighting for places is also not a problem in a set eleven, but it's easier to fight when you know who the first eleven usually are, and therefore you know if you have actually made it to the first team or are just part of another managerial experiment. I imagine it must be a very demotivating scenario for those who try hard yet know their in-game efforts will be in vein as the manager has already decided the squad for the next fixture. Choi Kang-hee’s rotation has settled down though since the Binh Duong game. He controversially expelled players from his squad (which I don’t agree with) and has since decided to operate with a main eleven who could be seen on Tuesday night. That said, we are likely going to witness big changes for this upcoming derby.

If Jeonbuk fall to Melbourne in the Champions League, I think we may see the first signs of unrest as the number of games will decrease and thus the opportunities to start. A lot of these attacking players purchased are K-League first team players who were hoping to progress in their career. They may need to look elsewhere though if they are to find playing time however.

RW: Jeonbuk have conceded at least one goal in each of their last 7 league games. Why can't the team keep a clean sheet, and is there enough weakness there for the Dragons to exploit? And let's be honest, how much of it is Lim Jong-eun's fault?

MB: In answering this question, I sat down and watched every goal conceded this season across all competitions again (you can’t say I make these answers up as I go along!). In regards to the ten goals conceded just in the K-League though, four have come from aerial balls delivered from crosses, free kicks and corners. Of these four, three of them directly led from failed defensive headers from Lim Jong-eun. Of the six scored from passing play and long range shots, three of these goals (two against Sangju Sangmu, one against Suwon Bluewings) were also directly caused by poor positioning and failed challenges by the ex-Jeonnam centre-back in question. I do not want to damn him in particular, but watching all nine league goals conceded this season, I feel 7 or 8 were preventable and six of them had the direct involvement of Lim Jong-eun.

If you want an even more recent example, it was his failure to head the ball far enough clear against Melbourne Victory that led directly to the goal on Tuesday night. This is a game I also admittedly praised him for. I genuinely do think he has been improving, especially now he has a regular centre-back partner in Choi Kyu-baek, and I do wish for him to remain in the squad for a while longer. Watching those highlight packages however does offer contrary evidence. It is not for lack of trying but when he attempts to clear or to tackle, his efforts are not always fully committed or thought through, which sometimes puts his team in trouble.

In regards to being weakness this weekend, well I would be surprised if Lim Jong-eun plays seeing as he is retuning from Australia. However, it's Jeonbuk’s indecision at the back which has cost them the most. With a few crosses into the box, Jeonnam will have the opportunity to upset a newly formed back line trying to establish organisation.

Perhaps this is why we bought Kim Shin-wook, to stop Ulsan inevitably scoring against us from an aerial assault. Going by the goalless draw against them in round two, you have to say it worked!

RW: 68% of Jeonbuk's points have been earned at home this season. Is being so reliant on home success sustainable over the course of the season and will it be enough to overtake FC Seoul?

MB: Theoretically, If Jeonbuk continue to win at home and draw away (shockingly going unbeaten) they would accumulate enough points to have won the league the previous two years. That said, they are chasing what is proving to be a very formidable FC Seoul side, whilst the likes of two very good Seongnam and Jeju sides continue to snap at their heels. I think this title race could be a lot closer than we've had in recent years but it's only Jeonbuk that are beating the teams around them, dropping points to less favourable sides instead.

These draws have all been dropped points (excluding the goalless draw with Ulsan) as Jeonbuk have continuously lost leads in the league, rather than equalising and earning a point. These dropped points have all come when the squad has seen its highest rotation as well, which surely cannot be coincidental. Hopefully the summer months will see less changes whilst the AFC Champions League sees its annual prolonged break between the Round of 16 and Quarter Finals (assuming Jeonbuk can do enough to overcome Melbourne). With no emphasis likely to be placed on the FA Cup, we can expect a similar eleven in most games which should increase the points on our away record.

RW: As mentioned above, this is the definition of a trap game for your greenies. Their 1-1 draw vs Melbourne puts them in a decent position for next week, but nothing overly comfortable. Do you think the looming return leg will serve as too much of a distraction for Jeonbuk and allow their South Jeolla rivals to eek out a rare derby win?

MB: I think the emphasis hasn't been on this weekend’s game for a while. A bit arrogant considering it's a local derby (and as a lifelong Man City fan who’s endured the neighbours neglecting our derby for many years, I can definitely sympathise) but Choi Kang-hee’s remit is to obtain continental success this season. With the likes of Guangzhou Evergrande and Gamba Osaka already out of the competition as well, this could be his best chance to do so.

The big difference with this weekend’s rotation compared to previous ones is the reasoning behind it. Choi Kang-hee only took five substitutes with him to Australia, perhaps a wise-move given the travel time, but no doubt offensive to the players who were left in Korea. The likes of Lee Jong-ho, Luiz and Ko Moo-yeol were removed from the traveling squad, as well as the continually exiled Erik Paartalu who’s experience and knowledge of both the oppositions key players, and the A-League in which he played in less than six months ago, were cruelly overlooked. I expect all of these to have a good chance of starting this weekend, and they will all have points to prove to the manager.

In defence, we could also see the return of the forgotten Kim Hyung-il and Kim Chang-soo who also did not feature. Remember, the latter of these was called up in the last Korean national squad and will not be happy his prolonged exclusion (partially self-inflicted with consecutive red cards in the league and ACL) may have cost him a place in Uli Stielike’s team that is set to be announced next week. They too will be hungry to leave a mark in the manager’s mind. We may also see some of the younger players who featured in the FA Cup victory, who will be eager to impress. This team will only be predictable in terms of who did not play in Australia. They will be driven to force themselves onto to the bench for next Tuesday’s game. Their only downfall will be their lack of playing time together, and whether or not this leads to a disjointed performance.

RW: Score prediction?

MB: On paper, it would be a Jeonbuk win. However, I will go with 1-1 as it’s away from home, with an alternate eleven. Jeonbuk will lead and then concede as per usual.

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