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playoffs

Jeonnam Dragons vs Incheon United Preview

This Saturday the Dragons host 11th place Incheon United in a crucial match to try and give themselves breathing space from the Relegation battle. It will also be the last appearance of fan favorite and 7 year K-League veteran Stevica "Stevo" Ristić before he leaves the Dragons.

Jeonnam DragonsIncheon United
LWDDLDWDWL

Competition:K-League Classic

Date:Jun 25, 2016
Game Week:Round 16
Kick-off:19:00
Venue:Gwangyang Stadium

After dispatching of a surprisingly up for it Yongin City side in the FA Cup midweek, the Dragons welcome fellow cellar dweller Incheon United to Gwangyang this Saturday for a pivotal 6 point match up between two teams attempting to claw their way back to respectability and the top 6. While Incheon has swelled in confidence (and league standing) in recent weeks, Jeonnam have continued to sputter and fail to live up to their potential. They'll yet again be produced with an opportunity to right the ship this Saturday in what will be Stevo's last match in a Jeonnam jersey. A win keeps them above Incheon and out of the Relegation Zone. A loss plops them back to 11th... or 12th if Suwon FC pulls off the upset vs Sangju.

Pendulum Effect

I've always believed in the pendulum effect, and the Dragons have proved its merits yet again. If you're unfamiliar, the pendulum effect essentially states that trends in culture, politics, or in this case sports, tend to swing back and forth between opposite extremes. In Jeonnam's case, one extreme was the elation a single win caused. In the Sangju match preview I detailed how crucial those 3 points gained were and what another win could mean. However, the Dragons dropped that game and now the pendulum's swung back to the other side of gloom. Instead of being "unbeaten in three," the Dragons loss vs Sangju plunged them back into "winless in 7 of their last 8" territory. More importantly, the loss has kept them in the scrap heap at the bottom of the table instead of climbing their way towards the top 6. All of that said, a win this Saturday could swing things back to the positive side and see the team on the rise.

Stevo

As you've likely seen by now, seven year K-League vet and Dragons fan favorite Stevica "Stevo" Ristić is retiring from the Dragons. A story first reported by us here at K-League United, it originally appeared Stevo's contract was being terminated. and later was clarified as him retiring (as reported by Naver). The same source that originally informed me of his departure has now said that Stevo's not actually hanging up his boots, but will return to a team closer to home. I'll be reaching out to the player directly in the coming days and hope to get clarification on the situation before he leaves Korea. In the meantime, if you'd like a little more background on what K-League's meant to him and how he's viewed his career as a foreigner in Korea, check out my interview with him from last September.

Aside from losing a veteran leader, the departure of Stevo means Jeonnam have an immediate opening for a high level attacking player and have opened one of the 3 foreigner spots allocated to each roster. With the additional Asian player roster spot, the Dragons could potentially make two big signings in the coming transfer window in an effort to turn the season around. It's become common knowledge that Jeonbuk's Erik Paartalu has been frozen out by manager Choi Kang-hee, and Stevo's departure means there's room on the roster for Paartalu as a CDM (or CB) and some reinforcements for the sluggish offense.

Offense (Who's It Gonna Be?)

With this being Stevo's last game for Jeonnam, he'll almost certainly get the nod up top. I say almost certain because Noh Sang-rae is still the manager of this team and absolutely nothing is a guarantee with the lineup. However, assuming Stevo's back in the lineup, I would expect a return to the 4-2-3-1 they started the season with that may well look a lot like the FA Cup Starting XI they ran out Wednesday. After finally getting a break midweek, it's safe to assume Oršić will start and play on the left wing, but beyond that the offense is a mystery. If the coach were following the form of his players, then a potential hot hand would be the rarely used Cho Suk-jae. The young striker finally got a start vs Yongin City in the FA Cup and banged home one of his patented poacher goals off a rebound. The Dragons still only have 4 games scoring 2 or more goals this season, so why not switch it up and see what Cho can bring playing on the right wing of the 4-2-3-1? Playing him behind Stevo in a 4-4-2 would make a lot more sense... but I'm tired of beating that dead horse. Han Chan-hee has been given two starts in a row and honestly hasn't done enough to earn a third. It's beyond time to see what Cho has to offer on a full time basis, especially with the transfer window opening next week and some move undoubtedly being made by the Jeonnam brass.

In a more immediate sense, the Dragons chances of winning Saturday 100% hang on the offense. Incheon has scored at least one goal in 86% of their away games and given the fact that Jeonnam have conceded 2 or more goals in 8 out of 15 games, it's safe to assume Incheon will find the back of the net again Saturday. So if the Dragons want to walk away with all three points for only the third time this year, it'll have to be much more like their 3-1 win over Ulsan and nothing like their 1-0 win at Pohang. Simply put: we need goals, and lots of em.

The Adversary

Incheon come into this game unbeaten in 4 and suddenly quite confident. The positive run has seen them escape 12th place for the first time in memory and they're undoubtedly looking at fellow bottom feeding Jeonnam as an easy target to pick up more points. Additionally, playing on the road won't stop Incheon from scoring. 62% of their goals have been scored away from Sungui Arena Park. Perhaps more alarming to Jeonnam fans, nearly half of Incheon's goals (46%) have come in the final 15 minutes of the game. As anyone who's watched even a handful of Dragons games this season can tell you, late game collapses are something of a specialty this year. Jeonnam's most recent loss at Sangju saw the match winner conceded in the 87th and was evocative of conceding against Seoul in the 93rd, Gwangju in the 83rd, Sangju in the 96th (in a separate match), and Jeonbuk in the 92nd. So... again, the Dragons offense is going to need to put a few by Incheon's Cho Soo-hyuk for there to be any comfort level late in the game.

Luckily for the Dragons, there's some silver lining to Incheon's road scoring. Even though they've scored 62% of their goals on the road, they've conceded at almost the same clip. 61% of the 21 goals Incheon have conceded this year have been on the road. So while they're almost certain to put one on the board vs the Dragons, that may well be all they get... maybe. Though United haven't scored more than 2 goals in a match all year, Jeonnam have been prone to coughing up goals and may stumble against a confident Incheon side. United are doing well in the league and coming off an exciting 3-2 extra time win vs Daejeon Citizen in the FA Cup. Meanwhile, the Dragons did indeed win their FA Cup match as well, and scored 4 times, but they also allowed 2 goals from a 3rd division Yongin City team. Incheon has the edge in confidence and also likes to win ugly. Should Incheon hold it scoreless until the half, it'll be a dogfight for the full 90.

Who To Watch

The man that makes the offense go for Incheon, the 31-year-old Belgian, Kevin Oris. Though he only has 3 goals to his name this year, he's come on of late and will cause all sorts of trouble for the usually unorganized Jeonnam backline. Though he picked up a red card against Daejeon in the FA Cup, he'll still be available for selection this Saturday since Cup cards don't affect accumulation nor hold any weight in League play. He also managed to pick up a goal in that FA Cup match, his first since May 28th in all competitions, and will head into Saturday with more confidence having seen the ball in the back of the net recently. He has a hell of a powerful and accurate shot and doesn't need a ton of space to get his shot off either. If the midfield fails to pick him up and leaves it to the center backs alone, it could be a long night for the Dragons defense.

Prediction

The Dragons will pull out a strong performance to send Stevo off a winner and stay above Incheon in the standings. It may well be done more on emotion than talent, but 3 points count all the same.

Jeonnam Dragons 2-1 Incheon United

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