Jeonnam Dragons vs Ulsan Hyundai Preview
|(image via dragons.co.kr)|
|Jeonnam Dragons||Pohang Steelers|
|Competition:||K League Classic|
|Date:||Jun 15, 2016|
2016 has largely been a year to forget for the Dragons and they didn't buck that feeling with a rather uninspired scoreless draw to their POSCO rivals over the weekend. With the red hot Horangi coming to town hope may seem quite dire, but one needn't look any further than the 2015 season for inspiration. It was near this time last year (June 6th to be exact) that the Dragons began their rapid ascension up the Classic standings with a 6 match unbeaten streak and won 6 out of 9. Prior to that run that had lost 3 out of 4 and were in the bottom half of the table. Not quite as low as they are now, but certainly staring down another rough year. The absence of Lee Jong-ho will make it quite difficult to catapult through the standings like they did last summer, but the history to do something special when the schedule gets crowded is there. This is the silver linings of silver linings... but it's important to start with some positivity, right?
Home Is Where The Heart Is?
The Dragons have yet to record a win at Gwangyang Stadium in this year's K-League Classic campaign. They did pick up a 4-0 win vs second division Gangwon FC at home in the FA Cup, but that does less than nothing in the league table. To make matters worse, their 0-0 draw vs Pohang was only the second time they avoided defeat at home this season. All of this has added up to a -4 Goal Difference (6 scored, 10 conceded) and not a ton of confidence within the yellow clad. A win on Wednesday (as improbable as it may be) would serve as the perfect confidence booster for a Jeonnam side that has 3 of their next 4 matches at home after Ulsan and is in desperate need of points.
Who's On First?
Forgive the cross-sport reference, but I'm nearly as confused as Lou Costello was in the illustrious skit as to who will start this game. Lee Ho-seung (pictured above) earned Man of the Match honors with some key saves vs Pohang, but with this being the second of three matches this week the manager may elect to rest his starting keeper. Additionally, the captain Choi Hyo-jin went the full 90 on Sunday after not seeing the field for two weeks and may get a rest as well. This may be the game we see Stevo return to the starting lineup since Han Chan-hee had a largely ineffective 90 minutes on Sunday. If, however, the Football Gods care to smile upon little ol Gwangyang Wednesday night, then Cho Suk-jae will see the field again and hopefully go for more than the standard 55 minutes he's typically been allotted. Keep your fingers crossed folks.
Where's The Offense?
The Dragons haven't won at home because they haven't scored at home. Through 6 home matches, they've scored a piddling 6 goals and 3 of those came in the 4-3 loss to Sangju Sangmu. On the season, Jeonnam only have 2 games scoring 2 or more goals, and if they're to have any hope of beating Ulsan, they're going to have to conjure up their third such game. Given that the Dragons have conceded 2 or more goals in 7 out of 13 games this year, they likely won't be keeping a clean sheet Wednesday and thus will need at least 2 to have a shot at some points.
Jeonnam's in desperate need of a target striker, but in the short term could stand to adjust their tactics, stop playing a 4-2-3-1, and utilize the speed and skill at their disposal. A relatively flat 4-3-3 with Cho Suk-jae up top, Oršić on the left, and Ahn Yong-woo on the right would at least cause a headache for defenders trying to keep up with their speed. If not the 4-3-3, then the ol 4-4-2 with Stevo returning to the lineup up top and Cho Suk-jae playing behind him as more of a center forward might do the trick. Whatever lineup Noh Sang-rae goes with, it's beyond obvious at this point that a lone striker formation won't work. Here's hoping a change in formation will also change the offense's fortunes.
You have to go back to the beginning of May to see the last mark in Ulsan's loss column. More frighteningly for the Dragons, you have to go all the way back to March 13th for Ulsan's last away loss. This team is the very definition of road warriors. They've won their last 3 away games and are undefeated in their last 5 away games. On the season Ulsan have won 67% of their away games, scored at least one goal in 83% of their away games, and have scored 71% of their goals away from Munsu Cup Stadium. It's a road record that's accounted for 13 of their 21 points on the season and is the reason they're on the top half of the dividing line in 5th place.
Along with their stellar road form, the Horangi are also amazingly capable of grinding out closely contested wins. In their 1-0 win vs Sangju Sangmu on Saturday, Ulsan got the lead early with Ha Sung-min's 8th minute tally and they hammered the door shut on a Sangju team with the 4th best goals scored mark in the league. For 82 minutes they held a clean sheet while only seeing 37% of the ball and managing a mere 5 shots (2 on target). Meanwhile, Sangju had the lion's share of possession, 10 shots on target, and 12 corner kicks and couldn't tie the match. The Dragons will need to pull multiple rabbits out of a hat if they're to break their offensive slump against this daunting defense.
Who To Watch
Miroslav Tramita called this one quite well in his Round 12 Power Rankings: "Kovacec, Kim Seung-jun and Kim Tae-hwan are deadly on the counter and teams should be more careful when playing them not to offer those three much space to break into." The 27 year old Croatian Ivan Kovacec leads Ulsan in scoring with 4 this year and has scored them in batches of 2s. A brace against Suwon Bluewings in their impressive 4-2 win at Big Bird... and Jeonnam fans likely haven't forgotten the two he netted against us back in April to down the Dragons 2-1.
Prediction: Jeonnam Dragons 1-2 Ulsan Hyundai
Who do you think will win tonight's #KLeague battle between @JeonnamFC & @ulsanFC? Preview: https://t.co/3ScxrRWrKp— Ryan Walters (@MrRyanWalters) June 14, 2016
Who do you think will win? What do you think of the new preview format? Feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, or reactions in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter @MrRyanWalters.