Preview: Seongnam FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
|Jeonbuk's Kim Bo-kyung celebrates scoring the late winner in the reverse fixture against Seongnam FC earlier this season |
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
With most clubs being afforded time off during the international break, the K-League’s two remaining ACL teams were made to play their games in hands. For Jeonbuk, a difficult trip to Gwangju awaited where the side they faced was also on a winning run.
With little action in the first half, the deadlock was finally broken by Lee Dong-gook who headed home late on from a Lopes cross. The champions’ lead was not to last for long however, with Gwangju’s Song Seung-min losing Kim Shin-wook on the near post and heading in from a difficult angle. The southern side were almost given the opportunity to steal all three points near the end when the in-form Jung Jo-gook shot from just inside the area hit the crossbar, ricocheted downwards and headed wide to spare Jeonbuk’s blushes.
Ultimately, a draw seemed a fair result although both teams may reflect on it as two points dropped when it reaches the business end of the season. Fortunately for Jeonbuk however, Jeju United’s dramatic 4-3 win over FC Seoul in the capital a few days later meant that the single point served to bolster the gap between themselves and their nearest title challengers.
It is also worth mentioning that Jeonbuk fielded a different centre-back pairing at Gwangju, with Kim Youg-chan and Cho Sung-hwan taking over the reigns from Lim Jong-eun and Choi Kyu-baek, the latter who was giving a solid display on the U23 stage to put himself in contention for the Rio Olympics team. With a change in key personnel at the back, this would be an ample opportunity to explain away the team’s lost clean sheet, but seeing as it has now been ten league games since Kwoun Sun-tae’s net was not breached, Choi Kang-hee will still be fuming that his players cannot keep their concentration for a whole ninety minutes of play.
Lee Jae-sung will also be returning from international duty having collected an assist in Korea’s heavy 6-1 defeat to Spain. The midfielder was one of a few players to come out of both games with his head held high. He saw his reputation mostly increase through his absence from the starting line-up with an under-performing, tantrum-throwing Son Heung-min or a controversially selected Ji Dong-won in his place on the pitch instead. Choi Kang-hee will look to either drop Luis or Jang Yun-ho to make way for the retuning midfielder, with the Brazilian most likely starting on the bench so as to focus on controlling the midfield.
Having had the previous weekend off due to the international break, Seongnam FC will be looking to return to winning ways after suffering a shock defeat at home to league strugglers Incheon United.
Seongnam had started the season fairly well and have been a mainstay in the league's top three for the season's duration so far. However, the last three fixtures have called into question the team's ACL credentials, especially with a upturn in form with the teams directly beneath them.
The first of these three was an entertaining 3-2 defeat to then league leaders FC Seoul, letting slip a one goal lead at 2-1 by resorting to a defensive mentality for the majority of the second half in a bid to hold Adriano and co off. Unfortunately, this could not be sustained when facing the likes of Seoul's attack and they eventually buckled.
Following this, Seongnam defeated Sangju Sangmu 3-2. Like Jeonbuk, Seongnam ran the risk of losing points to this attacking military side but had more than enough to overcome them in the end. They will be concerned to have conceded twice though and made it difficult for themselves.
Then the visit from Incheon saw a fairly lacklustre performance from the home side, with neither team playing particularly well. It took a Kevin Oris strike from the edge of the area to break the deadlock with ten minutes left. All teams have these games throughout a season where they do not get the result expected, but a club with Seongnam's ambition and upcoming run of potentially difficult fixtures should really have won that game. The team will be hoping these dropped three points do not come to haunt them later on down the line.
In terms of players, Hwang Ui-jo will look to return to the line-up and make amends for a disappointing display on the international side, and also the last time he put on the Seongnam shirt. Despite having featured in all the league games this season, the highly rated striker has only managed to find the net four times, with his more recent appearances for the national side also significantly lacking.
Fortunately, Seongnam do boast another goalscorer in their ranks, Tiago Alves. The twenty-three year old has been in scintillating form this year, scoring nine league goals so far and topping the scoring charts, yet has been overshadowed by FC Seoul’s Adriano in the media due to Seongnam not participating in this year’s ACL. The Brazilian has proved menacing this year in front of goal, as Jeonbuk will know all too well after conceding to him in this fixture’s reverse back in mid-April.
The last time these two sides met, neutrals were treated to an attacking display from two teams who were then unbeaten, which saw Jeonbuk take the lead three times and run out eventual 3-2 winners. It was also in this game where we witnessed Kim Bo-kyung’s return to form and saw the first incarnation of the starting eleven that has been employed in almost every match since.
While there is likely to be less revelations this time, Jeonbuk have since gone on to improve nearly every week. The reigning champions are now first, are still unbeaten and are still in all three competitions. With each passing fixture, the constant criticisms being made by myself and other supporters are being made to look increasingly like minor gripes as the team fights back from losing positions as well as putting in the occasional ruthless display.
This Jeonbuk team is still not perfect though, which is why the criticisms are still being made. They are still conceding regularly and all but one of their league draws have come from them losing a lead. The strikers are struggling and are being propped up by a strong midfield. They have a manager who is ruthless and that divides opinion, yet despite all of this, Jeonbuk continue to fight and get the results.
However, it feels unlikely Seongnam will capitulate in the same manner as they did to Incheon. Possibly further motivated by the fire that has been ignited beneath them with Jeju’s win over FC Seoul, they know that cannot afford to slip up and risk losing the coveted ACL spot they so crave. I expect Seongnam to match the champions, with the likes of Tiago capitalising on Jeonbuk’s leaky defence to earn themselves a point and bring the title race back into contention.
Predicted Score: Seongnam FC 2-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors