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Writer's Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai vs Jeonnam Dragons Preview

The second Jeolla Derby takes place this Wednesday as the still undefeated defending champions Jeonbuk host a Jeonnam team that's recently escaped the relegation zone and may even be carrying some confidence with them. I had a chat with our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns about where each team is in their season and what to expect this Wednesday.

Matthew Asks, Ryan Answers

Matthew Binns: Congratulations on your first signing of the summer, Australian centre back Tomislav Mrčela! Although this calls to an end for your pleas to sign Erik Paartalu, how do you feel about the transfer?

Ryan Walters: Well, first and foremost, it doesn't quite call an end to the #Paartalu2Jeonnam rally. Since Stevo's retirement last week, the Dragons currently have one foreign roster spot and one Asian roster spot available. Mrčela and Paartalu and Mrčela both being Australian (and therefore part of the Asian player pool), there's still a chance... albeit very slim. Secondly, on paper this seems like a tremendous signing. He's only 25 years old, started 4 games in Europa League this year, and has consistently been in good enough form to get called into the Socceroos camp. Additionally, he's eligible to play for either Croatia or Australia due to holding dual citizenship and will likely be using his time in the higher profile K-League as an audition for the two nations to fight over his services. As for the actual, real life player they'll be getting, it's equally exciting. Again, he's quite young so he'll have no trouble going the full 90 and sprinting down any attempts of a long ball through the middle. Additionally his 195cm frame is something the Dragons have desperately needed on set pieces and crosses in general. As one might figure, I haven't watched a ton of Prva HNL, but his YouTube highlights certainly suggest he's solid in the air, reads passing lanes quite well, and can even start the offense decently. If he can help lock down the back line and create some confidence in the defense, then it's quite possible the Dragons may finally switch out of the 4-2-3-1 formation to a more attack minded formation that suits the roster's skill set better. Keeping my fingers crossed this move becomes official in the coming days.

MB: What a difference a weekend makes as well, defeating Incheon in what could prove to be a vital six points. Last time we spoke, you were slightly pessimistic about Jeonnam's season prospects, have they now changed?

RW: Climbing out of the relegation zone and finally winning some home games (3 in a row in all competitions) has certainly helped spark some hope around here. As you said, getting all 3 points from the Incheon game may well be something the Dragons look back on for the rest of the season as a truly pivotal moment. However, surprising Ulsan and beating up on 3rd division and 11th place teams at home shouldn't exactly light the world aflame. The real test will be in the coming matches against top 6 opponents and the looming FA Cup showdown vs FC Seoul. Additionally, hopes going any higher than simply securing a spot in 2017's Classic season will largely hinge on what's done in the transfer window. As I said, they still have space for an additional foreign player and there are a slew of high level Korean players (hello Kim Shin-wook) that could be available for the right price. If true, the Mrčela signing goes a long way to shore up the back, and additional high level signing to do the same up top might help get the Dragons on a roll like the one we saw last summer. So, to answer more directly, my opinion's changed a bit for the positive, but as long as Noh Sang-rae's in charge and the team continues to lack a true finisher, the threat of relegation will continue to loom.

MB: Last time these teams faced, Jeonnam were cruelly robbed of any points in the dying minutes. What kind of tactics to you expect the Dragons to play this Wednesday to counter specific threats?

RW: With Jeonbuk averaging 2.14 goals scored at home, it'd be a safe bet that the Dragons will line up with defense as their first priority. In spite of lacking a true target striker, Noh's in love with the 4-2-3-1 this year because of the defensive coverage it provides and I'd expect more of the same come Wednesday night. But it'll be a bit complicated. With CDM stalwart Yang Juna picking up a red card in the last match and being forced to serve a one game suspension, someone from the bench brigade will have to step into the crucial midfield role. With the rarely used Lee Seul-chan being selected for the Korean Olympic team, he likely won't be getting many (if any) minutes, so expect Kim Pyung-rae and Lee Ji-min to play in the center directly on top of the back line. The pairing will attempt to shut down the middle for the potent Jeonbuk attack, which may prevent route-1 play and possibly stymie Luiz (though it certainly didn't at the end of the game last time), but it'll open the door for Lee Jong-ho to terrorize the defense from the wings should he get the start. Which is another tricky area for the Dragons this round. On top of Yang's red, team captain and all around badass Choi Hyo-jin also saw red and will have to sit. So this may mean dropping Lee Ji-nam back to play RB or CB and asking Heo Yong-joon to play more defensively than usual. Because of the numerous suspensions it's possible the Dragons comes out in a 4-3-3 with a deep lying midfielder, but that doesn't provide quite as much defensive coverage and would create pockets of space for the Jeonbuk attackers in the center of the pitch. Additionally, I'd be shocked if the Dragons aren't playing for the draw, so preventing goals will take higher priority than scoring them, so the 4-3-3 would be a bit of a waste.

MB: Finally, predicted score?

RW: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Jeonnam Dragons


Ryan Asks, Matthew Answers

Ryan Walters: Your greenies have now gone 16 matches undefeated to equal the record set by Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in 2007 and remain 2 points clear of FC Seoul at the top of the table. How big of an accomplishment is this and where does it rank in Jeonbuk's recent successes?

Matthew Binns: I think, looking at how it has been achieved, it cannot be considered a success. This may seem churlish of me but the sixteen games are split equally between draws and wins. Of these draws, two were goalless and the other 6 were all the cause of losing the lead, mostly due to defensive lapses. If they were to have held on for three points in those 6 games, they would be running away with the title and also have greatly reduced the threat a possible points deduction may cause when the investigation results are decided and released. Furthermore, only one of those victories involved a goal margin greater than one. It is nice not to lose obviously, but the record is hardly being celebrated because Jeonbuk have been nowhere near as impressive as that Seongnam team.

RW: Everyone's running on short rest right now with most teams having 7 matches this month and a slew of double game weeks. You've been quite vocal in opposition of Choi Kang-hee's roster rotation throughout this season, but what are your feelings on how he's handled it through this busy stretch?

MB: It nearly backfired against Dankook University who required thirty minutes of extra time and four substitutes to eventually overcome. Saying that though, Choi Kang-hee could not have played a full strength team for that game as he would have been understandably criticised. The reserves should have been more than good enough. I think the rotation and tactical change we saw at Incheon United though was costly, resulting in a goalless draw which Incheon had chances to win at the death. I suppose you can say we have won one league game in the last five during this busy period, with only two of those games seeing a full strength squad and therefore, Choi’s rotation ability has been ineffective.

RW: For as mighty as Jeonbuk truly are, they've only had 3 clean sheets this season and have conceded at least one goal in 86% of their home games. Do you see them breaking the trend and holding the Dragons scoreless this Wednesday?

MB: I highly doubt the trend will change here. It has become a growing acceptance amongst Jeonbuk fans that one goal must be conceded in every match. Perhaps with a more attack-focused league this year, combined with Jeonbuk’s questionable defence, has exaggerated the champions’ apparent generous nature, but even in their goalless draws, they should have conceded (see the ball crossing the line in Ulsan yet no goal awarded). This is a derby as well and, while it may not be “The Super Match," it is very rare for both of these teams not to score in this fixture (eight times in the last ten seasons). They are also often tight affairs with there never being more than a two goal margin between the sides. Ultimately, both teams know what it means to the fans and will go all out to try and ensure the three points and local bragging rights. I fully expect Oršić to be of bother to serial wanderer and former teammate Lim Jong-eun.

RW: The Dragons notoriously concede late and nearly 30% of Jeonbuk's 27 goals have come in the final 15 minutes this season. Do you see this one coming down to late heart breaker (for those of us wearing yellow anyway), or will the greenies wrap it up earlier in the match?

MB: I think that will depend on who scores first and how many to be honest. It is boring to stick to form, but when Jeonbuk go a goal down, they always fight back (in the league at least). When they lead, they usually have to score two to ensure there’s no chance of letting the opposition back in. Jeonbuk also start slowly as well with a large percentage of games not seeing a goal in the first half, resulting in the team returning from the break with more determination to break the opposition down. When Jeonbuk look like they want to win though, and they often do in front of their own crowd, there is no one better than them in the league for getting the result. It all depends if they consider Jeonnam worthy opponents.

RW: Prediciton?

MB: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Jeonnam Dragons

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