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Jeonnam Dragons vs Seongnam FC Preview

Finally finished with a tremendously busy month of June which saw 6 matches in 19 days, the Dragons welcome 5th place Seongnam FC to Gwangyang this Saturday in a match that will either drop them closer to relegation, or prove they can hold their own against the top teams.

Jeonnam DragonsSeongnam FC
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Competition:K-League Classic

Date:Jul 2, 2016
Game Week:Round 18
Kick-off:19:00
Venue:Gwangyang Stadium

The Dragons have taken 7 points out of 15 possible in their last 5 games, which isn't too terrible, but isn't exactly on the "2 points per game" average that's encouraged to win. They'll look to collect all 3 against an up and down Seongnam side that may have one more shaky performance in them if all goes well for the Dragons.

Transfer Season

The departure of "Stevo" Ristić may have signified transfer season was nearly upon us, but the chaos that's ensued since then has been slightly stunning. To start with the good, Jeonnam immediately addressed an urgent concern and brought in Australian center back Tomislav Mrčela. You can read my full thoughts on him and what his signing means here. Suffice to say we've desperately needed an physical presence and organizer in the back, and I believe this is just the man to get the job done. Additionally, the Dragons have taken a step to improve upon one of the league's worst offenses and signed former Jeju United man Jair from Hatta Club of the UAE Pro-League. Rumor has it he's a more than capable winger with good pace and a decent sense of what to do around the goal, which is good because he has some gigantic shoes to fill.

Though it's yet to go official, the team's leading scorer and best player Mislav Oršić has reached an agreement to join Changchun Yatai of China. This is a tremendous punch to the gut for a team that's already been hit quite a few times this year. Oršić has single handedly won games for the Dragons this year with his devastating free kicks and regularly dictated the pace of the offense. But, from his side of things, the move makes sense as it's doubtless the CSL offers more money. It would've been nice for the Dragons to sell him this off season, but this is a business and Jeonnam's a 10th place team in need of some money. Oršić's sale (as long as it is actually a sale and not the trial that was reported by TransferMarkt China) likely brought in enough cash to pay for every addition Jeonnam will make this window as well as some player salaries. After paying HNK Rijeka $1 million for the young Croatian's services this winter it's fair to assume Jeonnam asked for at least double that from the moneyed CSL. Sad to see him go, but truly wish him well on his journey.

For more on Jeonnam's transfer window, including positions that still may need help, who may need to be shown the door, and an American that would be great for this league, check out my Transfer Talk piece from yesterday.

Home Is Where The Points Are

After an absolutely dreadful start to the season, the Dragons have managed to reclaim their home turf as a stronghold. After failing to win at home for 6 league matches, they've now won 2 in a row in league play. In fact, their only "home" loss in all competitions recently was to Jeonbuk when they played at Palma Stadium over in Suncheon, which was arguably neutral ground when considering half the crowd was wearing green. You have to go all the way back to May 16th for the last loss the Dragons suffered at Gwangyang Stadium. Since then, they've gone undefeated through 5 matches at Gwangyang Stadium in all competitions with 4 wins and 1 draw. A 5 match run that has them in the Quarterfinals of the FA Cup and finally out of a relegation spot in the league table.

Bench Brigade

Not surprisingly the Dragons came back from North Jeolla Wednesday night with a loss from the still undefeated champs, Jeonbuk. As both Matt Binns and I predicted the final score was 2-1 and on paper is in no way surprising. However, Noh Sang-rae was scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel to set his lineup for this match, and dammit, the bench brigade came through! Jeonnam shocked the raucous home crowd with a well worked goal in the first minute and then the team proceeded to hold their own. Against the champs. On the road. If not for some all too familiar defensive lapses that allowed both Jeonbuk goals, the Dragons may have even held on for a shock road win. At the risk of sounding a bit too Klinsy, there really wasn't much to separate the teams on the night and that's quite the accomplishment for a ragtag Jeonnam group.

In spite of recently being called to the Korean Olympic team that will soon head to Rio, Lee Seul-chan was given the nod in midfield. He played alongside Jeon Woo-young, who was earning just his 3rd appearance on the season, and Heo Yong-joon who started for only the 6th time. Though they weren't able to pull off a shock win, the three certainly did well enough to potentially earn some minutes in the near future. They'll certainly have some stiff competition with Choi Hyo-jin and Yang Juna returning from red card suspensions and both Mrčela and Jair presumably starting this weekend. Additionally, it should be assumed that Vedran Jugović will start in the midfield, but he was ominously absent from the squad Wednesday night. Whether or not he's on the team this Saturday will go a long way to telling whether or not he'll remain with the Dragons for a full season or not. With so much of the roster in flux, it was a very good thing to see the bench players do so well.

The Adversary

Seongnam enter this match having just ended an up and down rocky patch that saw them go winless for 5 games with 3 losses and 2 draws. Their convincing 3-1 win at FC Seoul on Wednesday will certainly have the team flying high coming into the match with Jeonnam, but it's still a bit too early to see if they've truly exited their tailspin. The good news for the Dragons is that Seongnam have conceded at least one goal in each of their last 8 games. Additionally, they've only held 5 clean sheets through 17 games this season, so the offense should be licking its lips. On the flip side, SFC have scored at least one goal in every one of their away games this year. In fact, 68% of their 28 goals have been scored on the road, so they're not exactly afraid of being away from home.

Who To Watch

Golden Boot leader Tiago Alves. The man simply known as Tiago to you and me has scored 12 times through 17 matches and is the main reason Seongnam have any ACL hopes this season. To say this season is a surprise is an understatement on par with "Cersei Lannister is a little scary." After spending last year with the Pohang Steelers and bagging all of 4 goals, Tiago has exploded this year and shows no signs of stopping. To give an idea of his consistency this year, here's a look at the goals he's scored thus far:


That's right, the maximum amount of time he's gone without hitting the back of the net is 3 games, and he just ended that slide. Should the new signing Tomislav Mrčela get the start at center back Saturday, he'll certainly have a mighty test in front of him with Tiago terrorizing the middle. The battle between these two is easily the highlight of this match and well worth the price of admission.

Prediction

I'd like to stay positive and say the Dragons can pull off the win, but this team is in too much flux right now and hasn't had any time to gel. Should they manage to shore up the defensive errors that cost them at Jeonbuk, then they should at least be able to contain Tiago and the potent Seongnam offense... but they won't be able to completely stop them.

Jeonnam Dragons 1-1 Seongnam FC


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