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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan Hyundai

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors midfielder Lopes took his goal tally to eight league goals for the season on Saturday against Gwangju FC. Combined with his five assists means he has directly contributed to over a quarter of Jeonbuk's goals scored this season.  (Photo Credit: Hyundai-Motors FC.com)
Lopes took his goal tally to eight league goals for the season on Saturday against Gwangju FC. Combined with his five assists, this means he has directly contributed to over a quarter of Jeonbuk's goals scored this season.
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-Motors FC.com)
Haven’t we done this one already? Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to Ulsan Hyundai for the second time in the space of eleven days on Wednesday due to a fixture rearrangement. The visitors were unable to hold onto a short-lived 1-0 lead last time before succumbing to two quick Jeonbuk goals including a long awaited goal from their former star. Can we expect the same a second time round?

As this game has been covered quite recently, and there has been minimal change in transfers and player availability since the last time they last met, I will be keeping this preview quite brief, focusing on each of the teams' last round performances. I will point you towards my preview for the previous game less than two weeks ago for a more in-depth analysis.

Eleven Days Earlier…

I covered this in greater depth during my preview for the Gwangju match but, to summarise, Jeonbuk once again came back from behind after an error from Kwoun Sun-tae provided Ulsan with the lead. Despite having also hit the crossbar twice, Ulsan had not been the greater of the two sides and, if the officials had spotted it, should have conceded a penalty early in the first half when Lopes was brought down.

As per habit, Jeonbuk rallied a fight back which saw Lopes, a player who is looking more and more like the signing of the season, send a curling shot from the outside of the area and into the far post. Two minutes later, a ball in from Lee Jae-sung was turned home first time by Kim Shin-wook, who beat the Ulsan offside trap to claim only his second goal of the season. He certainly celebrated it.

Whilst the match was slightly soured by some late tackling that lead to scrapping and an incorrect red card for Jeonbuk’s Choi Chul-soon in injury time, the game on the whole was an entertaining spectacle that saw Jeonbuk stretch their lead at the top to fourteen points.

Full highlights can be viewed here.

Jeonbuk vs Gwangju

After a dull first half with few decent chances, Jeonbuk came out after the break revitalised, creating many opportunities and eventually running out 3-0 winners, with well-worked goals coming from Lee Jae-sung, Lopes and Leonardo. As has been the case throughout the season, when Jeonbuk decide to switch it up a gear, they really switch it up.

Criticisms will probably be aimed at the initial inclusion of Ko Moo-yeol instead of Leonardo, despite his deft back-heel to set up Lee Jae-sung for the first goal. Leonardo’s impact though was clearly visible with a beautiful assist for Lopes and then a well-finished goal for himself to take him and his Brazilian colleague to the top of the club’s scoring charts. It is clear why he is the preferred choice. The team could also be buoyed by the return from injury of Han Kyo-won and Lee Dong-gook who both featured, as well as Lim Jong-eun who stayed on the bench on this occasion but could soon return to the starting fold.

Jeonbuk have now beaten everyone but Incheon United at home, and there looks no way of stopping them from claiming their fifth title.

Full highlights can be viewed here.

Ulsan vs Jeonnam

Jeonnam were expected to be just the tonic Ulsan required after two defeats on the bounce to Incheon and Jeonbuk. Unfortunately for them, Jeonnam are enjoying a spell of resurgence that has seem them claw themselves away from the league's basement through a more settled formation and astute transfers during the summer window. With that in mind, perhaps seeing the visitors run out with a two-nil lead should have not been as shocking.

There was little in the way of positives for Ulsan, as Jeonnam controlled proceedings for most of the game, but the only glimmer of hope may have been Mendy who's post-bound header was their best chance at salvaging something. Even considering this though, they would be clutching at straws. Ulsan were found significantly lacking; they gave up the ball too easily to a well-organised and well-drilled Jeonnam side, which they proceeded to further compound with bouts of suicidal defending. This did not look like the team who threatened to challenge FC Seoul for second, or even the team who could possibly chase down Jeonbuk. With seventeen points now between them and the champions, that latter thought seems increasingly preposterous with each passing ninety minutes.

Full highlights can be viewed here.

Ricardo Lopes

Whilst I singled this player out in my previous preview, I think his achievements are deserved of more attention, especially as he scored again against Gwangju. Lopes was signed amongst a plethora of marquee talent in the winter and perhaps was initially overlooked, especially with the likes of Kim Shin-wook and Kim Bo-kyung drawing the eye of the media.

Lopes however has continued with the form that led to his signing in the first place. On Saturday, he became joint top scorer for the season at the club, but he has also helped himself to five assists. This means he has had a direct involvement in over a quarter of Jeonbuk's K-League goals, in addition to none of them being from set-pieces or penalty kicks. Whilst his achievement would only see him scrape the top five in the league this year, unlike them he is not the sole-benefactor of the team's creativeness. Whereas others can be removed from their respective squads and leave their clubs with a significant gap to fill due to lack of competition, Lopes has had to fight for his position with rivalries coming from his fellow midfielders Leonardo (8 goals, 2 assists), Lee Jae-sung (2 goals, 7 assists) and Kim Bo-kyung (4 goals, 4 assists). In a midfield foursome of equal footing, Lopes is now proving to be the stand-out candidate and deserves all the plaudits coming his way.

Predictions

Ulsan have lost three games on the bounce, with two being to relegation candidates where they could only find the back of the net once. They have dropped out of the Champions League spots as well as having the third least number of goals scored (with first and second place being held by Suwon FC and Incheon United respectively). Whilst they may have bought Mendy, the hype surrounding him is looking increasingly ill-judged as he fails to find the net and spurn chances off-target. Perhaps he is the new Kim Shin-wook after all.

In stark contrast, Jeonbuk have won their last five league games, have most of the players now returning from injury, and are still yet to unleash Edu on somebody (most likely because he is lacking significant match sharpness). Jeonbuk's midfield continues to amaze without reliance on a striker, although if pressed, Lee Jong-ho is the ideal man to lead the line. With a week's rest after until the next match against Suwon FC, I see Choi Kang-hee opting for a full strength squad which should once again be too much for this Ulsan side to take.

Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Ulsan Hyundai

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