Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers
|After a hat-trick midweek against AFC Tubize, will Lopes be celebrating this weekend as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors take on Pohang Steelers in Jeonju? (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)|
Do Jeonbuk actually want to win this title?
Jeonbuk were overwhelming favourites last Sunday to walk away with the win, and perhaps even record a second league victory with a goal difference greater than two. Suwon FC had not scored a goal since May 22nd and found themselves rooted the foot of the table. With FC Seoul losing away to Sangju Sangmu 24 hours earlier, Jeonbuk had the chance to move eight points clear. Instead, after coming from behind to eventually lead 2-1, they were caught off guard by a quick free kick resulting in yet another two points lost from a winning position, the seventh time this has happened in 2016.
Without retreading too much old ground, the Jeonbuk players seem to have this mental block when facing a team they are expected to beat with ease. While the occasional freak result does happen to the best of teams, it should be unacceptable that Jeonbuk are leading the draw list, with the aforementioned seven score draws earned from winning positions, as well as two goalless draws (including one to a struggling Incheon United) which, when combined, accumulates to half of their league games this season.
Add in the threat of a potential points deduction from the unresolved bribery allegations and these dropped points could really come back to haunt Jeonbuk as we reach the end of the season.
There's a Defensive Storm on the Horizon
In my previous preview, I touched on the extent of Jeonbuk's unreported injury list. The Korean version of the main site still only alludes to three injuries having taken place this year; Kim bo-kyung, Kim Shin-wook and Lee Dong-gook. These are three large names that the day-tripper fans will undoubtedly know and are possibly part of the draw of coming to see Jeonbuk play.
However, there is no mention of the extensive list of defenders who are injured or still not match sharp. Add to this Jeonbuk's inability to keep a clean sheet this season (3 all year) and that their breakout defensive star Choi Kyu-baek is off to Rio with the Olympic squad shortly, then it is possible Jeonbuk will soon be relying on youth to hold back the likes of Pohang, Jeju, Seoul and Ulsan (the team's next four league fixtures). The transfer window is open but, unlike FC Seoul who have addressed their defensive frailty already, Jeonbuk are still yet to make a move for anyone.
The current injury list includes Kim Chang-soo and Choi Jae-soo (who had been doing well at left back). Kim Hyung-il has been making it to the bench recently but has not been brought on despite there being opportunity to do so, suggesting he is not yet at full sharpness. Choi Chul-soon returned from injury to start against Suwon FC and made it through the 90 minutes. He should return to the team for this fixture in a similar line-up.
The ex-Jeonnam man has featured in my last few previews and each time he has continued to prove me right. Therefore, it only seems right to do so again. With Lee Dong-gook's lengthy lay off, Lee Jong-ho has grabbed the opportunity with both hands, pouncing on a loose ball to bring the scores level against Suwon FC. Due to start on Sunday, here is hoping he can keep up his recent form and continue to remind everyone that their may actually be life in attack once Lee Dong-gook hangs up his boots.
I gave this man some rare praise in my most recent recap. While his targeting is still all over the place, his movement in the Suwon FC box helped open the door for his teammates to bring the game back into contention. I do not normally buy too much into the "he causes havoc in the box" theory as it is sometimes an excuse to gloss over the poor touch, poor control and inability to shoot, but here it was employed correctly and worked. It was because of Kim Shin-wook that Jeonbuk nearly won the game last weekend, which is something for his critics (myself included) to think about.
With this in mind, I hope any cameo he is afforded against Pohang is if the visitors decide to set up in a similar manner, which I do not expect them to do unless they decide to cling onto a narrow lead. Choi Kang-hee probably feels pressure to include him after he was brought in as a marquee signing, but using him out of obligation often damages the flow of the team's movements, harms any chances of winning and also negatively affects the player's confidence. Use him when necessary and with purpose, and the fans who are starting to lose patience with him may start forgiving the purchase.
Despite still being involved in all three competitions, and the relentless two games per week of the K-League as it had been until recently, Jeonbuk still found time to play host to Belgian 2nd division outfit AFC Tubize on Wednesday as part of their pre-season schedule.
It seems unfathomable that the champions would want to add to their already hectic schedule, but I suppose they were still expecting Manchester City to visit at the end of July until it was recently cancelled. AFC Tubize are owned by the Korean Marketing firm Sportizen so I suspect there was probably more to this than meets the eye. Jeonbuk did not charge anything for tickets though, and barely even marketed it, so I am still not sure what it is they were set to gain.
The champions ran out 8-1 winners, starting with mostly a second string side with Kim Shin-wook leading the line. I suppose with the previously mentioned defensive crisis, it was useful to give some of these youngsters a run out. Seeing as there was such a gulf in class though, I am not certain they will have came away having learnt anything.
Probably, and stupidly, because of the potential marketing nature of this friendly, the second half saw appearances from most of the first team, with Leonardo and Lopes coming on to score two and three goals respectively. Lee Jong-ho also made a cameo to continue his scoring run. Seeing as the second half also saw the Beligan side rack up a number of red cards would also suggest the game was not as friendly in nature as it's classification would suggest, meaning that Choi Kang-hee risked the team's strongest players when their was serious potential for injury. It seems they all came through unscathed, but who knows given Jeonbuk's unwillingness to report on those who are sidelined.
It is amusing to think though that despite clearly dominating, Kim Shin-wook still could not score and the champions were still unable to keep a clean sheet.
After a stuttering start that saw them crash out of the Asian Champions League in the group stages, Pohang Steelers have slowly started to rise again, with recent form reminding everyone exactly why they were in the ACL to begin with. The Steelers have won four of their last five league games which have included eye-catching results such as the 4-0 demolition of current 3rd place Ulsan, a 3-1 victory over Seongnam and a 2-1 victory against FC Seoul, although admittedly Seoul were without a manager at the time.
Those three results were all at home though, and while they did beat Gwangju away last week which is by no means an easy game, their away form has been significantly less impressive. Whilst they have three games on the road this year (one more the Jeonbuk), they have had also had all but one of their defeats away as well.
In the sights of Jeonbuk's defence will be Pohang's Sim Dong-woon and Yang Dong-hyun. Both lead the club's scoring charts for league goals this season (eight each), accounting for 66% of the teams league total. Nearly every game Pohang has scored in has involved one of these two players on the scoresheet (with the exception being their recent 3-1 defeat to Jeju) so the champions must do everything in their power to ensure their chances on goal are restricted as much as possible.
Jeonbuk are at home, against a team they probably deem worthy of their time. They will therefore win. This has been the basis for my last two months of predictions and I have rarely been proved wrong. Where I may have lost my head last week thinking Jeonbuk would walk it at Suwon FC (as did many others), I am returning to trend this week. When Jeonbuk think a win is a tall ask, they rise to the challenge.
Pohang will undoubtedly be tough opposition though, and I will not be surprised if they take the lead in this encounter. It has been a long time since Jeonbuk have beaten Pohang also, with their last win coming six games ago in April last year.
In terms of similar fixtures though, this one feels like it could go the way of the Seongnam game earlier this season, with neither team being able to take a clear lead but Jeonbuk just having enough quality and fight to edge it at the death.
Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-2 Pohang Steelers