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Writers Chat: Jeonnam Dragons vs Pohang Steelers Preview

Jeonnam will play host for the 38th POSCO Derby and welcomes a Pohang side that's directly above them in the table. While the two teams may be heading in opposite directions, both currently have the goal of making the upcoming Championship Round and duking it out with the top 6 teams to end the season. Our Pohang columnist Josh Bulloch and I discuss the derby's history, the recent Power Rankings, and of course give our two cents on who'll win this Sunday.
Josh Asks, Ryan Answers

Josh Bulloch: Pohang hasn't beaten Jeonnam in Gwangyang since September 2014 when Moon Chang-jin scored the game's lone goal. That season Pohang finished 3rd and barely missed out on AFC Champions League, while Jeonnam finished 8th and were sent to the Relegation Round. I truly believe we may see those outcomes repeat themselves both this weekend and going forward. What does Jeonnam need to accomplish vs Pohang to secure themselves out of the relegation group?

Ryan Walters: I'd like to say a comprehensive win, but honestly it doesn't matter how they win so long as they get all 3 points. With just 6 matches left until the split, every home game should be considered a must win if Jeonnam's to break into the top 6, and none more so than this weekend's affair. The Steelers sit directly ahead of Jeonnam and if the Dragons are to have any chance of Championship Round, they have to beat lower half opponents at home. That march starts this Sunday in what's hopefully the last POSCO Derby of 2016.

JB: I may be getting too big of a head after only a few good results, but I think Pohang has really turned a corner and there's no looking back for this team. On the other side, Jeonnam heads into this weekend's match coming off a draw versus Suwon Bluewings where Jeonnam took the lead late in the first half only to concede a goal minutes later. I haven't watched the match, but I can only assume a mistake was made giving up the equalizer. What mistakes if any do you think were made that match? What would you have done differently?

RW: The goal against wasn't so much bad form as it was bad luck. A free kick just outside the box came in, hit an unsuspecting Lee Ji-nam in the shoulder, bounced off a Suwon shoulder, and landed at Yeon Ji-min's feet who hit home a shot the keeper was screened from seeing. If I were to really pick nits, I could say the marking should've been tighter, but it wasn't terrible and it's just a bad luck goal. These things happen. The mistakes I saw were the truly bizarre substitution choices of manager Noh Sang-rae. He replaced Jeonnam's leading scorer Jair with Maurinho at the half only to sub him off in the 82nd for Heo Yong-joon. Those three, along with Ahn Yong-woo, have been Jeonnam's most potent offensive threats. Why the manager would continually put himself in a situation where only two of the four are on the field in a tied game is beyond me. After a solid stretch of logical, and honestly game changing substitutions, it would seem Noh's back to his maddening old tricks.

JB: Since that away win for Pohang in 2014 there have been 3 matches in Gwangyang and all of them have ended 0-0. Do you believe we may see that same outcome again? If not, who will be the MOTM? What type of role will he play? 

RW: It's been 7 games since the Dragons drew at home and I don't see that trend changing this weekend. Not when it's a 6 point game with the team directly above them in the standings. Jeonnam's chances at Championship Round wouldn't be shot if they were to lose or draw on Sunday, but it'd hurt. Especially when considering a truly intimidating trip to Jeonju World Cup stadium looms for Round 29 after the international break. In all honesty, 4 points out of the next two would be sublime, and I just don't see any way to get those without picking up the win at home this Sunday. Look for Jair to figure into the mix yet again by creating opportunities with his pace down the wing and picking up some scraps just outside the box.

JB: Finally, what is the score at the final whistle?

RW: It's been 5 games since Pohang won away and they've been shutout in 3 of their last 5 matches overall. The Steelers are unbeaten in 3 coming into the match, but they've only scored 2 goals in that time and I don't see them keeping the Dragons off the board in Gwangyang. It'll be hard fought, and may not be overly pretty, but I definitely see Jeonnam coming away victorious.

Jeonnam Dragons 1-0 Pohang Steelers

Ryan Asks, Josh Answers

Ryan Walters: Pohang fell from 8th to 10th in Miro's most recent Power Rankings where he also called them "the most frustrating team to watch this season after the Bluewings." Do you think it's a justified drop in the Rankings based on current form?

Josh BullochI do and I don't. At times they have shown flashes of the team they should be but 10 minutes later they digress back to a team hardly recognizable and it can be quite frustrating. I do believe though the team is making strides in the right direction following the last three previous matches. This is a team that held Jeonbuk to zero goals just a few weeks ago. Only two other teams have been able to accomplish that this season.

RW: The Steelers haven't won on the road in their last 5 attempts, and only have 2 games scoring 2 or more away goals this year. How likely is it that manager Choi Jin-cheul comes into Gwangyang simply looking for a low scoring draw?

JB: To be honest I'm having a hard time understanding his strategy. He used two variations of the 4-2-3-1 in back to back weeks and got good results, but then last week he used the 4-3-3. So, it's quite possible he may play for the draw for the rest of the season with only a few points separation between 8th and 4th. If Pohang was able to collect 1 point from each game, and if any of the teams above lose a match or two, Pohang could slip right in unnoticed. It may not be a pleasing strategy to the fans but if it gets Pohang into the playoffs then I'm happy and I'm sure the fans would agree.

RW: With Pohang just 3 points above them in 8th place, the Dragons will likely come out guns blazing looking to close that gap and potentially leapfrog their POSCO rivals in the league table. How will the Steelers line up to stop Jeonnam's attack and which player(s) do you think they need to focus on?

JB: Guns blazing and the Dragons in the same sentence... I didn't know that was possible. I'm just poking fun but, yes Jeonnam's 3 first half goals in their last 5 home matches have been impressive. Especially the Brazilian Jair's 4 goals in 8 matches. He will definitely be on the minds of Pohang defenders on Sunday. As far as formation it's anyone's guess, but I could tell you who the back line should be: Kim Joon-su, Kim Won-il, and Kim Gwang-seok. They play very well together and Pohang has a good record when the three are all starting in the back.

RW: Forget the scoreline as I know that's not your thing, but who wins this one?

JB: The fans who get the watch this incredible match....."My Way, Steelers Way"

What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: 

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