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playoffs

Jeonnam Dragons vs Gwangju FC Preview

This Saturday the Dragons welcome a Gwangju FC side that hasn't lost since late July and is currently holding down the 6th and final spot in the Championship Round with the league split quickly approaching. If Jeonnam's to achieve their goal of finishing in the top 6 this year they'll need to overcome their lackluster form vs the pride of Gwangju and take all three points.

Jeonnam DragonsGwangju FC
DWDLWWDDWW
Competition:K-League Classic
Date:Sep 16, 2016
Game Week:Round 30
Kick-off:19:00
Venue:Gwangyang Stadium

Late Bloomers

The song remains the same for the Dragons as they yet again came from behind late in a game to snag a point that seemed to have evaded them. This time they shocked the still undefeated champs Jeonbuk by scoring twice in the final 13 minutes to steal a draw from their North Jeolla rivals on the road. As predicted there were a few changes to the "usual" lineup for Jeonbuk in preparation for AFC Champions League. Backup keeper Hwang Byeong-geun got the start in place of usual Jeonbuk #1 Kwon Soon-tae, but had a fine showing with the likes of Leonardo, Edu, Lee Jong-ho, and Lopes all starting in front of him. Those four starters alone are enough to beat any other K-League team, so the champs can't exactly hide behind a "B-Squad" dropping points. Instead it was the sheer will to win and some fine interplay between Choi Hyo-jin and Jugović that got the Dragons on the board in the 77th. Four minutes later substitute Han Chan-hee finished off a lovely display of skill from fellow sub Heo Yong-joon to secure a rare point at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. It could be said Jeonbuk's mind was elsewhere with a pivotal clash vs Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG looming, but the fact remains the Dragons fought back from two down on the road against a strong lineup and proved they can hang with the biggest club in the league. This is a vast improvement over the showing against FC Seoul at home a month ago and bodes well for the Dragons moving forward.

4 Points 4 Games

With just four games remaining before the Championship and Relegation Round split, Jeonnam find themselves four points off the pace of the top six. Of the four games ahead, three are at home and each of those is against a team currently residing in the Championship Round. 6th place Gwangju comes to town this weekend, 5th place Sangju Sangmu visits Wednesday, and the regular season will end with 4th place Jeju United coming to Gwangyang on October 2nd. Both Gwangju and Sangju are clinging to a 4 point lead over the Dragons with 40 on the season, and Jeju are scarcely ahead of them with 41 points through 29 games. The lone road game remaining is away to 11th place Suwon FC next weekend. All four of these matches are six point swing games that not only have the potential to help the Dragons move up the table, but will also directly affect those above them fighting for the same spots. More importantly, all four are winable and allow Jeonnam to control their own destiny. Should they show well over the next four matches and make it to Championship Round, an AFC Champions League birth isn't out of the question with 3rd place Ulsan currently sitting on 42 points through 30 Rounds, just 6 points ahead of Jeonnam. So buckle in, the next three weeks are going to be damn interesting.

The Returned

As reported earlier this month, the full list of military recruits returning to their teams has been released and the Jeonnam front office may still be grinning ear to ear. Adding dynamic forwards Park Jun-tae and Park Gi-dong to an already exciting attack force is like sneaking in a marquee transfer after the deadline. Gi-dong leads Sangju scoring this season with 9 goals, and Jun-tae is tied for second with 8; totals that would see them immediately surpass Jair and become the leading scorers on Jeonnam. Both have played over 1,500 minutes this season and are in mid-season form, so it'll be interesting to see how quickly manager Noh Sang-rae fits them into the lineup and how their presence alters strategies and formations. With Jair rightfully cemented in the starting lineup, Ahn Yong-woo showing flashes of brilliance, and the recent emergence of Heo Yong-joon and Han Chan-hee it's difficult to see how all of the pieces will fit, but this is certainly a good problem to have. I wouldn't predict either Park to start Saturday, but fully expect them to be subbed in the second half and am looking forward to what they'll bring.

The Adversary

Gwangju are coming in red hot and are bringing the Golden Boot leader, Jung Jo-gook, with them. Undefeated in their last six, Gwangju's defense has turned it up a notch and held 3 clean sheets during that stretch. In fact, they've only conceded three goals against during their hot streak and boast the league's second best goals against average at 1.17 per game. Additionally, playing on the road doesn't affect Gwangju in the slightest. They're unbeaten in their last 3 away games, have scored in 86% of their away matches this season and have scored 23 of their 35 goals on the road. Marks good enough to give them two more away wins on the season where they've tallied a 6-2-6 record vs their 4-8-3 home record. To make matters worse, Gwangju is a team the Dragons simply cannot seam to beat. Regardless of standings or streaks, Gwangju is just one of those teams that's had Jeonnam's number in recent years. Of the six matches played over the past two seasons, the Dragons have only beaten Gwangju once, a 2-1 victory in a meaningless November match to cap off the 2015 season.

However, it's not all doom and gloom. While Gwangju has been amassing their points they've been doing so by the slimmest of margins and often with a single goal. During their current 4-4-2 run they've scored 2 or more goals a meager three times and likely couldn't keep pace in a shootout. With the aforementioned returns of Park Jun-tae and Park Gi-dong adding to a Dragons side that's scored 5 times in 3 matches, there's more than a decent chance Jeonnam finds the back of the net more than once Saturday night.

Who To Watch

None other than 32-year-old Golden Boot leader Jung Jo-gook who enters the match with 16 goals on the season. More than doubling his minutes, appearances, and starts from his discouraging 2015 season with FC Seoul, he's also scored 15 more goals this year for what's already a career best and his finest output since his 2010 season with Seoul when he scored 12. He's cooled a bit of late scoring just once in four matches, but with the Gwangju defense being as stingy as they are, the team has rarely needed more than a goal or two to pick up a win. With few other bona fide attacking options, expect the Dragons to zero in on the resurgent striker and potentially play Tomislav Mrčela man to man to prevent any damage.

Prediction

All good things must end, and so to shall Gwangju's unbeaten streak. The Dragons are likely still buzzing from the unexpected and dramatic draw they picked up in Jeonju and desperately need to take points away from Gwangju. Expect this one to be close throughout with the Dragons pulling their usual stunts and scoring one in the final 15 to take home all three points.

Jeonnam Dragons 2-1 Gwangju FC


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