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Preview: Jeju United vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' Leonardo and Kim Shin-wook celebrate the former's stunning free kick to equalise against Suwon Samsung Bluewings. (Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' Leonardo and Kim Shin-wook celebrate the former's stunning free kick to equalise against a resurgent Suwon Samsung Bluewings. (Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

After an edgier than expected encounter against Suwon Bluewings on Sunday, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel midweek to Jeju United where they continue in their bid to wrap up the league title as quickly as possible in addition to maintaining their unbeaten season.

Quick Recap: Jeonbuk vs Suwon Bluewings

After drubbing Shanghai SIPG 5-0 a few days prior, supporters of the struggling Suwon Bluewings were probably not expecting much from their trip to Jeonju. With this in mind, they may have taken a draw if it were offered to them prior to the match, yet they headed home wondering if they could have perhaps snatched more.

Both Bluewings and Jeonbuk lead the league table for draws accumulated this season so the final result should have come as no surprise. Making changes in the form of the inclusion of Edu (more on him in a moment) for Kim Shin-wook and Han Kyo-won brought in for the suspended Lopes, Choi Kang-hee opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation instead of the more recently successful 4-1-4-1 team structure.

Jeonbuk struggled for the opening forty five minutes, failing to make an impression on proceedings and ultimately conceding before the interval from a Johnathan shot. Suwon's Brazilian has been struggling to make an impression since his much hyped signing this summer, but he did seem to have turned up for this particular fixture, posing numerous questions of the Jeonbuk back line.

The home side then decided to double down on their ineffectiveness by proceeding to lunge at the Suwon players until the referee decided to finally show a second yellow and subsequent red to centre back Cho Sung-hwan for his challenge.

A free kick was later awarded to Jeonbuk on the edge of the Suwon area, but not before further scuffles could ensue. Kim Shin-wook's squaring up to the Suwon wall resulted in an exchange of pushes between Lee Dong-gook and Lee Jong-sung, and a yellow for goalscorer Johnathan (who was not involved in the spat). Lee Jong-sung has since apologised publicly for his excessive shove on the 37 year-old via Facebook.
In my admittedly biased opinion, I'm not sure the apparent first push from Lee Dong-gook merited the relatively violent shove, although the veteran striker's amateur dramatics afterwards certainly did not help his cause among viewers, even if the contact was heavy enough to fall to ground for. You can decide for yourself though by viewing the specific incident here.

Why all this is worthy of note was that it led up to a splendid free kick from Leonardo, Jeonbuk's saviour in so many of their matches this season, who curled the ball beyond the keeper to equalise.

Later on, Lee Jong-sung saw a second yellow also for a challenge that looked bad on first viewing, but replays showed he had successfully acquired the ball with his trailing leg clipping Leonardo. With 10 vs 10, the game played out to an exciting conclusion with both teams, although particularly Jeonbuk, creating goalscoring chances to win the game.

The Jeonju side will be annoyed to have drawn this game, but they must accept their actions on the pitch (or lack of) for the first half, and persistent fouling early on the second, did not merit three points. Their unbeaten run this season now stretches to 30 games though and they are now looking set for the final straight in becoming the K-League's "Invincibles".

Highlights of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-1 Suwon Bluewings can be viewed here.

The Persistent Selection of Edu

Coincidentally, one of our newer contributors touched on this after the game, so I will try not to retread on what they have wrote, but offer a slightly different take on the situation. In my honest opinion, it is still way too soon to judge Edu as a failure as he has only played six games. There is reason to question his acquisition though, something which I expressed on the day of his arrival. It is still early days, but it is safe to say the 34 year-old's return to Jeonju has not gone as he may envisaged.

Edu's return was billed as the final push towards Champion's League glory, with the player himself stating he had unfinished business in the competition. The player however barely featured over the two quarter final legs, which was to be expected based on his underwhelming performance in the league. His finishing has often proved wayward and his pace, whilst never his strong point, seems to be hindering him at times. He also looks awkward in the system, still not quite clicking with his teammates, but in fairness to the player this does take time which he will be given.

The shoehorning of the Brazilian into the starting line up of league games against anyone who is not Seoul has a number of detrimental effects on the team. First, Edu is yet to start in a 4-1-4-1 formation, most likely as the manager sees him as ineffective in a lone striker role. Choi has always reverted to a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate the striker. By making this change, Lee Jae-sung is often selected to sit behind him in the AM role. In doing so, Kim Bo-kyung is kept in central midfield along with a defensive midfielder (Jang Yun-ho or Lee Ho) to safeguard the defence. Whilst it is still a formation that has worked, the reason why the 4-1-4-1 has become the tactic of preference is that it allows for the striker to play a hold-up role, bringing in the four-pronged midfield attack of Lopes, Lee Jae-sung, Kim Bo-kyung, and Leonardo to quickly counter, interplay and often score, whilst also offering a deeper-lying midfielder to add protection to the defence. In a year where Jeonbuk's four strikers have scored just 17 of the team's 56 league goals, it is vital that these midfielders are given free reign to attack. Edu's place in the starting line-up does not allow for this.

Edu's inclusion and the change of formation to cater for him has often resulted in the team struggling to score, which means strikers who were being rested for more important games are brought into the mix to make sure the team leave unscathed, ultimately negating the point. Seeing as Edu was purchased to offer more rotation options up front, Jeonbuk have certainly been featuring Kim Shin-wook and Lee Dong-gook a lot in games, often late on, in order to try and find a winner or equaliser.

Furthermore Jeonbuk rarely revert to two strikers up front unless they are behind. Even then, the additional strikers are rarely the cause of any comeback, with the midfield constantly proving the champions' biggest threat. This means that for the last few games, Jeonbuk has had three strikers on the bench, with only two of them seeing considerable game time. Surely two strikers on the bench would be enough? It had been for the first half of the season after all.

There is still hope for Edu at the club and, with strong fan backing behind him, he may turn it around before the season is out. He may also benefit from a full pre-season, with improved outings to come in 2017. However, while the title is still not yet wrapped up, perhaps Choi Kang-hee should opt for someone more reliable to get the team across the finish line so focus can be fully set on the upcoming AFC Champions League semi final with FC Seoul.

The Plight of Lee Jong-ho

Lee Jong-ho is a prospect with potential, but he also needs game time to find a rhythm. After having apparently sought out that rhythm, he was forced to make way for new arrival Edu, in addition to the manager's preference for Jeonbuk's big January signing Kim Shin-wook. During the summer months, with both Lee Dong-gook and Kim Shin-wook injured, Lee Jong-ho led the line in the first iteration of 4-1-4-1 this year to perfect results. His fight and chasing down led to balls being won and chances being created. However, in contrast to Kim Shin-wook, he eventually found a penchant for finishing, something was nipped in the bud whilst in full swing with Edu's arrival.

Hopefully the player will stick around come the end of the season as Lee Dong-gook will surely look to retire soon, and the Edu experiment is looking increasingly disastrous with each passing round. Choi kang-hee may even look to move on if rumours are true, potentially opening up opportunities for Gwangyang Dickov/Rooney. Lee Jong-ho does have the talent to make it at Jeonbuk, but unfortunately he may have to wait until the best players have left in the close season and the team likely has a docked number of points to contend with.

We Need To Talk About Wookie

I admit, I have been a vocal critic of the towering striker who has only found the net on three occasions in the K-League this year. However, having vented frustration about Edu, and also the lack of Lee Jong-ho, perhaps it is worth pointing out some positives and consider some reasons other than favouritism Choi Kang-hee might be selecting him to start in some of the recent big clashes.

First, however, let's remind ourselves of the glaring negatives. Kim Shin-wook has been nothing short of disastrous in converting chances this season (something which he was primarily bought for), with shots often ricocheting off knees and shins uncontrollably. Positives, if you can call them that, have been his "chaos factor" approach to attacking, with his movement in the box often causing more furore than threat. With all of this in mind though, I think Kim Shin-wook is finding his role in this team (albeit very slowly) and it is not as a goalscorer.

Kim Shin-wook has been involved from the start in a number of big games recently, such as Ulsan Hyundai, FC Seoul and Shanghai SIPG, all games in which Jeonbuk won. He also has been started in all three of Jeonbuk's losses so perhaps reading too much into this is unwise. However, as mentioned in my Edu "rant" above, Kim Shin-wook's often chaotic approach to ball-winning, control and distribution often allows for what is effectively four in-form counter attacking midfielders to bear down on the opposition goal. He suits the 4-1-4-1, even if something more intricate is required if the team is still needing a goal late on. As I said after Jeonbuk's 2-2 draw with Suwon FC, he is a battering ram when no key can be found to unlock a defence.

The Wookie will certainly be handed a role in the near-future of this squad, although with a managerial change looking very possible come the end of the season, especially if Jeonbuk are a) champions of Asia and b) convicted K-League match-fixers, it is possible his long-term future in Jeonju will be reconsidered. A combination of falling on his sword and retiring on a high will likely make Choi Kang-hee consider retirement and trigger a change in coaching staff.

The other, rather more important factor to consider in his inclusion is the quality of his competition. I personally still prefer Lee Jong-ho or Lee Dong-gook up front, as do many others because they can control the ball and score goals. Perhaps sometimes this is what supporters want to see most in their strikers.

Jeju United

Despite occupying fourth spot, and only three points off ACL qualification, Jeju United have been a pale imitation of the threat they posed earlier in the season. Whilst unbeaten in their last four matches (a notable improvement on previous form), they have also only found the net three times, recording two wins (against a struggling Seongnam and Challenge-bound Incheon) and two draws (Ulsan and FC Seoul) in the process. Prior to this, they were on the wrong end of a 5-3 scoreline against Suwon FC (a feat they managed a couple of weeks earlier against the other team in Suwon), as well as a 2-1 defeat to Gwangju FC. It is safe to say, it is difficult to predict which Jeju will turn up.

Their goal scoring threat in the last six league games has also been somewhat sporadic, but their January acquisition and top-scorer Toscano has certainly made an impact with his eight goals. Midfielder Ahn Hyun-beom has also been included regularly in the team of recent, acquiring seven goals in the process. Jeonbuk will look to shut down these players in particular as they continue in their search for a trophy double.

Against FC Seoul, Jeju's defence showed a good sense of organisation, with the majority of Seoul's earlier shots being from outside of the box. Their keeper Kim Ho-jun also put it a strong showing, denying Seoul on a number of occasions to earn his clean sheet. The islanders also had chances near the end to win it themselves, with Wanderson's low shot being denied by Seoul keeper Yoo Hyun in the 84th minute, and Toscano angling his effort narrowly wide of the post in the depths of injury time.

Highlights of Jeju United 0-0 FC Seoul can be viewed here.

Predictions:

Jeonbuk do have the quality to see off Jeju here, but much will depend on who Choi Kang-hee decided to play. Fortunately Lopes will be set to return against his former club, whilst Leonardo continues to maintain his high-level of form.

Jeju did well to draw against Seoul, although given Seoul's recent dip in form perhaps they could have done better. The islanders have also only scored three goals in their last four games and perhaps should be pushing for more considering how close they are to an ACL berth.

Overall, I see Jeonbuk setting up to counter against a team who needs to win, resulting in the Jeonju-side edging this particular meeting, despite it being away from home.

Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Jeju United

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