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Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeonnam Dragons Preview

Jeonbuk will still be in 1st place for the third Jeolla Derby of 2016, but nearly everything else has changed since these two rivals met back in late June. The Dragons have surged up the table to 8th place and sit just 3 points behind the 6th place dividing line between the Championship and Relegation Rounds. Meanwhile, the Motors have yet to lose this season and look to keep the streak alive. I chatted yet again with our Jeonbuk columnist Matt Binns about what to expect from each team this weekend and where they'll be after the split.

Ryan Asks, Matt Answers

Ryan Walters: Quite a bit has changed for both of the Jeolla clubs since our last Writers Chat in late June. As a Dragons fan, one of the biggest things I've noticed is the emergence of Lee Jong-ho as a budding superstar. How important has he been for Jeonbuk this year and what role do you see him playing for the club in the near and distant future?

Matt Binns: My praise of the ex-Jeonnam man has constantly been high. I still think it is unfair that he has now shifted down to fourth choice due to the unnecessary purchase of Edu and the manager’s need to reassure Kim Shin-wook of his place in the match day squad. With Lee Dong-gook always being the first choice when fit, Lee Jong-ho’s upturn in form was abruptly extinguished by Choi Kang-hee before the supporters could start enjoying themselves too much. If he stays (and he definitely should as I do not see Kim Shin-wook long for the neon-green shirted world), he would be an ideal candidate to replace a retiring Lee Dong-gook and could have a long and bright future in Jeonju.

RW: Speaking of changes, the Dragons can actually win games now. Already boasting a vastly improved offense, the additions of returning military vets Park Gi-dong and Park Jun-tae could put the Dragons into top offense in the league talk. With those additions and considering Jeonbuk have only held 3 home clean sheets this season, how much of a concern is the improved Jeonnam offense?

MB: You must also remember that Jeonbuk have only dropped four points at home this season. If the visiting team scores, Jeonbuk will nearly always score more. Furthermore, Jeonbuk’s defence has started to show considerable signs of improvement with Kim Hyung-il reclaiming his centre-back spot from Lim Jong-eun. Park Won-jae’s return to left back, and Choi Chul-soon’s consistently decent displays down the right have also ensured an attacking threat combined with the defensive qualities they offer the squad. Finally, with Choi Kyu-baek absent whilst on Olympic duty, Cho Sung-hwan has been given regular minutes and has built a relatively solid partnership with Kim Hyung-il, notably holding out Shanghai SIPG away from home and nearly keeping a clean sheet against FC Seoul until a clumsy 94th minute penalty. At this moment in time, it is increasingly difficult to imagine Choi Kyu-baek and Lim Jong-eun returning to the centre of defence in the near future.

RW: With the title all but officially secured for Jeonbuk yet again, their focus has undoubtedly (and rightly in my opinion) shifted to the AFC Champions League. With Shanghai East Asia rolling into town for a decisive second leg on Tuesday, what are the chances Choi Kang-Hee trots out a "B-Squad" against Jeonnam? Who do you think will be the key players in a "B-Squad?" Will we see Edu's first goal since returning to Jeonju?

MB: It will not be quite the B-team you will be expecting as Leonardo has been named “Player of the Day” in the pre-match marketing efforts. Whilst still not officially deemed “Leo Day” yet, it looks set to be and therefore you can expect the Brazilian to start. Choi Kang-hee also has a reasonable track record of playing quite a strong team the weekend before a Champion’s League fixture (with the first Jeolla derby being the notable exception) so he may treat this as a practice run, especially with nearly all players having not played for two weeks due to the international break. I expect perhaps Lee Jae-sung to be rested due to his involvement with the national team, and maybe even Lee Jong-ho to be given a run out up front against his old club so as to keep Lee Dong-gook fresh (although it will probably be Edu as his purchase is still yet to be justified). We could even see appearances from the two centre backs who I have just denied a return in my previous answer, although Choi Kang-hee may opt to keep a consistent defence together ahead of such a high-profile fixture. Overall, I do not think there will be wholesale changes for this fixture, but possibly a few tweaks.

RW: Score Prediction?

MB: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Jeonnam Dragons

Matt Asks, Ryan Answers

Matt Binns: With the league split hurtling towards us, Jeonnam seemed to have began uprooting themselves from the foot of the table and are now climbing towards the top six. With this in mind, do you think we will see a fourth Jeolla Derby this year?

RW: As long as the offense continues clicking, then I definitely think we'll see another Jeolla Derby this season. Jair may well be the signing of the season and has been the spark needed to get the offense going. The youngsters Heo Yong-joon and Ahn Yong-woo have both enjoyed an uptick in form lately as well, and Park Gi-dong is set to return later this month. As you've already pointed out, he's had a hell of a run with the surprising Sangju side this year and should slot quite well into a 3-5-2 with Jair next to him. The defense has proven over the past two months (the FC Seoul match aside) that they're not going to concede much, so if the offense can continue to roll, then Jeonnam should be able to pick up enough points to leapfrog an up-and-down Gwangju side, and a suddenly depleted Sangju side and claim a spot in Championship Round.

MB: You've been quite vocal earlier in the season regarding your dissatisfaction with Noh Sang-rae's management of the club. Given what must now be considered the most successful summer transfer window of all the clubs though, would you be open to another term under his leadership?

RW: At this point there can't be any doubt that the summer signings are fully responsible for the Dragons charge up the table. If Noh was responsible for seeking out and signing Jair, Mrčela, and Maurinho, then kudos to him and I have a crow appetizer on my hands. Throw in the intelligent formation shift away from the dysfunctional 4-2-3-1 and improved (but still often quite questionable) substitutions and crow has moved up to my main course. I have to admit he's doing a pretty good job right now tactically as well moving away from the "lob it to the foreigner and pray" technique they employed during Stevo's reign and playing a more possession heavy style. He's doing better of late, but again I think the improved form has more to do with the talent on the field than the manger prowling the sidelines. I still hold him personally responsible for a lot of dropped point this season, so he still has some winning over to do. All that said, I'll wait and see where the Dragons are at the split and how they finish the season overall before committing one way or the other on his return next season.

MB: Jeonnam have been enjoying some last minute heroics over the previous two months. What has contributed to this 'never say die attitude' and should Jeonbuk be wary this weekend?

RW: I think it's the old sports cliche of confidence carrying the team. This is now a team that thinks they can win every game they lineup for, and results have proved them right. It started with the July 9th home game against Jeju where they were trailing heading into the final 10 minutes and newcomer Jair scored a shocker to tie it in the 81st. A good portion of the team was celebrating as if victory had been achieved, and they could go home satisfied with not losing. However, Jair pulled the ball out of the back of the net and screamed at his teammates to sprint back to the halfway line and get the reset going. They listened and six minutes later Kim Young-wook hit a wonderstrike to seal all 3 points. I think the win surprised the team a bit as they'd become accustomed to losing close matches. But after seeing themselves do it once, they knew they could do it again. And have. Continuously. It's absolutely something Jeonbuk should be worried about this weekend if they're clinging to a narrow lead or tied. Jeonnam save it for late and have just added more firepower to make late dramatics even more achievable.

MB: Prediction?

RW: I don't see the streak ending, but I'm feeling optimistic, so I'll go with Jeonbuk 2-2 Jeonnam.

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

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