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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeju United

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Lee Jae-sung is set to return from international duty to face the visiting Jeju United this weekend (Photo credit: Hyundai-Motors.com)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Lee Jae-sung is set to return from international duty to face the visiting Jeju United this weekend (Photo credit: Hyundai-Motors.com)

With the final round of pre-split results combining with punishment for the champions to ensure the league was left on somewhat of a cliffhanger before the international break, we kick off the championship round with first placed Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at home to an in-form, third-placed Jeju United. Can Jeonbuk regain control of this title race or will Jeju's push for ACL qualification offer a potential stumbling block?


Returning Internationals

In rather a surprising twist to the Korea national team selection, a considerable number of K-League players were called up into Uli Stielike's squad including four from Jeonbuk. Kwoun Sun-tae, Lee Jae-sung, Kim Bo-kyung and Kim Shin-wook have been away from their club duties this past fortnight, with the latter two playing some role in both Qatar (home) and Iran (away) fixtures.

Jeonbuk are accustomed to normally losing Lee Jae-sung in international weeks, but having four key players unable to train with the squad ahead of five very difficult league fixtures and Champions League appearances will not have been ideal for Choi Kang-hee. That said, they may see some players buoyed by their long awaited returns to the national team.

Kim Shin-wook has not had the best start to the season but his recent form brought him into somewhat surprising consideration (although I did shrewdly/fortuitously select him as my Jeonbuk "National Teamer to Watch" back in February). After a first half that saw Korea trailing to Qatar, Kim Shin-wook was introduced as a replacement for the ineffective Suk Hyun-jun and did not do too badly. He had clearly been brought on with a purpose to win the ball in the air and lay it off, a role which has suited him in his last few games for his club. His deflected header into the path of Ji Dong-won led to Korea's equaliser, before Son Heung-min scored a third moments later. Kim's presence offered a viable back-up plan to a team struggling to break down their opponents. He also featured briefly against Iran from the bench but was unable to help his team come back on that occasion.

Kim Bo-kyung was perhaps a more expected call-up given his form, yet proved to be less effective. While he only featured for a few minutes against Qatar, he started the game against Iran and had somewhat of an off-day in comparison to the eye-catching shifts he had been putting in at club level. That said, it seemed he was not the only player having a difficult time in Tehran and he should not feel too disheartened providing he can continue with his current performance levels at Jeonbuk.

For more detailed analysis on the Korea national team's exploits, please take a look at the work being done over at the Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors who are doing a splendid job with their coverage. You can find an in-depth analysis of the Qatar game here, in addition to a well-written piece about the fall out after the loss to Iran.

K-League Post-Split Fixtures

The K-League has done its best in trying to cultivate drama and retain interest in a season that many supporters had deemed predictable. The nine point deduction may have been coincidental timing, but setting up the schedule so Jeonbuk will host FC Seoul on the final day of the season, especially now they currently sit just three points apart, certainly seems pre-determined.

Jeonbuk arguably have the more favourable run though than their title rivals, with Jeju, Sangju and FC Seoul all set to visit Jeonju, a place where just six points have been dropped all season. They will also travel to Ulsan who have had an underwhelming track record at home this season (seven wins in seventeen) so hopefully this will play to the champions' advantage. An away trip to Jeonnam could prove a stumbling block but, with possibly little left to play for (assuming Jeju and Ulsan are fighting for the remaining ACL spots), they may not quite be as motivated to get one over their local rivals.

Jeju's Recent Form

Jeju managed to pull themselves above Ulsan on the final pre-split round up into the ACL qualification spots. Going by recent form, they will be looking to try and hang on to their new found heights. Jeju United have conceded just four goals in their last seven games, winning four and drawing three. However, two of those goals were conceded at home to a heavily rotated Jeonbuk with Kim Shin-wook giving the champions the lead twice before Jeju fought back.

Their previous two games however saw them score seven goals against fellow top six opposition. A 5-1 away win against Sangju Sangmu certainly raised a few eyebrows, but it was Lee Chang-min's stupendous opener in a 2-0 away win to Jeonnam Dragons that grabbed the headlines. As pointed out by Miroslav Tramita in our site's power rankings (where Jeju ranked 2nd), "They're not playing such open games anymore, but remain dangerous when given space to break into". If so, it will be interesting to see if they set up to counter against Jeonbuk at the weekend. The champions have secured their best results when soaking up pressure but, with Jeju possibly playing a similar game and Jeonbuk needing to regain control of the title race, we could see the islanders allowing for Jeonbuk to come forward and exploiting their ever-changing defensive line-up.

Predictions

Interestingly, Jeju have a poor record at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, having never won there previously. With their opponents fired up to reclaim a title they already thought was theirs, this pattern could be set to continue. Jeonbuk will use a full strength squad this time out, and should have enough to claim the three points here, but Jeju will make them work for it and are capable of causing more than a few scares.

Predicted Scoreline: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-2 Jeju United

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