Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors players celebrate in front of their fans after progressing to the AFC Champions League Final (Photo Credit: Howard Cheng)|
AFC Champions League Summary
Jeonbuk were able to overcome the hurdle of FC Seoul on aggregate, despite eventually losing the second leg in Sangam 2-1. The fans will certainly have enjoyed the festivities on the night but, in truth, the champions played well below expectation. If you really wanted to be critical, you could even say there was only one dominant half of football for Jeonbuk out of the four played across these semi-finals. With a bit more ruthlessness in front of goal, FC Seoul could really have ended up causing a much bigger headache for the Jeonju-based side.
After effectively playing a second choice squad in Jeonbuk's first league defeat to Jeju last week, Choi Kang-hee chose what looked to be his strongest options in this year's successful 4-1-4-1 formation. The team that came out though rarely looked like the same side who had racked up their impressive 14 point lead earlier in the season, often gifting possession to Seoul with the defence looking unable to find any organsiation or even sense of awareness at times.
Adding further concern was an ineffective Leonardo and an out of condition Kim Bo-kyung who sustained a head injury early on in the first half. Fans will be hoping for both a speedy recovery for their central midfielder and that Leonardo's performance was just an off-day. At such a crucial time in the season, Jeonbuk cannot afford to lose their best performers.
However, with the first leg of the final against Al-Ain two weeks after the close of the season, Choi Kang-hee's men can fully focus on these four must-win league games ahead. The title race is certainly building up to a dramatic climax.
Highlights from FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk can be viewed below or by clicking here.
Jeonbuk Squad Selection
There should be little reason for Choi Kang-hee to select a team other than his strongest available. It is likely Kim Shin-wook will start up top, having started against his former club on all three occasions this year. Depending on the Wookie's match fitness though, and if Choi Kang-hee happened to actually witness his dire performance, Lee Dong-gook would be the other possibility.
The midfield should remain unchanged depending on the seriousness of Kim Bo-kyung's head injury. Seeing as he played on well into the second half though, if he did not make the starting line-up here then he will likely still be an option from the bench.
Jeonbuk's defence however could see some alternate faces. There is no word on whether Kim Hyung-il will be back from injury, but with Cho Sung-hwan having to vacate from the line-up that faced FC Seoul due to his league suspension, then we could see Lim Jong-eun partner up with either Choi Chul-soon or Shin Hyung-min, probably the former despite the latter's recent goal against Jeju.
Having looked to be favourites to claim the third place position, two defeats in a row have seen Ulsan Hyundai slip behind an in-form Jeju United in the table. While it is not a complete disaster if they do not qualify due to them still having a reasonable chance in the FA Cup, achieving Champions League through table position should be more convenient for them. That said, with the FA Cup being played next week, there could be some temptation to rest key personnel although I doubt it.
Ulsan's most recent result came in the form of a 2-0 away defeat at the hands of a rejuvenated FC Seoul. Whilst Seoul were deserved victors based on their performance, there were some minor positives for Ulsan. Summer signing Mendy came close to showing again why he is dangerous from set pieces; managing to find his head on the ball despite being marked specifically by the Seoul defence just before half-time. Unfortunately for the striker, his shot was met with the crossbar. A goal before the break could very well have changed the outcome for the visitors.
After back-up keeper Jung San brought down Go Yo-han in the area, conceding both an Adriano-converted penalty and a booking for his troubles, Ulsan did show signs of life as they pressed to get themselves back into the game. Despite this pressure and some aerobic shots, they were not able to get past Seoul keeper Yoo Hyun.
Despite these slightly encouraging signs though, Ulsan do have issues when it comes to converting chances. They currently sit as the third lowest goal scorers in the league, with the first two currently sitting in the relegation zone. Their home form has also been notably poor on the whole this season (7 wins out of 17) despite a decent summer run of results, which theoretically should work to Jeonbuk's advantage.
Highlights from FC Seoul vs Ulsan Hyundai can be viewed on YouTube here.
For Jeonbuk, every game is massive now, but this and the FC Seoul game in the final round are notably the toughest tests remaining. Both of these teams, in addition to Jeonbuk, require all three of the points to stay within their respective races. With Jeju favourites to defeat Jeonnam this weekend, Ulsan cannot afford to lose more ground.
Despite dominant performances at home to FC Seoul and Shanghai SIPG in the AFC Champions League, it has been a while since we have witnessed a truly champions-like performance from Jeonbuk in the K-League. This has partly been due to squad rotation, but there has been narrow and nervy wins with the preferred line-up as well. Even the league 3-1 victories over Seoul and Incheon in the were certainly not dominant displays, but ruthlessness in front of goal. I would even go so far as to argue the 3-0 home victory against Gwangju FC was the last time in the league that Jeonbuk really demonstrated why they were favourites.
That said, Jeonbuk do, or at least did, have the resolve and fight to win matches, which is why they are still in first place. Whether this has been taken out of them due to tiredness or the psychological effects of having most of their lead taken from them remains to be seen. The further addition of losing what was set to be an unbeaten season so close to finish, especially as it was arguably the manager who decided to throw it, could also have taken the wind out of their sails. They need to regroup however for just two more weeks to ensure the title their season has deserved, stays within their grasp.
I feel pessimistic about this clash, and while I do not think Ulsan will be able to repeat Jeju's feat against the champions, I certainly think they could hold Jeonbuk, especially if the visitors play in a similar manner to that they did midweek. I am expecting a score draw.
Predicted Result: Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
K-League United have teamed up with WeFIFA to bring you simulated FIFA17 match predictions for each round's Match of the Week. This week, Ulsan vs Jeonbuk had the privilidge of receiving the WeFIFA treatment. You can see the simulated highlights for yourself below, or by clicking here.
For more information about WeFIFA, make sure to subscribe to their YouTube channel in addition to following them on Twitter and Facebook.
You can also take a look at FIFA's player ratings for the K-League by clicking here.