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Preview: FC Seoul vs Jeonnam Dragons

With their AFC Champions League hopes all but mathematically dashed, Jeonnam hit the road one final time in 2016 to face 2nd place and surging FC Seoul. On the heels of their most humiliating defeat of the season, the Dragons will need pull out their strongest performance in months to have a chance at upsetting the title hopefuls from the capital.

FC SeoulJeonnam Dragons
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Competition:K-League Classic
Date:Nov 2, 2016
Game Week:Round 37
Kick-off:15:00
Venue:Seoul World Cup Stadium

New Phone, Who Dis?

There are head-scratching lineups and then there's the starting XI newly appointed manager Song Kyung-sub trotted out against the back-to-back champs over the weekend. Facing a Jeonbuk side that looked astoundingly human for the first time in well over a calendar year coming into the match, Song rolled out a B-squad that unsurprisingly fell flat and a defense that was left utterly embarrassed by the end of the day. Gone were regulars Lee Ho-seung, Vedran Jugović, Ko Tae-won, Lee Ji-nam, Yang Juna, Park Gi-dong, and Park Joon-tae. And I mean gone. They weren't even in the 18. Against the once-defeated returning champions. At home. Instead 30-year-old midfielder Song Chang-ho got his first start of the year and replaced Jugović in the midfield. Of the whopping 70 minutes Chang-ho has accumulated this year, 68 of them were on Sunday, and came against a midfield boasting multiple internationals and a potential MVP. Unsurprisingly he was subbed off in favor of Lee Ji-min who could do little to improve upon the damage at that point. Perhaps Chang-ho had practiced well and earned the spot? It's a somewhat forgivable mistake considering he was surrounded by an experienced midfield that could help him along. What's utterly inexcusable is the barrage of "who dis?" players Song Kyung-sub elected to put behind his midfield.

Making just his 10th appearance of 2016, the aging and utterly apathetic Bang Dae-jong was handed his first start since August 10th on the left side of the three man backline (more on him below). More astoundingly, 23-year-old Kim Kyeong-jae inexplicably received his 4th start of the year at center back with the task of organizing against the league's most potent offense. While the youngster had a vet to his left and potential Defender of the Year Tomi Mrčela to his right, there was little to no chance he'd be able to pick up the paces quickly enough to organize, man-mark, and simply maintain against the league's best team. And somehow, Song Kyung-sub still managed to make the lineup card worse. Somehow, a professional manager was convinced it was a good idea to give 3rd string goalkeeper Han Yoo-sung his first ever K-League start against a team that had scored 62 goals coming into the match. Han constantly looked overwhelmed, fearful, and comprehensively lost throughout the match, and rightfully so. He's a 25-year-old keeper playing at this level for the first time against a team that may well be crowned the Champions of Asia in a month's time. Though there's plenty of blame to spread around, every single one of the five goals conceded was soft on the goalkeeper's part. He never should've been put in that situation. The Dragons still well may have lost this match had this gaggle of barely-rans been replaced with the team's true starters, but it at least would've been respectable.

Are You Even Trying?

I'm a fan of Han Chan-hee overall, but even a hint of defensive effort from him could've prevented a goal on Sunday. Instead, his effort to defend a Lopes breakaway was to sprint for about ten yards and simply give up on the play once Lopes reached the top of the box. Lopes got around Choi Hyo-jin and had a clear shot on net. Had Chan-hee ran at all he could've been there to block the shot or at least slow Lopes down and wait for Choi to recover. Instead, Chan-hee didn't even put a foot in. Just... here... watch it for yourself. That said, Han is an offensive minded midfielder, so it's somewhat excusable that he's a reliability defensively. Bang Dae-jong has no such illusions of getting forward and yet put in a far more indifferent shift on the day. He was utterly man-handled by Kim Shin-wook on Jeonbuk's third goal, and was barely moving at a half-trot on their fifth when Lopes easily secured his hat trick. I'll grant the fact Kim Shin-wook is an international caliber player due to his presence in the box, but Bang was completely dismissed not because of his size, but because of a lack of effort. He let Kim Shin-wook toss him aside and put in a feeble attempt at making it look like he was going for the header. What's more alarming than the lack of physical effort is the outright lack of any effort to prevent a goal late on. Yes, the match was over, but at least run down the man on a break to prevent it getting worse. The lack of effort from Han and Bang was the most egregious on the day, but it was nearly team wide by the end of the 90 and a concerning trend for a squad that still has two potentially meaningful match ups left.

Prove It

With the spirit-rattling loss to Jeonbuk, the Dragons now have just one remaining chance to prove they can hang with the big boys before this season's over. By pretty much any measure the 2016 season should be considered a success overall, but if Jeonnam want to continue taking steps forward and truly challenge for Champions League next season, they need to prove they can beat the top teams. The Dragons need to punch the giants in the mouth and let them know they're coming back next year. It's important not only to change the mentality of Jeonbuk and Seoul heading into matches with Jeonnam in 2017, but more so within the Dragons organization to prove to themselves they belong at the top of the table. It's the same winning mentality that saw them climb the table this summer, and something that will help recruit top level talent into the quest for top three in 2017. If they're to pull off such a milestone win before the book's closed on 2016, Wednesday night in Seoul is their last chance.

The Adversary

Since their 4-1 humbling at Jeonbuk in Champions League in late September, FC Seoul has been unstoppable going undefeated through six matches in three different competitions. The streak includes a rare win at Jeju, victory over a courageous Bucheon FC side to advance to the FA Cup final, and a much needed win over Jeonbuk in ACL. Though beating Jeonbuk 2-1 wasn't enough to avoid elimination from ACL, it was Seoul's first triumph over Jeonbuk since June 2015 and an important mental step towards claiming the title this year. Additionally, Jeonbuk's nine point deduction for bribery couldn't have come at a better time for the red and black, and they've done everything within their power to capitalize on it with their current run of form. They've surged up the table to become level on points with Jeonbuk and only have the Dragons standing in their way of a title deciding final match this weekend. Traditionally the Dragons haven't been able to do much of anything against Seoul having beaten them only twice in their previous 15 meetings dating back to 2011. With Seoul having scored two or more goals in 22 of their 36 league games, the prospects of Jeonnam turning that around this weekend don't look great.

Who To Watch

With four goals in his previous three league games, Adriano has not only reasserted himself as Seoul's top threat, but has also come within a single goal of tying Gwangju's Jung Jo-gook Golden Boot leading mark of 18. The Brazilian striker continues to display merciless vision and ability within the box and punish teams who clamp down on him too tightly by finding teammates Damjanović and Park Chu-young. With the Dragons having surrendered 10 goals in their previous two games, Adriano will undoubtedly be anticipating his chance to repeat Lopes' feat over the weekend, put himself on top of the Golden Boot race, and give Jeonbuk one more thing to worry about this weekend.

Prediction

One team is on fire and looking to play for the title this Sunday. The other has almost nothing left to play for and their manager continues to handicap them with poor lineup choices. The Dragons will have more fight in them than they did against Jeonbuk, so I don't expect this one to get out of hand, but expect Seoul to comfortably dominate throughout.

FC Seoul 2-0 Jeonnam Dragons


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