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Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs FC Seoul Preview

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors verse FC Seoul on the final day of the K-League Classic 2016. Winner takes all.
For the sixth and final time this year in a series of clashes with increasingly higher stakes, first placed Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to second placed FC Seoul knowing that the winner will take the 2016 K-League Classic title. Korea Racing's Alastair Middleton once again joins our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns (myself) for a look at what to expect from these two sides come Sunday 3pm.
Alastair asks, Matthew answers

Alastair Middleton: Last game of the season, title still up for grabs, do or die etc.. Jeonbuk are in the driving seat but Seoul could still snatch it. If this season is anything to go by, now is surely the time for Choi Kang-hee to rest a few first-choice players and give the kids a chance, right?

Matthew Binns: I think if that turned out to be the case I would have to grab a marker and a bed sheet and start my own protest from the stands. Once the season is over, I fear reporters will hail the rotation policy as having kept Jeonbuk fighting sufficiently on two fronts for so long, especially if they were to lift both the league and Champions League trophies. It is not that I disagree with keeping players fresh for more important games, but its the use of nearly a complete second eleven in key league games when the point margins are narrow or when the players have just received adequate rest because of their lack of involvement in international breaks that irritates me. What particularly annoys me is the underestimation of the opposition when just winning the three points earlier would be far more valuable and convenient (as evident in their defeats to Binh Duong and Jiangsu Suning). Sometimes it just feels like Choi Kang-hee believes he can get away with it later down the line, despite who that opposition might be. He gambled and nearly failed in the ACL group stage, requiring two strong performances (and team selections) to escape to the knockout rounds. He has done the same here when holding a five point lead with six league games to play by choosing an alternate squad to face the teams occupying 3rd and 4th place. It feels like he has seen this last fixture against FC Seoul, despite the incredibly high stakes, and decided a while back that the title can always be won this weekend if his previous gambles failed. Despite Seoul's attempts to catch up, Choi did not see the reason to risk the first team any earlier and secure the necessary points to nullify their threat. Annoyingly however, he has still made it this far and now we will just have to see if his team can claim the result they need one last time.

AM: Despite thrashing Jeonnam and Sangju, Jeonbuk's aura of invincibility has lifted a little of late  Do you put this down to the effect of the points deduction or simply that a long season finally caught up with them?

MB: Cracks in their form began to show themselves a few games prior to the disciplinary committee's announcement. Their league form had just seen draws against Jeju and Suwon Bluewings, in addition to beating Seongnam by just the single goal, indicating that they were slowing down somewhat. The deduction admittedly did not help matters though, with the Jeju defeat coming shortly after and bringing this race level. Looking at the Champions League results in that period however, with heavy victories over Shanghai SIPG and FC Seoul, you could be led to think that the team felt the league had been wrapped up and were saving themselves for continental competition. With the final now secured, we have seen two very strong performances against Jeonnam and Sangju as you have mentioned. I do not want to believe a squad of professional players are only switching their best performances on when they need, and surely there must be tactical reasons coming into play also, but Jeonbuk do have a habit this year of winning the games they need to. Hopefully this will once again be the case this weekend.

AM: Seoul almost gave Jeonbuk a big scare in that ACL semi-final 2nd leg with an excellent chance to make it 2-0 just after half-time. They didn't. Once more the onus is on Seoul but how do you expect Jeonbuk to approach this tactically?

MB: Unfortunately Jeonbuk played close to full strength in their most effective formation for that particular game, yet looked a pale imitation of the side that had originally built up that impressive first leg lead. Whether this performance was due to a poor day at the office, a fear of taking risks so as not not to damage their aggregate lead or, more worryingly, Hwang has figured out how to stop them is difficult to call. I do not think Choi Kang-hee has the tactical nous to stray from the preferred 4-1-4-1, and I am not sure he should. However, if he experiments against any side in terms of formation, it has proven to be most evident in each of the league games against FC Seoul. Opting to match them in the first game of the season like for like in a 5-3-2, Choi chose to strangle the game until Kim Shin-wook headed home from a corner. Their second encounter saw similar tactics employed by Choi Kang-hee, employing what looked like a 3-4-3 initially, with Lee Ho once again being deployed at centre back, yet he eventually moved up into DM with with both the wing backs and wingers pulling back to create a 4-1-4-1. The last three occasions (including the two ACL semi final legs) have seen the same 4-1-4-1 used, with it also becoming the team’s tactic of choice in other games.

While Lee Ho's injury will once again make him unavailable for this match to drop into that centre back role if needed, the manager has alternatives in ex-Ansan recruit Shin Hyung-min who he has been employing in a similar fashion; starting him in central midfield, defensive midfield and centre back over the course of the last month. While he was ineligible for the Champions League games, I feel he will be given a starting role here. Otherwise, I expect the usual faces to star in the starting eleven. Kim Shin-wook will lead the attack and aim to bring the midfield into play. Lopes and Leonardo will look to feed off him, as well as provide crosses for the towering striker to win in the air. Lee Jae-sung and Kim Bo-kyung will both feature in attacking midfield, supported by the aforementioned Shin behind them. The Defence will consist of Park Won-jae, Lim Jong-eun, Cho Sung-hwan and either Choi Chul-soon or Kim Chang-soo (most likely the former). As per usual, I expect Jeonbuk captain Kwoun Sun-tae to feature in goal.

AM: You may not know the answer to this until after the game but Jeonbuk have won this title once already and now have to win it again. How does it feel as a Jeonbuk fan?

It's definitely difficult to answer. I've personally found my moral compass drifting between rational thought and a more tribal, "the world's against us" mentality, particularly over the course of ninety minutes or so once or twice a week. Emotionally speaking, it does feel like the KFA have surgically extracted nine points of elation and memories from the supporters this season, leaving feelings towards the league boarding on apathetic at times. Some fans do feel that the rules of the competition have been changed midway through, something that I argued should not have happened when the points deduction was handed out. The punishment was lenient yet acceptable (or at least consistent), but if it was applied at the start of next season then there would be clarity in the objectives that lay ahead for the club and supporters alike.

However, this title was taken before it was mathematically confirmed. Therefore it does not feel like it has already been won once, but more like the goalposts have been shifted backwards right at the end and now we're too exasperated to keep playing. Rationally speaking though, the scout's actions and the club's reluctance in assisting with the investigation should be where the anger is vented towards. They are the ones who have betrayed the supporters. Furthermore, as frustrating as it was for the KFA to apply the punishment in the ongoing season, having the team then immediately lose their remaining five point lead in the subsequent two games was the real kick in the teeth. The responsibility of the latter lies firmly with the players and coaching staff. In the aftermath of a possible FC Seoul victory on Sunday, Jeonbuk fans need to remember the advantage the club originally still held after the punishment was dealt, and look at why it was so easily given up.

AM: Prediction?

MB: Never has one of these predictions felt so difficult to make. Jeonbuk’s home form is incredibly strong. Furthermore, given their desire and the rediscovery of their scoring boots in the last two fixtures, they are still the safer bet to claim the title. Whether they will be too intimidated to come out and attack will be another matter. I feel that Jeonbuk do play better on the counter, and if FC Seoul come to attack (which they have to) then that should benefit them. However, you could argue the same scenario applied in the semi-final second leg and that didn't go too well. I do think Choi Kang-hee’s men have come too far to lose it now though, and if the likes of Leonardo and Lopes in particular play well then there will be little to panic about. I am confident Jeonbuk will lift the K-League Classic trophy come 5pm on Sunday.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 FC Seoul

Matthew asks, Alastair answers

Matthew Binns: So it's come to this, one game where winner takes all. A draw however will see the title come down to who has scored more over the course of the year (ie. Jeonbuk). Do you feel the introduction of Goals Scored as the first tiebreaker has been beneficial to the league?

Alastair Middleton: If we’re going purely on total number of goals scored then sure! There have been more goals scored; I think we are something like 50 ahead of last season’s total and still have a round to go. I don’t think that’s necessarily due to the change in tiebreaker this year as last term there were teams such as Daejeon and Busan who were simply incapable of scoring on a regular basis. This year everyone has seemed to have the ability to beat anybody on their day (beat everybody except Jeonbuk) so I think that is a factor too. In 2015, four teams averaged less than a goal a game, this year no teams have. 2015’s meanest defence let in 32 goals (Incheon – who finished 8th) this year it’s already let in 39 (Jeonbuk – who are top and are sure to let in a few more on Sunday) so no doubt the internal report at K-League HQ will be calling it a big success and for whichever person came up with it – their boss is probably going to get a raise. Now to start working on attendances…

MB: FC Seoul have been in good form of late. Can you pinpoint any particular reason for this?

AM: At the risk of sounding (more) arrogant (than usual), Seoul are, by some margin, the 2nd best team in the league and were it not for the mid-season blip after the managerial change, that nine-point deduction for Jeonbuk would have handed Seoul the title. From that point of view, the being in good form is just a return to business as usual for this season. The win at Jeju was very good though and something Seoul wouldn’t have managed a couple of months ago. The defence knows its roles a lot better so there are fewer careless goals given away and while they still don’t have the ruthlessness of Jeonbuk, Seoul have managed to grind out victories. Wednesday night was a case in point when having been excellent in the first half, Seoul were dreadful in the second but managed to get home. That nine-point deduction for Jeonbuk has perhaps concentrated some minds in the capital.

MB: With the high stakes involved, how do you see Hwang setting his team out ahead of this fixture? 

AM: Dejan Damjanovic didn’t start on Wednesday night but you’d have to think he’d be restored on Sunday alongside Adriano. Likewise, Osmar Barba was rested from the beginning against Jeonnam but had to be brought on to steady the ship in the second half and he’ll come back in on Sunday. I think it will be a similar team to the ACL semi-final with Yun Il-rok perhaps retaining his starting place. This isn’t like the semi-final though and Seoul only need to win by one so they can be more patient this time. Shutting down Jeonbuk’s breaks will be key.

MB: Any particular concerns within the Seoul team going into this clash?

AM: They’re playing Jeonbuk away; that’s the main concern! I said before the ACL 2nd leg that Seoul had to at least win on the night in preparation for this game. They just about managed it and they (and the 475 busloads or however many it is they are supposedly taking) will go to Jeonju believing they are going to win. From a personnel point of view, Ju Se-jong getting taken off before half-time on Wednesday night wasn’t ideal – one presumes it wasn’t tactical as they were winning at the time and they went to pieces after the break – so hopefully he will be ok for Sunday as he has continued to be very solid in the past few games and is a potential match winner. Jeonbuk are going to make chances and with Lopes and Leonardo et. al, you have to fancy them to take at least one but they are going to give them up as well. This time, Seoul have to be the more ruthless of the two.

MB: Prediction?

AM: It’s an unexpectedly huge occasion for the end of a season that looked all over in May. I can’t in good conscience have Seoul losing this game so I predict that by Sunday evening, Seongnam will still be the only club to have won three consecutive K-Leagues. Both teams will score. Seoul will score once more.

Alastair's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-2 FC Seoul

WeFIFA Prediction

K-League United have teamed up with WeFIFA to bring you simulated FIFA17 match predictions for each round's Match of the Week. Naturally, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs FC Seoul had the privilege of receiving the WeFIFA treatment this week. 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.

Have Your Say

Disagree with either of writers' opinions? Have your thoughts on how this game will go? Then we'd love to hear them in the comments below and we'll try are best to reply. Also make sure to vote in our Twitter poll below to see who others believe the K-League Classic title will belong to on Sunday evening.

A huge thanks to Alastair for joining me once more to preview yet another clash between these two K-League behemoths. As well as his work with the Korean Racing Authority, he can often be found in various football stadiums taking in a wide spectrum of K-League action. He's even been known to voice his opinion from time to time during the occasional appearance on Korean footballing podcast 48 Shades of Football.

For more information on Horse Racing in Korea, make sure to visit his site here and also follow him on Twitter for all the latest racing updates.

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