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Preview: Jeonnam Dragons v Pohang Steelers

Super Strikers: Pohang Steelers' Yang Dong-hyun and Jeonnam Dragons' Robert Feczesin  
Introduction (Alex Meyer)
The less than sterling start to the season continued for the Jeonnam Dragons with a 2-0 road loss to Jeju in week three. However, the Dragons are home Saturday for a 3pm kick off facing a road-weary Pohang Steelers side. With both teams looking to improve on form, who will play the fool this April 1st in the POSCO derby? Aodan Halligan and I preview this important game.
(photo via sportsnews.naver.com)

Reasons for Optimism (Alex Meyer)
It's time to.... relax. Yes, the Dragons are at the bottom of the table, sitting on zero points, and have conceded seven goals in three games. Can't deny that. But we are only three games in, including two very tough road games at Jeonbuk and Jeju. I'll offer three reasons why we should all calm down and feel a little optimistic.

Scores aside, I've been quite impressed with the Dragons so far.They have been in command, possessed the ball well, and look comfortable moving forward. Their transition needs to sharpen up on both sides of the ball and with a healthy side, no reason it won't.

The chances are there. It's easy pickings to pile on our new 31-year-old Hungarian striker, Róbert Feczesin, at the moment. Although he's sitting on two goals, he could have four or five to his name. The numbers aside, his off the ball movement is impressive. Along with his strength and size he has created a multitude of dangerous chances. With a little more familiarity with K-League and the team, there's no reason for him not to be banging them in.

Our defense has looked slow and shaky and is giving up too much space after turning it over, but we must not forget the team is not complete. In my opinion, our most underrated and yet important player last season, Vedran Jugovic, solves those problems when he's back. The 27-year-old Croatian midfielder will fill the gaps in front of the back line, close down the space while relieving pressure, and be the outlet pass that we need.

Vedran Jugovic 
(image via eng.kleague.com)

Noh Sang-rae's  Tactical Dilemma: Stick or Tweak? (Aodan Halligan)
Switzerland, September 1st 1984….Carlos Bilardo’s calling out the Argentinian side he’s selected to play Switzerland for a friendly game when he’s interrupted by a bit of throat clearing. “You’ve made a mistake,” he’s told.

Having won only three of his first 15 games in charge, the manager’s days are most certainly numbered, and now he can’t even remember how to set up a team – no wonder, the press are quick to put him in his place.

Except, Bilardo hasn’t messed up: he's going to go with just three at the back and he will do so for the next few years, or at least until he gets the sack, in an effort to improve results and build a team around a supremely talented number ten.

Fast forward 32 years to the 55th minute of a Premier League game at the Emirates stadium in London when Antonio Conte, another coach clinging to the ropes after conceding three first half goals to Arsenal (and coming off the back of a defeat to Liverpool), decides to bring on Marcos Alonso and go with three-man defense for the first time with his new team.

True, it makes little difference to the result, as Arsenal still end up winning three nil, but Conte knows he’s onto something…

Although desperation drove both Bilardo and Conte’s tweaks, both men were onto something. The former’s new 3-5-2 system helped free up Diego Maradona and led Argentina to World Cup glory, while the latter’s innovative 3-4-3 served to liberate the likes of Victor Moses and Eden Hazard (it normally takes at least two players to go toe-to-toe with Diego) and propel Chelsea to what’s now surely an unassailable 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Three at the back is once again football’s most fashionable formation and the Jeonnam Dragons have followed suit. But having lost all three of their K-League matches, the Dragons are now propping up the table. So why isn’t it working?

Well, coach Noh Sang-rae hasn’t had his first-choice team out so far this season. Vedran Jugović’s been a big loss in midfield and, as Alex (and indeed Ryan Walters in an earlier post) pointed out, his return should provide the extra steel (excuse the pun) that has been missing in midfield. What’s more, Jair, Jeonnam’s very own mercurial number 10, and another key component of Noh’s 3-4-3, only made the first eleven for the first time this season in the defeat to Jeju United in round three.
Jair in action v Jeju United in round 3 
(picture courtesy of dragons.co.kr)
Nevertheless, the brilliant breakaway the 28-year-old attacker orchestrated in the first half against Jeju while the game was still scoreless served to remind supporters of the threat he poses and it shouldn’t be long before he returns to full match fitness and helps the Dragons add to their paltry goals scored total (two goals in three games).

But even so, conceding seven goals in the first three games (2.33 per game) is enough to send even the most Kevin Keeganesque soccer coach's alarm bells ringing.

And truth be told, it could have been much more - were it not for a combination of wasteful finishing from opposing strikers and some brilliant shot-stopping from the Dragons’ goalkeeper Park Dae-han. Clearly, Jeonnam have been ripped open far too many times this season, even in their only home game against Sangju, and are too susceptible to the counter attack as things stand.

So how can we stifle the Steelers?

Well, coach Noh's now up against it just like Conte and Bilardi were months and years before and surely he's no option left but to tweak (at least until Jugović returns). The Dragons need to tighten things up and I believe we can do this by fashioning a firm back four. 

And to get the best out of Jair, why not put him in as a second striker – right behind Róbert Feczesin at the top in a 4-4-1-1? Feczesin, who’s still the only Jeonnam player to have scored after three games, could do with a little help up there and nobody can do a better job than Jair….

The Steelers are currently fifth in the table and with five goals in three games are joint second top scorers in the league. The five-time K-League classic champions also boast 31-year-old striker 'Killer' Yang Dong-hyun – K-League 2017 week two MVP and the joint top scorer in the league. And even though their record of one win, one loss and one draw isn’t exactly terrifying, the thought of our defense leaving a lot of space open at the back like they did in our last home game versus Sangju is - especially when a predator like Yang’s in town.

'Killer' Yang Dong-hyun celebrates his third goal of the season v Gwangju 
(image via sports.hankooki.com)
The Dragons have also looked suspect when dealing with corners and crosses. Six foot is not the tallest for a goalkeeper and Park Dae-han's only weakness thus far has been his inability to command his area (remember, he's still only 20, though, so I'm sure we'll see lots of improvement on this over the few next years) and this has added to the shakiness at the back that Alex mentioned earlier. The Steelers have scored four of their five goals this season (80%) from crosses and will no doubt be licking their lips.

Alex Meyer: Feczesin will have an inspiring weekend and I expect no less than two from him. The Steelers have given up four on the road in two games and I see three more.

Jeonnam Dragons 3-1 Pohang Steelers

Aodan Halligan: I don’t think we’ll be able to stop the Steelers from scoring and the Dragons' goal-scoring record (two goals in three games, including one penalty) is hardly going to put fear in the Steelers' hearts. Still, I expect Jair and the Dragons to step it up offensively and see both teams scoring quite a few.

Jeonnam Dragons 3-3 Pohang Steelers

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