Preview: Gangwon FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Having overcame fierce rivals FC Seoul last Sunday, the still undefeated Jeonbuk will require nothing less than three points to ensure they keep pace with league leaders Jeju United. With the islanders also taking on the capital club two hours before this fixture, there is even a decent possibility the North Jeolla side will be clear on points at the league summit come Saturday evening.
The match with FC Seoul was hardly a classic, far from matching the high expectations set by recent bouts between the two, but Motors did arguably look the better side throughout the majority of the ninety minutes, with a Kim Jin-su free kick ultimately being the most telling difference.
Jeonbuk’s performances this season have proved to be assured enough however, yet have also been found lacking when it comes to scoring goals. Only one of their five goals this season has come from a recognized striker, with their other four coming from defence and midfield players via set pieces.
Fortunately, the Asian champions look relatively solid in defence. Whilst they did concede the least number of goals last season, a particular gripe was their lack of clean sheets and draws from winning positions which often pointed to an inability to remain focused and see a game out. This season however, they look a far stronger outfit thanks to new defensive signings Kim Jin-su, Lee Yong and Lee Jae-sung, in addition to the promotion of youth player Kim Min-jae. So far, Motors have conceded just one goal this season, despite already versing the likes of FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings.
The signing of Kim Jin-su has proved particularly inspiring, with the left back often also being the source of Jeonbuk’s attacks. The ex-Hoffenheim man has scored two goals and earned an assist in his four games thus far, all from free kicks. The only real issue has been the team’s over-reliance on the player as a creative outlet, with the team sometimes channeling the majority of their attacks down the left or opting to play the ball out wide to feed of an aerial cross into Kim Shin-wook, rather than try to vary their route to goal.
Choi Kang-hee has also tended to either start or revert to three at the back this season, with full backs Kim Jin-su and Lee Yong being pushed up into midfield. It has been when this arrangement has been employed, Jeonbuk have looked at their most threatening.
Jeonbuk also seem to also possess an increasing number of injuries to important players. Supporters were already expecting a lengthy wait for the return of Lopes after his injury in the Champions League final back in November, but the unexpected loss of Lee Jae-sung and Lee Seung-gi has hampered the squad’s creativity somewhat. There is also new signing of attacker Mazola, who is still yet to make his debut, who managed to wind up injured before a ball had even been kicked.
To further worsen matters, Lee Dong-gook and defender Lee Jae-sung were conspicuous by their absence on Sunday, potentially pointing to further injuries, which could be of concern.
Gangwon dreamed of capturing supporters' and neutrals' imaginations this season with a number of eye-catching signings in addition to a stadium move that would please ground hoppers with it's unique location at the foot of the 2018 Winter Olympics ski jump.
Any goodwill they were forming was quickly dashed however when it soon became apparent the complexity of reaching the ground, the lack of parking near the stadium (although there is a shuttle bus provided), not to mention a tiered ticketing system that will see supporters of both clubs pay a minimum of 30,000 South Korean Won each for Saturday's game. For comparison, Jeonbuk charged ₩12,000 to supporters last week when they faced K League Champions FC Seoul, and ₩15,000 for the AFC Champions League final, prices that are fairly standard across both professional divisions of Korean football.
Gangwon currently reside in 7th place in the table with four points, having won against Sangju Sangmu on opening day and held Pohang Steelers to a draw in round three. They tend to deploy either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. Their last outing saw them fall to Ulsan Hyundai in the final minutes, after having originally done well to come back from a one goal deficit.
Notably, Gangwon will be without their marquee winter signing, last year's MVP and Golden Boot winner Jung Jo-gook. The 32 year-old is estimated to miss six weeks of action with a hamstring injury picked up in the sides defeat to Ulsan. His on-field replacement Diego Maurício certainly looked lively enough though, getting into a number of good positions and scoring the equaliser for his side before half time. Despite his four appearances in four games, the Brazilian has not started for his club so far, but played well in his cameos against Ulsan and Pohang. I would fully expect him to finally work his way into the starting eleven this Saturday in Jung's place.
Gangwon's biggest goal threat Lee Keun-ho should also be available for selection. The well-traveled Korean international already has two goals to his name this year plus an assist, scoring twice in the first match against Sangju and is set to line up against one of his many former employers this Saturday evening.
Jeonbuk's defence has kept out supposedly tougher opponents this season and I see them just about repeating this trick again in Gangwon. Gangwon certainly look able to create this season with their wealth of new talent, although their goal tally does sit at the same number as Jeonbuk's. I also expect the visitors to create from open play, even if does not bear fruit. It is likely they will once again prove their worth from set pieces. I therefore predict a narrow victory to Choi Kang-hee's men.
Predicted Score: Gangwon FC 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Have Your Say
Predicting a different outcome at the weekend? Let us know in the comments below. Also make sure to vote in the Twitter poll to see how others are thinking this match will play out.
POLL: Who will win in the Saturday game between Gangwon & Jeonbuk? You can read the preview here: https://t.co/EwVnKOLnVi #kleague #GANvJEO— Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns) April 7, 2017