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Preview: Gwangju FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

K League Classic Preview: Gwangju FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors bounced back from their FA Cup horror show to professionally see off their nearest K League Classic title contender Pohang Steelers 2-0. This weekend sees the Asian champions travel south to Gwangju to face a side who has not won a game since the opening day of the season. Will eleventh placed Gwangju FC be able to cause an upset, or will Jeonbuk continue to distance themselves from the rest of the pack? (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

Back to the Future

Jeonbuk took a stroll down memory last weekend as they hosted Pohang in a well-received, retro-themed match, with both sides wearing versions of their early home kits. Jeonbuk’s performance was also reminiscent of years gone by, but not as far back as their uniforms would suggest. The home side easily disposed with the visiting team, taking the lead within the opening few minutes and rarely looking as if the three points would be prised from their grasp.

Jeonbuk central midfielder Jeong Hyeok commenced the scoring, sending in a low free kick from the edge of the area that had initially looked to have been helped in by fellow teammate Eder. Replays would go on to show though that the ball had bounced through several pairs of legs untouched before finding its way into the back of the Pohang net.

Despite being unable to claim the goal, Eder proved once again to be a menace throughout, commanding the right flank in terms of both moving forward and tracking back. He also had several chances to help the home side double their lead before half time, but when Kim Jin-su dribbled and darted through defenders on the left wing, laying the perfect pass for the Brazilian, Eder was unable to place his shot beyond the onrushing keeper to cap off what would have been a splendid team move.

Jeonbuk would find a second after the interval however, via their 2017 top scorer Kim Shin-wook. After a surprisingly low haul in the 2016 campaign, Kim Shin-wook has now found the net four times in seven league appearances. On this occasion, he was assisted from the right by Kim Bo-kyung, whose run with the ball saw a delightful one-two with Jeong Hyeok before laying off a square pass for "The Wookie" to score from.

With Pohang supposedly looking like a threat once again this season, the way in which they were brushed aside certainly will have raised questions about their title credentials. Whilst there was a couple of instances where they could have changed the narrative (Kwon Wan-kyu's scuffed shot wide to equalise on 55 minutes was certainly an opportunity missed), they looked far the weaker side last Sunday, constantly attacked by Jeonbuk and unable to carve open a resilient home defence.

After doubling the lead, it was all fairly routine for the Asian champions who strolled to the three points. Jeonbuk may be weaker than last year, and still missing a number of key names through injury, but on this evidence they are still the team to beat in the K League Classic in 2017.

Highlights can be viewed on YouTube via SPOTV here.

Jeonbuk Team News

Jeonbuk are still without a number of players through injury, but it seems Lee Dong-gook is continuing his return to the fold. The 37 year-old (38 by Sunday's match) made a cameo against the South Korea U20 squad in a friendly midweek and showed his superior experience as he scored the third in Jeonbuk's 3-0 victory.

Notably defender Lee Jae-sung, Hong-Jeong-nam and Kim Shin-wook also did not feature in the friendly squad. Whilst it is likely the latter two were simply being rested, Lee only recently returned to action from the sick bay before being to taken off against Pohang through injury. Whether his absence was merely a precaution or not remains to be seen at present, but Jeonbuk have plenty of other viable options in central defence if necessary.

From the injury list published by Jeonbuk earlier this month, only Brazilian Mazola was due to fully recover in April although he did not feature amongst the substitutes in the midweek fixtures suggesting his return has been further hampered. Not much is known about how the Brazilian will perform at Jeonbuk but, given how well the side saw off Sangju and Pohang without him, there's little urgency to see his debut within the fan base at present

Midfielder Lee Jae-sung, Lee Seung-gi, and Jang Yun-ho are still all expected to return in mid-May. Brazilian attacker and one of last year's standout players Lopes has no expected recovery date at present. He is still training alone as he is rehabilitated from his cruciate ligament damage picked up in last years Champions League final.

In terms of formation, Jeonbuk played their last two league games with a 4-1-4-1, in addition to the midweek friendly, and dominated. There should be little reason for Choi Kang-hee to tinker with his side for this fixture either, although admittedly that has not prevented him from doing so in the past.

Gwangju FC

A glance at the league table shows Gwangju currently sitting second from bottom, with just six points and four goals scored for the first seven rounds of the season. Their form would also suggest they are struggling, having not won since the opening game of the season against a newly-promoted Daegu FC and three losses so far.

Looking at their games however shows somewhat of a different picture. In there opening games, they have also came up against high flying Pohang Steelers and Jeju United, last years' first place FC Seoul, FA Cup winners Suwon Bluewings and champions league contenders Ulsan Hyundai. Of all their games, the loss against military side Sangju Sangmu last weekend is perhaps the only one that can be considered a disappointment, especially as it was through defensive errors that led to narrow the 1-0 defeat.

What they have shown in each of these games is a resilience and never-say-die attitude, as exemplified in their draws against Ulsan and Jeju where they scored towards the end of proceedings.

Perhaps then it is a goalscorer that they are lacking. It's well noted by now, but losing last year's golden boot and MVP Jung Jo-gook to Gangwon has certainly not helped them. At present Cho Sung-jun, in his second season at the club after a stint in the Challenge with Anyang, has been tasked with replacing the goals scored by his predecessor. So far, he has featured in every game and has scored two, half of the club goals and double his tally of last season, but certainly not going to light up the league.

Manager Nam Ki-il often has his team set up in a 4-3-3 formation, but has been compelled to rotate the personnel, particularly in regards to the attack and midfield. Over the course of seven games, and perhaps looking for a winning formula, Gwangju have fielded twenty-two players after just seven rounds (twenty-one starting on at least one occasion). Whilst some may have been rotated for fitness, it will not have done anything to help nurture team cohesion.


Gwangju are perhaps not as poor as the table suggests, showing resilience against sides that would have been clear favourites to topple them. Jeonbuk have nothing left to play for other than the league however and will be itching to maintain daylight between them and second place. Providing Choi Kang-hee sticks to the formation that played well against Pohang and Sangju, and the team selection against the South Korea U20 side midweek suggests he will, Jeonbuk should be more than capable of seeing off any threat posed by Gwangju,

Predicted Score: Gwangju FC 0-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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