Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers
After midweek heartbreak, both Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Pohang Steelers will turn their attention to the league where they sit first and second respectively. They come face-to-face this Sunday at 3pm in a retro-themed encounter. (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
FA Cup Embarrassment
This week saw both these division topping teams suffer the ignominy of an early exit in the FA Cup at the hands of strong K League Challenge sides without scoring a single goal.
Asian champions Jeonbuk played host to Bucheon in a repeat of last year's quarter final humiliation. Due to some rescheduling allegedly caused by poor stadium lighting, the untelevised game was held at the unreasonable time of 3pm, meaning those who were not part of the 2,082 in attendance were forced to watch the match through Bucheon's Facebook Live feed.
For Jeonbuk fans however, it was probably for the best. Choi Kang-hee named a strong and more than capable line-up given the number of injuries within the squad at present. However, the manager also opted for the 3-5-2 formation that has tended not to fair well this season, being deployed in both of Jeonbuk's league draws. Playing two strikers who both lack pace, it seemed Jeonbuk's game plan to break down the stubborn Bucheon defence was to resort to crosses into Kim Shin-wook for him to head down to Edu, a plan that was easily dealt with by the visitors who mostly waited for opportunities to counter attack.
After 120 minutes of a goalless stalemate, the tie came down to penalties. Bucheon went first and proceeded to score four of their five, with Jeonbuk unable to convert their third and fourth kicks taken by Kim Jin-su and Jeong Hyeok respectively. Kim Jin-su's penalty kick was particularly disappointing, leading to much derision from non-Jeonbuk supporting netizens. The left back, with a chance to take the lead in the shoot out, did not even hit the target, sending his shot wide of the post.
Given his outstanding contribution to this young campaign, it will be disappointing if the media tends to focus on his poor penalty kick rather than Jeonbuk's lackluster display. The home side had more than enough fire power to put Bucheon to the sword within regular time, yet poor tactical decisions and very late changes by a manager content to keep plugging away with an unsuccessful strategy, not to mention a considerably underwhelming transfer window, are the root cause for this defeat.
As for Pohang Steelers, they fell to a late extra-time goal away to Busan I'Park. In yet another untelevised clash (although perhaps more understandable given the magnitude of the matches at the same time elsewhere) but was also broadcast live on the Facebook page of the away side.
Busan fielded an under strength side for the tie, with the Challenge's top scorer Lee Jung-hyup not even included amongst the substitutes. Pohang on the other did field a side that should of overcame this Busan eleven with ease, so it is a credit to away side that they not only won, but held out the Classic's highest scoring team.
Both Jeonbuk and Pohang will be looking to return to winning ways this weekend in a bid to firmly put these embarrassing cup upsets behind them.
Having altered tactics slightly for the FA Cup, Choi Kang-hee could opt to revert back to the winning formation of last weekend's convincing 4-1 victory over Sangju and the 1-0 victory over FC Seoul; last year's 4-1-4-1.
The formation allows for a single striker to help hold up play and provide for the on rushing midfield, with defensive midfielder Shin Hyung-min dropping into defence when full backs Kim Jin-su and Lee Yong also choose to advance and overlap down the flanks. The question is which striker to play at the top of the formation. Despite Edu having a strong showing in that formation last weekend and Lee Dong-gook looking to have finally recovered from his injury, the preferred choice is still Kim Shin-wook for his ability to win the ball in the air and allowing the wingers Ko Moo-yeol and Eder to move inside and be brought into play.
Kim Min-jae is also likely to return as centre back after sitting out the FA Cup game. This is partly due to the U23 rule in the K League that there must be a youth player on the field to start, but also the youngster has looked good so far and has easily earned his inclusion on merit.
As mentioned, Pohang have been the highest scoring team in the Challenge this year, completely different to the side who narrowly avoided relegation. They, like Jeonbuk, look as if they are playing with a point to prove.
They also boast the league's current top scorer Yang Dong-hyun, who has bagged five goals after six rounds whilst captaining the side. His 80th minute header last weekend ensured Pohang claimed all three of the points against Daegu.
Shim Dong-woon, who lines up to left of central striker Yang Dong-hyun in a 4-3-3, is also a player to watch with his crossing ability and knack for long rage efforts often proving a threat. He may only one goal to his name so far, but his ten league goals last season in an out-of-form team are evidence of the goal scoring ability he possesses.
The Retro Match
Jeonbuk's marketing team have declared this Sunday's game as "The Retro Match" with the home side sporting a version of their 1999 home kit for the occasion. Jeonbuk director Paik Seung-kwon decided to do something for the older supporters of the club in mind, taking them back to the year when Hyundai Motors Corporation took direct management of the club (despite owning it since 1994) and the foundation of the supporters group the Mad Green Boys.
With Pohang wearing their popular retro-themed away kit this Sunday, and the game taking place in the Jeonju Civil Stadium, Jeonbuk's old ground, it seems like the ideal opportunity for the club to try and engage with their older fanbase.
The 1999 replica shirts will be on limited sale at the stadium. Jeonbuk have also released a different retro-inspired supporters kit for the summer as well a few weeks ago and look set to continue their tradition of releasing their annual military strip later this year.
Pohang certainly have been able to find the net this season, but have not been as strong at the back, conceding six goals which still is the fourth fewest in the league. Jeonbuk however have looked reassured in defence and will attempt to neuter any threat in the way they did against FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings, although admittedly Pohang look like a far greater problem. With both sides needing to prove a point after their FA Cup exits, I think a point is what both sides will get.
Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-1 Pohang Steelers