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playoffs

Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Choi Chul-soon featuring in round 10's best eleven for his performance against Daegu.

This Sunday sees second placed Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel to a third placed Ulsan Hyundai who have fluctuated performance-wise this season but seem to have found some form of recent. Both sides will be requiring a victory if they are to keep chase of K League leaders Jeju United. (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)



Last Time Out

Last week's Korean national holidays did not go according to plan for Jeonbuk, as they picked up one unfortunate loss away to Gwangju, a catastrophic defeat at home to Jeju United and a fairly uneventful win away to a struggling Daegu last Saturday with highlights few and far between.

After the midweek mauling from Jeju United, manager Choi Kang-hee sensibly reverted back to his successful 4-1-4-1 strategy, notably opting to remove Edu and Kim Shin-wook from their starting berths and give experienced talisman striker Lee Dong-gook the responsibility of leading the line.

The recently returned 38 year-old has struggled with injury this season but was considered a safe bet by the manager after his other two options had been relatively ineffective for the majority of the previous match.

One other major change to the starting eleven saw goalkeeper Hong Jeong-nam benched for his first league game this season in favour for Hwang Byeong-geun. Perhaps the manager had taken issue with the recent number of goals shipped, but to lay all the blame at Hong's door would be a tad harsh given how well he has stepped up to fill the void left by Kwoun Sun-tae this season. Most likely the number one was merely being rested.

The first half lacked anything of real note in terms of chances, with the most prominent being Daegu's striker Evandro, scorer of four goals this season, being taken off in the 17th minute for Kim Gyeong-joon.

Lee Dong-gook was also presented with a fine chance to take the lead in the 34th minute but decided against the first-time shot in order to control the ball, thus allowing the Daegu defence to track back and deal with the threat. Perhaps it was just rust from the lack of playing time, or the man dubbed 'The Lion King' finally showing signs of his age, but it seemed uncharacteristic for a player who has been a regular in the club's scoring charts in recent years to hesitate as he did.

Fortunately, he would get another opportunity early into the second half. Jeong Hyeok was deemed to have been fouled by Daegu keeper Cho Hyun-woo in the 50th minute although it certainly seemed soft if even a foul at all. This did not bother Lee Dong-gook however who slotted home his first goal of the season easily enough from the spot.

With a single goal lead, Choi Kang-hee brought off Ko Moo-yeol and Jeong Hyeok for Lee Seung-gi and Kim Shin-wook respectively, reverting to a 4-4-2 with Kim Shin-wook brought on to win the ball up front and lay it off to Lee Dong-gook.

Lee Dong-gook would then be replaced by Edu in the 74th minute, but not before inadvertently kicking Daegu's Han Hee-hoon in the face from a mistimed bicycle kick, earning himself a booking for reckless play.

Daegu nearly came close to equalising in the 82nd minute when Jung Woo-jae beat the offside trap to run onto a Léo ball but his shot ricocheted underneath the onrushing keeper, with the ball being cleared by Choi Chul-soon as it trickled towards the goalmouth.

Jeonbuk would ultimately have the last laugh though. Choi Chul-soon picked out Kim Shin-wook in the 89th minute from the right flank, who outmuscled his marker, turned towards goal and sent his shot past the keeper to double the away side's lead and earn his fifth goal of the season.

Overall the game will not live long in the memory but, after a turbulent week prior, Jeonbuk will have been glad of the uneventful win and three points that keeps them second on goals scored behind Jeju United.

Highlights from the Daegu match can be viewed on YouTube via SPOTV here.

Team News

While the injury list is still relatively lengthy and unchanged for the most part, midfielder Lee Jae-sung is set to return from his pre-season lay off and make it to the bench for Sunday's match, with the hope of a start in the following game at home to Incheon. One of Jeonbuk's top assist makers last season, Lee's return will be welcomed as the club desperately try to keep up the pace with a free-scoring Jeju.

In other positive news, Lopes also looks to be nearing the end of his rehab and should hopefully commence training with the rest of the team in the upcoming weeks. The player has been back in Korea from the first week of the season but has mainly been focusing on regaining fitness. There is still no expected return for the player, nor should there be given the severity of his injury, but supporters will be buoyed to know his recovery is going well. If he can recapture even just half of the form he showed last season, he will be a much-needed boost as the title race reaches the half-way mark.

Ulsan Hyundai

Ulsan's reserves return from a meaningless game in Brisbane this week having kept their preferred eleven back in Korea in preparation for this fixture. Lee Jong-ho and Kim Chang-soo are likely to start against their former club, having been part of the trade for defenders Lee Jae-sung and Lee Yong in the winter window.

Ulsan also boast the pace and talent of Mislav Oršić down the wing, a player who was widely rumoured to be coveted by Jeonbuk as a replacement for Leonardo before their disqualification from the AFC Champions League was announced, thus leaving the player to opt for Ulsan's continental campaign instead. The 24 year-old possesses a good deal of dribbling and crossing ability, in addition to a fierce long range shot that can trouble the best of keepers.

It is unlikely Ulsan will field Kovacec, one of the club's most influential figures last season, after appearing to have fallen out of favour with the manager recently. Manager Kim Do-hoon decided to start him in Brisbane meaning he will likely feature on the bench if at all this Sunday. Considering his goals and assists in 2016 meant that he had a hand in over a third of the club's goals, his probable absence from proceedings will be of benefit to Jeonbuk.

Despite a number of atrocious performances that stand out more than their positive results, Ulsan somehow find themselves in third place, although with a goal difference of minus four. The newly appointed manager's squad was bolstered late on in the window due to the unexpected Champions League qualification and it has taken a surprising amount of time for the team to find its feet.

Recent victories have come against a struggling Incheon and Daegu, plus an under-strength Suwon who had their focus set elsewhere last weekend, but games prior to that saw them thrashed 5-0 by Jeonnam Dragons and their Champions League ambitions ended by a 4-0 defeat on home soil to Kashima Antlers.

The defeats mentioned proved so pivotal that the manager even dropped first choice keeper Kim Yong-dae and has settled for Cho Soo-hyuk since, a keeper the manager worked with and trusted whilst in charge of Incheon United. The change of keeper has somewhat reassured the defence, with the team winning their last four games in all competitions and undoubtedly breeding confidence. It is expected Cho will stay between the sticks for Jeonbuk's arrival on Sunday.

Prediction

Ulsan certainly look like the form team coming into this match, although the victories they have recorded have been against less than convincing competition. It will have certainly been wise for Kim Do-hoon to not take his best players to Australia ahead of this game, as Jeonbuk should offer a sterner test than the recent fixtures.

Jeonbuk do have a tendency to struggle when away from home as well as often finding it difficult to overcome Ulsan, drawing three of their four encounters last season. That said, I do not see Choi Kang-hee venturing too far away from the line-up deployed against Daegu last weekend in a bid to build up a winning run once more.

There are also players from both sides lining up against their former club with narratives to fulfil. Regardless of whether they do or not, I still see both sides cancelling one another out and settling for a point each.

Predicted Score: Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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