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Writer's Chat: Jeonnam Dragons vs Suwon Bluewings

Week 11 of the K-League is upon us and the on-fire Jeonnam Dragons welcome Suwon Samsung Bluewings to their den for what’s bound to be another classic! Jeonnam, who’ve acquired more points than any other team in the K-League Classic since week six, will be confident that they can take another Asian Champions League (ACL) team’s scalp this weekend. Suwon, fresh from their ACL elimination earlier this week, despite a credible draw in China, will be looking to bounce back and record another impressive road result. It’s eighth versus sixth and our Jeonnam columnists, Alex Meyer and Aodan Halligan, sit down with Suwon’s correspondent, Scott Whitelock, to discuss who will prevail. 

First, Scott asks and Alex and Aodan answer 

Scott: Jeonnam had a miserable start to the season, but appear to have put that behind them and are currently on a tremendous run of form. What has been the catalyst for their sudden upturn in form?

Alex: That's right, an absolute dreadful start, dropping our first five games. But like you said, we’re looking extremely dangerous at the moment. What changed? Formation. During the first 5 games the Dragons were playing three at the back and rarely looked comfortable. The space we were allowing, you could have landed a plane on the field, making it easy for opponents on the counter. Although the formation wasn't working and it took five losses out of the gate to change it, the Dragons did show glimpses of their current form. When three at the back changed to four, so did the Ls to Ws. Tomislav Mrčela tucked into the central defender role and has been outstanding. The only hiccup in this run was on the road to Seoul when Mrcela was out due to suspension. So yeah, the formation changed, the results changed, the confidence has changed and we are the team to watch at the moment.

Jeonnam's Brazilian number 10, Jair - K-league Week 10 MVP - celebrates his hat-trick versus Gwangju last week (via dragons.co.kr)

Scott: Noh Sang-rae made the questionable choice of leaving Jair out of the starting line-up at the beginning of the season, but the winger is now proving just how important he is to the team. Why did the manager leave him on the sidelines in March, and just how essential is it that Jair keeps putting in performances like he has over the last few weeks?

Aodan: Jair’s fitness wasn’t up to scratch at the start of the season, so he didn’t even make the bench for the opening game against Jeonbuk and only came on for the last thirty minutes in the first home game of the season against Sangju.  He started the third game away to Jeju and looked much sharper, lasting until the 89th minute, but he lasted just 46 minutes in the next game against Pohang. Therefore, he didn’t play a full ninety minutes until week five and didn’t really gain match fitness till week six. He started scoring and terrorizing defenses from then and has definitely been one of our most valuable players this season. In fact, he won K-League MVP for week 10 and is sitting on top of the K-League scoring charts with seven goals. So we desperately need him to stay fit.

However, we’re far from a one-man team. For instance, Choi Hyo-Jin, tops the assist table in the Classic, Lee Seul-chan has chipped in with three great goals, Vedran Jugović has been a colossus in midfield and Lee Ho-seung has been making two to three world-class saves per game since his first appearance this season against Incheon - and we didn’t start winning till then. Is there a better keeper in the K-League right now?

Lee Ho-seung has been in imperious form for the Dragons this season. (via dragons.co.kr)
Scott: Jeonnam look unstoppable when they play at home, having scored 16 goals in their last 4 games. What can Suwon do to stop this Jeonnam team?

Aodan: Even though Jeonnam are in great form, our confidence is brittle.  True, we’ve won every game so far in which we’ve taken the lead. So if we score first, you could be in for a long day. But – and this seems to be the key – we’ve lost every game when we’ve conceded first. So, it all boils down to this: Can you soak up all the pressure and hit us on the break early on? Do that and we could be honey-butter toast (sorry, I couldn't resist that)!

Scott: What is your prediction for this game?

Aodan: Even though Suwon had that tough away ACL fixture in China on Tuesday, I think you’ll have a bit too much for us on the counter. (Alex’s going to kill me!) We may have pummeled Gwangju last week, but they missed a lot of good chances.

In short, we’re still a little too open at the back - and Suwon have the players to exploit that (I hope I'm wrong, though).

Jeonnam 1 Suwon 2.

Alex: I expect a tight one but with the Dragons' form and Suwon on the road after midweek in China, I say 2-1 Dragons. 

Next, Alex and Aodan ask and Scott answers

Aodan: Why do you think you’ve struggled at home both domestically and in the Asian Champions League this season, but put in some great performances on the road with away wins recorded at the likes of Hong Kong side, Eastern, and K-League leaders, Jeju United?

Scott: It hasn't been all that disastrous playing at home thus far, with only 2 losses in the league, but dropped points at home to the likes of Gwangju, Daegu and Sangju has not been up to par for a team that was tipped to challenge for the title. If Suwon do have serious intentions of mounting a title challenge, then they must rectify that and start winning those types of games.

The sub-par performances at home may have something to do with the pressure the team carries on it's shoulders every time they step foot on the pitch at Big Bird stadium. Suwon have the most vociferous and passionate support in the K-League, but sometimes that can have a negative effect, as often the supporters will turn on the team when they aren't performing well. The recent victories away from home at Gangwon and Jeju have demonstrated that Suwon could quite throw their hat in the ring for what is shaping up to be an interesting title challenge, if only they could transform more of their home draws into wins.

Guangzhou Evergrande Versus Suwon Bluewings in the ACL on Tuesday (via yonhapnews.com)
Aodan: This week’s another hectic one for Suwon, with two road games - the crucial ACL league match versus Guangzhou Evergrande and a trip to Gwanyang for a game against the K-League’s top performers over the past five games, Jeonnam. Have you got the squad to cope with such a schedule and in general how much of a struggle has it been to juggle between the ACL and the K-League this season?

Scott: Quite simply, no. And I don’t think any team in K-League has a squad big enough to cope with the insane schedule that Suwon have faced, and are still yet to face. In Suwon's case, this was shown by their defeat at home to Ulsan last weekend when the manager fielded a weakened team, and playing only 2 recognised first-team players. Despite Suwon being on a decent run of form, their 'B team' wasn't good enough to pose Ulsan any major concerns, and Suwon didn't really begin to influence the game until their star players were substituted into the game.

Since the start of March, Suwon have played a massive figure of 16 games, and with 9 of those coming in the last 30 days. Suwon have another 4 games to play in the next 13 days, so further squad rotation from Seo Jung-won, should be expected, particularly in this game, after they played such a grueling game in Guangzhou on Tuesday night.

Alex: Suwon is sitting in 6th at the moment, with some strong road wins (as mentioned before), how do you feel about the season so far? Has Suwon under performed in your opinion or is 6th a proper reflection on the team?

Scott: 6th is probably a fair reflection of their performance so far. Some fantastic results (away wins at Jeju and Gangwon) have been mixed with frustrating home draws, and the team have been blunted in attack on too many occasions. The manager has consistently made strange decisions, such as using Yeom Ki-hun as a central striker. And after a promising winter transfer window it has been disheartening to see all the good feeling around the club just dissipate within a 2 month period.

However, as I mentioned above, the team is beginning to show signs that they may just be turning things around. A recent unbeaten run of 9 league games was only abruptly ended by the loss to Ulsan, and their performance away to Guangzhou Evergrande, the champions of China, was probably the best performance this season. I feel like there is still more to come from this team, but they certainly need a much lighter schedule to really show it.

Alex and Aodan: What’s your prediction for this Sunday’s game?

Scott: After the midweek trip to China, I think this will be another game where Seo Jung-won will attempt to utilise the depth of his squad. As such, the team facing Jeonnam at the weekend may be similar in personnel to the one that succumbed to Ulsan so easily. Moreover, key player, Kim Min-woo, will be missing from the team for an indefinite period, after sustaining another muscle injury in China.

And with Suwon facing the form team in the K-League, I think it may be another difficult afternoon for them. Jeonnam's destruction of Ulsan and Gwangju are ominous signals that Jeonnam currently have the most dangerous attack in Korea. As such, I expect this to be a game that Jeonnam will comfortably win, and Suwon should be focusing on their upcoming trips to Sangju and Jeonbuk.

Predicted Score: Jeonnam 2 – 0 Suwon

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