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Preview: Jeonnam Dragons vs FC Seoul



After letting two points slip in a scoreless midweek draw vs 10th place Daegu FC, Seoul fell even further losing late vs Sangju on Sunday. Finding their footing after the nearly five hour journey down to Gwangyang to face the high flying Jeonnam Dragons will be no easy task. The real question is: are they even up for it?
(image via fcseoul.com)

Overview

(via soccerway.com)

Last Time Out

Seoul's uninspired home form continued through yet another frustrating night on Sunday when they allowed 8th place Sangju Sangmu to come from behind and win it late. After Lee Seok-hyun netted his first goal of 2017 in the 36th minute, it seemed Seoul may have finally been on their way to turning around their lackluster home record. However, whatever halftime speech manager Hwang Sun-hong gave didn't prove to be enough to keep his team focused as Sangju answered almost straight out of the gate with Hwang Soon-min's 51st minute equalizer.  The goal was partially the result of the Seoul backline missing his late run up the middle, but mainly from a rare howler from Ju Se-jong. Ju merely needed to boot the cross out of play with his left, but instead opted for an awkward side heel attempt with his right. Instead of conceded a Sangju throw deep in Seoul territory, Ju's mistake allowed the ball to continue on its intended path directly to a wide open Lee Soon-min who had a lot of net to work with and buried it for his first goal since the 2014 season. Both Dejan and Park Chu-young were then subbed on in the 61st and 74th respectively to try and save the match. Though Dejan came frustratingly close to winning it, neither could find the vital tally. Then disappointment turned to despair in the 91st when three of the back four completely failed to say a single word to each other and left Kim Ho-nam astoundingly open for an easy tap in winner. The dropped points see Seoul remain in 7th, one spot behind their bitter rivals Suwon.

Meanwhile, the Dragons were on the opposite end of a 2-1 collapse by the home team when they picked up all three points at Gwangju. The hosts jumped out to an early lead when Song Seung-min headed in a corner in the 14th minute and looked to be holding the Dragons well enough. The goal was just Song's second of the season and one of only 10 Gwangju has scored all season. Set piece defending has been a weak spot for Jeonnam all season, but more on that in a minute. However, much like Seoul, Gwangju proved to be their own undoing, but in a far more literal way with a nearly comical own goal from Lee Han-do in the 31st that leveled the match.  Just 11 minutes later the Dragons earned a penalty and the Brazilian Jair buried it to reclaim the top spot in this year's Golden Boot race. There wouldn't be another goal in this one, but the work the Dragons put in the second half is something they simply weren't doing last year. In all likelihood an away match vs almost any team with a tenuous one goal lead to defend for a full 45 would have proved too much for Jeonnam and points would have been dropped. This year things seem to be different and they held on for a much needed win against a team beneath them in the table.

Who Cares?

The kind of grit Jeonnam showed in Gwangju is something a number of Seoul players should be gazing upon with envy. The team's seeming complete lack of desire has been on display for weeks and is something that's been mentioned a few times on the 48 Shades of Football Podcast. I don't think it'd be possible for me to agree much more with podcast co-host Paul Carver about most of the Seoul roster looking far too comfortable. Nearly the entire team has a body language that would suggest they couldn't care less what the scoreboard will read when the final whistle blows. They're FC Seoul, dammit, and that's good enough. If getting slapped around in ACL and being eliminated by a second division side in FA Cup isn't enough to light a fire under this team, then I'm running out of ideas as to what will. Losing games is never an enjoyable experience to endure, and with Seoul having won only once in their last seven, surely frustration should be setting in over apathy?  Perhaps with some new blood coming in during the soon to be open transfer window, the mentality will change. But if not, it's time for the bosses upstairs to seriously question whether or not Hwang is the man to be leading this team. It's been a disheartening season so far, but it's not a lost one just yet. The 11 point gap between Seoul and 1st place Jeonbuk is likely to wide to close, but the five point gap between them and Jeju's assured ACL place in 3rd certainly isn't. If Seoul's to avoid having a complete loss of a year, then something needs to change far sooner rather than later before we're starting to wonder whether or not this team can avoid the Relegation Round.

New Blood

Speaking of the much needed new blood, Seoul is set to have some new additions debut in their crucial home match coming up vs Jeonbuk this Sunday. Along with former Al Ain stalwart Lee Myung-joo returning to Korea to bolstering the midfield, Seoul has also signed Iranian defender Khaled Shafiei from Tractor Sazi. He will become the first Iranian to play in K League and will hopefully set a trend I personally am hoping will become more common. It would be great too see more player movement not only from ASEAN nations, but also from West Asian nations to K League to try and grow the league and increase its footprint across the continent. So, if for no other reason, I'm rooting for his success in that regard. According to regular Ahdaaf and Sandals For Goalposts contributor Sina Saemian, Shafiei's success on the field seems quite likely. Saemian calls him "one of most underrated central defenders in Iran. He's quite decent with his feet, very strong, and this move suggests he's very motivated." Aside from what I can only assumed was an injury shorted season in 2015/2016, Shafiei has put in close to or well over 2,000 minutes per season in the physically demanding Persian Gulf Pro League, so he's certainly durable. At 30 years old he may be in the tail end of his "prime" years, but can likely contribute for a few years to come.

The little bit I've seen of Shafiei suggests he'll be a solid defender, but why Seoul would bring in a center back when goals have been at such a premium for them is bizarre to say the least. Filling the +1 Asian Foreign Player roster spot with a lock down center back is nothing new in this league. A good number of teams usually go to Australian shores to do so, but regardless of where you're getting the player it makes sense. Usually.... but not so much in Seoul's case. In spite of some ridiculous mental gaffes and the woeful early season play from Yoo Hyun, Seoul have conceded fewer times than anyone other than Jeju and Jeonbuk. Prone to mistakes, sure, but in need of reinforcements? Not exactly. The need for a non-Dejan option up top has been apparent since there was snow on the ground, and yet Seoul chose to use one of their four foreign roster spots on a defender. The Brazilian Maurinho being cut would suggest the front office has plans to bolster the attack with another foreigner, but why limit the mercenaries to just one? Why not look to Japan, Australia, or (gasp) Southeast Asia for a shadow striker to play behind Dejan and clean up any messes left behind? Again, I wish all of the best for Khaled Shafiei as he blazes a new path here in Korea, I just question the front office's choice to bring him in right now.

The Adversary

After 16 matches, the Dragons enter Wednesday night with a single draw to their name this season. With multiple 5-0 victories and a few collapses, this team is the epitome of all or nothing. The result of this style of play has been a meager two clean sheets and conceding at least one goal in every single one of their away matches. More importantly, 75% of their games have had over 2.5 goals scored in total, so this one should be fun to watch! Jeonnam has been an entertaining team since shrugging off their annual slow start with strong contributions from multiple players. The return of Lee Ho-seung in net helped stem the flow of goals the team had let in during the early months, and the Vedran Jugović Kim Young-wook midfield pairing has been one of the league's best when at their best. It hasn't exactly been a dream return to league play for Jeonnam going 1-1-1 since K League returned from the extended U20 World Cup break. This midweek match comes at the beginning of a brutal stretch of games for the Dragons that will see them host Seoul and Jeju before hitting the road to play Pohang and Gangwon. If Jeonnam's to assert themselves as true contenders for an ACL spot, these are the types of games they will have to win, and no doubt they will be putting out their strongest lineup vs Seoul to try and take advantage of a team on the slide.

Who To Watch

The emergence of Jair as one of K League's best attackers has been among the league's most intriguing story lines this season. He had a tremendous return to K League last season, but tapered off towards the end. Admittedly, a big reason his goal totals took a nosedive was manager Noh Sang-rae insisting the team abandon the quick pass and move 3-4-3 formation that had brought them so much success in favor of playing to the inept target man Park Gi-dong. However, there has been no such issue this year and the Dragons are fully Jair's team up top. Keeping an eye on his rise will be especially interesting in the coming weeks as the transfer window barrels ever closer, but he is still wearing yellow for now. With Hungarian import Feczesin proving less than stellar in his debut season, Jair has occasionally played up top for Jeonnam, but is much better suited on the wing where he can use his explosiveness to cut inside and shoot or draw defenders to him before pinging in a cross. Regardless of whether or not the Brazilian will be on the move this summer, he will almost assuredly be in the lineup Wednesday night looking to increase his league best goal total.

Prediction

Gwangyang Stadium isn't exactly a fortress for the Dragons this year with four wins and four losses. That said, Seoul will be playing their fourth game in 10 days and have to make the long trek down to South Jeolla on tired legs. Additionally, Seoul have only mustered two away wins this year and, as mentioned, simply don't look up for much right now. They may find the back of the net, but Jeonnam is likely the team who wants this more and that will come through in the end.

Jeonnam Dragons 2-1 FC Seoul


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