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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' Kim Min-jae celebrates his late equaliser and first career goal with assist maker Kim Jin-su

After escaping with a draw from a battling Daegu FC, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors face the first of four difficult fixtures as they travel to The Steel Yard to face Pohang Steelers. With both teams' managers unsuccessfully experimenting at the weekend, it seems likely that both sides will be back to their strongest come Wednesday evening for what should hopefully be an entertaining spectacle.
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)


Last Time Out

Jeonbuk were made to work for a share of the spoils as they played host to a spirited Daegu FC on Sunday evening. Despite coming into this match on the back of three strong wins, Choi Kang-hee altered his tactics although kept what was most of the first team and was made to pay early on as Daegu's Kim Woo-seok capitalised from a 7th minute corner. Cesinha's corner in was met splendidly by an onrushing Jeong Woo-jae, who glanced the ball back to Kim who had time to turn and strike the ball beyond Jeonbuk keeper Hong Jeong-nam.

Jeonbuk would level the score through a 25th minute Edu penalty after Kim Shin-wook took an unintentional yet dangerous high boot to the face. Despite attempts from both sides to then snatch the lead before half-time, they entered the dressing rooms one apiece at the interval.

Daegu would not have to wait long though. When midfielder Lee Jae-sung fluffed his fancy footwork on the edge of the Daegu area, the visitors broke with pace and purpose. Just when it looked as if the North Jeolla side would get men back in time to stave off the threat, Daegu midfielder Shin Chang-min unleashed a lethal, curling shot from twenty yards out to restore his side's lead with style.

Choi would resort to removing striker Kim Shin-wook and centre back Lim Jong-eun for attacking wingers Lee Seung-gi and Lopes on 55 minutes, resorting to a 4-1-4-1. The home side would continue to turn up the pressure, with youngster Kim Min-jae eventually equalising in the 78th minute with his first ever goal for the club. Despite efforts to force a winner, Jeonbuk eventually had to settle for a draw, a fair reflection of what proved to be an entertaining game for neutrals and no less than what Daegu's determined display deserved.

Pohang Steelers on the other hand saw a number of changes to their usual line up and shape for their away trip to Jeju, and it was therefore to little surprise that Jeju seized upon this gifted opportunity to end their poor spell and keep themselves in the title race.

Despite dominance from the home side, it must be noted Pohang did miss an opportunity to equalise when 1-0 down, with Lee Gwang-hyuk, making his fourth start of the season, hitting the post from a 38th minute penalty kick. Jeju made easy work of the second half however, with another Mendy goal, plus one from Lee Eun-beom making it 3-0 to the islanders on the night.

Pohang registered just three shots on target in Jeju, but they will likely be a much different proposition given that the manager probably chose to rest his players for this upcoming clash.

Choi Kang-hee and the Curious Case of the 5-3-2

For the fifth time this season (sixth in regards to fielding two strikers) Choi Kang-hee lined up his players in a 5-3-2 formation to little reward, requiring tactical changes midway through the second half once again to try and salvage something from a match heading south.

After winning three matches convincingly with the 4-1-4-1/3-4-3 shape that has been mostly successful at Jeonbuk for well over a calendar year, Choi Kang-hee opted to deploy a tactic he has yet to secure a win from this season, having previously implemented it in his team's draws away to Incheon United and Gangwon FC, as well as in the calamitous 4-0 drubbing on home soil at the hands of Jeju United and the FA Cup humiliation to lower league Bucheon 1995.

It seems like a tactic that has long been dwelling on the manager's mind however, debuting it properly in the Club World Cup and infamously dropping Leonardo in the process to execute it. It resulted in the Korean side promptly exiting in their first match to Club America. It was also a tactic used throughout the club's overseas training camp in pre-season, seeing them lose three times and narrowly win just once.

With swift moves for defenders, particularly wing backs, in the off-season, it seemed this tactic would be staying in the manager's plans. However, it is not the three centre-backs that are the issue, as evidenced by Jeonbuk's success in their other often used formations which rely heavily on spreading the width through advancing full backs.

The main concern has been with the fielding of two strikers. Jeonbuk have been in relatively short supply for a while in terms of forwards, with the majority of goals last year coming from the wings in the form of the now-departed Leonardo and the recently recovered Lopes, two players who possess pace and cut inside whilst the full back overlaps.

Having off-loaded Lee Jong-ho, the only recognised striker with any speed, Choi has limited himself this season to just three who can play in that position; Kim Shin-wook, Edu and Lee Dong-gook. A trio that features two players looking towards retirement, no longer scoring the number of goals and lacking the acceleration they once were capable of.

However, in a single striker formation, their issues go relatively unnoticed due to support from a creative and reasonably nippy midfield. When forced into a target man and main striker combination though, Kim Shin-wook naturally, but not always effectively, takes the former role while Edu, a player who has been tapping goals in recently to push him up the scoring charts, is left with the latter. It is a role that requires speed and constant running to get between defenders, an attribute that he is sadly lacking despite his efforts. It makes sense that his recent flurry of goals have all been within six yards of the goal mouth with the midfielders doing most of the leg work. The only assist Kim Shin-wook has provided him so far as his strike partner was winning the penalty for him to take on Sunday evening.

It begs the question, "Why does the manager persist with it?". The strategy is supposedly to help guard against counter attacks, while also allowing play to be stretched and crosses to be delivered from the flanks and won in the air by a tall forward. Excluding the drubbing at the hands of Jeju though, the strategy could arguably make sense, with teams like Incheon, Bucheon and Daegu potentially sitting back. However, they can still have this counter-attacking safeguard with their usual tactics.

Perhaps having dropped Kim Shin-wook for the two games prior for an in-form Edu meant the manager had to placate his towering striker by offering him a start on Sunday, and perhaps vice-versa during the tactic's other outings this season. The three strikers do all command playing time based on their previous reputations and the fuss made to get two of them there.  It could also be argued the manager has not had the personnel at his disposal due to injury, but that would disregard the fact that his team sit first in the table having played their more successful strategy with what are supposedly back up options.

Choi Kang-hee may also have seen these struggling sides as teams where he could get away with it. After all, it would not be the first time he's risked the need to win at all costs for the sake of experimentation. Regardless, the Jeonbuk manager would be foolish to try a similar strategy in the next four upcoming matches against Pohang, Seoul, Ulsan and Jeju, where a run of wins could see them make a large stride towards the title.

Team News

With Kim Bo-kyung having now left the club, Choi Kang-hee will likely look to a central midfield pairing of Lee Jae-sung and Jeong Hyeok with captain Shin Hyung-min sitting behind in defensive midfield. There are no new suspensions for the away side, but centre-back Kim Min-jae is one caution away from missing the next game. If he were to pick up a card on Wednesday night and miss the FC Seoul game, Jeonbuk would need to field another youngster in their starting eleven on Sunday night in order to meet the U23 quota, a scenario the manager will want to avoid.

There are no players suspend for Pohang Steelers either, although Bae Seul-gi may miss out having picked up an injury against Incheon United a week ago. Despite this, given the rotations made for their weekend trip to Jeju United, it is hard not to imagine that they will send out anything but a close to full strength side for the visit from the Asian champions.

The Adversary

Since their league defeat to Jeonbuk back in April, Pohang's form, and subsequently their title challenge, has wavered somewhat. They have won four in their last ten, although they have only picked up points against a struggling Incheon United in the three games since the recent international break. Consistency has been hard to come by for most teams challenging for an ACL berth however, and because of this Pohang are lurking in fourth, one point from third and three off second.

Their lofty position in the table has undoubtedly been helped by the sublime form of their striker and captain Yang Dong-hyun who leads the scoring charts and, up until their recent 3-0 defeat against Jeju, had found the net in five consecutive games, scoring six times. Yang tends to sit in the centre of three-man front line, flanked by Shin Dong-woon and Lee Sang-gi in a 4-3-3.

Another player to keep an eye out for is central midfielder Lulinha. The Brazilian has featured often in the K League Teams of the Rounds and has picked up five goals so far in 2017, making him the second highest goalscorer in this Pohang side.

Prediction

While not too much can be read into their recent match against Jeju, Pohang's form prior to that game does not look too inspiring either, with their only recent win coming against a then bottom Incheon United. Jeonbuk will miss Kim Bo-kyung, but are still strong without him and will likely be playing in a shape more suitable to their talents. Providing Choi Kang-hee sticks to the single striker, it is difficult to not look beyond Jeonbuk winning this one.

Predicted Score: Pohang Steelers 1-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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