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Preview: Gwangju FC vs FC Seoul

Flying high off their dramatic late win vs league leaders Jeonbuk, Seoul make the long trip South to face off against the abruptly world recognized Gwangju FC. Gwangju may still be propping up the table, but their recent signing of Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn from Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen has given the team (and K League) more English language press than maybe ever before. Can Seoul capitalize on their momentum from last weekend, or will it be a dream debut for the former Celtic FC man?
(image via FCSeoul.com)

Overview

(soccerway.com)


And Then A Hero Comes Along

In the 95th minute of a rain soaked game, Park Chuyoung chested down a corner kick and once again put the dagger into a reeling Jeonbuk side to steal a win. This was a far cry from the final match of 2016 when Park's 58th minute strike proved to be the only goal needed for Seoul to secure their 6th title, but it was significant nevertheless. Seoul came into the match having won just two of their last ten and in desperate need of a spark. The win wasn't enough to move them out of 7th, but if the fan celebrations post game are any indication, the win certainly rallied the base. With Seoul's other dramatic win of the season taking place in Suwon, Sunday's win over the league leaders was by far the most cathartic experience for home fans in 2017. The fact that Jeonbuk were playing with 10 men for the final 10 minutes after Shin Hyungmin got sent off for double yellows will likely be forgotten by time, and this will simply be one for Seoul fans to enjoy.

Build On It

The important thing for the team moving forward is to actually build off this momentum and beat the teams they're supposed to beat. Like the basement dwelling Gwangju FC. Coming off their last dramatic win, the aforementioned 2-1 win in Suwon, Seoul put up back to back disappointments at home drawing 11th place Daegu 0-0, and losing to Sangju Sangmu 2-1. Instead of using a rivalry win to catapult themselves back into the top 6 and make a push for Champions League, they stumbled at home in matches they should have won. But, that's the thing with this team this year. They're far too aware of which games they should win and play the matches accordingly. It's not that Seoul's playing down to teams below them as much as they are over confident the other team will roll over simply because the black and red are on the pitch. It's a mentality they're going to have to shake if they want to pick up all three points against a plucky Gwangju side this Sunday. Getting full points against a team fighting off relegation is crucial if Seoul's to have any momentum going into their following matches vs the much more capable Pohang and Jeju. Seoul has already floundered one golden opportunity to rebuild their season this year. Doing it twice may sink any hopes of international football in 2018.

Debuts

Lee Myungjoo had a strong debut for his new club going the full 90 and controlling the midfield for large stretches of the game almost single-handedly. And it didn't go unnoticed. In his very first match back in K League, he picked up a Best XI nod. Much like Ha Daesung's return to action after a lengthy injury, Myungjoo gave Seoul a calming presence in the middle of the pitch that both the centerbacks and fellow midfielders trusted with a short pass instead of lobbing it up top. Ju Sejong has done well in the midfield at times this year, but a steadying presence he's never been. Lee offered that in spades and also handled his defensive responsibilities spectacularly. On several occasions Lee was nearly on the goal line making clearances and then right back in the mix to take the second or third pass pushing up field. With his impending military duty next season, he may not be with Seoul long, but he's certainly a welcomed addition while it lasts.

Another player expected to make his debut was Iranian defender Khaled Shafiei. However, the 30-year-old long time Tractor Sazi man wasn't even on the bench. With a lack of any injury news to speak of, I can only speculate as to why he wasn't included in the squad. Perhaps some last minute paperwork that needed i's dotted and t's crossed? Perhaps manager Hwang Sun-hong is allowing Khaled to slowly integrate himself into the team and didn't want to rush his debut? Whatever the reasoning may be, if he's not injured, then I would expect to see him on the team sheet this weekend. Playing against the 12th place team would be a fine way to blood in their new signing.

The Adversary

Winless in nine and winners of just one in their last 16, it's little wonder why Gwangju find themselves propping up the K League table at the moment. While their 25 goals allowed is very much average, the scanty 12 they have scored is worst in the league. Six players have scored for Gwangju this season, but only two — Song Seungmin and Cho Juyoung – have netted more than once and the results speak for themselves. Though Gwangju have lost their last three home matches and failed to win in their last five at their World Cup Stadium, they are plenty capable of a shock upset on home turf. Just ask Jeonbuk about their April 30th visit when they lost 1-0. In truth, Gwangju's position on the table may be a bit unfair. Five of their seven defeats have had just a one goal margin, and the team has punched above its weight several times. They are a team that's rarely been played off the field and has been one or two difference makers away from getting more results. And they're debuting one of those difference makers this weekend.

Doubling down on the McGinn debut this weekend, Korean international Ki Seungyeung is scheduled to be at the grounds this Sunday. The current Swansea City midfielder is back home to recover from minor knee surgery and will visit his father and Gwangju FC president Ki Youngok.

Who To Watch

All eyes will be on new boy Niall McGinn. The Northern Irishman has been given the number 10 shirt and will likely be slotted directly into the starting lineup this weekend. Our Paul Neat already profiled the player this week, so I'll let his piece do the talking here:

For a player who is not an out-and-out striker, McGinn's had a sound goal return during his time at Aberdeen, for the last two seasons the former Celtic man netted 10 goals from 36 appearances both in the 2015/2016 season and the 2016/2017 season. His highest goal-scoring return was during the 2012/2013 season where the County Tyrone-native bagged 20 goals in 35 appearances. 
McGinn is no stranger to Korean players, however, having played alongside current Republic of Korea captain and Gwangju native Ki Seungyeung, as well as legendary defender Cha Duri whilst at Park Head.

Prediction

Hopefully this match will be a historical one with the league's first Iranian and Northern Irishman facing off. Additionally, both teams are in need of a win for much different reasons. Seoul to keep their momentum and make a push for ACL, Gwangju to begin the task of salvaging their season. However, even with the reinforcements up top, I'm not entirely sure Gwangju can get the job done.

Gwangju FC 1-2 FC Seoul



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