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Writers' Chat: FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Two of K League's biggest teams meet for the second time this month for a Sunday night match at Seoul World Cup Stadium. However, unlike their July 2nd affair, both teams enter having won three out of their last four and Seoul have leapt up the table from 7th to 4th. Jeonbuk still have a 10 point advantage over their capital city rivals, but a win for Seoul Sunday night could change the landscape of the league. Conversely, Jeonbuk getting revenge for the late winner they conceded in their last visit would separate them even further from the pack. How's it all going to play out? I chatted with Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns to suss it out. 

Ryan asks, Matthew answers

Ryan Walters: It was a rather wild night in Jeonju Wednesday when a 10 man Jeonbuk walloped cellar dwelling Gwangju 3-1. Who or what impressed you most about Jeonbuk’s performance playing a man down for nearly an entire half?

Matthew Binns: I think the most impressive point to take from Jeonbuk’s ten man performance is that they kept going in search of the three points regardless of the disadvantage. Part of the reason they were able to do this was due to the quality of their opponents. With no offence intended to Gwangju, I think anything less that three points would have been considered a shock given the gap between the two teams. However, they had no choice but to win what with the title race being as close as it is. Despite having sat there for a number of weeks, Jeonbuk’s position at the summit is quite precarious, particularly give the "one-nil" consistency of Ulsan and the new found form of the Bluewings. The fact that Jeonbuk stayed organised, did not appear to panic and kept a firm grip on the game is evidence of this team having had experience of leading the pack in a title race for extended spells during previous seasons, which should put them in good stead over their title rivals as we reach the season's crunch period.

RW: The score looked like it was going to be 4-1, but the newly implemented VAR ruled Kim Shinwook’s 92nd goal offside and disallowed it. Was it the right call and do you think this is how VAR is best used? Thoughts on VAR overall?

MB:  As the replays will contest, there was no doubt that the correct decision was made and the goal was rightly chalked off. What was confusing was the state of affairs afterwards, not particularly helped by TV coverage who continued to assume the goal had counted. While there is some debate into how VAR should be implemented, I do still think it should be used check all goals to ensure they are legitimate, as well as other major incidents such as red cards (something that it also did and got right in the same match).

I do understand some of the arguments against VAR’s intrusion into the game that are put forward, namely in terms of speed and the consistency over its use, but in terms of producing a fairer result I think that if the technology is there, it should be used. To deny referees tools to make more accurate decisions yet chastising them on social media with a barrage of looping gifs and incoherent caps lock typed sentences filled with targeted bile and rage just seems inherently unfair.

Ultimately though, it is a new system that is enduring teething problems. The major issues I have had with it is it’s implementation half way through a season, allowing controversies earlier in the year to stand and also giving no time for K League referees to train for it. In my opinion, it would have been better to use it exclusively in the FA Cup for a season. It is here now however, so I say see how it’s use improves by the end of the year. Things can surely only get better.

For more thoughts on this, you can check out the 48 Shades of Football podcast where we were recently guests and discussed VAR matters in further detail.

RW: Sticking with Wednesday night, the Motors were forced to play one down after the recently returned Ricardo Lopes was sent off with a red in the 48th. A card that officially rules him out of the lineup for this Sunday vs Seoul. How much will his absence affect the team and who do you think steps up in his place?

MB: I suppose the argument would be is that Jeonbuk seemed to do pretty well without him for the first half of the season but, given the impact he has had since returning, it undoubtedly is quite the loss ahead of Sunday's fixture. The understanding he has with the midfield seemed to carry on from where he left off last season, taking apart defences with well timed runs and incisive passes in addition to being quite the goal threat, already scoring three well taken goals since coming back. For his replacement, I see Lee Seung-gi and Eder taking up residence on the left and right wing respectively. Both have done okay this season, but pale in comparison to Lopes. That said, they should still be capable of causing problems.

RW: Prediction?

MB: It certainly is a different situation to three weeks ago. FC Seoul look as if they have realised the magnitude of their dire situation and are now mounting a credible ACL challenge. Jeonbuk have not been bad either though, comfortably dispatching of most opponents since the Seoul game and were unlucky to lose to a Jeju side they threw everything at for a second half. The loss of Lopes is certainly the biggest factor for Jeonbuk coming into this match, but the rest of the team is mostly available. I expect the defence to see to most Seoul threats comfortably, with a single goal probably deciding it.

Matthew's Predicted Score: FC Seoul 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Matthew Asks, Ryan Answers

Matthew Binns: It seems the last gasp victory over Jeonbuk nearly three weeks ago was just what Seoul needed to kick there season back into gear. How convincing have they looked in their performances and is their any particular change you can pinpoint as the cause for this upturn in form?

Ryan Walters: I think the combination of that win and the following loss to Gwangju finally kick started Seoul's season. The win against Jeonbuk was not only the dramatic home victory fans desperately needed, but also a deserved win where Seoul played quite well on the night. The team showed themselves that they can indeed beat the league's best. Then, three days later they were smacked back down to Earth and reminded that they can also indeed lose to the league's "worst." I think Seoul went into the Gwangju match overconfident after beating Jeonbuk and felt they could simply show up and get the three points. Gwangju had other ideas and picked apart a shockingly disorganized Seoul backline on one of Kwak Taehwi's worst nights in the red and black. Oddly enough I think that reality check was what Seoul needed to take a long look in the mirror and ask what kind of team they are this season.

As for pinpointing the change that sparked their turnaround, it came with the slightly unexpected (and probably undeserved) benching of star striker Dejan Damjanović. Only slightly unexpected because he had gone two months without scoring. However, the lack of other options up top still made the decision to bench him a surprising one. He didn't see the field for a single minute in Seoul's dramatic win over Jeonbuk earlier this month and that snub well and truly lit a fire under the 35-year-old. Dejan was determined to show why he deserved a spot in the starting 11, and that's exactly what he's done in the matches since these teams last played. In limited minutes he managed to score against both Gwangju and Pohang, and it was enough to demand a spot back in the lineup. When he got his chance to go the full 90 at Incheon midweek, he netted a hat trick to seal his claim on the starting role. The hot streak has propelled him up to 13 goals on the season and into a three way tie for second in the Golden Boot race, just three behind Suwon's Jonathan.

MB: With the constant rotation of Seoul’s back four in recent rounds, is it possible to predict who Hwang will opt for to try to keep Jeonbuk out this Sunday evening?

RW: Kwak will be in there, but beyond that I have no idea. Turns out new signing Khaled Shafiei has been training with the reserve team to get match fitness, and according to a few of the Seoul players he should be ready to go this Sunday. Hwang's roster roulette ensures there are no 100% guarantees of who will be in there, but it would be great for Seoul to finally get a look at what should be their CB pairing for the rest of the season with Khaled and Kwak in the middle and Osmar sitting in front of them. That said, Kwak has had some truly sub par performances of late and Hwang may elect to start the captain on the bench... but... again... who knows? As for outside backs, Lee Gyuro has been showing relatively well at RB and would be a good shout there. Additionally, Kim Chiwoo has looked better in a four man backline which tends to limit his overlapping runs and keep him focused on defense. So if Hwang elects to play all of his foreigners for the first time in memory this weekend, they would be best suited in a defensive 4-3-3 with Osmar at CDM. But, to answer the question more directly: no, it's not really possible to predict what the manager will do come Sunday night.

MB: Dejan has certainly been playing like a striker with a point to prove, yet Seoul's top scorer has still only started once in the last five. Despite playing midweek, surely Hwang cannot afford to keep leaving him out?

RW: Hwang is either obsessed with change for change's sake, or has been playing mind games with his strikers. In spite of Dejan's recent form, I can still see the Seoul manager starting him on the bench and putting Park Chuyoung up top in his place. Park's also been playing better of late, but more than form, Hwang hasn't tended to start the same striker in back to back matches very often. Should Dejan get the start this Sunday? Unquestionably. Will he? Much like the backline, it's pretty impossible to know for sure. Logic says go with the guy who just bagged a hat trick Wednesday night, but logic isn't always what reigns supreme. In regards to Dejan starting and the backline, I'll just say this is my ideal lineup.... but not one I actually expect to see out there.
MB: How do you see this match playing out?

RW: I'm of two minds on this one. One part thinks Seoul will be a touch overconfident again and Jeonbuk will have more of a will to win for some revenge. The other part thinks the injection of new signings and their desire to prove themselves could be enough to put Seoul on top and really make July a statement month for the club. So, a lot of it will depend on the lineup that starts on the field. To play the part of optimist, I'll say Hwang does what he should do and plays his strongest squad and they prove why they should be in there.

FC Seoul 2-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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