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Preview: FC Seoul vs Pohang Steelers


Both Pohang and FC Seoul enter Sunday afternoon's match coming off important and emphatic midweek victories that put their season hopes back in contention. For Pohang, an impressive 5-2 win over 6th place Gangwon put the Steelers back in contention to finish in the Championship Round this season. FC Seoul, meanwhile, finally found the cohesion that was desperately missing and dispatched 12th place Gwangju FC 4-1 after falling behind early to climb back into the ACL conversation. If either team is to keep pace with their target, they'll likely need all three points again Sunday afternoon. So who gets it done?
(image via fcseoul.com)

Overview

(soccerway.com)


(Almost) No Foreigners, No Problem

After all four foreign players started vs Incheon at the weekend, Osmar was the lone waygook Wednesday night and oddly enough had the armband. Park Chuyoung replacing Dejan in the Starting XI wasn't overly surprising as manger Hwang Sunhong has been rotating his veteran strikers throughout the year. However, winger Ivan Kovacec and center back Khaled Shafiei being left off the roster entirely was a bit of a surprise. Neither had their best performance last Sunday vs Incheon, but not even having them as bench options seemed to be something of a statement from the manager. Unfortunately for the foreign pair attempting to crack the lineup, they weren't missed in the slightest. Kovacec's replacement, 22-year-old Yoon Seungwon, got his first start in two months and made the absolute most of it. The young winger drew Seoul level just six minutes after they surprisingly went down 1-0 to relegation fodder Gwangju. Yoon's night was far from done, as he continued to cause issues for the Gwangju backline throughout the match and showed a nice bit of vision to find a streaking Osmar for the fourth and final goal of the night. Yoon's performance was good enough to raise questions about who the starting wingers should be come Sunday. Go Yohan plays a bit better slightly behind the attackers, Lee Sangho has yet to truly find his footing between the midfield and attack, and while Kova has had some decent performances, he hasn't cemented a spot in the lineup yet. Add in the fact Yun Illok is still oddly frozen out of the team in spite of leading the league in assists, and Yoon may find himself back on the field in short order.  Regardless of who starts on the wings, it has to be said Seoul looked far more cohesive Wednesday night than they have since their summer winning streak came to an end. However, it's important to note they were playing a plummeting Gwangju side that's only won two games in four months. Even though they couldn't manage it in their last visit to Gwangju, there shouldn't be too much pride taken from beating the league's worst team.

Historically Speaking

These teams have a slew of history having played each other 50 times and though Seoul holds the series edge with a 22-11-17 record, Pohang have been getting the better of their red and black counterparts of late. They have been able to claw their way back into the long running rivalry with a 6-1-3 record over Seoul in their previous ten meetings dating back to the beginning of the 2015 season. It's a trend they will be looking to continue on Sunday against their former manager. Though it's a drastically different side than the one he last managed in 2015, Hwang Sunhong's name will always be synonymous with Pohang for his miraculous 2013 title that was terrifically profiled recently on The Asian Game podcast.
Even though he got the ring for the 2016 championship with Seoul last year, Hwang only had the helm for half a season and there will always be contention given Jeonbuk's 9 point deduction for bribery charges. Throw in the fact that he won with an all Korean squad in 2013 and his legacy within the league shifts even further to Pohang. A win Sunday won't do much to distance himself from that and further into FC Seoul lore, but it's still three points his side desperately needs if he's to keep himself off the hot seat.

Where The Heart Is

Despite some truly lackluster performances in Sangam (I'm looking at you, 0-0 vs Jeju... twice), Seoul have been a touch better at home this season and will need to take advantage of that before hitting the road for back to back matches to close out the regular season. Depending on how scheduling works out post-split, Sunday could be Seoul's last home match for nearly a month. So it'd be great for the home fans to have a fond memory to come back to near Halloween. To do so, Seoul will need to improve upon their truly poor scoring record at home where they've netted just 18 of their 45 goals this year. That total is surprisingly low chiefly because four of the six times Seoul failed to score this year they were at Seoul World Cup Stadium. Obviously this tendency will need to change vs Pohang, but what can remain is the defensive record. Seoul's back line have held visitors to a lone goal or kept them off the board entirely in all but three home matches and are the reason the season hasn't gotten further away from the defending champs. Working in their favor is the fact that only 16 of Pohang's 43 goals have come on the road and aside from their five goal outburst midweek, the Steelers haven't been scoring much of late. So, should Yang Hanbin and company do what they've done so well all season, a lone goal could be enough to push Seoul over the line in this one.

The Adversary

The Steelers enter Sunday's match coming off their biggest win of the season (5-2 vs Gangwon) and with both eyes on passing Gangwon for the final spot in Championship Round with the split just weeks away. They have four points to make up and just three games to do it, so each one is a must win starting with FC Seoul. Unfortunately for Pohang, they've only picked up five wins away from the Steelyard all season and it's been six in a row since their last away victory. Additionally, they've conceded at least twice in over 50% of their away games. So their chances of charging up the table to overtake Gangwon may seem slim, but their penchant for late goals could save them in this one. As mentioned, Seoul haven't been great offensively at home this year, so if it's close look for Pohang to add to the 17 goals they've already scored in the final 15 minutes this year.

Who To Watch

The lone Korean in the top five of the Golden Boot race, Yang Donghyun, broke his month long scoring drought with a goal in the 56th minute vs Gangwon Wednesday night. The tally furthered his already career best total to 16 and pushed him into a three-way tie for second in the scoring title with Dejan and Jeonnam's Jair. Finally seeing the ball over the line after so long will undoubtedly improve his disposition at a truly opportune time. Should Pohang fail to make top six at the split, Yang will find himself in similar territory Kim Shinwook was in at the end of the 2015 season: on a decent team against significantly weaker opposition. It was enough for the man affectionately known as "The Wookie" to nab the scoring title that year and secure his move to Jeonbuk. Yang will certainly say he's just focused on the next match, but he knows staying hot this time of year can be enough to secure a big money move to one of the top teams in the league next season. With both Park Chuyoung and Dejan's contracts set to expire at the end of this year, Yang may be looking to impress the capital club enough to make the move North in 2018. Or maybe he just wants to pummel the team so many love to hate and stake his claim for the Golden Boot. Either way, he should be fun to watch.

Prediction

Given Seoul's tendency to bunker at home and Pohang's inability to score much on the road, this doesn't look like it'll be a great one for neutral fans. However, I think Seoul will find enough in the tank to get a win and keep pace with Suwon for 4th place.

FC Seoul 1-0 Pohang Steelers

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