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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Gangwon FC

Kim Min-jae scores his first goal for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors against Daegu FC

Top of the table Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors welcome back their six international players this weekend as they set up to face a Gangwon FC side who need to start producing results if they are to scrape into the Champions League next season. Youngster Kim Min-jae (pictured) drew the plaudits in two lacklustre South Korea displays over the break and his club will be hoping he can continue his strong season form as the final straight looms on the horizon of this year's campaign. 
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)


Last Time Out

After a minor wobble against Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonnam Dragons, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors got back to winning ways with a fairly routine 3-1 home victory against bottom-side Gwangju FC. Young centre back Kim Min-jae opened the scoring, finding himself collecting a loose ball at the edge of the box which he placed low into the bottom corner at the half hour mark. The lead was not to last long however, with Gwangju pulling an equaliser back through Na Song-ho just before half time.

An upset was not to be however, as Gwangju inevitably succumbed to Jeonbuk's onslaught in the second half. Goals from Lee Sung-gi and Kim Shin-wook put the visitors to the sword, with Gwangju midfielder Kim Jung-hyun seeing red in injury time to further compound his side's problems in their plight to stay up.

Highlights from Jeonbuk's 3-1 victory over Gwangju can be watched here.

Gangwon FC took advantage of a Johnathan-less Suwon Bluewings in the last round, in a dramatic ninety minutes that saw the visitors eventually claim a 3-2 victory. Gangwon FC defender Ahn Ji-ho opened the scoring within a minute, striking a loose ball within the six yard box past the Suwon keeper. Suwon equalised through a Santos rocket moments before the interval, before Gangwon top scorer Mauricio would retake the lead early in the second half after dispossessing Lee Jung-song, striding into the box and slotting in at the far post. Promising Suwon youngster Kim Min-woo looked to have salvaged a point for the home side, but the Bluewings' comeback was undone after conceding a late penalty to hand the visitors victory.

Highlights from Gangwons 3-2 victory over Suwon can be watched here.

Kim Min-jae: Potential Young Player of the Year?

With his profile increasing in stature at a rapid rate, it seems only right to give a lengthened mention to Jeonbuk centre-back Kim Min-jae and the campaign he has had so far. Having played on loan at non-league Gyeongju last year, the 20 year-old found himself starting from the first game of the season and has featured for the full duration of all but two games (for which he was suspended) for the Asian Champions. Having now made his international debut in the break, being trusted to start both crucial qualifiers for Korea, and helping his defence keep a clean sheet in both matches, it seems his star is now soaring.

Having kept tabs on his progress at Jeonbuk this season, it is remarkable to see the level of maturity shown by a player plying his trade in professional football for his first season, especially considering the title ambitions of the team he is playing for. His positioning and awareness appears experienced, and his surprisingly large build betrays a decent level of pace.

The level at which Jeonbuk already depend on him is commendable. The side lost both games he was suspended for this season, in addition to Jeju's shocking 4-0 victory which saw him play as make-shift right back to cover for other players' suspensions and injuries. When he is in the centre though, preferably alongside defender Lee Jae-sung, the North Jeolla side look inpenetrable, which has undoubtedly contributed greatly to their title chase this year.


Kim Min-jae is still not without his mistakes though. Recent matches against Jeonnam and Ulsan that saw Jeonbuk collect just a single point were partly due to defensive errors on the youngster's part, but it can be easily forgiven when you consider the expectations placed on a player in his debut campaign.

With it looking pretty likely Jeonbuk will return to the AFC Champions League next season, plus a World Cup in the summer, Kim Min-jae's future development should kick on to even greater heights in 2018. For this season though, it would not be foolish to expect the plaudits to continue into the player award season.

Team News

Given that six first team players were called up for the Republic of Korea's two crucial world cup qualifiers over the break, there is concern that Jeonbuk have gone three weeks without working together in training at full strength. Kim Jin-su, Lee Jae-sung, Choi Chul-soon, Kim Shin-wook, Kim Min-jae and, somewhat surprisingly, veteran Lee Dong-gook got the nod and all featured to varying degrees in Shin Tae-young's teams against Iran and Uzbekistan, helping their country scrape through to Russia with two goalless draws.

There are no suspensions however, nor are there many injuries. It remains to be seen when Lee Yong will be back from his long term layoff, but manager Choi Kang-hee should still have most of his squad at his disposal.

Gangwon have also had to train without key talent Lee Keun-ho over the break, with the attacker also featuring in Shin Tae-young's national team plans, starting in the away match against Uzbekistan.

Gangwon defender Oh Beom-seok and midfielder Han Kook-young will also return to the squad after missing out on the team's victory over Suwon through suspension.

The Adversary

Gangwon FC have had quite the first season back in the K League Classic, grabbing headlines with eye-catching signings and unique stadium choices, in addition to a campaign that has seen them fluctuate wildly through positions in the league table. When these last two met back in June, the tie was billed as a title clash between first and third, with just four points separating them. After shockingly losing the match 4-1, Gangwon's form stuttered calamitously in the form of a series of draws and defeats, seeing them almost slip out of contention for one of the Champions League spots and arrest their slide in sixth place, mostly due to an underwhelming Pohang beneath them.

That said, there 3-2 victory away to Suwon Bluewings the last time out did look as if they had rediscovered their stride somewhat, even though it may look like yet another blip after this weekend. The victory coincided with the resignation of the manager the week prior and perhaps the team were buoyed by the change in personnel. Still, with eight points of ground to make up on difficult opponents above them, they could run the risk of demotivation here if they get off to a bad start.

If they are to take Jeonbuk to task, it will most likely be through striker Diego Maurício, the club's top scorer for the campaign with ten goals and the experience of the well traveled Lee Keun-ho if he is deemed fit after featuring for the national side. The recently signed Korean international Han Kook-young will also be a player for Jeonbuk to keep eyes on after coming back from suspension.

Prediction

Jeonbuk made relatively easy work of a then in-form Gangwon the last time these two sides met, and the home side will have close to a full squad to select from, although it remains to be seen who Choi Kang-hee will hold back given that so many players were involved in internationals. That said, there is still plenty of talent in the squad rested enough to pose questions of Gangwon, such as Edu, Lopes and Lee Seung-gi. With the league entering it's final phases, and Jeonbuk looking the side with realistically more to fight for, I expect the hosts to be motivated enough to see off the threat posed by Gangwon.

Predicted Scoreline: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Gangwon FC


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