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Preview: Seoul E-Land vs Busan IPark

The race for automatic promotion finally lit its fuse last weekend as high-flying Gyeongnam were shocked by Daejeon, and Busan IPark took full advantage with a tight win against third-place Bucheon. With the gap between first and second now down to five points, the league leaders will be looking over their shoulders, and Busan will need to keep up their recent form as we come into the final weeks of the season. With six games of the season to go, suddenly the race for automatic promotion isn't a foregone conclusion anymore. Will Seoul E-Land rip up the form book and end Busan's run?
(image via busanipark.com)

Busan's Late Charge

Busan are no strangers to late-season surges. Three years ago they were struggling near the bottom of the Classic all season before going on a run of ten games unbeaten to avoid the drop. No such run came together in 2015, when they were eventually relegated to the Challenge, but a similar march last year (eight wins out of nine) saw them end up in the play-offs when they had looked average at best for most of the season. The run this year is perhaps just as perfectly timed. Busan have six wins and three draws from their last nine games. Perhaps more impressively, in those nine games they've conceded only three goals. Further, one of those goals was a penalty, and another was a stunning Kim Do-heon free-kick.

The sudden meanness of their defence and upturn in results is no coincidence. Coming off the back of two straight defeats in July, manager Cho Jin-ho opted for a change in formation, utilising a three-man defence with wing-backs, and the team hasn't looked back since. Marshalled by classy Brazilian veteran Danny Morais, the IPark defence is now the best in the league.

The change in formation hasn't been the only factor in Busan's improvement, however. The summer signing of central midfielder Lee Jae-kwon from Daegu has shown what a bit of Classic quality can do for a second division team. Jae-kwon has been an ever-present since his arrival despite the manager's preference for rotating almost every other position regularly, even the goalkeepers. Confident and calm in possession, with incisive forward passing and even surges into the opposition box, the signing of tempo-setter Lee was a real coup.

Last Time Out

Last Saturday's home win against Bucheon demonstrated exactly how far IPark have come since last year. Even when not playing particularly well, they have found a way to grind out results. Against Bucheon they were dominant for long periods without offering too much of a goal threat. In a dour first half, Ko Kyung-min forced a low save from Bucheon keeper Choi Cheol-won after being teed up by Lee Jung-hyub, but they created little else. At the other end, a Moon Ki-han free-kick sailed narrowly over, and only a last-ditch block from Busan defender Hong Jin-gi denied Rodrigo when the ball fell to him fortuitously inside the box.

A half-time substitution from Cho Jin-ho arguably changed the game, as Cha Young-hwan was replaced by Lee Chung-Woong, and Busan reverted to a 4-4-2 formation from a 5-2-3. This allowed wing-back/winger Kim Moon-hwan to get further forward and join attacks, and Busan looked more of a threat from the off. Ko Kyung-min's well-placed goal from twenty yards early in the half changed the complexion of the game, and from then on Bucheon posed more of a threat. Jeong Seong-hoon had a goal correctly chalked off for outside, before Cho Beom-seok and Jin Chang-soo forced Busan keeper Koo Sang-min into good saves late on.

Seoul E-Land, meanwhile, came from two down at Seongnam to snatch a 2-2 draw. Former Jeonbuk youngster Choi Chi-won got both the goals, having also scored the previous week in the 2-3 defeat to Anyang. Last Saturday's draw ended a run of two successive defeats for E-Land and keeps them ticking over, four points above ninth-placed Ansan Greeners. While they have little to play for in the grand scheme of things, with no relegation to fear and promotion almost certainly out of their reach, they've kept up appearances in recent weeks, scoring eighteen goals in the past nine games.

Team News

It will be interesting to see what formation Cho Jin-ho goes with after a successful switch to 4-4-2 in the second half against Bucheon. While he may opt to change things up, it's more likely he'll play safe and stick with the wing-back system that's worked so well in the past nine games.

In terms of personnel, Cho Jin-ho is hard to predict. Morais, Kim Moon-hwan, Lee Jae-kwon and Ko Kyung-min seem to be the first names on the team sheet these days, but everyone else's places are seemingly up for grabs. Lim Sang-hyub and Lee Jung-hyub are likely to be involved to some degree in the front line, while Romulo could return in central midfield after impressing recently. In goal, the rotation policy is likely to continue with Kim Kyung-min returning, despite Koo Sang-min's clean sheets and commanding performances in the past two games.

Who To Watch

Big-name striker Lee Jung-hyub has struggled for goals recently (just one in the last fifteen games) after scoring in his first seven appearances of the season, but another forward has stepped up at just the right time. Ko Kyung-min is the man of the moment, a Challenge veteran with eight goals in his last eleven, and fifty goals in the division over the past four years.

Early last year, then-coach Choi Young-jun expressed his disappointment with Ko's performances after signing him from Anyang, and it was perhaps understandable why the striker only made eight starts in the whole of last season. As an out-and-out striker he lacks either searing pace or physical presence, while he doesn't have the necessary creativity or vision to thrive as an attacking midfielder. He can often appear anonymous when chances aren't coming his way, but what he does have in abundance is an instinctual eye for goal. Ko has a happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, and he generally doesn't need many chances to score. Last weekend's winner against Bucheon was a typically clinical finish, and Busan will hope there are a few more of those before the season is out.


Seoul E-Land haven't had too many problems scoring goals recently, but keeping them out is another matter. Busan are likely to try and keep things tight in the first half and then push on. They have three wins from three against E-Land this year and I'm backing them to keep the run going and make it a clean sweep.

Seoul E-Land 1-2 Busan IPark

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