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Writers' Chat: FC Seoul vs Jeju United

In their third meeting of the season, second place and charging Jeju United look to pick up their first win over FC Seoul in 2017. Both sides enter on a good run of form having each lost only once in their previous eight, and making a run up the table. I chatted with our Jeju United columnist Duncan Elder ahead of the the match this week to see how much the time off will affect each team, Jeju's title hopes, Seoul's reliance on Dejan, and what to expect Saturday night.

Duncan Asks, Ryan Answers

Duncan Elder: In the last two games Seoul have beaten Suwon (currently 4th) and drawn with Ulsan (currently 3rd). Have these positive results against direct rivals given the team hope that they can push for third place over the remainder of the season?

Ryan Walters: Taking points off the teams directly above them in the table should be enough to bolster Seoul for the stretch run, but this team has been incredibly difficult to predict when it comes to momentum. Their first Super Match win of 2017 back in June seemed to be what Seoul needed to finally kick start their sputtering season. That emotionally charged win was instead followed by an uninspired 0-0 draw vs Daegu and shocking 2-1 late loss to Sangju in back to back home games. Then when Seoul pulled off their own dramatic late win at home vs league leading Jeonbuk weeks later, that seemed it would be the motivation to push the team forward. The very next match they stumbled again and lost 3-2 at last place Gwangju FC. So while the Suwon and Ulsan results seem encouraging on paper, it's hard to say they will be enough to give Seoul the swagger the team needs to make up the six point gap between themselves and the assured ACL spot Ulsan currently holds in 3rd place.

DE: Dejan’s goal scoring record has been excellent over the summer (and throughout the season). Why do you think he has he scored so many goals this season (more than last year already) when Seoul as a team don’t seem to be doing quite as well as last year?  

RW: I think it comes down to two things. The first is feeling a lot more pressure to perform with the absence of Adriano up top and no true replacements brought in. He touched on this during our interview with him when he said "K League is physically a really hard league; tough, a lot of running, a lot of pressing, a lot of kicking, so sometimes when it is one up top you put too much pressure on him." But, in spite of feeling that burden, Dejan has thrived in the lone striker role largely because he knows the team's success lies on whether or not he finds the back of the net. Of his nearly league leading 16 goals, five have been game winners accounting for nearly half of Seoul's 11 wins. Add in his tally in the 1-1 draw at Ulsan early in the season and Dejan alone as accounted for 16 of Seoul's 42 points.

The second is that he has a lot to prove in a contract year with a manager that drops him seemingly on a whim. The record setting striker recently celebrated his 36th birthday and has been on a mission to prove age simply isn't a factor for him as he seeks out a contract for another shot at ACL glory. In the same interview he said  "they are paying me to score goals, not to play nice, to make a nice pass. That's good, that's my plus if I can do a bit extra, but you are paying me for goals." And so score goals he shall. He's been on a season long mission to not only prove that manager Hwang Sunhong should be starting him and not the apathetic Park Chuyoung up top, but also that any other team who may want to give him a go next season will be investing wisely. Make no mistake, Dejan is FC Seoul through and through, but if the team decides to move in a different direction, then his scoring record is more than enough to keep his name at the top of any potential K League transfers.

DE: Seoul won’t have played for almost three weeks by the time the game comes around. Do you think this rest will help or hinder the team?

RW: If both teams were coming in with the same amount of time off I would say it may help them. However, with Jeju having played a competitive match last weekend, I think Seoul will be on their heels for the first 20-30 minutes of this one trying to get back up to game speed. Additionally, finishing out the full 90 minutes may prove difficult for a team that hasn't sustained this level of running for nearly a month. Seoul did play a competitive friendly with a university side last week, but that's nowhere near the same as the league match Jeju used to make up some vital points at the top of the table. It's going to be crucial for Seoul to stem the tide early and control the middle of the match as much as possible, especially when considering 15 of Jeju's 48 goals have come in the 30-60 minute mark. If Seoul can hold a clean sheet until the half, then they should have a decent shot of a claiming at least a point with 66% of their goals coming in the second half this season.

DE: How do you think Seoul will set up against Jeju? 

RW: The combination of being slightly rusty and Jeju being on an absolute tear would suggest Seoul will come out in a defensive formation to limit first half damage. Hwang's been lining them up in a defensive 4-3-3 with Osmar as a deep lying CDM since about May and I would expect that to stay the same. In all likelihood it will play more like a 4-1-4-1 in the first with Osmar rarely coming near the center line and the midfielders and wingers encouraged to track back to limit Jeju's speed down the touchlines. If Seoul's able to keep United at bay for 30 minutes, or perhaps even the entire first half, then look for Ju Sejong to begin roaming forward and pull the offensive strings a bit more.

DE: Prediction?

RW: Seoul enters the match having scored in each of their previous 12 dating back to mid-June, and Jeju have only been held scoreless in two of their last ten. So in theory there should be some goals in this one. Unfortunately for the home supporters, I think Jeju's a bit more capable of scoring frequently and knows they need all three points if they're to keep pace with Jeonbuk and challenge for the title.

FC Seoul 1-2 Jeju United

Ryan Asks, Duncan Answers

Ryan Walters: Jeu head into Seoul World Cup Stadium unbeaten in seven straight and winners of seven of ten. Additionally, United have finally made up their game in hand with a 1-0 win over bottom of the table Gwangju FC this past weekend, and are now just four points back from Jeonbuk for top spot. Is this a pace they can keep up? Does a title feel like a realistic possibility among Jeju supporters?

Duncan Elder: After starting the season incredibly well, things went really sour after we got knocked out of the ACL. We went on a poor run of form that it didn’t look like we weren’t going to be able to bounce back from. However, we pulled ourselves out of it and our recent form is, if anything, better than it has ever been. It seems to me that the way we were playing at the start of the season and the way we are playing now is certainly more like our true ability than the blip in the middle. Because of this, I am certainly confident of staying around the top of the table and, if we can get a few more good results, then who knows. However, everyone knows how strong Jeonbuk are and with a four point advantage, not to mention their experience of winning titles, they are certainly still massive favorites.

RW: Along with being on a hot streak, Jeju also head into this match having played a competitive league game a full seven days more recently than Seoul, who last saw action all the way back on August 19th. How much of an advantage do you think shaking off the rust a week earlier will be?

DE: Personally I don’t think it will make much of a difference. While Jeju have the benefit of having played a game more recently, Seoul have had the benefit of an extra week to prepare. I think it will probably be about even.

RW: With both Magno Cruz and Frédéric Mendy on the roster this season it seemed Jeju would have the perfect one-two punch to punish defenses. However, the two have only started together twice in the past ten matches with Magno and Jin Sungwook  the preferred pairing of manager Cho Sunghwan after Mendy went cold in the summer. Are the lack of minutes affecting the Frenchman’s ability to score or has his role on the team simply shifted? Can Seoul fans expect to see him on the field this weekend?

DE: Yeah what is interesting about Jeju is that despite having an excellent goal scoring record, we have no single player who is scoring a lot of the goals. While Mendy is a decent player and his physical attributes make him very useful in certain situation, Jeju don’t necessarily need a big man up front and that is shown in the selection of Magno and Jin Sung-wook.

RW: There’s rightly a lot of talk of the Islander’s attack with a second best 48 goals to their name, but the defense has been quite stout on the road. They haven’t conceded a single goal in their last four away matches and only 38% of Jeju’s conceded goals have come on the road. What’s the back line’s secret to keeping the door shut on the road?

DE: Most seasons Jeju are pretty notorious for having a poor away record. While it was often blamed on the fact that the team has to fly everywhere, recent results suggest it may not be too much of a problem after all. The back three that we play can become quite a solid formation defensively and is good on the counter attack. When we have been away from home we have been able to utilize this and other teams seem to be struggling.

RW: Score Prediction?

DE: Seoul away is always tough, but I expect Jeju to go there full of confidence and expecting to get a result. A draw wouldn’t be bad, but a low scoring win would be even better.

2-1 to Jeju

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