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Writer's Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Jeonnam Dragons

Kleague action belatedly returns to Korean shores after a prolonged absence due to the recent international break this weekend and while there are some intriguing games to be played, the most intriguing of all may be that to be played at Suwon World Cup Stadium, when an out of form Suwon Bluewings team squares up against a Jeonnam team desperate for a win that could restart their push to finish in the top half of the table. Here, our resident Suwon correspondent, Scott Whitelock, and Jeonnam correspondent's, Aodan Halligan and Alex Meyer, discuss their thoughts on the game. 

Alex and Aodan ask Scott

A+A: The last two results for Suwon Bluewings, two home defeats against Seoul and Gangwon, were a real kick in the teeth for their title hopes. They were the form team in the league up until those games. What went wrong and do you think Suwon still have a shot at winning the title this year?

SW: Quite simply, Johnathan got injured.

Before that Seoul game Suwon were on an 8 game unbeaten run, which had included notable victories over Jeju, Pohang and the absolute dismantling of a handy Jeonnam team. And the Brazilian striker had been instrumental in that run of form that had brought Suwon within touching distance of the top of the table. And up until he received a vicious lunge on the stroke of half time, Suwon were edging what was a closely fought Super Match. However, his absence exposed the lack of a suitable back-up frontman and with former Jeonnam striker Park Ki-dong sidelined with yet another mysterious injury the burden fell upon pocket sized Santos to fill the void created by Johnathan's departure.

In short, it appears that Suwon's chances of winning the league are all but mathematically over. The gap between themselves and Jeonbuk is just too great. And without the stroke of luck that Seoul received last season it would be wise for Suwon to now focus upon retaining their FA Cup and finishing within the automatic qualification spots for the ACL.

A+A: Having accumulated 27 points from 13 games, Suwon boast the best away record in the K-League Classic. However, they have only earned 19 points from a possible 42 at Suwon World Cup Stadium, the seventh best home record in the Classic. Why are Suwon struggling at home and do they need to change tactics when the ‘big teams’ come to town?

SW: I really have no answer to this and Suwon's home form has perplexed me for the entire season.

At the start of the season I pointed out, rather frequently, that Suwon's performances weren't quite up to scratch and were lifeless and uninspired. However, as of late, Suwon have actually been playing well at home and have produced a number of good performances. But as Jeonbuk's ruthless efficiency has shown this season, points aren't handed solely for good performances and dropping points at home against the likes of Sangju, Daegu and Gangwon is a clear sign that this Suwon squad aren't yet capable of winning the league this year.

A+A: Jonathan was a massive loss, before his injury playing the best football in the league, What does the team need to do to put that injury behind them and get back on track and have you spoken to him? What's the timetable concerning his injury 

SW: I haven't spoken to the striker personally but he has been active on social media this week and recently announced that he will be back in action quicker than he expected. Whether he will be back for this weekend is a point of conjecture and it's probably more likely that he will be availbale for next week's away trip to Daegu.

But it is vitally important for Suwon that he returns sooner rather than later as he is the biggest goal threat in the team. He has contributed almost half of the goals that Suwon have scored this season and the home losses to Gangwon and Seoul recently highlight just how much the team rely on him.

A+A: Suwon Bluewings recorded two comfortable victories over the Jeonnam Dragons in the two previous meetings this season. Do you think that trend will continue?

SW: Definitely not. Jeonnam have a nicely balanced team and have the key threat of Jair up front. It will take a real team effort for a Johnathan-less Suwon to overcome their southern visitors and I personally think they will fall short on this occasion.

A+A: Score Prediction?

SW: Suwon 1-1 Jeonnam

Scott Asks, Alex and Aodnan Answer

SW: After a poor run of form, and with games running out, Jeonnam are sitting 9 points away from 6th placed Gangwon. At this moment, do you see any hope that Jeonnam can overturn such a huge deficit and make it to the top half of the table by the time the table is split into two? 

A+A: That is a tall order to ask, especially the way they've been playing. The slight hope I do see comes with a healthy team and hopefully the coach getting back to what work for him during the early bits of summer, four in the back keeping your strongest players on all 90 and grinding out points. I strongly believe that this weekend is a make or break weekend if they want to see themselves in the top 6. If they drop all 3 points on the road there is no realistic path to a top 6 spot. That being said the players still have faith in themselves and with a rested healthy squad I'm also not ready to write them off. Dragons are a streaky team and who knows we could hit a hot streak right now.

SW: With only 2 goals in his last 7 games, is there any sign that Jair might have lost his goalscoring touch? 

A+A: Definitely not! Those seven games included matches against the likes of Suwon, Jeju and Jeonbuk and he still managed to score and looked the Dragons’ most dangerous player throughout. True, Jair’s not scoring as much as he was a few months back, when the hat-tricks were adding up (and his apartment was starting to fill up with match balls), but it must be pointed out that coach Noh Sang-rae has been using him differently since then. Now, Jeonnam’s 31-year-old Hungarian international striker, Róbert Feczesin, is occupying the central striking role, whereas Jair’s been residing on the left wing.

I can understand the coach’s logic, though. I mean, the K-League foreign player quota is three (non-Asian foreigners) per team, and since Noh decided to splash out on Fec in January, he can hardly afford to leave him sitting on the bench. The great thing about Jair is that he can play in a number of positions up top and still wreak havoc. (Don’t underestimate him Suwon!)

SW: Despite having some handy defenders at their disposal, Jeonnam have the leakiest defence in the league. To what extent has that weak defence hindered Jeonnam this year?

A+A: Haha, I kind of feel sorry for Jeonnam’s defence as they’re being criticized every week! Nevertheless, it’s not really surprising considering they’ve conceded 47 goals in 27 games (1.7 goals per game) and managed to keep only three clean sheets all season. Plus, as you correctly pointed out, the Dragons boast a few handy defenders like Choi Jae-hyun and Tomisalv Mrcela. So why do they have the dodgiest defence in the league?

Well, that comes down to the coach, in my opinion. The Dragons can’t defend crosses and set pieces and their defence holds too high a line. (In a couple of games this season, the wing backs were getting in the way of the strikers!) Thus, teams good in the air or quick on the counter have had no problems scoring against them.

These soft goals have cost the Dragons a lot of points this season, especially when you consider how late they’ve been arriving (don’t mention Fergie time to Noh Sang-rae). Yet, I must admit, if the Dragons were more balanced, they probably wouldn’t have picked up as many victories as the attacking set up has overwhelmed teams at times (Ulsan and Gwangju, for instance). Therefore, if the coach can sort out the set-piece problems and have Jeonnam defend a little deeper, I think he’ll maximise their potential. But after 27 games, that’s a very big if!

SW: What are your predictions for this game?  

A+A: This is a tough game to predict. Seems like ages since the Dragons' starters have all been on the field. Was Jonathan not sidelined the pick would be an easier call but as it is i'm going Dragons 3, Suwon 2.

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