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Preview: Gangwon FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel to face Gangwon FC as their title chase nears its end.

This Sunday sees a Gangwon FC side with very little to play for host league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors who need a victory in Chuncheon to set up a title decider the following weekend. Can the home side spoil the party, or will Choi Kang-hee's men continue in their increasingly laboured march towards the K League Classic trophy?
(Photo Credit: HyundaiMotorsFC.com)


Last Time Out

Last Sunday saw Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to fierce rivals FC Seoul in a drabber affair than these sets of fans are used to seeing in this fixture. Influenced by the injury sustained to Kim Min-jae, Jeonbuk once again opted to field their youth keeper Hwang Byeong-geun in order to meet the league's U23 starting requirements, with a centre back pairing of Lim Jong-eun and recently returned Choi Bo-kyeong in front of him. The hosts employed a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the most notable decision being to play winger Éder in the central attacking midfield role, directly behind Kim Shin-wook.

For the most part, Choi Kang-hee's experiment with team selection worked. Whilst the game was admittedly dull for large periods, FC Seoul were somewhat limited in their attacks, yet Jeonbuk also struggled to create. The two most notable opportunities came in each half. The first would see Éder cross in to an unmarked Lee Jae-sung, whose diving header would be sent agonisingly wide. The second chance of note though was perhaps the tougher to bear, with an unmarked Lopes in the 88th minute, scuffing his shot from within the area directly at keeper Yang Han-been, who had already committed to the dive. The result means that Jeonbuk's lead at the summit has been reduced from six to four points, making this weekend's fixture all the more important for the North Jeolla club.

Highlights for Jeonbuk 0-0 FC Seoul can be found below or by clicking here.


Gangwon FC fell to Jeju United in the last round in a match they will feel very hard done by given the circumstances that led them to concede. Whilst play between the two sides was evenly contested for the most part, Jeju did perhaps edge proceedings on clear cut chances. That said, Park Jin-po's ludicrous act of simulation in the 75th minute for the winning penalty should not be justified because of balance of play.

Having cleared the Gangwon corner, Jeju attacker Magno Cruz quickly countered, laying the ball of right to Park who drove forward before turning, allowing Gangwon defender Jun Seong-yong to stick a leg out and seemingly clip his standing leg. The Jeju wing back would proceed to hesitate before dramatically throwing himself to the ground. Although the option of video assistance was available, the referee chose to ignore it and called for the penalty immediately which Magno would covert with ease. With VAR supposedly being enforced to assist in making these calls in particular, it seemed strange that the referee was so confident in a decision that looked so controversial.

For the most part, Gangwon can take some of the positives from their performance. They were, at times, cut open too easily by Jeju, but considering the visitors' poor away form of recent, this strong showing against a title challenger really ought to inspire confidence. With this defeat, Gangwon now sit ten points off a potential Champions League spot with just four games to play. With mostly pride left to fight for, it will be interesting how they approach this game in their 'new' stadium in Chuncheon this Sunday.

Highlights for Jeju 1-0 Gangwon FC can be found below or by clicking here.


Previous Meetings

Jeonbuk boast a fairly strong record against their opponents, having only ever lost to Gangwon twice in their history, back in 2009 and 2010. In terms of this season, Jeonbuk have won both home legs, scoring eight goals in the process, yet their away trip back in April saw them lose a lead via a penalty, resulting in the score finishing 1-1 at the Alpensia Ski Jump Stadium.

Team News

There are a few key names expected to sit out of this weekend's match for the visitors. Kim Min-jae's recent absence has now been officially clarified, with him needing to undergo knee surgery for a meniscus injury, ruling him out for the rest of the year. It brings the curtains down on quite the season for the 20 year old, one in which he made both his K League debut and earned his first international caps. Impressively, Kim has started 29 games out of 34 this season, playing the full ninety minutes on all but one of those occasions. While his loss is certainly disappointing, the central midfielder can be proud of his efforts this year and can now focus on recovering and preparing himself for Champions League football next season, the ideal next step in his impressive development.

With Kim Min-jae out, it likely means that first choice keeper Hong Jeong-nam will also sit out and youth keeper Hwang Byeong-geun will be fielded to meet the U23 quota. Given that the youngster has kept two clean sheets against Jeju United and FC Seoul in the last two outings, the decision is not as concerning as it could be. The two other notable names out for Jeonbuk is Éder and Kim Shin-wook who are suspended after picking up their third yellow cards of the season in the match against FC Seoul.

Gangwon, on the other hand, have no suspensions to speak of and should have reasonable depth to select their squad from.

The Adversary

As mentioned, Gangwon's season is effectively over with them safe in the top half but with a near impossible chance of claiming a Champions League spot. That said, caretake Park Hyo-jin, plus a number of high profile players on lucrative contracts may want to demonstrate why the club should keep them in the new year.

Since the split, Gangwon have moved from their unique location of the ski resort to a generic civil stadium with race track, in the hope of attracting some larger crowds for these final few matches, but it seems unlikely many will be tempted with their league position of 6th looking increasingly set in stone, even if the prices have been lowered from their previously extortionate rates.

Whether any of this will play into Jeonbuk's favour remains to be seen. Gangwon did produce a decent enough performance against title chasing Jeju, and also saw off Incheon United easily enough in the game prior. It was a rare victory though, a first win in six at the time, and it is the kind of form that saw them wind up in this uninspiring position.

Gangwon FC have tended to line-up in variants of a 4-3-3 this season, with last season's MVP and golden boot holder Jung Jo-gook spearheading the attack, often partnered with either or both of the team's top goalscorers Diego Maurício and Lee Keun-ho. Jung though has also had a solid enough season however, scoring seven goals despite featuring in less than half the games of the two aforementioned attackers due to a series of injuries. If he had been fit for the majority of the season, perhaps the predicament Gangwon now find themselves in could have been avoided sooner.

Top scorer Diego Maurício's record for the season is also of particular interest, having featured in all but one game in the league this season, yet starting on just seven occasions. Despite this, he has still found the net twelve times, a tally higher than any Jeonbuk player. Diego did make a rare start against Jeju last week but found himself unable to score. Given that he has only netted once in his seven starts (all the way back in April), perhaps it will not have convinced his manager that he should be in the first eleven against the league leaders on Sunday, even if he has scored against Jeonbuk on two occasions coming off the bench this season. Regardless, he will still likely be one to watch.

Prediction

With no disrespect intended to Gangwon, there should be no reason why Jeonbuk should accept anything less than a full three points given the difference in league positions between the two sides and their motivations coming into the game. That said, Jeonbuk are renowned to underperform when expected to win comfortably, but do carry the experience of having been here multiple times before. The North Jeolla club have also looked somewhat tired of late, with a thinned out squad finally feeling the toll of a full season, which has been reflected in the fewer number of goals scored of recent. With their fifth league title so close to being realised though, surely Choi Kang-hee's men can galvanise themselves to obtain the victory required here.

Predicted Score: Gangwon FC 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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