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Preview: Jeju United vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel to Jeju United in a top of the K League Classic Clash in round 33

As we reach the final round of matches before the league splits, first placed Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors travel to face second placed Jeju United in a game where both sides will be looking to wrestle control over their fate before the final five match straight. With both sides boasting the most goals scored and the least goals conceded, chances are supporters and neutrals alike could very well be in for a spectacle come 3pm on Sunday.
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

Last Time Out

After stuttering in their previous two matches, picking up a fortuitous point across both of them, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors traveled to Suwon to face a Bluewings side whose own form had been somewhat rocky of recent. The traveling side employed a 3-5-2 formation, a strategy removed from their usual approach and designed to match the home side’s own strategy, something which Jeonbuk had done in their previous clashes against Suwon this year to great effect. The young and calming presence of Kim Min-jae returned after suspension, joined by veteran Cho Sung-hwan and recently returned from military Cho Bo-kyung at centre back. Flanked by second string wing backs also, it would almost prove a recipe for disaster for the league’s title chasers.

Suwon Bluewings very much bossed the first half, putting in a professional and committed performance that eventually bore fruit on the half hour mark when striker Park Gi-dong chipped keeper Hong Jeong-nam to give the home side the lead. Park should really have had no right to get to that ball, having caught Cho Bo-kyung napping, yet if he failed to convert, there would have been every chance he would have been awarded a penalty as the defender came in with a late challenge in a bid to stop him from getting his shot away.

Whilst no changes were made by Choi Kang-hee at half time, it did not take too long into the second half before a change of personnel was required. Cho Bo-kyung and Edu were removed for defensive midfielder Shin Hyung-min and striker Lee Dong-gook, before Lopes was brought on for Kim Shin-wook moments later. The changes allowed Jeonbuk to revert to their more familiar style, allowing them to wrestle back control of proceedings with some encouraging play.

Like Daegu in the former match however, Jeonbuk would benefit from a decision from the Video Assistant Referee. Lee Dong-gook would receive the ball in the box, play the ball and then go to ground after being charged into by Jang Ho-ik. It was a soft foul, yet a foul nonetheless. It was also the second clumsy charge in the penalty box by the Suwon player within seconds. The referee called the penalty immediately, until Suwon players protested that the official checked the replay (behaviour that is supposedly supposed to warrant a yellow card). With the video in front of him, the referee reconfirmed the foul. Lee Dong-gook would go on to convert the penalty and the visitors would leave with a deserved point, even if it had been earned under controversial conditions.

Highlights of Suwon Bluewings 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors can be viewed here.

With second place Jeju facing bottom of the table Gwangju, Jeonbuk most likely felt their three point lead had been cut to one but, fortunately for the league leaders, the south of the country endured horrendous weather conditions which, in fairness, should have led to the postponement of the match. It was not so much a pitch, but a swamp in which it was impossible to play any ball along the deck and one can only wonder what condition it will be in ahead of this fixture.

Jeju took the lead at the end of the first half through a semi-comical Park Jin-po goal. With the ball barely controllable in the heavy rain,  Park first mishit it before making sure to tuck away his second opportunity when the bounced off a Gwangju defender back to him.

The second half was worse with the ball failing to roll on numerous occasions as both teams sought to press on. Despite it leading it to a few close shaves for the visitors, Gwangju would ultimately benefit when the loose ball found itself bogged down just within Jeju's penalty area. With the islanders unable to clear, Gwangju managed to scoop the ball up into the air and cross in to Wanderson who converted with his head at the far post. The farce of a football match continued with fortunately no player getting seriously injured until full time, where both sides would have just been glad to get back inside.

Highlights (that need to be seen to be believed) of Jeju 1-1 Gwangju can be viewed here.

Previous Meetings

Jeonbuk are yet to collect any points against the islanders this season. Their first meeting in Jeonju saw a heavily rotated side embarrassingly lose by four goals to nil, before then traveling to Seogwipo and narrowly falling to a 2-1 defeat.

Jeonbuk have tended to struggle against their island opponents in recent encounters. Whilst they may have defeated them twice last year, both performances were underwhelming. The North Jeolla side also notably lost to a Jeju in the 34th round of last season, simultaneously ending Jeonbuk's near season long run unbeaten as well as contributing to the late slide that saw them lose their title FC Seoul on the final day.

Team News

Rumours have it that Kim Jin-su should be due to make a return of sorts for this game, having been injured since the previous international break. Given the left back’s ability to dribble and cross, his absence has been one that has very much been felt.

Jeonbuk will be without central midfielder Jeong Hyuk however, with the player collecting his ninth yellow of the season against a Suwon thereby seeing him suspended for this match. One possible solution for the Jeonbuk manager would be to field youngster Jang Yun-ho in his place alongside Lee Jae-sung and Shin Hyung-min in the centre of the park.

Jeju, on the other hand, currently have no players suspended and will most likely be able to select from a full strength squad, which will certainly not be welcome news to the traveling support.

The Adversary

Unbeaten in twelve, and collecting 28 out of a possible 36 points for said period, Jeju United are beginning to look the real deal at just the right time. Having started very well, a bout of poor form in the early summer looked to have dashed their title hopes in addition to seeing them crash out of the Champions League and FA Cup. The club then went on to sell their top scorer Marcelo Toscano in the window and the season looked set to be a write off.

The loan signing of former Jeju favourite Yoon Bit-garam though has coincided with an upturn in fortune. The creative midfielder was heavily linked with a move to Jeonju throughout the summer as a replacement for Kim Bo-kyung before his former club eventually swooped in to bring him back and help bolster their title push. His time and experience spent overseas, plus his brief history with the club, has indeed helped steady Jeju when they looked to be wobbling off course by offering an injection of fresh yet familiar blood into the centre of midfield. This, combined with the departure of Toscano, has allowed Magno Cruz to move up into attack more often where he appears to be proving more effective.

However, Jeju United are very much an outfit that are not reliant on a single player. Sixteen players have contributed at least one goal this season, whilst their top scorer Magno Cruz has just ten goals to his name. Certainly not a tally to be sniffed at, but pales somewhat in comparison to the other players in the league's golden boot race.

Jeju also have a fair number of people within their squad capable of creating opportunities, none more so than midfielder Kwon Soon-hyung who has picked up seven this season over his 23 starts, one more than Jeonbuk leading assist maker Lee Jae-sung.

Jeju United have tended to stick to their formula of a 3-5-2 formation of recent, relying on bringing as many players into their build up as possible. Their shape allows them to squeeze in as much of their attacking talent as they can whilst also remaining reasonably solid at the back. Their defence has conceded one less goal than Jeonbuk during this campaign and is currently the best in the league.

Prediction

Jeonbuk seemed to have slumped at the wrong time. Perhaps it is the lack of players within the squad after being cut thin at the start of the season, but recent years would also show that this tends to be a pattern with Jeonbuk sides; storming into an unassailable lead early in the season before dragging out the final rounds. With Ulsan and Jeju proving to be much stronger title contenders than previous years, the Asian champions could be looking at a trophy less season if form continues.

Jeonbuk are the more experienced in this situation however, with Jeju having not won a league title in eighteen years (as the Seoul based Yukong Elephants) and Ulsan who have not lifted the trophy since 2005. If there were to be any of the three sides that would slip up based on previous form, it would be more likely to be one of these two than Jeonbuk.

Jeju do like to play fast, attacking football though, and could really pose questions of the North Jeolla back line that seemed to endure a torrid time last weekend. While experience may help Jeonbuk over the course of the split, current form would suggest they will be heading into the final straight on level points with the islanders.

Predicted Score: Jeju United 2-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Can't make it to Jeju this Sunday for the big match? Then why not head over to Itaewon in Seoul where K League United will be hosting our first watch party at our sponsors Upper Deck. All six post split matches will be shown, with this match starring as our feature match. In addition to the football on show, there will be prizes, FIFA 18 and more on offer! For more information about the party, click here and RSVP to the Facebook event.

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