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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeju United

Lee Dong-gook can score his 200th career goal against Jeju United this weekend while also possibly helping his team Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to the K League Classic 2017 title

With four points between these top two sides, and just three remaining games until the curtains fall, a win over Jeju United on Sunday will see Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors claim the 2017 K League Classic title. Their objective could not be clearer, but the islanders will be hoping to postpone the trophy presentation and ensure they remain in what's left of this race.
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors traveled to Chuncheon to face sixth placed Gangwon FC, knowing that title rivals Jeju United were playing elsewhere at the same time. The North Jeolla side looked up for the challenge though, and put in a professional and ruthless performance throughout the ninety minutes, running out 4-0 victors with the likes of Lopes and Lee Jae-sung starring.

Lopes opened the scoring for the visitors early on, superbly heading in an indirect free kick from Lee Jae-sung after six minutes of play. Jeonbuk's performance for the opening forty five minutes should have perhaps warranted another goal, but they played confidently and looked particularly assured at the back, especially given the absence of centre back Kim Min-jae and the fielding of reserve goalkeeper Hwang Byeong-keun.

That said, a controversial penalty decision and subsequent overruling after the half hour mark threatened to taint the North Jeolla side's performance yet again. Jeonbuk right back Choi Chul-soon looked to have initially fouled Oh Beom-seok, with the defender making no protest when the referee blew his whistle. The official chose to go to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) however, and felt the replay showed the Gangwon player standing on Choi Chul-soon's foot before playing for the dive. It seemed a strange decision if based on the reason given, but it could be argued that the defender had not committed a foul when the attacker had commenced his fall to the ground. If Oh had continued his run instead of falling, he would have likely been impeded by Choi, but it can only be considered a possibility. No penalty was awarded and a drop ball given. Jeonbuk would head in at the interval with a single goal lead.
The second half saw the visitors step it up a gear in search of seeing the game out. The 56th minute saw a cutting one-two between Lee Seung-gi and Lee Jae-sung that left the former through Gangwon's backline unmarked to cooly slot beyond the keeper. Fifteen minutes later and Lee Jae-sung made his third assist of the afternoon, passing it to Edu on the edge of the box who turned and shot with venom into the top right corner. If the points were not already confirmed, substitute Lee Dong-gook then proceeded to score his 199th career goal in the final minute, assisted by Lopes who had made a strong countering run down the left flank. It was a convincing victory for Jeonbuk and will have certainly sent a message to the visiting side ahead of Sunday's showdown.

Highlights from Jeonbuk's trip to Gangwon can be viewed here.

With four points separating them from the top, Jeju United knew that only victory would suffice as they squared up against an Ulsan side who were also trying to maintain their footing in this title race. Like many clashes fought at Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium this season, it was a tight affair, with the visitors leaving with a narrow 1-0 victory, whilst simultaneously ending the hosts chances at claiming first place.

Despite the victory though, it was not all plain sailing for the islanders. Ulsan had a few good opportunities in the first half to take the lead, notably when Orišić volleyed over in the early exchanges and  Kim Chang-soo's deflected shot later on striking the upright. Jeju seemed to be suffering from a tiredness that seems to have dogged them over the last three games, with chances being routinely created by the likes of Lee Chang-min yet the proficiency to finish them is surprisingly somewhat lacking.

It would be Jeju's second penalty in as many matches that would secure all three points for the visitors. A direct free kick early into the second half struck Oršić's arm, whilst featured in the Ulsan wall. It seemed unlikely that the arm interfered with the shots trajectory (i.e. straight at the wall) and it certainly did not look like a deliberate attempt to handle it, yet the penalty was confirmed which Magno Cruz gladly converted to the keeper's left. Ulsan would battle on in search of an equaliser, with tempers fraying late on as their right back Kim Chang-soo clattered into the back of Chung Woon, before appearing to stamp on his leg when on the floor. The referee did not hesitate in showing red to the defender, and he has since been given a four match suspension. The full time whistle rang out almost immediately after the incident, keeping Jeju's title ambitions alive heading into Sunday afternoon.
Highlights from the clash between Jeju and Ulsan can be viewed here.

Team News

Jeonbuk defenders Kim Min-jae and Lee Yong are sidelined for the rest of the season, and with defender Lee Jae-sung missing in the last match, it is possible the centre back is also out with injury. Choi Bo-kyung and Lim Jong-eun have been doing a decent enough job in the central defence of recent however so it seems likely they will start once more on Sunday.

This in turn means that second string goalkeeper Hwang Byeong-keun will likely start again to meet the league's U23 quota, where one member of the starting eleven must be under 23 otherwise the team forfeits the option of using one of their three substitutes. The recently turned 23 year-old has started the last three games for Jeonbuk, facing Jeju United, FC Seoul and Gangwon FC, and has conceded no goals in doing so. This season has seen him make five appearances in total, conceding just the once. While he may still be second choice come next season, it is reassuring to know that their are capable hands in reserve.

No players for either side are suspended for this game.

The Adversary

Jeju United have been one of the more exciting sides to watch this season, with their fast, intuitive play opening up many defences with ease. Fighting on three fronts though seemed to take its toll at the start of the summer with the team crashing out of the FA Cup and Champions League within the same week, as well as losing significant ground in the title race around the same time.

Manager Jo Sung-hwan managed to arrest the slide before irrevocable damage to their campaign was done, signing former favourite Yoon Bit-garam in the summer ahead of the likes of Jeonbuk who were also considering him as a short term replacement for Kim Bo-kyung.

It would be foolish to attribute the turnaround all due to one player however, and credit must be given to the manager. Where others may have lost their nerve in such testing times, Jo Sung-hwan managed to right the ship and climb back up the table after Jeonbuk, and his former employer Choi Kang-hee. The Jeju manager initially finished his playing career at Jeonbuk before moving into the backroom staff and coaching the feeder high school and then the Jeonbuk youth squad until 2012. He would then take a vacant coaching role at his former club Jeju and working his way up to being anointed manager in 2014.

His team have been praised for their attacking style, with them crashing the Champions League qualification spots last season only to build on well throughout the winter window and put in a legitimate title challenge.

Jeju United tend to line up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, overloading the midfield with creative talent whilst Chong Woon and Park Jin-po man the flanks. The team's back three of Oh Ban-suk, Kweon Han-jin and Kim Won-il have proved solid and difficult to break down also and will not be easily beaten if Jeonbuk resort to simply crossing it into the box for Kim Shin-wook. Finally Lee Chang-min in the attacking midfield role, sitting just behind the front two, has proved a creative threat with dangerous cutting through balls and the occasional long range goal.

Jeju United have seemingly slowed down of recent however, scoring two controversially awarded penalties in their last three matches with the strike force often looking bereft of ideas when through on goal. Their impressive record prior though speaks volumes though and they currently are on a run of just one loss in their last fifteen outings. That loss was to Jeonbuk.

This season, Jeonbuk have matched Jeju United's shape on each occasion, winning once and losing twice. However, that is not to say the method is flawed. Their victory away to Jeju three weeks ago saw them grind out a result whilst mostly keeping the islanders quiet. Whether Choi Kang-hee will line up his men in a similar way on Sunday, or keep the team that looked so strong against Gangwon last weekend, will be one of the main talking points going into this match.

Who To Watch

Magno Cruz is undoubtedly the player Jeonbuk will be keeping tabs on throughout this game. He is Jeju United's top scorer this season and has scored in the only goals in their last three outings, albeit both from the penalty spot.

As for Jeonbuk, Jeju will likely be concerned with both Lopes and Lee Jae-sung who have the ability to put defences in disarray with their pace and passing movement, not to mention their ability to find themselves in scoring positions also.

However, you may find the broadcasters looking to Lee Dong-gook as the 38 year old seeks out his 200th career goal whilst also trying to help his team claim the title. It is difficult to resist the narrative after all.


Jeonbuk's performance last Sunday showed a certain ruthlessness that had been lacking in recent matches, and with three clean sheets in a row to boot, it would seem that Jeonbuk's title winning experience is beginning to shine through. Jeju have looked the opposite, relying on spot kicks of recent to keep them in this race, perhaps indicating that the efforts of a strong season for the club are finally taking their toll. It would be dangerous to write Jeju off but, while he divides some supporters' opinions, Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee knows what it takes to win this league and will willingly opt to strangle out a victory if he feels the occasion calls for it. It will be tense, and be wary in expecting both teams to reach the performances they are capable of, but I think the North Jeolla club are likely to be celebrating their fifth K League Classic title come full time.

Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Jeju United

Your Thoughts

How do you see this match playing out? Can Jeonbuk lift the title this weekend? Leave your comments below. You can see what others are thinking ahead of this match by voting in the Twitter poll here.

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