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Writers' Chat: Gyeongnam FC vs Busan IPark

Gyeongnam FC's lead at the top of the table is down to just six points as they welcome the 2nd place and unbeaten in 11 Busan I'Park side looking to claim GFC's automatic promotion spot. In what will be the two team's last meeting of 2017, claiming all three points is vital for Busan if they're to make a title push. Conversely, Gyeongnam could virtually cement their title with a home victory this Sunday. Our James Edrupt and Tomas Marcantonio chat about Busan's impressive run, Gyeongnam's lethal attack, and how they see Challenge's marquee match playing out this weekend.

James Edrupt Asks, Tomas Marcantonio Answers

James Edrupt: Busan, after looking dead and buried for the title, have had a late great run the last few months. What's been the catalyst for this?

Tomas Marcantonio: I think one of the biggest factors was the signing of Lee Jae-kwon from Daegu in the summer. Busan have a big squad this year with a lot of competition for places, but the one area lacking was central midfield. In July we lost two games in a row, against Suwon and Gyeongnam, when relying on youngsters Lee Chung-woong, Kim Jin-gyu, and Lee Gyu-seong in the middle. While the latter two are promising players, they lack the guile and experience required to sustain a promotion push. Lee Jae-kwon came in after those games and since then Busan have gone twelve unbeaten. The only game of those that he missed, the 2-2 draw against Seoul E-Land two weeks ago, was the worst that I've seen Busan play this year, and they were lucky to snatch a draw. Lee has great feet, gets up and down the field, and wrestles possession back from the opposition with impressive regularity. Perhaps most importantly, he's done this all before, having started virtually every game of Daegu's successful promotion campaign two years ago.

JE: Losing undoubtedly your best player in Lee Jeong-hyeop for this game after he was sent off against Seongnam. Will he be sorely missed?

TM: There have been times this season when Lee Jeong-hyeop has looked too good for the Challenge, but his goals have really dried up recently. He works hard and makes chances for others, but his sending off last week was the act of a frustrated man. Hopefully he'll come back and have a part to play in the final games, but Busan haven't been as reliant on him as most people expected. The man on form recently has been Ko Kyung-min, with six goals in his last six appearances. While he's often deployed behind the main striker, I expect him to lead the line against Gyeongnam. Around him, there's the likes of Lim Sang-hyub, Park Joon-tae, Han Ji-ho and Jung Seok-hwa, so although Lee Jung-hyeop's physicality and hold-up play will be missed, I still think Busan will create chances.

JE: Derby games are always fiercely contested and this one in particular with some much at stake could be more than ever. Busan are yet to beat Gyeongnam this season? Why do you think this is?

TM: Busan are used to controlling games, keeping things tight in the middle and dominating possession, but Gyeongnam don't let them do that. In the last meeting between these two, Gyeongnam came flying out of the blocks and pinned Busan back, scoring twice in the first fifteen minutes. They are by far the most potent attacking team in the division and it's a completely different challenge to the one Busan face most weekends. I'm also not sure that coach Cho Jin-ho knows his best team. He rotates frequently, which has worked well over the course of the season, but of course it doesn't help a team's fluency and understanding, especially when it comes to facing teams like Gyeongnam with that bit more quality. Apart from two or three players, I have no idea who will line up for Busan on Sunday. Gyeongnam have a much more settled starting eleven, and I think that's made the difference over the course of the season.

JE: Final thoughts and prediction for the game this Sunday?

TM: Gyeongnam have stuttered recently but they've had the better of Busan this year and it will be close. The league's best attack is up against the best defence, and I don't think there will be much between them. I'm going for a draw, and that will suit Gyeongnam nicely.

Gyeongnam 1-1 Busan

Tomas Marcantonio Asks, James Edrupt Answers

Tomas Marcantonio: Gyeongnam have shown excellent mental strength this year, gaining a lot of points from losing positions. They've had a few surprise slip-ups in recent weeks, though. Do you think it's a case of looking over their shoulders, or maybe even taking their feet off the pedals?

James Edrupt: A bit of both of the above I think.  The loss of key players through injury and too many of our important players picking up too many yellow cards and getting suspended has made the team stutter somewhat.  I also don't think we have taken the lesser on paper teams seriously enough.  Some players just think they can turn up and win.  For what they lack in talent the lower positioned teams more than match that with commitment and willingness.  We have been the league leaders all season and every other team is "up for" the game against us.  We have lost to Seoul Eland, Daejeon and most recently Ansan Greeners in the last month all 8th, 9th ans 10th in the league respectively. That isn't good enough.

TM: Marcao has played a huge part in Gyeongnam's free-scoring season. Is he the difference between Gyeongnam and the chasing pack? 

JE: The man is lethal in front of goal if given the service from wide men like Jung Won Jin and Baek In Jo.  He is a beast and scares defenders with his sheer power and heading ability.  He has formed a great relationship with his fellow countryman in Bruno.  Unfortunately Bruno was sent off against Ansan last Sunday and will serve a 3 match ban for his troubles.  He is a classic league center forward without a shadow o doubt.  20 goals this season says it all really for me.  Stop him tomorrow and you've a chance.

TM: Early in the season I kept expecting Gyeongnam's form to drop at some point, and their title challenge to fade away, but it never did. What's been the key to their success?

JE: Good team camaraderie and a huge squad in which the coaching staff have been able to rotate when needed very effectively.  Our #1 goalkeeper Lee Bum Soo suffered a season ending knee injury half way through the season and his deputy Lee Jung Hee has been an excellent 2nd choice goalkeeper in between the sticks.  We have kept most of the spine of our side together that played last season under manager Kim Jung Bu in tact.  We got a few good players in during the season to add to the already talented squad we had at our disposal.

TM: Even if they slip up against Busan, Gyeongnam will still be favourites for promotion. How do you think the current squad would fare in the Classic? Would a lot of changes be needed?

JE: I am very nervous about Sundays game in all honesty.  You are due a win against us, as we haven't lost to you this season.  I am starting to see small cracks in the side.  We have looked jaded and have lacked any zip in our play for a few months now.  But we did turn on the style when Bucheon came South a fortnight ago and beat them 2-1 through a wonder strike from Marcao to take the spoils.    Our home form however is the best in the league, only lost once all season.  So I am hoping this trend continues this Sunday.

If we get promoted to classic, we will have to strengthen I feel, in the full backs positions and a real quality back up to Marcao.  We will be able to attract a better calibre of player by getting promoted.  The club is built for the classic.  The facilities at the Changwon Football Center are unreal, having 5 grass football pitches and an astroturf facility to train under a roof is built for bigger and better a things.

TM: Score Prediction?

JE: Gyeongnam FC 2-1 Busan I Park

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