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Writers' Chat: Daegu FC v Jeonnam Dragons

Daegu Stadium is the venue this Saturday at 3 pm for the Jeonnam Dragons do-or-die game versus Daegu FC. Can the Dragons end a miserable 14-game winless streak and preserve their K-League Classic status? Or will the hosts continue their impressive form and help demote the Dragons to the second tier of Korean football?  Jeonnam correspondent Aodan Halligan sits down with his Daegu FC counterpart Muyeol Jung to discuss this huge game.

Aodan Asks, Muyeol Answers

Aodan: After such a poor start to the season, many people were tipping Daegu to go down this season. But fast forward a few months and their fortunes have changed dramatically. In fact, they've only lost once in their last 13 games and if the season were a little longer, perhaps they'd be in the top half of the table, pushing for an Asian Champions League spot. So what's changed and do you think that Daegu can build on this and get themselves amongst the elite next season?

Muyeol: I would say the huge breakthrough came when they replaced Leo (who was sold to Busan) with Junior Negao. Initially, most Daegu supporters were skeptical about this change as they didn’t think Junior was as talented as Leo, who had helped himself to 7 goals in just 19 appearances. Besides, Junior was just back from a severe knee injury. However, his performances have proved us wrong, completely. Junior Negao's only played 15 games but he is already ranked 7th top goalscorer in the Classic with 12 goals. He's a real goal poacher, no doubt.

With regard to next season, Daegu's success really depends on two things: how well they can keep certain players and whether or not they can make a few more quality additions. We might lose some key players after the season as there have been rumors about the futures of Cho Hyun-woo and Cesinha. Cho Hyun-woo is being linked to Jeonbuk and Cesinha is being targeted by numerous clubs. So hopefully we can keep those two and add a few more gems.Then next season we just need to start over again and forget about this year’s success.

AH: Daegu have only kept five clean sheets all season and have conceded 52 goals - 20 more than champions Jeonju (albeit 16 less than the Dragons) Why? Are their defenders not good enough or are the team not organized properly? And how do you think they can improve their defense next season?

MJ: Unluckily, they didn’t have a variety of players at their disposal from the beginning. Cho Hyun-woo missed several games through injury and then team captain Park Tae-hong's season ended through injury after just a few games. So they just had to make do with youngsters like Kim Woo-suk and Kim Jin-hyuk who either had never made played at senior level before or were not originally defenders. As a result, Daegu's defense was very porous. However, the story completely different changed after the summer. 

Kim Dong-woo, on loan from FC Seoul, has slotted beautifully into defense, central defender Han Hee-hoon has adapted to the pace of the 1st division and Jo Hyun-woo has been excellent between the goalposts. Thus their defense is a lot more solid. Furthermore, this solidity has sent them soaring up the table.

In order to improve their defense even more , they need to grab Kim Dong-woo for good or at least extend his loan, but the latter doesn’t appear to be possible given FC Seoul’s plight. And another thing I’d like to mention is the doubt I have about Park Tae-hong’s ability as a leader on the pitch as he loses his temper very easily. I hope he manages to keep a check on this next year.

AH: With 23 league goals between them,  Evandro Paulista and Junior Negao are two of the most dangerous attackers in the K-League at the moment. What are the Brazilian players' strengths and how can Jeonnam stop them this weekend? 

Daegu's #9 Junior Negao and #99 Evandro Paulista celebrating a goal recently
(image via daeugufc.co.kr)

MJ: Although all of us Daegu fans are really happy with the three Brazilians, we're sincerely worried that we could lose them during the winter break! 

I don’t know how to stop them from playing well. However, on the plus side, Cesinha will be missing for this game as he's headed home for an early holiday due to a minor injury. Of course, he hasn't scored as many as the other two, but he's like a control tower on the pitch. So, our attack might not be working as smoothly as normal this time, but that doesn’t mean Jeonnam will get off lightly. Both Brazilians you mentioned are very sharp near the penalty area. I'd recommend man-marking them or staying as close as possible to them all game. Otherwise, they'll sneak in behind Jeonnam's defenders.

AH: What's your prediction for this weekend's game?

MJ: Daegu 2 – 1 Jeonnam.

Muyeol Asks, Aodan Answers

Muyeol: The Jeonnam Dragons have found themselves in a relegation battle more often than not in recent years ,but this year's looking especially bleak. I mean, they're now tied with Sangju for the final relegation spot, winlesss in their last 14 games and have to earn points from a much improved Daegu FC to ensure their safety. Why has it come to this? 

Aodan: Have you got a couple of hours to spare? Haha! 

To be honest, I think it's down to our head coach, really. Noh sang-rae's tactics have been appalling this year. I mean, the Dragons lost their first five games of the season because he insisted on employing a three-man defense, despite the fact that Jeonnam don't possess proper wing-backs to use this system. Two successive 3-1 defeats to Sangju and Pohang during this run in March and April really emphasized this.  The two wing-backs in those games were 34-year-old Choi Hyeo-jin  and 37-year-old Hyun Young-min. 

Crikey, unless you've got two Cafu's in your team, why the hell would you dream of starting with wing-backs with a combined age of 71 for your first home game of the season? Time and time again the Dragons were ripped apart on the counter. But then what did Noh do in the very next home game? Use the same wing-backs again. And what happened? Another 3-1 home defeat. 

Of course, the Dragons did better than expected last season by reaching the top half of the table and won all but one of their next six games after the disastrous start this season because the coach ditched the three-at-the-back experiment. But just five more wins arrived after that and the last three months have been abysmal.

Plus, the last home game - a 2-2 draw with Incheon - proved to be the last straw for most Dragons' supporters. (I'd lost faith months ago!) Incheon were reduced to nine men and the Dragons, roared on by a passionate home crowd, had 20 minutes to find a winner - a winner, which would have ensured their safety this season. And instead of stretching the play and creating extra space for our attackers, what did the Dragons decide to do? Move "Tommy' (their tall Australian center-back) up top beside Feczesin (their tall Hungarian striker) and start launching high balls into the box. And they weren't even sending these crosses in from the edge of the penalty box; they were booting balls in from 40 yards. Hoofball versus nine men - ridiculous.

I don't like saying this, but the Dragons deserve to go down after that...

MJ: The last two games against Sangju and Incheon were very close but the Dragons failed to get three points in either. What strategy is needed they take on Daegu?

AH: The Dragons best run of form this year coincided with Jair playing up top centrally and Feczesin dropping to the bench. I think they need to revert to that formation and save Fec for later on in the game as he seems to slow down their offense and is no longer capable of getting in behind a defense. 

Nevertheless, he's a good plan B and can hold the ball up well if the Dragons manage to take the lead. Of course, they'll have to keep it very tight at the back, too - something they haven't really been able to do all season. But fingers crossed, they can bring their A-game this Saturday when it's needed most.

MJ: Regardless of the result this Saturday, it seems that Jeonnam's players lost motivation and momentum during the season. What do the Dragons need to do most next season to change their fortunes?

AH: For a start, they've simply got to change their manager. No doubt Noh Sang-rae works hard and has had periods of success, particularly after people were calling for his head and he offered to resign last season. However, the Dragons have been a yo-yo team under him at best and it's now time to move on. And if they manage to survive this season, they need to buy a couple of defenders and another pacey attacker. 

But, truth be told, the Dragons have a pretty good roster and a few decent young players coming though. They just need a bit of guidance and a more tactically astute leader on the side of the field.

MJ: What's your prediction for this weekend?

AH: I think Daegu will win this one 3-1 and the Dragons' fate will be decided in Incheon. Unfortunately, Incheon will be minus the two players who were sent off against Jeonnam last time out - Croatian defender Gordan Bunoza and Brazilian striker and ex Dragon Weslley. This could leave the door open for Sangju. 

So Incheon and Sangju will probably draw and Jeonnam will lose, forcing the Dragons into a two-legged relegation playoff. I hope I'm wrong, though.

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