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Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan Hyundai

K League 1 Match Preview 2018 - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan HyundaiThe K League 1 returns for 2018 with it's classic curtain raiser between reigning league and cup champions, with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors playing host to Ulsan Hyundai. Both teams have looked impressive in the AFC Champions League so far, but how will they fare against each other this Thursday? Columnists Matthew Binns and Dan Croydon sat down to discuss their pre-match thoughts and expectations.

Matthew Asks, Dan Answers

Matthew Binns: It’s been an encouraging off season for Ulsan Hyundai, making some interesting moves in the transfer market to improve the team. Which of the new signings do you hold the most hope for ahead of the 2018 campaign?

Dan Croydon: It has been a promising start for several of Ulsan's summer signings. Park Joo-ho has already filled two different roles in for the team in ACL games - at left-back and in midfield, living up to his reputation as a versatile player with a cool head. I didn't know much about right-winger Hwang Il-su before he joined from Yanbian but he has kept Kim In-sung out of the team so far. But I have be particularly impressed by new striker Yohei Toyoda. He has an excellent scoring record in the J League and it's not hard to see why. He has strength, an incredible work rate, and clearly the man can finish. To me, Toyoda looks like that rarest of things in the Korean game - a true number 9. I don't want to jinx it, but he's my bet for top scorer in the K League this year.

MB: I felt slightly underwhelmed by manager Kim Do-hoon’s efforts towards the end of last season, most of which were overlooked due to Ulsan’s FA Cup triumph. As a supporter, what are your views towards the manager and do you have faith in him to keep Ulsan in title contention? What would be considered a good season for him?

DC: You're right - the FA Cup win can't hide the fact that Ulsan had a horrible end to their league campaign last year. Most of the blame has to go to Kim Do-hoon as game after game they were rigid and overly defensive. If the team conceded, he just didn't seem to have a Plan B to get them back in the game. Had Ulsan not won the cup, I think Kim would have been looking for another job this year. But the fact is winning the cup gave the club Champions League football, allowing Kim to keep the likes of Orsic and Windbichler, while attracting the players needed to balance the squad. The manager seems fully aware of the need to score more goals and already the side look a better attacking prospect this year than last. Is he capable of leading Ulsan to a better league finish this year? I still need a bit more convincing. When it come to the crunch, Kim may well revert to his negative tactics again and unless the Horangi finish top 3, his time may be up. (Nothing like a bit of early season optimism eh?)

MB: Do you think Ulsan will look to make any particular changes for this game in terms personnel or formation from their impressive 2-1 victory over Kawasaki Frontale? How do you expect them to approach Jeonbuk?

DC: I don't think Kim Do-hoon will make any changes. Why change a winning formula?  In many ways Ulsan looked like the away team against Kawasaki, partly because they had more ultras than the Korean side, but mainly because they let them dominate possession, and broke quickly when they won the ball back. Ulsan also pressed very high up the pitch, causing defensive mistakes that led to both goals. I reckon they will try exactly the same tactic against Jeonbuk.

MB: Which player do you expect to make the difference for Ulsan on Thursday?

DC: Ulsan's attacking line will have to take the chances that come their way, but it will be up to the central defensive partnership of Windbichler and Kang Min-soo to keep them in the game at the other end. They will no doubt have to deal with a lot balls into the box as Jeonbuk put sides under relentless pressure when they play at home. But the fans have seen heroic performances from both players in the past, and I think they may see another on Thursday.

MB: How do you see this match playing out?

DC: With Ulsan's form upfront I'm confident they will score. But holding out against such a strong Jeonbuk attack will be extremely difficult. If the visitors score first we could be in for a great game.

Dan’s Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-2 Ulsan Hyundai

Dan Asks, Matthew Answers

Dan Croydon: Jeonbuk kick off the 2018 season as red hot favourites to retain their league title. What, if anything, can stop them?

Matthew Binns: I think, on their day, there is little difference between the likes of Ulsan, Jeju and Suwon when they go up against Jeonbuk, as these teams all have strong starting elevens and do not tend to play for a draw. The real difference will be seen over the season, when Jeonbuk can rely on their impressive depth. One area of concern recently brought to light is the capability of the goalkeeper Hong Jeong-nam, but even this issue has been blown wildly out of proportion by neutrals watching Jeonbuk's comeback victory over Kashiwa Reysol in hope that they have found a slight weakness to pick at. He was good enough for most of the league campaign last season, so to see criticism of his ability levelled at him for one poor game is not really fair. That said, perhaps teams with quality in their ranks should look at the attitude Kashiwa took when facing Jeonbuk, pressing forward quickly and attacking to force out those errors.

DC: It's been a pretty busy transfer window for Jeonbuk. Is the squad stronger than this time last year? 

MB: I think the squad has been improved in all the required areas over the winter window, with retainment of nearly all the key players from last season. For the last two and a half seasons, you could argue Jeonbuk have not had a single dominant striker, with their attack rarely featuring in the golden boot race. This is surprising given how many Jeonbuk score, but the majority of efforts are from the team's midfield. Adding the likes of Adriano and Tiago to the attack though should hopefully improve this area for the home side.

It also should be said, Jeonbuk's defence, whilst notably improved upon last season, has also been bolstered with the arrival of Hong Jeong-ho, meaning that the North Jeolla club now boast a back four of current Korean internationals. It is really difficult to find faults with Jeonbuk's transfer business this window. They have built what looks to be a very impressive squad for the year ahead.

DC: Who are the dangermen Ulsan should be most worried about this week?

MB: As touched upon, the arrival of Adriano and the hat-trick and assist he collected in his one appearance so far suggest he could prove to be a handful for K League defences once again. Granted it was not the best of hat-tricks and was scored against a team Jeonbuk were overwhelming favourites to defeat, but seeing as he had been deemed not fit enough only a week prior suggests that he is not yet at the peak of his powers. When at FC Seoul, the player found the net an extraordinary number of times, scoring 32 goals across three competitions for the whole of 2016. If he features on Thursday, a fully firing Adriano could give Ulsan quite the headache.

DC: How do you see this game going?

MB: Games between these two sides in recent years often closely fought, with very little between them. Besides the 4-0 anomaly that Jeonbuk recorded in the summer, there's usually very little more than a goal between them. I really like some of Ulsan's transfers this window and, like last season, they have built a team that could be potential dark horses for the title, especially if they can get off to a good start. The partnership between Park Joo-ho and Mislav Oršić along the left flank looks particularly threatening and could expose either Lee Yong or Choi Chul-soon at right back, arguably both the weakest cog in that back four. That said, I expect history to continue to repeat itself, and both teams leave with a point apiece. However, there is too much firepower in this Jeonbuk side that to not score on home turf would be somewhat of a shock, so hopefully it will at least be an entertaining draw.

DC: Finally, football on a Thursday afternoon - Awesome or just plain weird?

MB: If it was every Thursday then it certainly would feel slightly strange. What I do appreciate though is that it looks as if the K League governing body have put some thought into this schedule throughout the season, starting with this opening fixture. With Thursday being a national holiday in Korea, all four Champions League teams raising the curtain on the newly branded K League 1 would theoretically mean there might be some entertaining football on display for people to spend the holiday watching. It also allows all four teams nearly a full week's rest ahead of the third round of Champions League games, meaning that the K League is actually trying to give it's teams the best possible chance in Asia. It is so sensible, it is shocking!

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-2 Ulsan Hyundai

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