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Writer's Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Jeonnam Dragons

Suwon and Jeonnam kick-off their Kleague season's tomorrow as they play out an intriguing opening day fixture at Big Bird stadium. Suwon will be looking to bounce back after their disappointing ACL loss to Kashima Antlers last week, whilst Jeonnam will most certainly be aiming to avoid any replay of the drubbings they got from Suwon last season. Here, our Suwon columnist, Scott Whitelock, and Jeonnam columnist, Aodan Halligan, discuss Suwon's lethal strikeforce and a Jair-less Jeonnam. 

First, Aodan Asks, Scott Answers

Aodan: Suwon Bluewings started off the ACL in some style winning the ACL Champions League qualification playoff 5-1 against  FLC Than Hoa and defeating Sydney 2-0. So how disappointing was last week's home to defeat to Kashima Antlers and how much will it affect the Bluewings' confidence going into the new K League season?

Scott: As you said, Suwon started the season like they had a point to prove and looked immaculate until that defeat against Kashima. But it was the nature of the defeat that was perhaps more disheartening than the defeat itself. Suwon had the lion's share of possession in the game along with all the best goal-scoring opportunities. Somehow, Kashima were able to hold on at the back and were clinical in front of goal, but were also assisted by a calamitous Suwon back three.

And it was yet another home defeat for the team who hasn't felt comfortable playing at home for the best part of two years now. Suwon's home form was their Achilles heel last season and it appears that nothing may have changed. It is certainly a huge worry that they were beaten in their first meaningful home game of the season but this game against Jeonnam may be the perfect opportunity to lay those demons to rest.

AH: After a goal against Vietnamese side FLC Than Hoa, and a brace against Sydney, one can't help but feeling that Dejan Damjanovic could prove to be an inspired signing for Suwon, although he did miss a few chances including a penalty against Kashima Antlers last time out. However, the Bluewings seem to be aiming more high balls into the box to make use of the striker's aerial threat. Thus, do you think the Montenegrin's  addition will lead  to a change in playing style this year? 

SW: It's already become evident that Suwon have changed their playing style somewhat to accommodate Dejan's talents, but I would not agree with your assessment that they are playing more long balls. In fact, Suwon have started the season playing a little more controlled and patient football than what they would have done when Johnathan was leading the line.

With the mercurial Brazilian's talents at the top of the pitch, Suwon could afford to sit back a little more and then look to release Johnathan on the break. However, Dejan does not possess the pace or dribbling power that Johnathan did and Suwon have been looking to control games a little more than they may have done in the recent past. Using Dejan's strength, power and link-up skills, this season, they will aim to produce some more thoughtful football and the signs are already there that they could have an attacking line-up to rival the rest of the league.

AH: In your season preview, you claimed that Suwon have had a great transfer window. How have the new signings settled in so far and do you think that there are still weaknesses for Jeonnam to exploit?

SW: The new signings have done exceptionally well and have hit the floor running in their opening few games. Both new full-backs, Cristovam and Lee Gi-je, look like shrewd signings, and Dejan and Waguininho both look like they can do a lot of damage on their day.

But Suwon still have a lack of creative players in the centre of the pitch and the performance of their central defenders looks like it could be a cause of concern this year. Lee Jong-sung does not look capable of playing at centre back at this level and if he is played in the same back three as Kwak Kwang-seon then Suwon have a disaster waiting to happen. Koo Ja-ryoung has begun the season on the bench despite being the best defender at the club, in my opinion, and although Suwon have Matt Jurman waiting to return to the team there are no guarantees that Seo Jung-won see's the big Australian as part of his first choice starting eleven.

AH: How do you see this game going?

SW: Given that Suwon dismantled Jeonnam on more than one occasion last season this should be an easy game to predict. Suwon smashed 10 goals against Jeonnam last term as they recorded three straight victories and with Jeonnam losing key players over the winter there is no reason to suggest that Suwon can't do the same again this season. The only thing that is stopping Suwon from doing that is their home hoodoo.

AH: Score Prediction?

SW: Suwon Bluewings 3 - 0 Jeonnam Dragons

Now, Scott Asks, Aodan Answers

Scott: Jeonnam escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth last year. Is there any hope that they can do any better this year or are they set for another bottom half battle?

Aodan: This is a hard one to call really as Jeonnam have a new head coach, lots of new players, lost their two top scorers and of course all of our K-League editors have predicted relegation or at least a relegation playoff for the Dragons this season.

And I suppose, logically, one would assume that there’ll be a bedding in period as players have to get used to each other and a new style of play and thus the Dragons could find themselves at the bottom of the table from the very start.

But, at the same time, I’ve been hearing lots of positive reports from the players and as I mentioned in my season preview last week, I believe the Dragons’ new head coach Yoo Sang-chul will do well. Plus, the Dragons’ two new Brazilian signings (both called Wanderson) will be great. One will give us great options on the left wing and the other will strengthen our attack. So, I’ve a feeling that the Dragons could be the surprise package in the K-League this season and I’m going against all perceived wisdom here and predicting a comfortable mid table finish or even higher.

SW: Jeonnam wisely replaced their manager over the winter. What do we know about the new man at the helm and will there be any significant changes in Jeonnam's playing style?

AH:  Well, as you mentioned, it was a wise decision to part company with head coach Noh Sang-rae as he seemed to run out of ideas towards the end and the team was going backwards.

Although the new manager, Yoo Sang-chul, was a very accomplished and experienced player (he played in two World cups and was even voted onto the FIFA All Star team for the 2002 World Cup), he’s not such an experienced manager having managed only once in the K-League with Daejon Citizen in the 2011-2012 season. After that, he spent a few years managing the University of Ulsan team. So, reading between the lines, I think he’ll have a great knowledge about young players and can pass on all the things he learned as a top-level player such as how to control nerves before big games and so on.

But, Jeonnam went under the radar a little in pre-season and only really started to make headlines in the transfer market over the past week or two so I asked Jeonnam’s Croatian midfielder Vedran Jugovic for his thoughts on Noh and his first impressions of the new manager and here’s what he had to say:

“We had some great times and results with Noh Sang-rae in 2016, and the chemistry in the team was good and everybody enjoyed playing here.But then in 2017 we expected a step forward but everybody fell apart under pressure. When we are winning we are one team and when we are losing it is the same. So, I don’t want to put the blame only on our ex head coach because everybody wasn’t on a good level and I wish him all the best in his career.”

And as for the new head coach…

“Pre-season was really hard, maybe the hardest in my career but I really feel good. He takes care of every detail and tactics - and this year the whole club is a lot more organized. For example, last year we didn’t have a physical coach and that is pretty much amateur if you ask me, but this year everything is at a high level. So I think we will see attractive and effective football from Jeonnam this year.”

SW: Jair has failed to report to Jeonnam following the end of the 2017 season. Will be a huge loss or can the team cope without him?

AH: We heard rumors about Jair’s future last summer and were fearful of losing him to China back then so I suppose it doesn’t really come as a surprise. Yet, the timing of his departure - just a few days before the start of the new season - wasn’t the best and since he was officially here till earlier this week, most people expected him to stay. And as Ryan Walters mentioned in the TV broadcast the other night, it’s going to be hard for the Dragons to replace both Jair and Feczesin who scored 26 goals (out of a totoal of 48) or 61% of the Dragons goals in the K-League last season. Plus, Jair brought a lot more to the table besides goals – he was a great passer, good in the air, pressed opponents off the ball and terrorized defences with his dribbling skills. So no doubt he’s going to be badly missed.

Yet, Wanderson De Macedo Costa, the Brazilian forward Jeonnam signed on Monday seems like the perfect replacement at this time. He’s quick, holds up play really well and has a great scoring record here (he scored a very respectable eight goals in 18 games last season). Actually, he could prove to be a great signing as he’s already used to the K-League having played with Gwangju last year. And ex Suwon Bluewings star Ha Tae-goon will hopefully be a good replacement for Fec. So I think the Dragons will be fine and goals will be more spread out among the team.

SW: What is your prediction for this game?

AH: Well the odds are certainly with the Suwon Bluewings. I mean, they’re the home team, boast a much bigger budget and have already played three competitive fixtures this year. The Dragons, meanwhile, are playing their first competitive game of the season, with a new coach, and tons of new players so it’s hard to see anything but a home win.

There are a couple of caveats, though. For a start, Suwon’s home defeat to Kashima Antlers in the ACL could put some doubts back into their minds again. The Bluewings dropped lots of points last season at home and the recent home defeat should make players and fans nervous once more. Plus, the Dragons may also benefit from the so-called ‘new manager bounce’. Let’s hope so!

Ultimately, though, this game has probably come a little too soon for Jeonnam so, unfortunately, I’m going to opt for a home win.

SW: Score Prediction?

AH: Suwon Bluewings 3 -1 Jeonnam Dragons

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