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Preview: K League 1 Round 3

Incheon UnitedRound 2 of K League 1 saw shock wins, world class goals, Champions League teams dropping to the bottom of the table, and a newly promoted side climb to second place. Round 3 seems poised to bring much of the same with the league leaders looking to stake their claim on a more permanent basis, and nearly every club in the top flight eyeing up an opportunity to make a statement heading into the international break. 
(Image via incheonilbo.com)

Saturday 17th March 

Gangwon FC (3rd) v Sangju Sangmu (8th) 14:00

After beating Seoul for the third time in their previous four tries, Gangwon FC returns home to face the hot and cold Sangju Sangmu. The army outfit were able to immediately bounce back from their opening day loss at Gyeongnam and pull off a shock 2-0 win at Ulsan Hyundai in Round 2. K League United 2017 Comeback Player of the Year, Joo Minkyu, led the charge and has started this season where he left off last year with two goals in as many matches. The 27-year-old striker continues to make his case for Korean National Team involvement, or at the very least getting on the radar of K1 clubs with his military service set to end in September and a return to K2's Seoul E-Land looming. The army side will continue to lean heavily on Joo this weekend for their third of ten straight away matches to start the season. Hosts Gangwon have traditionally had the upper hand in this rivalry and won all three meetings between the teams in 2017. If Gangwon is to continue that trend this weekend, they'll need to make a push to do what they managed just three times last season, keep a clean sheet. The involvement of Australian defender Dylan McGowan as a CDM last week worked well as he and the backline held FC Seoul to a lone goal. He will be tasked with a much more potent opposing attack this weekend and will likely have his work cut out for him in the second half. Look for Sangju to absorb pressure for most of the match and strike for a late winner if the opportunity is there.

Prediction: Gangwon FC 2-1 Sangju Sangmu

Incheon United (5th) v Daegu FC (12th) 14:00

Fresh off one of their most notable wins in recent history, Incheon United remain at home after their extraordinary 3-2 victory over defending champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai. For a side that struggled to score goals last year, Incheon seems to be on a better path in 2018 with four goals in two games. Buoyed by recent Montenegrin National Team call up Stefan Mugoša scoring twice in as many games, Incheon look a side not to be underestimated. Daegu, on the other hand, are one of just three K League teams yet to score a goal in 2018. The departures of the Brazilian duo Evandro (FC Seoul) and Junior (Ulsan) have hit the club harder than expected and they've yet to get off the mark. Starting the season against a much improved Pohang Steelers side and ACL Group H contenders Suwon was never going to be easy for Daegu, but stronger performances were expected. If they're to avoid falling too far behind early in the season, getting at least a point is a must.

Our Incheon columnist Tim Barnes previews the match here

Jeonnam Dragons (6th) v Gyeongnam (2nd) 16:00

K League's Jeolla vs Gyeongsang rivalry returns for the first time since 2014 this Saturday with Jeonamm hosting the high flying Gyeongnam FC in a somewhat surprisingly top table affair. Having pulled off a dramatic late win to start the season in Suwon, the Dragons appeared to revert back to 2017 form falling behind 3-1 to Pohang last weekend. However, the team's organization and tactical awareness from Round 1 came through again and they fought hard to nearly snatch a point from a game would have gotten out of hand just one year ago. Jeonnam manager Yoo Sangchul will have his work cut out for him yet again this weekend with 2017 K2 MVP Marcão returning to Gyeongnam's front line after serving a one match suspension for an opening round red card. The Brazilian standout will look to improve on his pace setting three goals by joining a front line that put up two on a suddenly sliding Jeju United. Perhaps more impressive than Gyeongnam scoring multiple goals yet again last weekend was their backline's ability to hold a clean sheet for the first time since returning to K1. That backline will be tested again this weekend with their first away game and a Dragons attack that's scoring more than expected.

Our Jeonnam columnist Aodan Halligan previews the match here

Sunday 18th March 

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (4th) v FC Seoul (9th) 14:00

In what was expected to be the marquee match of Round 3, 2017 Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host 2016 Champions FC Seoul in a surprisingly low stakes affair. Jeonbuk enter the match coming off their shock loss at Incheon in league play and their first ACL defeat of 2018 at Tianjin Quanjian Wednesday night. More shocking than Jeonbuk dropping back to back games though is the 10 goals they've conceded in their previous three matches in all competitions. Having tried multiple options, manager Choi Kanghee can't seem to find an answer for the team's goalkeeping woes and it may haunt them yet again this weekend. However, given Seoul's lack of bite up front, Jeonbuk may be able to hold steady. The capital club has recorded just one goal through the first two matches, and even that required a fortuitous bounce for Park Chuyoung to record his first of 2018. If ever there were a time for Seoul to play Jeonbuk and get a statement win to kick start their season, now seems the time; but the question remains who's going to score the required goals?

Our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns and FC Seoul columnist Paul Neat preview the match here

Ulsan Hyundai (11th) v Jeju United (10th) 14:00

Even though we are only two rounds into the 2018 season, it is still shocking that two of K League's four ACL teams find themselves at the bottom of the table and struggling on multiple fronts. After starting strong in ACL with three worldie away goals at Melbourne and a 2-1 home win against defending J.League champions, Kawasaki Frontale, the Horangi have backslid considerably. Since defeating Kawasaki, Ulsan have failed to win a match and have been held scoreless in three of their last four games in all competitions. Croatian winger Mislav Oršić remains a world class talent on the left side of their attack, but can't do it alone. Whether it's him or any of the other attackers on the team, someone needs to step up this weekend to record the team's first league goal of 2018 or it could be a long slog back into contention. Coming into Sunday's affair in similar fashion, Jeju have also lost four straight having been shut out three times. Seemingly unable to recover from their 5-3 defeat at Guangzhou Evergrande where they watched a 2-0 lead evaporate, Jeju have also started the 2018 K League season scoreless. If either of these teams is to pick themselves up off the mat and recover form in ACL or even K League, a win here would go a long way.

Our Ulsan columnist Dan Croydon and Jeju columnist Branko Belan preview the match here.

Suwon Samsung Bluewings (7th) v Pohang Steelers (1st) 16:00

In a weekend rife with statement games, there may be none bigger than this seventh vs first match up. For Suwon, they'll be looking to build on their midweek victory over Shanghai Shenhua and prove not only that they're contenders for the title this year, but more importantly that they can win games at home. Their 5-1 drubbing of V.League side FLC Thanh Hoa remains their lone home victory of 2018 in four tries. A mark that simply isn't good enough if they're to stay alive in ACL or indeed challenge for the title. A win in front of the home faithful against the current league leaders would go a long way to shoring up some confidence. Aside from wanting to keep that confidence at bay, Pohang will also be looking to prove their spot in the table is no fluke. Back to back wins with three goals in each game is a tremendous way to start the season, but picking up those wins against last year's 8th and 10th placed teams leaves plenty of questions for the new look Steelers. An away win against a perennial powerhouse like Suwon would help silence any doubters and ensure their place at the top of the table heading into the international break next weekend.

Our Suwon columnist Scott Whitelock previews the match here.

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