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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Sangju Sangmu

Ulsan are back in domestic action this weekend as they welcome Sangju Sangmu to Munsu Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Boys in Blue are looking to notch up their first points of the K League season having lost to Jeonbuk in last weekend's big season opener. Meanwhile this is Sangju's second game in a run of ten away from home. Can they upset last year's FA Cup winners?

(image via uhfc.tv)

Last Time Out

It's been a busy old week and a bit for Ulsan Hyundai as they went toe-to-toe with East Asia's two strongest teams and joint favourites for the Asian Champions League - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Shanghai SIPG.  Both games were away from home, and while both ultimately ended in frustration for the Horangi, manager Kim Do-hoon will no doubt have learnt a lot about his players ahead of the relatively run-of-the-mill game with Sangju this weekend.

Ulsan's 2-0 loss to their Hyundai rivals was a tight affair, with both teams creating few chances over the course of a fairly drab first 70 mins. But in truth Jeonbuk were barely out of second gear when a defensive mistake by Ulsan's Brazilian forward, Junior, let in the evergreen Lee Dong-gook to stab home the opening goal. From then on Ulsan huffed and puffed but last year's champions broke away and added another before seeing out the game with a professional ease that suggests this season's trophy could be heading to Jeonju in record time.

If last Thursday's Bank Holiday loss to Jeonbuk left Ulsan nursing a hangover, they had certainly got their stamina back in time for the ACL trip to Shanghai.  After 90 intense minutes Ulsan left with a very credible 2-2 draw. Kim Do-hoon made wholesale changes upfront as Kim In-sung and Kim Seung-jun started their first games of the year, the former rewarding his manager's faith by putting Ulsan into the lead for the second time on the night.  It was a much better attacking display overall from the Tiger's as Kim Do-hoon seemed to learn his lesson from the Jeonbuk loss and pushed his team forward after half-time, even switching to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation. It was a bold move against Oscar and co. but it ultimately paid off as his side resisted the temptation to sit deep.  If not for two pieces of individual brilliance from the diminutive South American, Ulsan may even have returned home with all three points.

The Opponents

Having only survived the drop last season by winning a playoff penalty shootout against K League 2 runners-up Busan I Park, Sangju Sangmu are favourites for relegation again this year.  They certainly have their work cut out for them. The military men play their first ten fixtures away from home due to a festival at their home stadium - hardly ideal. And then of course there is the seven week World Cup break before they have to release much of their squad in September. The odds seem stacked against them, but manager Kim Tae-wan will be hoping they can amass enough points early on in the season before performing another great escape come autumn.

Last weekend's opening fixture saw Sangju lose to newly promoted Gyeongnam 3-1.  The stats suggest it was a close game for much of the afternoon, both teams creating plenty of chances before Marcao stole the show with his blockbuster hat-trick and subsequent red card.  With the usual 'very early days' caveat, this game suggests nothing much has changed at Sangju since last year. They show plenty of attacking intent, but their defense so often lets the side down.

Team News

Kim Do-hoon has spent the first four games of the season tinkering with his front three, perhaps gauging the strengths of various combinations, or perhaps hoping a rotation policy will keep his players on their toes.  Either way it has been nigh on impossible to predict Ulsan's attacking lineup this season, as the surprise debut from 19 year-old Oh Se-hun at Jeonbuk showed.  The youngster may well make another appearance this weekend as Japanese targetman Yohei Toyoda ran himself ragged for 90 mins midweek. Expect Mislav Orsic to start on the left and Hwang Il-su to return on the right.

Sangju will most likely look to play on the counter again as they continue their ten game trip around the country. Choi Min-kyu will start as the lone striker, flanked by the experienced wingers Kim Ho-nam and Choi Jin-ho. Korean international Yoon Bit-garam will be hoping to return to the midfield after being left on the bench for much of the opening day loss at Gyeongnam.

Who To Watch

Joo Min-kyu

In what promises to be a very open game, it makes sense to choose a striker. But with so many changes to Ulsan's front line, choosing just one of the seven forwards Kim Do-hoon has already picked this season is just too difficult. So Sangju striker Joo Min-kyu is my pick of the players ahead of Saturday's game.  He was top Korean goalscorer in the K League last year with 17 goals in 32 games, and he's already off the mark this time around with a neat finish last week at Gyeongnam.  His strength and lethal finishing is all too familiar to Ulsan fans as he bagged a brace in Sangju's last trip to Munsu, although Ulsan did run out 4-2 winners on the day.


Despite their exertions in midweek, Ulsan should have enough to win this game comfortably.  It's a good chance for Kim Do-hoon's men to build confidence ahead of Tuesday's crucial ACL rematch with Shanghai SIPG.  Early season defensive issues may give Sangju hope, but the quality of the Horangi midfield should mean victory for the home side.

Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 Sangju Sangmu

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