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Writers' Chat: Gangwon FC vs Gyeongnam FC

It's a top of the table clash between two teams with a 100% record. Something's got to give. Steve Price and James Edrupt discuss this week's big match in the K League 1: Gangwon FC against Gyeongnam FC.

Steve asks, James answers

Steve Price: Three wins out of three, but how have Gyeongnam's performances been so far this season? Have they been convincing winners, and what is their style of play like?

James Edrupt: The opening fixtures were kind to Gyeongnam with their opening two games being at home against Sangju Sangmu and Jeju United respectively. Their home form in the K League 2 was fantastic, only losing twice all of last season, with one of those coming against K League 1 outfit Ulsan Hyundai in the FA Cup. The opener against Sangju was a great performance from the first whistle. Gyeongnam's new signings in Negueba and Kunimoto gelled very well with the side and they looked very attacking and always looked to go forward at every opportunity. The Jeju game, minus Marcao of course, was a battling effort and one that wasn't as accomplished as the opening one. Gyeongnam did get the job done though and won, especially as they had to reshuffle the pack somewhat with the Brazilians absence. Kunimoto shone massively and will be a superstar if he keeps up his current performances. Jeonnam Dragons away was Gyeongnam's third game of the season and a very tricky one on paper. As a fan, I was a bit worried with it being their first trip away of the season against a good attacking Jeonnam side. The Reds came out of the traps very well and raced into an early lead through Negueba. Another just on the stroke of half time from Kim Hyo-gi made the talk at the break an easier one. In the second half, Jeonnam dominated for long periods and got a goal back for their efforts. Marcao cemented the victory with a penalty to take home the spoils. Gyeongnam have played so far with great attacking vision and have remained rather compact at the back only letting in two goals in their first three games.

SP: Gyeongnam have continued their good form from the end of last season. How much of their start to the season has been down to momentum, and how long can it continue? Is a top-half finish on the cards?

JE: I for one am not getting carried away at all even though Gyeongnam's start to the K League 1 has been a truly superb effort. Bigger tests await them. Their squad is the best I've known since having started supporting the club. They even had the luxury of leaving Kunimoto on the bench last time out. The season is a long one and in the summer months of June, July and August when the weather takes it toll on players, this is when I feel their season will be put into context. Gyeongnam have the attacking talent all throughout the squad to hurt teams and will always create chances. It's at the other end I am slightly concerned. Goalkeeper Song Jun-hyun has been kept very busy in their opening three games. They came under siege from Jeonnam last week with balls being pumped into the box, some of which were not dealt with very well at all. Against slightly better opposition they will be punished. I will just be happy if they are playing K League 1 football again next season, but at the moment they are all riding on a crest of a wave and are not ready to come down as of yet.

SP: As a 'new' team to the K League 1, which players should K-League fans keep their eye on?

JE: A few players have been in the headlines and making columns in newspapers this week. Marcao has been the back page filler of recent weeks after his opening day hat-trick and red card. His celebrations and his general overall performances have been the main focus and numerous media outlets have been all over him asking for column inches in their respective newspapers. He is The Reds' main goalscorer, good with his feet and a giant in the air.  I said he would win the golden boot this year and I am sticking with it.  If Gyeongnam create chances for him, which they will with fellow countryman Negueba and Japanese youngster Kunimoto already forming a great relationship with the striker, then expect goals from Marcao. A player that I think has gone unnoticed since the start of the campaign has been defensive midfielder Ha Sung-min who signed from the J.League 2 in the winter.  He mops up everything, plays the simple ball at every opportunity and he knows his position very well. He is vital to the system Gyeongnam play.  Sung-min doing his role so effectively allows the attacking minding players like the aforementioned Negueba and Kunimoto to express themselves going forward.

SP: How much of the team is the same as the one that won promotion last season? How much is a rebuild?

JE: Gyeongnam only lost two players of note that were vital in us winning promotion last season,  Jung Hyun-cheol and Bruno. Hyun Cheol a battling central midfielder whose versatility was key to them getting the ball down and playing football moved up north to sign for FC Seoul. Bruno stayed in the K League 2 and signed for ambitious side Suwon FC. Bruno in my opinion was only second division standard footballer. Often the final ball from him in key attacking areas was lacking. He had bags of pace and frightened defenders but he had to improve on his final ball distribution.  Gyeongnam signed pretty much like for like in Negueba and Ha Sung-min and they are both a slight upgrade in my eyes.

James asks, Steve answers

James Edrupt: Gangwon have been a solid outfit now in the K League 1 for some years. I remember when they were a mid to low table side. What's changed at the club to establish them year in year out to be pushing for honours at the right end of the table?

Steve Price: They've got a bit more money behind them now. Not as much as the some of the chaebol-owned big boys, but enough to compete. The money was pumped in after they gained promotion back to the K League 1, and the club are looking to push for a Champions' League spot. I'd expect them to finish in the top half of the table this year unless something goes horrendously wrong. That said, they have lost some decent players: Moon Chang-min moved to Dubai for what I've heard is a very decent salary indeed at Al-Ahli,  and Han Guk-yeong joined the army for not quite such a good salary.

JE: I'll be honest with you, I haven't seen much of Gangwon this season. What can Gyeongnam expect of the them on Sunday?

SP: Gangwon like to press, in fact two of their goals already this season have come from putting the opposition's goalkeeper under pressure and forcing him to make a mistake. It won't be an easy day out for Gyeongnam's defense. Gangwon also like to attack quite quickly and try some nice short passes around the edge of the 'D', which is a welcome break from watching FC Seoul's turgid attacks.

JE: The Gangwon team without question has some very good players in their ranks; Lee Keun-ho a national team player and Australian international Dylan McGowan to name just two? Are there any other players in the team that we should look out for?

SP: Gangwon have a great forward line with Djeric looking quick and good in the air so far this season and Jung Jo-gook coming off the bench to make an impact. Jung was the top scorer in the K League in 2016 but missed a lot of last season through injury, supposedly caused by the hardness of the ski-jump stadium's pitch. He still knows where the goal is though, and their other forward Diego looks handy too, as does Jung Seok-hwa who you might recognize from his time at Busan last season.

JE: How do you think the game will go this Sunday? Where do you feel it'll be won or lost? Score prediction?

SP: All Gangwon's games so far this season have finished 2-1, so their defense isn't impenetrable, even Park Chu-young managed to score against them. Gyeongnam have a good chance of coming away from Chuncheon with at least a point if they can keep calm at the back when put under pressure.

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