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Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs FC Seoul

K League 1 Match Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs FC Seoul

Sunday afternoon sees two fierce K League 1 rivals face one another in their first meeting of the new campaign, with on field fortunes that seem to be increasingly differing. As K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors prepare to host capital club FC Seoul in an encounter that very rarely fails to deliver, Jeonbuk writer Matthew Binns sat down with FC Seoul columnist Paul Neat to discuss what can be expected when these enemies meet.

Matthew asks, Paul answers

Matthew Binns: With two games gone into the season, and only one point and a fortuitous goal to show for it, are their any positive on-field signs that Hwang Sun-hong's refurbished FC Seoul squad can return to being a force in Korean football?

Paul Neat: The midfield; three quarters of the back four and the goalkeeper are a good spine of a team that even Dejan Damjanovic himself has remarked upon as being as good as any in this league. The problems lie with the attack and, frankly, it is a concern. Shin Jin-ho is a classy player in the middle of the park and Jung Hyeon-cheol, although he may take time to settle into K League 1 football, could be the box-to-box player they have been lacking since Takahagi left.

Yang Han-bin is one of the best 'keepers in the division and Hwang Hyun-soo, Lee Woong-hee, and Shin Kwang-hoon make up a solid defence, even more so had Seoul have signed a good left back. The negatives are of course in attack because there appears to be very little evidence of any tactics, plan or system in place for the players to get the ball into the right areas. So, to come back to your original question, after last week's negative FC Seoul need two positives - one to cancel out the negative and one just so they can have a positive.

MB: Whilst notably bigger names left the club in the winter, Park Chu-young signed a three year deal in the off season and seems to have become the main striker at the club. You also backed him for Comeback Player of the Year in our K League United writers' predictions so, my question is, what do you think FC Seoul fans can expect from him this season?

PN: I have pegged him for comeback player of the year because he simply cannot have a any worse of a season that last year. He managed just three goals from open play and was largely ineffective and, frankly, his demeanour was an insult to the fans who idolise him. His goal against Gangwon will have given him some confidence, no less because it was at least from open play, but the service into the front three needs to be better. Anderson Lopes is not a winger, that much is clear, and so perhaps with Cho Young-wook and the exuberance of youth, it might be what Seoul need and the directness of Evandro, who made his debut against Gangwon from the bench, to do the running for Park. With those to on either wing, they could be the foil that a veteran like Park Chu-young needs to reignite his career.

MB: With two games gone, Hwang Sun-hong has made just one change between the two games to what is possibly his preferable first eleven. Are there any specific tactical or personnel alterations that he might employ to counter specific Jeonbuk threats?

PN: Well, I can't imagine that Hwang Sun-hong has watched Jeonbuk since the last time they played each other. I am not sure he even watches football. But, just in case he has switched the on the telly this Wednesday, he may want to look at weaknesses as well as strengths. Jeonbuk's defending was poor at times against Tianjin Quanjin, in both games, and communication was an issue against Incheon. If Hwang instructs his players to get into areas quite how Tianjin did on Wednesday, Seoul may have a chance.

Hwang could hark back to the formations that have seen his side pick results up against Jeonbuk before. Seoul lined up in a 4-1-2-3 against Gangwon, whereas Jeonbuk, as you know, went 4-4-2 on Saturday against Incheon and 4-1-4-1 against Tianjin Quanjin in the ACL last week, 5-3-2 on Wednesday in the return fixture. So Hwang may want to go for a midfield four, possible even five, with Jeon Hyeon-cheol sitting in the holding midfield role which will, essentially, make it a 4-5-1. A similar formation earned Seoul a point for their last tip to Jeonju Castle so perhaps he'll approach things that way. He played a similar formation for the 2-1 win against Jeonbuk at home last July too and so I think this is the most likely formation Hwang will set Seoul up in.

In terms of specific threats from individuals, one that stands out first and foremost is the physical presence and aerial prowess of Kim Shin-wook who is no stranger to the dark arts and so Seoul will perhaps need an experienced centre back playing against him. I would not be at all surprised if Hwang brings in Kwak Tae-hwi to try and contain Kim Shin-wook. Then there's Adriano and Tiago who are going to be different types of threats that Seoul have faced so far this term. Tiago, in particular, doesn't run in straight lines; he occupies positions that draws defenders out of position and so Seoul are going to need positional discipline but in a midfield five that kind of space might not be available to him. Then there's Adriano who likes to playoff the shoulder so it means that Seoul cannot afford to play a high line. But, being the away side I shan't imagine that they will.

MB: Which player in particular do you think could get the better of Jeonbuk in this upcoming match?

PN: Evandro. Park Chu-young has started down the middle for both of Seoul's games so far this season but he has also been brought off midway through the second half in both of those games, too. Hwang clearly likes Park Chu-young but he isn't adverse to taking him off if need be. If Seoul are going to play with one up front then they need someone who can be physical and direct. Evandro offers exactly that and so if he starts he would be the one I'd be looking to. It all depends on the formation that he players. Go Yo-han was missing against Gangwon, his tenacity and workrate will be needed should Seoul's vice captain be available. Perhaps Go Yo-han on the right, Cho Young-wook on the left and Evandro down the middle.

MB: These matches are often tight affairs with the odd high scoring anomaly along the way. How do you see this particular clash playing out?

PN: Certainly Jeonbuk have been involved in some high scoring matches recently, 17 goals in the last three alone. But, again, it depends on what philosophy and system Hwang looks to implement. If he is realistic and expects a reaction from Jeonbuk's back-to-back losses then he may keep it cautious, crowd the midfield and hit Jeonbuk on the break. But, if his ego gets the better of him, he may want to stand toe-to-toe with Choi Kanghee which, as we saw in the ACL semi-final in 2016, things didn't quite go to plan - I think we all now how that one ended. I think this time round both teams will be looking to keep things tight initially but a goal in the first half could change everything. I'll go for a tight game and a home win.

Paul's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-0 FC Seoul

Paul asks, Matthew answers

Paul Neat: Jeonbuk suffered back-to-back losses, something that doesn't happy very often, how much of an effect will these results have had in terms of the players' confidence? The timing is not ideal given who Sunday's visitors are to Jeonju Castle. 

Matthew Binns: The timing certainly does seem unfortunate as Jeonbuk will not want to experiment with general formation and approaches against a team like FC Seoul. It was a surprise not see a positive reaction from the Incheon match against Tianjin Quanjian midweek, and suffering a significant loss with similar flaws exposed will not have helped the side's confidence. There is the argument that this could motivate the squad to set the record straight, but Choi Kang-hee must be wary about using this as a motivational tool given that a third straight loss, especially at home and to bitter rivals would leave a damaging mark. With an international break immediately following, the manager would also perhaps not want to enter the fortnight letting his squad linger with low confidence. It is paramount that Jeonbuk try to both learn and move on from their past two matches, and treat Sunday on it's own merit and not as a game that could halt or extend this unwanted losing sequence.

PN: Choi Kang-hee has already fielded three goalkeepers so far this season. The usually reliable Hwang Byeong-geun made a fatal error for Incheon's third at the weekend and was dropped for ACL game against Tianjin Quanjin, replaced by Song Beom-keun. Song could have done better for Tianjin's first, with the ball going underneath his body, who do you think or indeed should be between the sticks come Sunday? Do you think the goalkeeper rotation has had an adverse effect on the defence, because errors were made against Tianjin and indeed against Incheon.

MB: Song Beom-keun will likely be entrusted again with the gloves again this Sunday. Despite Wednesday's performance, the U20 international has shown some initial promise and seems to be the best option this far, though perhaps still a little rough around the edges. It was rumoured that his impressive displays in the U20 World Cup had peaked the interest of Bundesliga clubs, but it was the North Jeolla side who managed to swoop in and acquire his signature, no doubt hoping he will also become a regular international along with the club's five current national team defenders. Dropping him now after just one bad game, especially after removing both Hong Jeong-nam and Hwang Byeong-keun, would have a damaging effect on the player's confidence. Jeonbuk have minimal options left to choose from, and operating a rotating gloves policy will do no 'keeper any favours. Goalkeepers Song and Hwang are also still very new to their professional careers, and pinning all of Jeonbuk's recent failings on them is a gross over simplification of the problem. Choi looks to have chosen his man though in Song, so he must continue to stand by him.

Defensively, Jeonbuk have been surprisingly naive this season, and it is more likely the constant rotation in defence and a lack of defensive cover from midfield that are more likely to blame for the goalkeepers performances than the reverse. With such young 'keepers in net, having supposedly experienced players directly in front of you regularly exposing you to attacks is not the baptism that would be expected from a side who are supposed to run away with everything. Choi Kang-hee has been playing an attack minded strategy this season, but the defence is needing time to adjust. This was a side that had nine first team players who did not play a pre-season friendly for the club after all. They are effectively learning new tactics as they compete.

PN: Kim Shin-wook is in inspired form, for club and country, what has made the difference? 

MB: It is a surprising turnaround given that I personally had called him Jeonbuk's biggest disappointment of last season, a title that was given further levity when it was revealed the striker was the highest paid playing in the league. Since then, Kim Shin-wook had a surprisingly strong showing for Korea at the EAFF tournament, winning the golden boot and being instrumental in the deciding 4-1 victory over Japan. He then went to Turkey for a national squad training camp in late January and scored all four of the countries goals across the three friendlies played. In my opinion, Kim is a striker that thrives on being the centre of attention, as alluded to by his constant change of hairstyle and his need to get every player possible to awkwardly join in his goal celebration. During those six Korea games, the player also benefitted from the inability for players based in European leagues to be called up, meaning he was Korea's best option. It is also not surprising that his recent seven goals in six games for Korea were mostly assisted by his Jeonbuk teammate Lee Jae-sung, a player who no doubt has become accustomed to his movement on a weekly basis.

At Jeonbuk, despite Adriano coming in, Kim Shin-wook has also started every game, sometimes ahead of the club's marquee signing when only a single striker is required. His performances have not necessary felt better to the average spectator, especially when you see how many opportunities he spurns, but the service to him seems to have improved and, with more chances, he is always more likely to get onto the scoresheet. For all the criticism of Jeonbuk's defence, their attacking prowess has been lauded and, for as long as he remains the starting choice, Kim Shin-wook seems to be the man who will benefit most.

PN: Given how well Jeonbuk began their season, both in the ACL and the League, the defeat to Incheon at the weekend was a bit of a shock.  So, it proves that there is a way to beat Jeonbuk and there is a way to score against them. Granted, in the home game with Tianjin Quanjin, Jeonbuk ran out comfortable winners but conceded two sloppy goals towards the end. Couple that with the mix up in communication for Incheon's third goal, and, frankly, poor defending for Tianjin's third and fourth goals in the return fixture in midweek, do you think Choi Kang-hee will have addressed these issues? Does he have time to?

MB: I think the issue against Incheon differed slightly from that against Tianjin Quajian at home, though both probably have roots in complacency. At 6-1 up Jeonbuk slowed up against the Chinese Super League outfit knowing that their victory seemed secured, carelessly giving away two goals to give Tianjin unwarranted respectability. Against Incheon United on the other hand, there were a few considerable issues with the team shape that were only addressed after the side fell behind for the third time. In that encounter, Jeonbuk set up in a very attack minded 4-4-2 that did not expect to be exposed so easily in the middle with lack of cover in the form of a defensive midfielder. That said, all of this does not explain the goals conceded against Tianjin in the away leg. The defensive midfield cover was provided midweek, along with a unfamiliar back three, and the players looked lost in terms of position, regularly failing to pick up players.

It seems Choi Kang-hee wants his side to be more attacking than last season, and looks to be trying to find formations that can accommodate his new signings, with Jeonbuk's two losses coming from matches where he started with Kim Shin-wook and Adriano, sacrificing calmness and familiarity at the back to play the two strikers. Both players command starting berths, but by fielding them together, the manager either exposes his defence on the counter, or plays them in positions and combinations unfamiliar.

For this match, I assume Jeonbuk will field Shin Hyung-min a shielding DM role and revert back to a 4-1-4-1, out of respect for their opponents, FC Seoul may very well be on the slide form wise, but this match is normally a hotly contested rivalry and it could be foolish for the home team to press from the kick off, especially given the embarrassment at Incheon and Tianjin. The question will be however, if the manager does resort to a single striker, will it be either former Seoul man Adriano, or last year's highest paid K League player Kim Shin-wook that will get the nod?

PN: How do you see the game playing out? A comfortable home win for the boys in green?

MB: While the headlines from the last week have made Jeonbuk's defensive woes seem like they have been known for an age, prior to last weekend there was considerable fear of this squad. I am of the opinion that teams, and especially those with five national team players in defence, do not just become bad overnight and that these issues could very well be a blip when we review this season in November. They are concerning issues though and ones I expect the manager to address, likely opting for caution on Sunday in a bid to stop these two losses from becoming a streak. While these concerns may give the visitor's cause for confidence, FC Seoul must remember that their performances have been nothing short of dire at times, with their own fans booing their most recent outing against Gangwon FC. With this game being played at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, a fortress rarely breached, I expect Jeonbuk to react to recent disappointment and temporarily sweep away the concerns heading into the international break.

Matthew's Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 FC Seoul

FIFA Prediction

In addition to hearing what our experts think, we also thought it best to simulate the match through FIFA 18 and see what results come up. You can see highlights from our FIFA prediction below or by clicking here.

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