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Preview: Jeju United vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeju United square off against defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Sunday afternoon following consecutive league wins, but lost on their final matchday to Thai side Briram Unired in the Champions League.  Jeonbuk, meanwhile, has been unstoppable of late in the domestic campaign and currently top the league on 18 points.  They also secured their place in the round of 16 with a stunning second half performance against Hong Kong's Kitchee SC en route to a 3-0 victory. Branko Belan looks at Sunday's match, and is joined by Matthew Binns, who provides an outlook for the visitors.

Last Time Out

Jeju's last time out was on matchday six of the ACL at home against Buriram United.  Despite playing better for stretches of the match, they still fell by a single goal, and could have had at least two men sent off if not for lax officiating. Magno Cruz could have put Jeju in front on twenty minutes, but his chipped effort from close range following a through ball into the box from Aleks Jovanovic, who saw his first action for the team this season, hit the post and stayed out. Buriram would tally just under ten minutes into the second half through Korakod Wiriyaudomsiri, and it turned out to be the difference as the Thai side were able to book their place in the knockouts and will face Jeonbuk next.  Jeju lost all three of its matches at home in the ACL, failing to score a single goal in the process.

Their last time out in the league was much better, securing their first league home win of the season against Incheon United last Saturday by a score of 4-2.  The performance against Incheon showed flashes of what the Islanders could be capable of as the season progresses, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

One positive from the Incheon match is that Tiago Marques finally found the back of the net, scoring a brace.  He is starting to see more action, both as a starter and off the bench, but will still need some time to establish himself as a consistent striker.  He could become more of a threat if given time to play alongside Magno Cruz, one of the K League's top scorers last season.

Previous Meetings

These two sides met four times last season, including a title clinching 3-0 win for Jeonbuk in the championship round. Three goals in the second half from Lee Jae-sung, Lee Seung-ki and Lee Dong-gook were more than enough to put the result beyond doubt. The match also featured eleven cards and the sending off of Park Jin-po just before the hour mark, after which Jeonbuk kicked into a higher gear to clinch their fifth league crown in team history.

Jeju did manage to win twice against Jeonbuk last season, including a 2-1 success at home last July. Interestingly enough, all of the goals were scored in the first half, with Lee Chang-min netting what turned out to be the winner in the 42nd minute.

Team News

The lineup which faced Buriram on Tuesday night featured mostly rotation players, including Jeong Tae-wook, Aleks Jovanovic, Kim Do-yeop, Bae Jae-woo, and Kim Kyung-min, as Cho Sung-hwan opted to give playing time to squad members who have seen little or no action thus far this season, knowing that their fate in the competition had already been sealed.

The most anticipated of the group which played on Tuesday night was Jeong Tae-wook, who has already turned heads as a member of the Korean U-20 squad.  At 194 centimeters and 88 kg, it is expected that he will eventually flourish into a strong defensive prospect for the team, and being that he played quite well against Buriram, it is projected that he will see more action in the K League in the near future.

The Jeju manager was displeased to have to surrender to defeat at home once again, but also said he was satisfied with what he saw from many of the players who got an opportunity on the pitch, hinting that they would see an increase in minutes in the future.

Jeonbuk come into the weekend fixture with a few players on the mend.  Kim Jin-su has damage to his medial ligament, and will miss the next four weeks.  Hong Jeong-ho will also miss about a month with a hamstring problem.  Han Kyo-won damaged his collarbone, and will be out for an extended period of time, expected to be around three months.

The Adversary

Jeonbuk come into this match in fine form, having won their last seven matches across all competitions, and without conceding in their last six. Since the start of the year, Jeonbuk have scored an exact average of three goals per competitive fixture, which is truly phenomenal given some of the sides they have come up against. The squad may have varied from game to game to handle the recent gruelling schedule, but their supposed fringe players are also proving that they would walk into the first team of most other K League squads with some strong performances. It is genuinely difficult to know who the best eleven are at present due to this embarrassment of riches.

One issue where Jeju United may look to probe this North Jeolla juggernaut is at left back. Jeonbuk’s first three choices for the position are all currently out injured (Kim Jin-su and the two Park Won-jaes), meaning that Choi Chul-soon will be called on to cover despite normally playing on the opposite flank. Choi is certainly an accomplished full back, and by no means a poor option for the role, but by occupying the left, he also leaves Jeonbuk with no backup cover for the right. On Wednesday night, Jeonbuk had no defenders on the bench, only defensive midfielders, and it is of notable concern with games coming every three to four days.

In terms of personnel, Choi Kang-hee usually opted for a 3-5-2 formation on nearly all of the occasions these sides met last season. However, given their lack of depth at the back, I expect the manager to wheel out his tried and trusted 4-1-4-1 formation for this particular visit to the island. Having started on the bench for the last two games, Kim Shin-wook is likely to start with ideally the pace of Lopes and either Lee Seung-gi or Tiago on the flanks to both feed and feed off him. Central midfield could also boast the likes of Lee Jae-sung, Son Jun-ho and potentially Lim Sun-young start, especially as captain Shin Hyung-min has rarely started two games in a row this season. Despite their early season stuttering though, the threat Jeju can pose is clear and I expect the visitors to field a strong eleven come Sunday.

(Matthew Binns)

Who to Watch

Lee Chang-keun has been in better form for Jeju in goal recently, but he will be likely tested often when Jeonbuk take the pitch on Sunday.  Having said this, Jeju's back three will also have to be at the top of their game if they are to come away with a result.

Jeju's defensive unit has shown to be susceptible against stronger teams this season, as was evidenced in the Champions League against Guangzhou, to whom they conceded seven goals in two matches.  It is questionable how they will perform as all of Jeju's wins in the league this season have come against teams in the lower half of the table.

Jeonbuk have lost only twice across all competitions this season, and have been particularly potent in the offensive end, so Jeju will have their hands full to contend with the likes of Kim Shin-wook, Lee Jae-sung, Ricardo Lopes, Adriano and the rest of the dangerous Jeeonbuk attack.

Prediction

The two clubs have experienced very different fortunes this season, with Jeonbuk looking very much like their dominant selves, while Jeju has only just started to turn a corner in league play, inching up to fifth in the table following the victory against Incheon.

The fact is that while Jeonbuk look in mid-season form, Jeju seemingly still have some tinkering to do, and thus it looks very much like the visitors should win the match rather comfortably.  Momentum and psychology are both very much on the side of the defending champions at the moment, so the chances of Jeju adding to their win total at home on the weekend seem very slim indeed.

Predicted Score: Jeju United 1-3 Jeonbuk Hyundai

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