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Preview: K League 1 Round 9

This Wednesday sees the second of five rounds to be played over a two week span in K League 1 and begins a stretch that will undoubtedly have ramifications for the rest of the season. An intriguing 2nd vs 3rd matchup highlights the round with Suwon Samsung trying to fend off Gyeongnam FC to keep pace at the top of the table. A task Gangwon FC hopes to factor in to as they welcome the defending champions, Jeonbuk, to Chuncheon. Elsewhere, FC Seoul and the always plucky Sangju Sangmu look to pick up back to back wins against opponents beneath them in the table to kick their seasons into gear. These match ups and more in your comprehensive Round 9 preview.

Wednesday April 25th

#JNDvSEO: Jeonnam Dragons (12th) vs FC Seoul (9th) 19:30 

After suffering yet another exasperating loss vs Gangwon FC last round, last place Jeonnam remain at home and welcome an FC Seoul side that may have finally found their stride. The Dragons 4-1 defeat over the weekend marked their third loss in a row, pushed their winless streak to seven, and extended their shocking run of just one win in 23 games in all competitions. The abysmal run that ended Jeonnam's 2017 campaign seemed to be arrested with their comprehensive performance and win at Suwon on opening day, but since then the team hasn't been able to get out of its own way. Three red cards in three games left them handicapped and dropping points, and even being on the other side of a sending off couldn't help the South Jeolla side. Already down 3-0, Gangwon keeper Kim Hojun was sent off in the 46th and Jeonnam simply couldn't take advantage of being up a man. In fact, they conceded a fourth before Kim Youngwook salvaged some credibility for the club and got them on the board. Wednesday offers them a perfect opportunity to build on that credibility and at least keep the game competitive. As strange as it sounds of a team rooted to the foot of the table, a strong performance to build on may be even more important than points considering where the Jeonnam locker room is at during this early stage of the season. 

Conversely, Seoul makes the long journey South having won two of their previous three and coming off of their most impressive performance, a 3-0 win vs Daegu FC. With Jeonnam and Sangju up next for the capital club, now seems the perfect time for Hwang Sunhong's men to pick up enough points to get close to the top half of the table. However, as Steve Price and I discussed after the Daegu match, the table was set for Seoul in a very similar fashion last year and they failed to capitalize on it. Much like this season, 2017 was a rough start for Seoul and an emotional late victory against Jeonbuk at home seemed to be the spark they needed. Instead they went on the road and lost to a Gwangju FC side that wound up getting relegated. The exact same trap now awaits them as they look to end a six game winless run away from home and keep their offense firing on all cylinders. As has been the case in recent matches, Evandro will play a key part in this, but youngster Cho Youngwook should factor in as well given the strong performance he put in over the weekend. If either of those men or the in-form Go Yohan can get on the board early, it will be yet another long day at the office for Jeonnam.

You can read Aodan Halligan's full preview and prediction here.

#ULSvINC: Ulsan Hyundai (8th) vs Incheon United (10th) 19:30  

Perhaps a bit lucky to come away from Gyeongnam with a point, Ulsan return home and will hope to return to their winning ways with Incheon United making the cross-peninsula trip. After dropping three of their first four home matches in all competitions, the Horangi have won three in a row and will have to extend that streak with someone other than their leading scorer, Junior Negao. The Brazilian striker is set to miss six weeks after coming off injured at Gyeongnam. A match that oddly saw Gyeongnam FC's defense steal the show, shutting out Ulsan for the first time in six matches. The Horangi had a decent number of chances in the match, but were never able to convert and with such a short rest between matches, will unquestionably carry that frustration over to Wednesday night. With Incheon holding just one clean sheet this season, look for Ulsan to attack United's right flank with Park Jooho overlapping Mislav Oršić and the pair pinging in crosses. Although Ulsan have scored 43% of their goals in the 75th-90th minute, knowing anything within the first 20 minutes might be enough to sink their opponents could change that trend.

Incheon come into Round 9 having suffered their most heartbreaking defeat of 2018 conceding a 92nd minute Park Hyungjin winner to rivals Suwon. The loss was United's third on the trot, and pushed them back into the early season relegation conversation just one point off the bottom. With just one away win in their last 13 tries, Incheon will need top performances from Moon Seonmin and Stefan Mugoša again Wednesday to reverse the trend. The team's leading goal scorers have been on the scoresheet in three of Incheon's previous four and are a big reason why the team isn't further down the table. Depending on which version of Ulsan shows up (the ACL group runners up or the scoreless vs Gyeongnam side), both men may have a field day against the Horangi back line or be shut down entirely.

You can read Dan Croydon's full preview and prediction here.

#SSBvGYE: Suwon Bluewings (2nd) vs Gyeongnam FC (3rd) 19:30

Rightly pegged as the K League Worldwide Live Match for Round 9, this 2nd vs 3rd affair sees both sides hoping to stop a trend. Luckily for the Suwon faithful, it's not a losing or even winless slide overall, but curiously just one at home. In spite of being 2nd in the league and topping their group in ACL, the Bluewings have won just one of their previous seven matches in all competitions at Big Bird. Perhaps in a sign of turning things around, that lone win was their most recent home match against Sangju Sangmu where they came away 2-1 winners. Getting all three points on offer against an opponent much higher in the table would go a long way to assuage any lingering fears Suwon fans may have. To do so, manager Seo Jungwon has set himself up well with veteran leaders Yeom Kihun and Dejan playing in limited late minutes and leading goal scorer Waguininho not being needed to secure victory at Incheon. Even with a huge match against Jeonbuk lingering at the weekend, expect to see Suwon's big three get minutes up front in an effort to get the win and keep pace with the league leaders.

Winless in their previous four, Gyeongnam FC may find their time in the top half of the table at an end by Sunday night if they don't find solutions to their problems immediately. After storming out to the pole position in the opening rounds of 2018 with the attack-first approach that won them promotion last year, the Reds are in need of a Plan B. Having been shut out twice in the four game slide, it has become apparent that their over-reliance on Marcão needs to come to an end and others have to step up. Luckily for Gyeongnam, their other foreign signings have already started to make that leap. Negueba and Kunimoto have proven deadly on the wings with incredible pace and prodigious dribbling skills, and are starting to find their groove shooting as well. Both have already found the back of the net in 2018, and with Marcão obviously needing some assistance up front, both are starting to take more chances on their own. Of the two, Kunimoto seems the more likely to cause Suwon's keeper issues cutting in from the right side as an inverted winger. He has already hit the framework several times this season and is literally inches away from being the additional goal scoring threat Gyeongnam so desperately need.

You can read Scott Whitelock's full preview on KLeague.com as part of our partnership with the league.

#POHvJEJ: Pohang Steelers (4th) vs Jeju United (6th) 19:30 

Nearly every round of the K League 1 season has carried with it a shocking loss, and Round 8 was no different with Pohang falling at home 2-0 to Sangju Sangmu. The loss made it three out of four for Pohang and has started to ask some serious questions of previously imposing Steelers attack with them being shut out twice over the stretch. Léo Gamalho and Kim Seungdae continue to lead the charge, and certainly look the part at times, but need to be more consistent moving forward and create more chances. Pohang managed just seven shots (three on target) in spite of having 61% of the possession and failed to convert on their four corner kicks. As has been the case all season, they are keeping games close and have yet to have another side run away from them, but they're going to need to improve set pieces and their conversion rate sooner than later if they are to stay in ACL contention. With just six goals against, Jeju won't be the easiest team for Pohang to cure their scoring woes against, but if they can become just the fifth team to net against Jeju, one may prove to be enough.

Similar to their hosts, Jeju head into Round 9 after being held scoreless in a closely contested affair. After a pair of first half red cards three minutes apart evened things out at 10 men a side, Jeju were unable to find their stride against Jeonbuk and ended the day without a goal. The goose egg was their second in a row in all competitions and continued the yo-yo start to their season. Prior to being held scoreless twice, the Islanders put up three and four goals against Jeonnam and Incheon respectively. Interestingly enough, Jeju conceded possession in those matches seeing just 46% of the ball against Jeonnam and 44% against Incheon. Look for the Islanders to revert back to the counterattacking style that won them those games this Wednesday with midfielder Lee Changmin the lynchpin to it all.

You can read Ross Davis's full preview and prediction here.

#DAEvSAN: Daegu FC (11th) vs Sangju Sangmu (7th) 19:30

The loss Deagu suffered at FC Seoul last round turned the positive one-loss-in-five streak they had coming into the match into a one-win-in-eight situation after shipping three goals to the capital club. In what was easily Seoul's best performance of the season, Daegu were second to every 50/50 ball and only created four quality chances in spite of having 55% possession. Admittedly, it's slightly hard to tell how much of that match was a poor performance from Daegu and how much was Seoul finally showing up this season. Just one point off the bottom of the table, Daegu will be hoping very much it was the latter when they welcome a side they have traditionally had the advantage over to town Wednesday night. In the 35 matches Daegu and Sangju have played, Daegu have come out on top 21 times and lost to the military team just five times. A 2015 affair in the then K League Challenge (now K League 2) was the last time Sangju were able to take all three points. The home side will be hoping for a continuation of that trend this week as they try to break down one of the league's more stingy defenses. They desperately need their Brazilian attacking trio of Caion, Jean Carlos, and Cesinha to get going and record their first goals of the season. As it stands, Daegu have just five goals all year, and no multi-goal scorers on the roster. That needs to change if they're going to escape the relegation fight.

As has been the case for several seasons, Sangju refuse to play to their mid-table status and pulled off another upset over the weekend, coming away 2-0 winners at 4th placed Pohang. Sim Dongwoon and Shin Changmu each netted their first of the season and the backline held strong to secure all three points on offer. Nearly at the end of their arduous ten straight away games to start the season, Sangju are well positioned to secure their place in K1 before the calendar turns to May. They are already sitting in seventh with ten points before playing a single game at home. If manager Kim Taewan is following the "win at home, draw on the road" mentality, then his side is just a draw away from achieving their goal of 10 points from the first 10 rounds. Add in the fact that Daegu and Seoul away are the last trips Sangju need to make before they play 17 of their final 23 league games at Sangju Stadium, and they come into this tie with next to nothing to lose. This should allow for a somewhat loose team to come into the match ready to add to its moderate goal total against one of the league's worst defenses.

Prediction: Daegu FC 1-2 Sangju Sangmu

#GANvJHM: Gangwon FC (5th) vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) 20:00

With so much focus on Gyeongnam FC's attacking style of play and Jeonbuk already distancing themselves from the pack, the fact that Gangwon FC may well be the most entertaining team in K League has slipped under the radar. Eight rounds into the 2018 campaign and Gangwon are yet to record a draw, have not been held scoreless, and have yet to hold a clean sheet. Their matches are decisive and always feature goals for both sides; a neutral fan couldn't ask for more. With the defending champions making the trip to Chuncheon this round, things look set to stay that way. Buoyed by their four goal outburst against Jeonnam over the weekend, Gangwon climbed the scoring chart up to 15 in the league, a mark bettered by only Jeonbuk. 25-year-old Serbian striker Uroš Đerić now leads the Golden Boot race after bagging his first K League hat trick and will be the focus of their attack against Jeonbuk. Standing at 196cm and possessing a deft first touch, Đerić is the ideal target man for a league built around target men. His tendency has been to create chances on his own, but given Jeonbuk's extremely stingy defense, this is the perfect match up for the young Serbian to show off his link up play with Lee Keunho and Jung Jogook. All three will need to have a top day if Gangwon's to have any chance in this one.

Seven different teams have tried to score on Jeonbuk since March 31st and all seven have failed. An eight game winning streak in all competitions is impressive enough, but seven straight clean sheets is just ridiculous. After a dubious start to the season, keeper Song Bumkeun has been a brick wall between the sticks for the few shots his phenomenal defense lets through. He easily leads the league with six clean sheets already. With those six clean sheets and just four goals allowed through eight games, it's become quite apparent why national team manager Shin Taeyong has been relying on nearly the entire Jeonbuk backline at the international level. Kim Minjae continues to be the rock of the defense having started all eight games thus far and single handedly shutting down three of the league's top five scorers. He and Song will face one of their stiffer tests this week with Gangwon on the other side of the pitch, but even if Jeonbuk do concede the rare goal, they have more attacking depth than anyone in the league and can bring the likes of Lee Donggook, Adriano, Tiago, or even Kim Shinwook off the bench to get a late goal. With so much talent on the team, Jeonbuk will be favorites as always, but Gangwon should make it interesting.

You can read Steve Price's full preview and prediction here.

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