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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers

K League 1 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors return back to domestic duties after midweek disappointment on the continent. The reigning league champions welcome an out-of-sorts Pohang Steelers side fresh from derby defeat last weekend. With both sides hoping to bounce back on Saturday afternoon, which team will come out on top? Our columnists Matthew Binns and Ross Davis preview the fixture.
(image via K League)

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk come into this fixture after returning from a disappointing trip to Thailand midweek. The North Jeolla outfit return to the peninsula after losing their opening leg with Buriram United by three goals to two, but will at least be hopeful that their one goal deficit and two away goals accumulated should be enough to turn the tie around in Jeonju, in a stadium they currently boast a 100% win record across all competitions this year.

What will be concerning is the manner of the defeat. While Choi Kang-hee is understandably suffering with squad fatigue and injuries, the three substitutes he took to Thailand left him with no backup options after his initial starting eleven, perhaps the strongest available at present to him, found themselves on the back foot by Buriram’s attacking and positive play and unable to break down their resilience.

Choi Kang-hee opted to field his team in an unusual 4-4-2 diamond formation, placing Lopes in an attacking midfield role behind the strikers despite his best performances coming from the right wing. While the manager may feel vindicated given the goal the Brazilian scored early in the second half, at times his team looked mostly disjointed, playing unnecessary long balls into striker Kim Shin-wook who did not have one of his better nights. The manager later switch to a more familiar five midfield later on, removing Adriano instead of the ineffective Kim, but it did allow Jeonbuk to wrestle back some slight control of proceedings. Son Jun-ho's late goal was probably undeserved on the balance of play as a whole, but has offered Jeonbuk a hopeful lifeline in their quest for continental silverware.

Highlights of Jeonbuk's 3-2 defeat to Buriram United can be viewed here

Our Pohang Steelers columnist Ross Davis recaps Pohang's defeat to Ulsan below:

Ulsan Hyundai came out on the top of the 51st K League East Coast Derby last Saturday, which leaves Pohang Steelers on a run of no wins in five, and only two nil-nil draws amongst that dismal run.

The Steeler's did initially take the lead against however. Their promising rookie attacker Lee Keun-ho, who has really nailed down a starting place in the last few weeks, was the man to open the scoring for his side with his first professional goal. It came from a nice passing move from the back that ended with Lee Keun-ho being put through a rather large gap in the centre of the Ulsan defence and rounding the keeper and shooting high into the net.

Pohang held onto the lead until half-time with a close-range Toyoda being thwarted by Pohang stopper Kang Hyeon-mu just before the break. The danger signs were there and the lead only lasted until the 50th minute when right-sided midfielder Lee In-sung headed in an inviting cross home for the hosts to level in front of a bumper Children’s Day crowd of 12,071.

The turnaround was complete a mere three minutes later.  The home team’s Hwang Il-soo stealing the ball on the halfway line after some slack Pohang passing, and bursting forward before slotting in Ulsan’s Japanese Striker Toyoda, who neatly tucked the ball home to put the hosts ahead. After falling behind the Steelers managed just the one solitary effort on target: a long-range drive from sub Gamalho that was straight at the Ulsan keeper and so Pohang would take no points on their short trip up the coast home.
- Ross Davis

Highlights of Pohang's 2-1 defeat to Ulsan Hyundai can be viewed here

Previous Meetings

These teams met only a month ago, but the hectic schedule with weekly Wednesday fixtures makes that meeting feel like an age ago. Back then, Pohang Steelers had not lost in six and looked liked a force to be reckoned with, before falling at home by two goals to nil courtesy of former Pohang men Lee Dong-gook and Son Jun-ho. Since that loss, Pohang have collected just five points in their last seven outings, scoring just four goals, whereas Jeonbuk have only dropped two points and conceded once over the same period. Combined with Jeonbuk's impressive home record this season and it seems Pohang could very well be in for a repeat.

It would be true to form though, with Pohang's last victory against Jeonbuk coming in October 2015. Since then, Pohang have only up two points in eight meetings, scoring only twice and conceding 15 in return.

Team News

Despite bossing recent matches between the two sides, Jeonbuk come into this particular fixture with a number of team issues that Pohang may look to take advantage of. Centre back Kim Min-jae and Kim Jin-su are still the two largest absences, though there is the hope that the latter will soon be returning in a bid to make the World Cup squad announced next Monday. Hong Jeong-ho, injured when these two last met, made his return last weekend against Jeonnam and did not travel midweek to focus on his recovery.

A lot will depend how fit the squad are after traveling midweek though. Choi Kang-hee bemoaned his squad's tiredness after such a hectic schedule, only taking fourteen players to Thailand and leaving fourteen of mostly reserve options at home (who played out a 0-0 draw with Jeonnam the Saturday before). Lee Dong-gook, defender Lee Jae-sung and Tiago did not travel to Thailand though, and are likely to start alongside a selection of players who featured on Wednesday.

Pohang Steelers should be able to welcome back right back Kwon Wan-gyu to the fold after his two game suspension in what will be his penultimate game before joining up with Sangju Sangmu during the World Cup break. Brazilian centre back Alemao may also start after having an assured debut against Ulsan but may lose his place to Ha Chang-rae who has been the preferred option for most of the campaign.

The Adversary

Pohang Steelers come into this game in wretched form; third bottom of the form table over the last six games having only amassed two points from two nil-nil draws in that period. The past weekend’s 2-1 defeat at East Coast rivals Ulsan, although ultimately disappointing, did at least see them end their scoring drought. When they took the lead in the 20th minute they ended a run of four games, and around 400 minutes of action, of not scoring and this will provide some comfort going into what is for most teams the toughest game of the season, away at Jeonbuk.

It was the fourth time in five outings that Pohang had taken the lead away from home this season, and the second time they have lost 2-1 after doing so; a worrying statistic but at least they have been scoring on the road and a makeshift Jeonbuk backline like the one that conceded three in the first leg of their AFC game in Thailand may not be able to stop the Pohang frontline from scoring.

That frontline probably will not include from the start Brazilian Gamalho, who is used mostly as a target man, as the aforementioned scoring drought has seen Brazilian dropped to the bench and a more flexible attacking three deployed in the Pohang’s standard 4-3-3 formation. The front three of Song Sueng-min, Jeong Won-jin and rookie Lee Keun-ho was used against Ulsan and allowed for some rotation of positions but did not muster much in the way of chances with Pohang hitting the target just twice in the whole game. So coach Choi Soon-ho may tinker with this again as he has done so all season.

Their promising rookie attacker Lee Keun-ho, who has really nailed down a starting place in the last few weeks, was the man to open the scoring for his side with his first professional goal, and could be one to watch in this week’s game.
- Ross Davis

Prediction

Jeonbuk's tiredness and depleted squad may certainly play into this, with the only other option being to play reserves and keep players reseted for the crucial AFC Champions League second leg the following Tuesday. Given Jeonbuk are ten points clear of second place, they are in a position to drop players for the sake of the squad's fitness for that match, though it is difficult to imagine a complete squad rotation like last weekend.

Fortunately for the home side, they face an out of form Pohang outfit who have found goals difficult to come by. This, combined with Lee Dong-gook's superb scoring record against the visitors and Jeonbuk's perfect home record, should mean last year's K League champions should come out on top once more.

Writers' Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Pohang Steelers

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