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Preview: K League 1 Round 13

With K League 1 just weeks away from its month long World Cup hiatus, Round 13 offers a number of teams the chance to better position themselves for the break. AFC Champions League contenders Jeonbuk Hyundai, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, and Ulsan Hyundai all face the difficult task of rotating their squads just enough to remain competitive in the league while also keeping players fresh for crucial intercontinental matches midweek. Meanwhile, squads like Gyeongnam and Jeju will look to pick up wins that could position them for their own ACL run in 2019. All of these matches and more in your comprehensive Round 13 guide. 

Saturday May 12th

#JHMvPOH: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Pohang Steelers (8th) 14:00 

After nearly two months, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' winning streak came to an end last weekend when they saw out a 0-0 draw with Jeonnam Dragons. Just days later they picked up their first loss in 12 matches in all competitions losing 3-2 to Buriram United in Thailand. Even for a team as rich in talent as Jeonbuk, playing 11 games in five weeks is a tremendous strain and no amount of squad rotation manager Choi Kanghee might have employed can change that fact. Unsurprisingly, the glut of games in April has also carried with it a slew of injuries and forced Jeonbuk to play some rather odd squads in their two most recent matches. A largely reserve squad took the field in Suncheon for the Honam Derby last weekend and just 14 players made the trip to Thailand for their ACL encounter. Back in Jeonju and presumably with a full squad for the first time in a week, Jeonbuk find themselves in need of a win not only to keep command of the top spot in the league, but also to get their confidence back with just a few days to prepare for their must win match against Buriram.

Also in need of a win, Pohang make the journey to Jeonju winless in their last five and sliding down the league table. A promising start to the season has collapsed along with a Steelers attack that has been held scoreless in four of their previous five. Facing Jeonbuk away wouldn't usually offer much in the way of hope for such an anemic attack, but after watching Buriram put three past Song Bumkeun midweek, Pohang will feel a bit more confident. The vaunting Jeonbuk defense that held an astounding nine straight clean sheets is suddenly human and the likes of Léo Gamalho and Kim Seungdae should be looking at this match to get themselves back on track. Having no intercontinental football to contend with, Pohang also head into the match far more rested and ready to spoil Jeonbuk's return home.

You can read Matthew Binns' full preview and prediction here.

#GANvSEO: Gangwon FC (7th) vs FC Seoul (9th) 14:00

The league's second best attack squares off against the second best defense as Gangwon host FC Seoul for the first time this year. With 25-year-old Serbian Uroš Đerić leading the way with nine goals, Gangwon have come close to topping the scoring charts with 20 overall. Shrugging off the usual adjustment period to a new league, Đerić peppered in occasional goals right away, but has started to score in bunches of late bagging a hat trick against Jeonnam in Round 8 and a brace against Jeju in Round 11. Having already seen the Seoul defense once this year and helping his side to a 2-1 victory in Round 2,  Đerić will be eager to get the capital club on his home turf and try to put one past Yang Hanbin and the overly stingy Seoul back line. Especially as a win would allow Gangwon to immediately bounce back after taking a 3-0 beating at the hands of Sangju Sangmu last round.

FC Seoul's emphatic Super Match victory last round changed their three game winless streak into a three game unbeaten streak and should have them in high spirits heading to Chuncheon this weekend. Currently manager-less, the entirety of the Seoul squad have a point to prove right now and will continue to jockey for spots in the starting XI – and indeed the team itself – this weekend as they look for their first back to back wins since October. Starting to grow into the role of leader and perhaps permanently staking his claim on the striker spot is Evandro, whose pace and vision led to both Anderson Lopes goals against Suwon. Regardless of still being stuck on two goals, Evandro has emerged from the pack as the focal point of the previously non-existent Seoul attack and is one or two partners away from turning the corner for Seoul this year. His Brazilian strike partner Lopes finally made his presence known this year with his first two goals of the season in the Super Match. However, the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima man has yet to prove any type of ongoing ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Going against a Gangwon side Seoul have never drawn against and that have held just one clean sheet this season, both Brazilians and the always capable Go Yohan should all be primed to make life difficult for the porous Gangwon defense.

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


#JEJvJND: Jeju United (4th) vs Jeonnam Dragons (10th) 16:00

Both Jeju United and Jeonnam Dragons head into Saturday afternoon riding a positive four game streak... with one slightly better than the other. United have won three of their past four and are now just one point off second place and potentially challenging for top spot like they did last year. Although Magno Cruz emerged as the team's scoring leader with a hat trick in their 5-3 loss vs Gangwon, Jeju have seen a total of nine different scorers this season and have shown goals can come from anywhere on the field. Going against a Jeonnam defense that has allowed 23 goals already this season, Cruz and company will certainly have their shooting boots on this weekend in hopes of leapfrogging Suwon and Gyeongnam to start their challenge against Jeonbuk.

While the Dragons have indeed shipped 23 goals this year, they have only allowed three of those in their past four games and were the first squad to shut out Jeonbuk in 21 matches trying. It's obviously important to note Jeonnam had a man advantage for well over half of that game after a 36th minute red card for Jeonbuk's Jung Hyuk, but the defense can only play what's in front of them and they kept it scoreless. Perhaps more encouraging for Jeonnam is the four game unbeaten streak their newfound defensive prowess has earned them. Goalkeeper Lee Hoseung has proven the difference at the back stopping shots that would have been goals in the earlier rounds and bailing out his back line enough times to give defenders confidence going forward. The question now is the same it's been all year for Jeonnam: who's going to score goals? Defender Choi Jaehyun leads the way with three, but that's clearly not a tenable solution and someone else needs to step up and put the ball in the back of the net. Brazilian duo Macedo and Wanderson were expected to play the part, but have fallen flat. Others like Han Chanhee, Kim Youngwook, and Ha Taegoon will need to step up if the Dragons are to get just their second ever win at Seogwipo.

You can read Branko Belan's full preview and prediction here.

Sunday May 13th

#SANvINC: Sangju Sangmu (5th) vs Incheon United (11th) 14:00 

Having survived their grueling ten straight away games to start the season with 12 points, Sangju are hitting their stride at the perfect time with 15 of their remaining 21 league games at home. Their most recent home game saw them dismantle the up-and-down Gangwon FC 3-0 in just under 30 minutes of game time. A 54th minute Sim Dongwoon goal was sandwiched between Kim Dohyung's first two of the season at the 39th and 67th minute marks. The win was Sangju's third in five games and showed they're not only capable of scoring against anyone in the league, but defending against them as well. Gangwon entered the match with a goal tally bettered by only Jeonbuk, and yet the military outfit held them scoreless through 90. Keeper Yoo Sanghoon has taken hold of the starting spot with three clean sheets during the unbeaten streak. Should the backstop keep this run of form going, he will give FC Seoul's future manager a roster headache when he returns there later this season after finishing his military duty.

Conversely, Incheon enter Sunday afternoon with just one point in seven games. That lone point is all that keeps them from the bottom of the table, and may not be enough after this weekend. Despite Moon Seonmin and Stefan Mugoša jointly occupying second place in the Golden Boot race with six goals each, Incheon can't score with enough frequency to offset their defense's continual late game collapses. A trend that struck them in the most unfortunate of ways last round when a controversial VAR decision awarded Jeju a 94th minute penalty kick that Ryu Seungwoo slotted home and took two deserved points away from Incheon. Being in the relegation battle all season long is nothing new for Incheon, but they will need to take matters into their own hands and pick up some points very soon if they don't want to be looking up at 11 other teams during the World Cup break.

You can read Tim Barnes' full preview and prediction here

#SSBvDAE: Suwon Samsung Bluewings (3rd) vs Daegu FC (12th) 16:00

The timing couldn't be better for Suwon to welcome the last placed club in K1 as the Bluewings are desperate for points after back to back losses at rivals FC Seoul in the league and at Ulsan Hyundai in ACL. If the on field issues weren't enough, veteran leader Yeom Kihun was stretchered off in the Ulsan match with a rib injury that will sideline him through the World Cup. Suddenly reeling after being just seven points back from the league lead when they faced Jeonbuk just two weeks ago, Suwon need to fill a gaping hole on the wing and pick up a somewhat rare home win. Manager Seo Jungwon will not only need to line his men up tactically for success, but will also need to rotate the squad enough to ensure everyone is rested for Wednesday night's must win match against Ulsan in the second leg of their ACL fixture. A duty he failed miserably in by fielding a B team when his squad went to Jeonju two weeks ago, and one they have yet to fully recover from.

For Daegu, even a point would do. Obviously the cellar dwellers would prefer to take all three points on offer, but after suffering five losses on the trot, simply stopping the slide would do the trick for a team likely to be fending off the drop all year. Despite having one of Korea's best keepers in Cho Hyunwoo, Daegu can't stop conceding with 13 goals against in the five game losing streak. A record bad enough to put them in a three way tie for the league's worst defense with Jeonnam and Gangwon at 23 goals against. Although Suwon struggle at home, seven of their 17 goals have come at Big Bird, so there won't be much comfort there for the visitors. Additionally, Daegu know full well how badly Suwon need a win to lift their spirits, so simply trying to hold them scoreless and escaping with a point doesn't seem likely to do the trick. Instead, Daegu will need to take the game to their opponent and get a least a goal out of this if they're to stop their losing streak.

You can read Scott Whitelock's full preview and prediction here

#ULSvGYE: Ulsan Hyundai (6th) vs Gyeongnam FC (2nd) 16:00

Pegged as the K League Worldwide LIVE Match of Round 13, Ulsan Hyundai will look to extend their unbeaten streak to 12 in all competitions when they welcome Gyeongnam FC to Munsu Football Stadium Sunday afternoon. Fresh off their 1-0 victory over Suwon in their Round of 16 ACL match, Ulsan are likely to rotate their squad heavily in preparation of the second leg, but not necessarily at the expense of this match. Manager Kim Dohoon knows full well that a win could be enough to propel them into the top four and start their bid to secure ACL for 2019. Meanwhile, Gyeongnam enter the match having rediscovered the high flying attack that propelled them to top spot in the early goings of the season. Golden Boot leader Marcão has scored three in as many games after bagging a  brace last time out and is now up to nine on the season. The young striker will look to add to his total against Ulsan to silence the doubters that cropped up during his dry spell. With just two games to go before K League breaks for the World Cup, the Reds know the only way to keep pace with Jeonbuk at the top is to win out and head into the break strong.

You can read my full preview on KLeague.com as part of our partnership with the league

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