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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Incheon United

K League 1 Match Preview and Prediction: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Incheon United

Saturday evening sees not only the return of the K League 1 after the World Cup hiatus, but also the return of Korea's World Cup heroes, and none more so than in Jeonju where league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors take on Incheon United who will both be hoping their international stars can help boost their clubs' profiles. With the away side also boasting a new manager in former North Korea coach Jørn Andersen, all eyes will be on North Jeolla province as top flight football recommences.
(image via K League)

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were last seen reaffirming their dominance over league rivals FC Seoul, with the Jeonju-based side running out 4-0 victors on Seoul's home turf. The lead up had seen Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee receive continent-wide condemnation for his squad management in the weeks prior, but within the space of five days, proved his doubters wrong once more by ensuring his team progressed to the Champions League quarter finals with a comeback victory over Thai champions Buriram United, before beating FC Seoul and giving Jeonbuk a nine point lead at the summit before the six week World Cup hiatus.

Despite the scoreline though, it did take a while for Jeonbuk to kick into gear, having played out a fairly even sixty minutes. The introduction of both Lee Jae-sung and Lee Dong-gook from the bench ignited the team however, and it was not long before they were in front. A Lee Jae-sung goal, assisted by fellow substitute Lee Dong-gook, was confirmed correctly by VAR to give the away side the lead. A red card for Seoul's Shin Jin-ho worsened matters, and allowed Jeonbuk to take advantage of the man extra, pummelling three goals beyond the capital club's defence within the last ten minutes. It was not a faultless performance from Jeonbuk, but given it was their fifteenth game in seven weeks at the time and the resulting position they now find themselves in, they can perhaps be forgiven for being somewhat slow to kick into gear over the ninety minutes.

Highlight from that match can be found here.

A then manager-less Incheon United prevented a third defeat in a row thanks to a last gasp equaliser against Ulsan Hyundai at home, resulting in the eleventh placed outfit picking up their second point in nine league games. The goal itself came from a poorly defended corner kick in the 95th that landed at the feet of Incheon defender Lim Eun-soo to tuck home. Incheon's performance as a whole though probably was deserving of the point. The match saw them carve out numerous opportunities, something the club has not struggled with too much this year in fairness to them, yet their failure to convert meant falling behind to a Mislav Oršić free kick in the 76th minute.

Their persistence was eventually reward however, and it will be this determination that newly appointed manager Jørn Andersen will be hoping he can benefit from as he looks to implement his own brand of football on the struggling side.

Highlight from that match can be found here.


Previous Meetings

While these sides often look mismatched on paper, the number of closely fought encounters is quite baffling. You could even go as far as to say this is an opponent that Jeonbuk regularly struggle to get the better of. Of 39 matches played, the North Jeolla side have won 13, drawn 14 and lost 12. In fact, Jeonbuk have only beaten Incheon once in three encounters for the last two seasons, often criminally underestimating the side by fielding weakened teams.

This was evidenced when these two teams met in the second round of the season. With Jeonbuk's manager looking ahead to their upcoming Champions League match, he fielded an under strength side that even featured the team's current third choice goalkeeper, Hwang Byeong-keun. While not necessarily a bad 'keeper given that he played throughout the 2017 title run-in, rarely conceding, his performance against Incheon may very well still haunt him to this day. Jeonbuk deservedly lost the encounter 3-2, much to the rest of the league's amusement. Choi Kang-hee's men will be no doubt hoping to exact out some level of vengeance this weekend.

Team News

After rounds filled with injury issues, Jeonbuk find themselves with a near clean bill of health going into this match. Prior to the break, defenders Kim Jin-su and Kim Min-jae were in no shape fit to play, cruelly missing out on the World Cup squad, but should have now recovered over the break. Whether they will start will depend on their match fitness. Right winger Han Kyo-won is also back in training after three months on the sidelines, and could also feature for Jeonbuk if deemed necessary.

In fact, Jeonbuk's main doubts are the three players returning from World Cup duty. While Lee Jae-sung, Lee Yong and Kim Shin-wook all returned from Russia fit, the manager may see this weekend as an opportunity to give them a rest. The players will no doubt make some kind of appearance though, whether from the bench or otherwise, to be welcomed back from international duty by the Jeonbuk faithful.

Speaking of players at the World Cup, Incheon United attacking winger Moon Seon-min also returned from national team duty and could be selected this weekend. Moon is the joint highest Korean goalscorer in the division at present and, while his time in Russia understandably received mix reviews, he undoubtedly deserved to be called up to Shin Tae-yong's squad based on his goal-scoring exploits for a struggling side.

The Adversary

"Incheon United was happy for the extended World Cup break following a poor opening to the 2018 season. They’re currently down in 11th place and firmly in the relegation battle. Before the break they had only won once, however that was against Saturday's opposition Jeonbuk. Incheon’s main weakness has been a weak defence with no standout players currently at the back."

"The biggest talking point during the break was the appointment of former North Korea manager Norwegian Jørn Andersen. He has performed well in international football and so it will be interesting to see if that translates to the K League."

"So heading into the game against Jeonbuk Hyundai I see a few changes to the starting XI, with the keeper and defenders rotating. Up front it should stay the same, with Stefan Mugosa flanked by Moon Seon-Min and re-signed Nam Jun-Jae. A lack of depth in the squad will limit the new boss.

"South Korea World Cup Squad member winger Moon Seon-Min will be the one to watch. He has scored 6 goal so far this season and was the big difference during their shock win over Jeonbuk earlier in the season. His experience in Russia will hopefully benefit Incheon in their relegation battle."

"Incheon aren’t easily beaten, but Jeonbuk at times look unbeatable. Incheon should get a goal, but the defensive issues will allow Jeonbuk to score a few. Therefore I see Jeonbuk winning 3-1 on Saturday Evening."

- K League United's Incheon United columnist, Tim Barnes

Who To Watch

Stefan Mugoša is still the stand out threat in this Incheon United side given his goal-scoring exploits. He is the top scorer for the club, with seven league goals to his name. The Montenegrin has been a revelation since his arrival in the country and will undoubtedly be drawing the attention of other clubs if not in this transfer window, then come the end of the season.

Incheon United winger Moon Seon-min being interviewed this week as one of the K League's representatives at the World Cup. (Image: K League)
Incheon United winger Moon Seon-min being interviewed this week as one of the K League's representatives at the World Cup. (Image: K League)

Elsewhere, if he features, Korean international Moon Seon-min [pictured] could also be set to cause Jeonbuk a few headaches. As pointed out by our own Tim Barnes, Moon has already caused Jeonbuk problems this season, and his six goals for the campaign, plus his three assists, show he is dangerous in this division.

At the World Cup, Moon had a tendency to come unstuck when in a threatening position, often opting for an extra touch or doubting whether to let fly with a shot. In the K League though, he has been one of Incheon's beacons of hope. Whilst his selfish tendencies with the ball do sometimes cause attacks to frustratingly break down, his counter attacking pace is ideal for a team that is sometimes best off sitting back so as not to be exposed.

Prediction

Given that Jeonbuk have close to a full strength squad to choose from, and will almost certainly be wanting to exact revenge over the embarrassing result in March's reverse fixture, it is difficult to look past the home side in this match. Incheon United will also be trying to come to grips with new training methods and tactics employed by their recently appointed manager, which could make things difficult. While Andersen could well stumble upon a winning formula at the first attempt, it feels far more likely that experienced K League veteran Choi Kang-hee will edge out a victory over his new counterpart this Saturday.

Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Incheon United

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