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Preview: Sangju Sangmu vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

K League 1 Preview: Sangju Sangmu vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors continued their early ascent to the K League 1 title with another crucial victory midweek and now travel to face a Sangju Sangmu side currently struggling to rediscover their pre-World Cup form. Will they be able to pull off an unlikely upset against the league leaders on Sunday evening and correct their wayward course?
(image via K League)

Last Time Out

The North Jeolla juggernaut proceeded on what is increasingly looking like an inevitable title as it defeated AFC Champions League seekers Jeju United in an underwhelming 1-0 affair that saw both sides rest various first team personnel as they look to balance the demands of a hectic fixture schedule. The result saw Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors move an impressive sixteen points ahead of last season's runners up, and they currently sit twelve clear as the half way stage arrives.

As mentioned, both managers opted for sweeping changes with perhaps one eye on the schedule. The fixtures before the World Cup break and since the league recommenced have seen roughly a game being played every three to four days, and it is of no surprise that Jeonbuk, given the quality of talent they have in reserve, have been able to pull away from their rivals so quickly this season.

Despite the changes though, it was not until Jeonbuk introduced first team regulars and Korean internationals Kim Shin-wook and Lee Jae-sung into the fold before they finally broke Jeju's resolve. With the ball reaching the former on the edge of the six yard box, and with the 'keeper diving at his feet, Kim was alert enough to pull the ball back rather than shoot and instead lay it off to his right when an inrushing Lee Jae-sung met to convert from point blank range into an empty net.

Highlights can be found here.

After looking to have found the winning formula prior to the World Cup, the K League's military team have struggled since the campaign recommenced, losing all four matches in the last two weeks. Last time out, Sangju Sangmu fell to a high-flying Gyeongnam FC side who currently find themselves in second.

Despite the narrow scoreline, Sangju could consider themselves somewhat lucky they were not embarassed further. It took 73 minutes of sustained pressure, but visitors Gyeongnam finally broke the deadlock with a superb low volley from just outside of the area by Kim Joon-beom.

Sangju did nearly muster up an unlikely equaliser against the run of play in the final five minutes, when Kim Tae-hwan capitalised on a Gyeongnam defensive error to cross to Shim Dong-woon on the edge of the six yard box. Despite his heading unchallenged, Shim directed his effort straight at the crossbar, consigning his team to a fourth straight defeat.

Highlights can be found here.

Previous Meetings

Over the history of their existence in various guises, Sangju Sangmu have only ever held the upper hand over Jeonbuk on just four occasions in 37 meetings. Their most recent victory came in September last year, where a last gasp 2-1 victory threatened to reopen the K League title race.  However, Jeonbuk have often found this a comfortable fixture, claiming maximum points 23 times.

The last time these two sides met was back in March, where Jeonbuk scraped a narrow 1-0 home victory, courtesy of an early Adriano goal and the team seeing out the result. Back then, it could be argued Jeonbuk were still finding their stride but, given their recent form, they would be expected to fair much better on Sunday.

Team News

The biggest news for Jeonbuk is the return of Ricardo Lopes from suspension. The Brazilian winger has been in sensational form for his side in recent matches and would have been frustrated to have missed the game against his former club Jeju United due to yellow card accumulation. Jeonbuk also welcomed back Kim Min-jae for the first forty-five minutes of their previous match after the Korean international had been sidelined with a lengthy injury that had ruled him out of the World Cup. He is expected to start and continue his recovery against Sangju this weekend. There is still no word on when left back Kim Jin-su is expected to return, so Choi Chul-soon will continue to cover for him, as he has done so for the majority of the season.

For Sangju Sangmu, there are currently no suspensions which they will have to deal with. Despite the recently absent Joo Min-kyu, they will still have a relatively strong pool of players to select from.

The Adversary

Sangju Sangmu's form prior to the World Cup break compared to since football returned is of stark contrast. Before the international competition, Sangju were on a run of seven games unbeaten and were looking comfortable in the top half of the the division. Since the league recommenced, the military side has lost all four of their games, scoring just once. This is despite additional reinforcements in the summer, a luxury the team rarely receives as they are normally required to make do with mostly winter recruits.

The team tends to vary between a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation, and normally are attack minded to try and make use of their best talent. Down the left flank, the pairing of Suwon Bluewings and Korean International recruits Hong Chul (LB) and Kim Min-woo (LW) make for a strong crossing outlet, while Pohang striker Shim Dong-woon has been Pohang's best chance at converting in front of goal given the absence of Joo Min-kyu. Despite leading the scoring charts for the club, he still has also only bagged three in total for the campaign, but was quite the threat at his former club. It will be these three that will likely pose the biggest tests to the Jeonbuk backline, though they should have enough to withstand any onslaught given the clean sheets they have recorded against higher level opposition this season.

Prediction

Besides the blip that was the 3-3 draw against Incheon two weeks ago, three victories in a row without conceding against Korea's three other Champions League sides this season shows that Joenbuk are picking up incredible steam and will unlikely want this run to stop in a bid to wrap up the league as quickly as possible and shift their focus elsewhere. Given Sangju's struggles in both defence and attack, it seems unlikely that the league leaders will slip up when they pay their visit on Sunday. If the military side are not careful, this fixture could very well get away from them quickly.

Predicted Score: Sangju Sangmu 0-3 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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