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Preview: K League 1 Round 21

As the sweltering summer temperatures force start times back to 8:00pm, K League 1 sides take the field with a number of potential upsets on the cards. Four of the six K1 matches this weekend see teams on opposite side of the dividing line square off in an attempt to solidify or gain ground in the league table. Meanwhile, the team they are all chasing, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, face a stiff test with a glut of U23 talent gone to the Asian Games and 2nd place Gyeongnam FC making the trip to Jeonju. All of these match ups and more in your comprehensive Round 21 guide.

Saturday, August 4th

#INCvPOH: Incheon United (10th) vs Pohang Steelers (7th) 20:00 

Enjoying their first back to back wins in nearly a full calendar year, Icheon United look to keep their sprint away from the relegation zone going this weekend when the face the consistently inconsistent Pohang Steelers. Unsurprisingly, Incheon have made their way up the table relying on the league's fourth best attack with five goals in their previous two league matches. The brace Stefan Mugoša bagged against Jeonnam was enough to move him back into the Golden Boot race and Moon Seonmin continues to be in fine form after a poor World Cup. The duo will need to be at their peak again this weekend as United have failed to keep opposition off the board in nine straight overall, and remain stuck on a meager two clean sheets on the season. However, an important FA Cup match against Mokpo City looms over the squad midweek and either or both of the star men may be rested to ensure Incheon's advancement in the domestic tournament.

Having already been eliminated from the FA Cup, Pohang have no such concerns and will head into Saturday night looking to erase the memories of their 2-1 defeat at Sangju Sangmu last time out. The loss broke the Steelers three match unbeaten streak in the league and kept them on the wrong side of the dividing line in spite of the team that sits above them in 6th, Gangwon FC, also losing at the weekend. The good news for the Steelers' faithful is that Pohang unquestionably perform better on the road where they have been held scoreless only twice, compared to the six times they have failed to score in the Steelyard.

You can read Tim Barnes' full preview and prediction here.

#SEOvJEJ: FC Seoul (9th) vs Jeju United (4th) 20:00 

FC Seoul's underwhelming season rolls on Saturday night when they play host to a Jeju United side looking to move into the guaranteed AFC Champions League position Seoul took for granted for so many years. Still in the bottom half of the table, the capital club is growingly short on time to make a run and salvage their 2018 season. In what has become a trend in recent years, Seoul failed to capitalize on a seemingly galvanizing win over 2nd placed Gyeongnam FC in the FA Cup when they lost to the same club days later in league play. The 3-2 loss made it five straight at Sangam that Seoul have failed to keep a clean sheet. A trend they will have two chances to break against Jeju with the Islanders set to play in Seoul for both K1 and the FA Cup in the next five days.

In spite of a five match winless streak in the league, Jeju remain within touching distance of ACL, but need to right the ship sooner than later if they hope to stay there. With just three goals scored during the winless stretch, the answer to their issues is obvious and simply needs someone to step up. Tiago certainly looked the part in their 4-1 thrashing of Korea University in the FA Cup, but that performance came in limited minutes against amateur players. He will have stiffer competition this weekend, but given Seoul's poor defensive record at home, may well be able to provide the spark United desperately need.

You can read Paul Neat's full preview and prediction here.

#SANvSSB: Sangju Sangmu (8th) vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings (3rd) 20:00 

Sangju Sangmu remain at home and welcome 3rd place Suwon Samsung Bluewings to town after picking up their first win in seven last time out. The victory came at a vital time to stop the rot, but more importantly to ensure they stay comfortably clear of the relegation battle taking place between Daegu, Jeonnam, and Incheon. The quality on the Sangju roster should ensure a 2019 in K1, but the inevitable late-summer slump looms as they prepare to say farewell to some of their more prominent players. In the more immediate future, Sangju are likely to need a few goals this weekend to take away any points. The military side has conceded at least one goal in seven of their nine home matches, and has only held a single clean sheet in their past ten matches overall. A stretch that includes conceding twice and losing in a shootout to 4th division side Yangpyeong FC in the FA Cup. With one of K1's better attacking sides making the trip South this weekend, it's not a matter of stopping Suwon, but hoping to contain them and trusting the Sangju forwards to show up big.

Although Suwon have more points collected at home this season, they remain extremely comfortable on the road picking up five of their 10 wins and 15 of their 33 goals away from Big Bird. The Bluewings enter Saturday night on a four match unbeaten streak in all competitions largely due to their foreign strikers Waguininho, and Dejan Damjanović hitting their stride. The pair continue to lead the team in scoring and have combined for four goals in the past three league matches. Although a knockout round FA Cup match with National League's Cheonan City awaits them midweek, expect Suwon to play their "A" squad this weekend to pick up points in the league and maintain their hold on one of the guaranteed ACL spots.

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

Sunday, August 5th

#JHMvGYE: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Gyeongnam FC (2nd) 20:00 

Rightly pegged as the K League Worldwide Live Match, this first vs second showdown between Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Gyeongnam FC could be the closest affair between these sides this year. Jeonbuk continue to soar above the rest of the league going undefeated since returning from the World Cup break and maintaining a 14 point gap between them and Sunday's visitors. However, they will be without key players Song Beomkeun, Kim Minjae, and Jang Yunho as the trio head to Indonesia for the 2018 Asian Games. Dealing with absences on the back line is nothing new for the defending champions, but with a team as dangerous as Gyeongnam coming at them, the newcomers will need to get their communication and positioning down immediately or suffer the consequences.

Similar to their hosts, Gyeongnam have gone undefeated in league play since returning from the break and continue to pick up points by running riot on opposing defenses. The Reds have outscored their opposition 11-5 in their last six matches with Golden Boot chasing Marcão doing the heavy lifting. The 24-year-old Brazilian has scored five times in the run up to Sunday night and seems primed to keep the streak alive with the somewhat makeshift Jeonbuk backline taking the field. Gyeongnam have other attacking options in Negueba, Kunimoto, and surprisingly veteran Jo Jaecheol of late, but if they are to pick up their seventh ever win over the K League giants, Marcão will have to be the man leading the charge.

You can read Matthew Binns's full preview and prediction on KLeague.com.

#JNDvULS: Jeonnam Dragons (11th) vs Ulsan Hyundai (5th) 20:00 

Two teams in opposite form square off in Gwangyang Sunday night when the Jeonnam Dragons play host to Ulsan Hyundai. While Ulsan have just one loss in five, the Dragons have just one win over the same stretch and have come dangerously close to the automatic drop of 12 place. Deagu FC remain below Jeonnam, but the gap has shrunk to two points largely due to the Dragons' inability to hang on to a lead. Jeonnam struck first in all three of their previous losses, but failed to net again and the defense eventually collapsed under the pressure. Perhaps most frustratingly for the Jeonnam faithful, the team has looked truly extraordinary in stretches of each of these matches, but failed to put the final ball together and take a more significant lead. As they prepare to welcome an Ulsan side that have scored in each of their last five away matches, the Dragons attackers know full well a lone goal won't be enough this weekend.

After a rough start to the league season brought on by injuries, nearly constant ACL fixtures, and some bad luck, Ulsan seem to be rounding into form at the right time as they look to secure a Champions League spot yet again this year. The Horangi have lost just once in their previous six, and that was against Jeonbuk. Junior Negao has been a revelation up front since returning to full health, scoring four times over the stretch. The Brazilian has paired well with a reinvigorated Lee Keunho and newcomer Mix Diskerud pulling the strings from the midfield. Look for that trio to put pressure on the Dragons back line and attempt to turn their undefeated streak into a winning one.

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

#GANvDAE: Gangwon FC (6th) vs Daegu FC (12th) 20:00 

Gangwon FC welcome cellar-dwelling Daegu FC this Sunday and will hope the lopsided standings show through as the hosts are hanging onto the top half of the table by a thread. In spite of winning just one in their previous six, Gangwon have clung to the top six with some truly dramatic draws. An 89th minute Uroš Đerić strike stole a point late in their 3-3 draw against Incheon in Round 16. Just one week later Moon Changjin played the hero in the utterly insane 3-3 draw with Ulsan that saw all six goals scored after the 83rd minute. While these points were extremely entertaining, they masked Gangwon's lingering issue of a faulty backline. The only teams with a worse goals against record than Gangwon's 34 occupy the bottom three spots of the table. With that in mind, Golden Boot leader Đerić will need to be on top of his game yet again this weekend if Gangwon is to put any breathing room between them and 7th placed Pohang.

Daegu FC hit the ground running post World Cup and that mini run may well prove to be the difference this season. Although they remain at the bottom of the table and have won just three times this year, the seven points they picked up in July have been enough to close the gap with 11th place Jeonnam to just two points. With a little over two months to go before the league splits, Daegu need only to keep that gap narrow and then hope for the best when they play more direct competition in the Relegation Round this autumn. To do so, they will need their summer signings Roberto, Edgar Silva, and Cho Sukjae to carry the load up front and at least put some pressure on the opposition.

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

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