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Preview: K League 1 Round 22

Four of the six K League 1 match ups of Round 22 see teams next to each other in the table square off this weekend. While Suwon, Ulsan, Jeju, and Pohang all fight for a spot in AFC Champions League next season, Daegu FC and Incheon United square off in a relegation six pointer that has potential to shape both teams' seasons. All of these match ups and more in your comprehensive guide to Round 22 of K League 1. 

Saturday, August 11th

#JHMvGAN: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Gangwon FC (7th) 19:00 

Looking to immediately bounce back from their first league loss since May, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host Gangwon FC in the K League Worldwide Live Match. To do so, the reigning champions will also need to shake off their unceremonious FA Cup exit at the hands of a K League 2 team for the third year running. Perhaps even more interesting than Jeonbuk being denied the treble is the fact their FA Cup loss to Asan Mugunghwa marked the third time this year that a prolonged winning streak was halted by back to back losses in different tournaments. Their shock loss at Incheon in March was followed by an equally surprising loss at Tianjin Quanjian in Champions League. The same thing happened in May when Buriram United pulled off the upset in Thailand and Jeonbuk stumbled to a loss against Pohang just days later. Now, here in late summer their narrow defeat vs Geyongnam was followed by their FA Cup ousting. The good news for Jeonbuk fans is that the previous back to back losses were followed by an 11 game winning streak, and nine match unbeaten streak. Teams beneath them in the table will hope Gangwon can reverse that trend and get a result against Jeonbuk while they're down.

In spite of having the Golden Boot leader and "scoring for fun" as Steve Price aptly put it in the K1 Mid-Season Grades,  Gangwon are still on the wrong side of the dividing line and much farther away from their stated goal of Champions League football than hoped. Đerić continues to do the heavy lifting for the club, but their near league worst 37 goals against has prevented the big man from carrying his team up the table. With Jeonbuk reeling a bit at the moment, losing key defensive players to the Asian Games, and Gangwon's strong road form, an upset may well be in the cards if the defense can limit the damage.

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

#JEJvPOH: Jeju United (5th) vs Pohang Steelers (6th) 19:00 

Still clinging to the top half of the table in spite of just one win in eight, Jeju United welcome the suddenly surging Pohang Steelers to Seogwipo this weekend. While their 2-1 FA Cup victory over FC Seoul will bandage over some immediate concerns, Jeju are still desperately in need of some goals if they want to remain in contention for an ACL birth outside of the Cup. With just six goals since K1's return this summer, the Islanders continue to be a shell of the "Tangerine-Taka" teams of recent years. What's worse, the transfer window came and went without any notable names coming in to bolster the side. Tiago Marques has looked the part in back to back FA Cup matches, but his two league goals in 14 appearances speak for themselves. For the second year running, it looks like it will be up to Magno Cruz and Lee Changmin to carry Jeju as far as they can.

A host team struggling to score goals is exactly what Pohang need if they are to make it four wins in five. Not exactly lighting the world on fire offensively, the Steelers have managed to score exactly as many goals as needed in order to collect points. Two of the three wins in their current mini-run came by just a lone goal and continued the season long trend of narrow victories. In fact, five of their eight wins have come by just one goal... but so have four of their eight losses. It's a dangerous road to walk for Pohang, but after 21 rounds it's clear this is how the team is going to play this season. Having scored in 80% of their away matches, another goal seems likely for Pohang this weekend. It's just a question of whether or not just one will do.

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

#DAEvINC: Daegu FC (10th) vs Incheon United (11th) 19:00 

10th place Daegu FC host 11th place Incheon United in what is easily the most important match of Round 22. Just a single point separates these sides as they try to stave off relegation and a win for either team will have ramifications for months to come. After sprinting out of the gates post World Cup with back to back wins, Daegu crashed back to Earth with three losses in a row and lost the ground they had gained. However, a 3-1 win over Gangwon last weekend saw recent signing Ze Roberto get his first goal in Daegu colors and marked the team's first three goal performance of the season. They promptly followed the league win with an 8-0 dismantling of K3 Advanced side Yangpyeong FC, which may not seem like much, but has potential knock on effects. Beating a fourth division team shouldn't be cause to celebrate for Daegu, but for a side that has struggled so mightily to score goals, simply seeing the ball in the back of the net eight times should boost team morale. Of those eight goals, Ze Roberto scored two and may well have the confidence to bring that into league play this weekend.

On the opposite end of the goal scoring spectrum, Incheon United's 32 goals are tied with Gyeongnam FC for fourth best in the league. But the results haven't followed until recently. After 16 matches without a win, Incheon won two of their past three and yet again have clawed their way off the bottom of the table in the waning months of summer. A 2-1 win over Seoul in the latest Gyeongin and a 3-1 drubbing of league whipping boys Jeonnam has positioned United well heading into this crucial relegation six pointer. As has been the case all year, Stefan Mugoša and Moon Seonmin will be the attacking threats for them, and are likely to score yet again. It's simply a matter of whether or not their back line can hold the lead late on to get the vital three points.

You can read Muyeol Jung's full preview and prediction here.

Sunday, August 12th

#ULSvSSB: Ulsan Hyundai (4th) vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings (3rd) 19:00 

Ulsan Hyundai put a seven match unbeaten streak in all competitions on the line this Sunday when they welcome Suwon Samsung Bluewings to Munsu Stadium. In spite of Lee Jongho and Park Jooho remaining out through injury, Ulsan have managed to climb the table and simultaneously keep fighting in the FA Cup. Their incredible one loss in 17 league match run has largely been down to doing what's expected of every good team: beating the opposition beneath them in the table. Seven of their eight wins during the stretch came against bottom half teams with their 2-1 win over Pohang in May the lone standout. This weekend marks the Horangi's stiffest test since facing Jeonbuk a month ago and it will be interesting to see if they can fare better against Suwon than the last time they faced one of K1's top teams.

Riding their own six match unbeaten streak in all competitions, Suwon look to extend the gap between them and Ulsan to ensure ACL next year. Having scored in each of their last five away matches, and in 90% of them overall this year, the Bluewings look set to get on the scoreboard again this weekend. Especially when considering Dejan Damjanović is rounding into form following a FA Cup hat trick midweek to push Suwon into the next round. Throw in the fact that only Jeonbuk have managed to keep Suwon off the board away from home this year, and this has the potential to turn into a slug-fest.

You can read Dan Croydon's full preview and prediction here.

#GYEvJND: Gyeongnam FC (2nd) vs Jeonnam Dragons (12th) 19:00 

Fresh off their 1-0 win over league leaders Jeonbuk, Gyeongnam FC welcome the team at the opposite end of Jeolla province and the league table this Sunday when they host Jeonnam. The Reds head into Sunday unbeaten in seven in the league and without an FA Cup run to worry about. If asked, Gyeongnam would obviously like to keep fighting for the Cup, but after being eliminated from the domestic tournament, the Reds can focus all of their attention on the league. More importantly, they can rest their star man Marcão to prevent any further agitations to the injury that hampered him before the World Cup break. While he causes headaches up top, it seems any of Gyeongam's keepers are capable of unhinging the opposition at the back. Son Junghyun has been the main man between the sticks boasting four clean sheets in the past month, but former Jeonbuk prospect Lee Bumsoo put on a show against his former team last weekend. Regardless of who gets the nod, Jeonnam will have their work cut out for them.

Facing down a stingy Gyeongnam defense and having conceded in every one of their away matches this season, things look pretty dire for the Dragons. Their one and only away win this season came on opening day, and things have yet to look as bright as they did on that cold afternoon. However, 2018 is not all doom and gloom just yet for Jeonnam. They staved off a feisty Chuncheon FC in the FA Cup and have at least given fans something to root for moving forward. Additionally, the win may prove to be a catalyst for the club as any positive news is welcome at this point. Having lost four in a row, the strategy for Jeonnam now needs to be to do enough in the coming weeks to stay within touching distance of Incheon and Daegu. If they accomplish that much, then they can play to survive once the league splits in a few months time. Picking up a point this weekend would go a long way to helping achieve that goal.

You can read James Edrupt's full preview and prediction here.

#SANvSEO: Sangju Sangmu (9th) vs FC Seoul (8th) 19:30 

Sangju Sangmu's summer long stretch of home games continues this weekend as they welcome the under-performing FC Seoul to Sangju Stadium. Considering Sangju Sangmu have conceded at least one goal in each of their last six home matches, fans should be treated to a more entertaining affair than the 0-0 these sides played out last time they met. However, in spite of conceding so often, the military side have kept themselves in nearly every match and managed to pick up their first win since May two weeks ago when they beat Pohang. The win and subsequent 1-1 draw against Suwon proved that Sangju can hang with the top half teams, and more importantly put more breathing room between them and the relegation battle. Picking up another three points this weekend against the hot and cold capital club would make Sangju even more assured of survival.

In a fashion no longer surprising, FC Seoul failed to capitalize on the momentum they gained in their 3-0 league win over Jeju United when they lost to the same team in the same building just days later in the FA Cup. The loss guaranteed another year without a trophy for Seoul, and likely another off season of wholesale changes looming ahead of them. That said, they are miraculously just three points away from Pohang in sixth place and given how this year has gone, finishing in the top half would feel like a successful season for the Seoul faithful. If they are to climb the ladder, then they need to do something they haven't done since October: string together back to back wins in K League 1.

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

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