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Preview: K League 1 Round 24

Following a flurry of midweek action, a number of K League 1 teams take the field this weekend with renewed energy. Following their dramatic Super Match win, FC Seoul welcome another rival to Sangam when they host Jeonbuk and look to cement back to back wins that would change the landscape of their season. Elsewhere, Pohang look to keep the momentum their 5-2 defeat of Jeonbuk gave as they welcome the high-flying Gyeongnam FC. These matches and more in your comprehensive guide to Round 24 of K League 1.

Saturday, August 18th

#POHvGYE: Pohang Steelers (5th) vs Gyeongnam FC (2nd) 19:00 

Just days after bludgeoning league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai 5-2 for their most definitive win of 2018, Pohang welcome 2nd place Gyeongnam FC to the Steelyard Saturday night. Backed by Lee Seokhyun's hat trick for his first three goals of the season, Pohang stunned a weakened Jeonbuk side and vaulted themselves back into the top half and ACL contention. While it is important to remember Jeonbuk were without clean sheet leader Song Bumkeun and stalwart center back Kim Minjae due to the Asian Games, it was still an impressive performance from a Pohang side that has struggled mightily to score goals this year. Playing in their preferred 4-3-3, the midfield powered the attack by quickly finding space for the wingers to run in to and making the second and third runs that led to nearly every Pohang goal. After three and a half ineffective seasons with Seoul, a change of scenery may prove to be enough to get 28-year-old Lee Seokhyun going this season and provide the additional goal scoring threat Kim Seungdae and the young Lee Keunho have needed for so long.

Not to be outdone by their hosts, Gyeongnam also enter the match following a midweek affair that can only be described as epic. Trailing 3-0 vs Ulsan in the 80th minute, the Reds stuck to what they do best and found their first goal with a lovely Choi Jaesoo cross into the box for a shockingly open Choi Youngjun to put home. Then it was the Marcão show in stoppage time. The big Brazilian bagged a brace to steal a point for his club and put himself back on top of the Golden Boot race, tied with Gangwon's Uroš Đerić on 18. The draw was enough to narrow the gap with Jeonbuk to 10 points with as many matches left before the league splits. In order to keep pace, Gyeongnam will need to continue their seven match unbeaten streak away from home this weekend against the resurgent Steelers.

You can read Ross Davis' full preview and prediction here.

#DAEvULS: Daegu FC (10th) vs Ulsan Hyundai (4th) 19:00 

Daegu FC welcome Ulsan Hyundai to town this weekend in hopes of further distancing themselves from Incheon and Jeonnam's relegation battle having picked up three wins on the trot. After losing World Cup hero Cho Hyunwoo to the Asian Games this month, it seemed Daegu were due for a drop in form, but against all the odds the attack has bailed the club out. After going five months without scoring more than twice in a match, Daegu have hung three on both Gangwon and Jeju in recent weeks and don't show signs of slowing down. Having conceded at least one goal in each of their last seven matches, and in all of their home matches this year, Daegu has been in desperate need of this kind of scoring all year and it would appear that arrival of Ze Roberto has allowed it to happen. The summer signing has two goals in three games, but more importantly has proven to be the threat Daegu needed to pull defenders away from the likes of Hong Jungwoon and Kang Yunkoo. After seeing what Gyeongnam did to Ulsan late Wednesday night, the trio should be chomping at the bit to get out there and exploit the weaknesses exposed by the Reds.

Still boasting just one loss since mid-April, Ulsan head into this weekend with a point to prove after their late collapse midweek. The dropped points kept them in fourth on the same night third place Suwon lost and left the door open for Ulsan to leapfrog them and claim the automatic ACL spot. A mistake they will look to correct this weekend against a suddenly hot Daegu FC. Having scored in their previous seven away matches, and 75% of them all season, the attacking side of things would appear to be under control for Ulsan. Where the Horangi need to focus Saturday night is at the back where a clean sheet would help calm nerves after a tumultuous final ten minutes in Changwon. Having already shut out Daegu 2-0 twice this season, Ulsan seem up for the task. But that was a drastically different Daegu side.

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

#SANvJEJ: Sangju Sangmu (9th) vs Jeju United (8th) 19:30 

Two teams surprisingly close in the table, Sangju Sangmu host Jeju United in the final K League 1 match Saturday night. Coming off a lackluster 0-0 in a rare away match at Incheon last time out, Sangju's winless streak has reached three games; making it just one win in ten for the military club. Unlikely to get into the relegation scrap with a 10 point gap between them and 11th placed Incheon, Sangju seem to be struggling with motivation at the moment. Though they are almost never expected to finish in the top half, Sangju are just five points behind FC Seoul for the sixth and final spot in the Championship Round. If they are to get into that race, they will need to do something they haven't yet managed in 2018: score against Jeju. The previous two encounters this year have been 0-0 draws and after Wednesday night's performance form Sangju, things don't exactly look optimistic for the hosts to break the trend this weekend.

Unlike their hosts, Jeju didn't expect to be this far down the table and are quickly running out of time to right the ship. After dropping points late to 10th placed Daegu midweek, Jeju have an immediate opportunity to gain some ground squaring off against another opponent beneath them in the table. A list that grows shorter by the week for a team that has won just once since the World Cup break. With six of their eight wins this season coming against teams in the bottom half of the table, and an unbeaten streak against Sangju running back to 2016, the stars seem aligned for the Islanders to finally get a win. It remains to be seen whether or not they can actually grasp the opportunities put before them.

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

Sunday, August 19th

#SEOvJHM: FC Seoul (6th) vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) 19:00 

Flying high after a dramatic stoppage time winner in Suwon midweek, FC Seoul welcome the suddenly stumbling Jeonbuk Hyundai for the K League Worldwide Live Match of Round 24. While Anderson Lopes' 92nd minute winner cemented his place in Super Match lore and helped push Seoul's league unbeaten streak to 13 games against Suwon, it did even more for Seoul's season. After stumbling time and again for a full calendar year to capture momentum, the capital club have their first three game winning streak since July 2017. A streak that has propelled them above the dividing line and into very real contention for Champions League football just four points back from third place. Momentum that could be enhanced significantly by picking up their first win over Jeonbuk in four matches trying. If ever there were a time for Seoul to get such a momentous victory, it is certainly now. Jeonbuk's defensive issues were on full display against Pohang Wednesday night and should leave a lot of options for the Seoul attack. Seoul haven't been held scoreless since mid May and have outscored their opponents 7-2 in their past three matches. If they can keep that streak going this weekend and get another strong performance from Yang Hanbin in net, they will have the meaningful back to back rivalry wins that should reinvigorate the long dormant fan base.

So good have Jeonbuk been in recent memory that dropping two out of three games seems alarming. While the 5-2 drubbing they suffered at the hands of Pohang midweek is certainly troublesome, they still hold a double digit lead in the league and boast one of K League's best rosters in spite of the injuries and Asian Games absences. At least that's how it stands for now. Should the makeshift Jeonbuk backline falter again and lose their third match in four, then there may well be very real cause for concern. A six point swing this weekend would put Gyeongnam just seven points back with Jeonbuk needing to split focus between the league and ACL while juggling a tired roster. No K1 team has had more players in international tournaments this year than Jeonbuk, and if they aren't careful during this stretch, they could see the season that seemed destined for multiple trophies come crumbling down.

You can read Paul Neat's full preview and prediction on KLeague.com.

#JNDvSSB: Jeonnam Dragons (12th) vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings (3rd) 19:00 

Desperately in need of points yet again, last placed Jeonnam host the assuredly angry Suwon Samsung Bluewings this Sunday in Gwangyang. The match will be Ex-Daejeon Citizen manager Kim Inwan's first in charge of Jeonnam as he replaces Yoo Sangchul on an interim basis. Yoo resigning after such an awful record this year is no surprise, but the man Jeonnam have trusted to avoid relegation certainly has been for many Dragons fans. The last time Kim Inwan was in charge of a K1 side, his Daejeon Citizen conceded 65 goals and picked up just 11 points in 30 matches with a 2W-9D-19L record according to Paul Neat. Daejeon were relegated that year and Kim has yet to manage in the first division since. With the Champions League caliber Suwon coming to town this weekend looking to wipe clean the bitter memory of a rivalry loss, the Dragons will have to hit the ground sprinting under the new manager to avoid falling even farther behind the pack.

For Suwon, this match will go one of two ways: a battering of the cellar dwellers to lift spirits after a rivalry loss, or a trap game that will put the entire team in doubt. After losing to Jeonnam 2-1 in the season opener, option two is not beyond the realm of possibility. But, considering Jeonnam have held just two clean sheets all year and don't have the personnel to convert the multitude of chances their midfield creates at the opposite end, Suwon should be fine. Following a grueling schedule consisting of double game weeks pretty much every week since early July, look for manager Seo Jungwon to rotate his squad and give the younger players a go. It's a slightly risky move for Suwon, but with a midweek trip down to Jeju looming, and ACL coming up in just over a week, Seo has to rotate his squad at some point. Jeonnam provide the perfect opportunity.

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

#GANvINC: Gangwon FC (7th) vs Incheon United (11th) 19:00 

After snapping their three game losing streak against 12th placed Jeonnam midweek, Gangwon FC return home and square off against the next team up the table when they host Incheon United. Oddly enough, Gangwon may not be overly pleased to be at home this weekend while trying to gain momentum in the league. With just three of their eight wins and 16 of their 35 goals coming on home turf, Gangwon have clearly fared better on the road. A trend that shone through the last time these teams met just over a month ago when Uroš Đerić tied the game 3-3 in the dying minutes to steal a point. A similarly high scoring affair may be on the cards again this weekend as Gangwon have managed to keep just one clean sheet at home and the always deadly Mugoša/Moon Seonmin combo are set to take the field for Incheon.

Winless in three and frustratingly keeping pace with Jeonnam at the bottom of the table, just one win could be enough to set up Incheon for the stretch run. A mission that would be much easier if they could repeat half of what they accomplished midweek and keep a clean sheet. Their 0-0 against Sangju left a lot to be desired, but it was their first clean sheet in three months and may provide a blueprint to stop conceding the late goals that have cost them so dearly this season. Something they will need to be keenly aware of as Gangwon have scored more goals in the 75th-90th minute (13) than any other 15 minute stretch. As has been the case for Incheon all season, the best way to avoid a late collapse is to build a big enough lead that one goal can't tear it down. Look for United to come out swinging straight away in an attempt to get an early goal and set the tone.

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

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