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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeonnam Dragons

K League 1 Jeolla Derby Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeonnam Dragons

Local rivals Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Jeonnam Dragons go face-to-face this Wednesday with both sides enjoying some of the strongest recent form in the K League at present. With the North Jeolla side still enduring the hangover of AFC Champions League heartbreak however, can their rejuvenated South Jeolla counterparts take full advantage and continue in their plight towards survival?
(image via K League)

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were back in action at the Suwon World Cup Stadium for the second time in five days as they played out a goalless draw. In fairness, both teams appeared to mostly be going through the motions with neither side really wanting to play this fixture so soon after the dramatic Asian Champions League quarter final clash the Wednesday prior.

The main talking point was perhaps the red card shown to Jeonbuk midfielder Son Jun-ho. The clashes between Jeonbuk and Suwon have often proved to be feisty affairs in recent years, with Son's reckless tackle before half-time playing into the narrative. It took the assistance of VAR for the player to see red, but it was the correct call by the referee. The sending off was the fourth red card in a match between these two teams this season.

Besides the dismissal however, nothing much of note occurred. Suwon fielded a weakened side and grew into the game later on once they were handed a man advantage and opted to call upon regular first team stalwarts from the bench. Jeonbuk had created opportunities themselves, with Hong Jeong-ho coming closest with a header against the crossbar in the first half, but they began to wain as the game progressed. Ultimately, the scoreline proved a fair reflection of the performances.

Highlights here

Despite what the table suggests, Sunday afternoon saw two of the league's in-form sides go head-to-head in Gwangyang as Jeonnam Dragons hosted Ulsan Hyundai. Prior to this match, Ulsan had only lost twice in their last fourteen league outings and were pushing to claim the division's second spot from Gyeongnam FC. The Dragons, meanwhile, had been stringing positive results together under the stewardship of recently appointed manager Kim In-wan.

The opening exchanges saw the home side take the attacking initiative with some well worked opportunities from Lee You-hyeon and Wanderson Macedo, testing Ulsan 'keeper Cho Su-huk who pushed away the two palm-stinging drives. Ulsan did begin to find some kind of a footing as the half progressed, and looked to have secured the lead when Junio Negao converted from close range, only to be correctly called offside by the linesman.

Jeonnam continued to play positively into the second half though, and were rewarded when Lee Sang-heon drove forward with the ball from just past the half way line towards the opposition's penalty box. Crowded by Ulsan defenders who seemed reluctant to move towards him, the 20 year-old unleashed a low, powerful shot into the bottom right corner, sending Gwangyang Football Stadium into raptures.

Things would worsen for the away side before the full-time whistle, with Japanese forward Sergio Escudero being shown red for tackling Jeonnam forward Wanderson who had just the goalkeeper left in his wake. The result sees Jeonnam stay in eleventh for now, but place a four point buffer between themselves and automatic relegation, whilst edging closer to Sangju Sangmu who sit just three points above them.

Highlights here

Previous Meetings

Wednesday will mark the third meeting between these two sides this season. The last time they met in Jeonju, Jeonbuk recorded a 3-0 win, although the scoreline certainly did not reflect Jeonnam's performance. At the time, the Dragons looked to be enduring a spell of self-sabotage in terms of their disciplinary record, and the same continued in this match as they reduced themselves to ten men late on and Jeonbuk capitalised with two late goals to exaggerate the scoreline.

Read the match recap and post-match interviews here.

Given the gulf between the two sides in terms of finances and player quality, it is unsurprising to find Jeonbuk have the stronger record against their local rivals. In 46 meetings between the pair, Jeonbuk have won 20 compared to Jeonnam's 10, with the remaining 16 resulting in draws. Jeonnam last defeated Jeonbuk in 2015, but you need to go back to March 2011 to find their last win at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. That day, a solitary goal from Gong Young-sun was enough to ensure The Dragons claimed the spoils.

Team News

Wednesday's match will be the last without Choi Kang-hee as the Jeonbuk manager serves the final game of his touchline ban. The North Jeolla club have picked up seven points in three matches without him, claiming three clean sheets along the way, but will be thankful to see him return to the dugout after this derby. Jeonbuk will also be without Son Jun-ho who collected a red card at the weekend.

In terms of injuries, Jeonbuk are in surprisingly good shape, with left back Kim Jin-su being the only likely absentee. The Korean international has been out since March but has been in training for the last two weeks and should be looking to make a return before the season is out.

Jeonnam will be without Wanderson Macedo who collected his third yellow card of the campaign against Ulsan and will therefore be suspended. Other than that, manager Kim In-wan should have most of his players available to him as he looks to continue his team's fine run of form.

The Adversary

"After last Sunday’s triumph over third-placed Ulsan Hyundai, Kim In-wan’s second-bottom Jeonnam Dragons are now within three points of tenth-placed Sangju Sangmu and the safety zone in K League 1. Kim’s overseen a remarkable transformation in the Dragons’ fortunes, and even more impressively, has done so through a series of daunting fixtures against the second, third, fourth and fifth placed teams in South Korea’s top tier. However, despite superb performances against several of the league’s top sides, Wednesday afternoon will be the ultimate test for the new head coach’s team: an away trip to champions and runaway leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. And with another road game against fellow strugglers Jeju United on the horizon this Saturday – Jeonnam’s third game in six days – some Dragons’ fans fear Kim will rest some of his main men and write off the Jeonju match. I don’t think he will, but he will have to rotate his squad to keep them fresh and thus the home team, who possess one of the strongest squads in Asia, start as clear favourites."

"Kim’s favours a 4-3-3 formation both home and away and is a proponent of possession-based soccer. However, his team don’t suffer from sterile possession, as they often did under predecessor Yoo sang-chul, and are a huge goal threat, having scored 16 times in six games (2.66 goals per game). In contrast, Yoo’s Dragons only scored 21 goals in 23 games (1.09 per game). What’s more, Kim prefers fresh legs up front at all times and often makes changes to his front line at half time, introducing the likes of Heo Yong-joon and Lee Sang-heon from the bench to devastating effect. In fact, those two players have scored five substitute goals between them in Kim’s six games, so they can be a considerable threat even when left out of the starting eleven. Brazilian striker Macedo, who was often left out of the squad under Yoo, has also benefitted greatly from Kim’s tutelage and has scored five goals in his last six games. And after keeping their first clean sheet under the new manager against Ulsan last Sunday (only their fourth of the season), things are really looking up for Jeonnam."

"Of course, the Dragons also kept a clean sheet the last time they met Jeonju in Suncheon, but Jeonbuk were reduced to ten men that day and this one’s away. And, very few teams trouble the champions in their backyard. Thus, I think Jeonbuk will win, but only just."

By Aodan Halligan

Prediction

Jeonbuk are still the league's form team and are effectively looking to set the date for their coronation. The defeat to Suwon in the Champions League will still linger however, but a return home, in front of a holiday crowd, may just provide them enough motivation to get back to winning ways. Their record against Jeonnam in recent years has been strong, but they have also rarely faced their opponents in such fine form. The Dragons can taste survival and have looked visibly invigorated in recent rounds. Jeonbuk will have to be wary and not take them for granted. I envisage a narrow, hard-fought home win.

Predicted Score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-0 Jeonnam Dragons

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