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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

K League 1 Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors could seal a fourth K League 1 title in five years at Ulsan Hyundai's Munsu Stadium this Sunday evening.  The Jeonju club need only better the result of Gyeongnam, who face Jeju United earlier in the day.  But the hosts won't make it easy for Choi Kang-hee's men, as the Horangi have won six games on the bounce at home and are looking to tighten their grasp on the third ACL qualification spot.  Will Ulsan delay Jeonbuk's party for a little bit longer? Dan Croydon previews the match, with help from Matthew Binns    
 (image via kleague.com)

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Gimhae FC (FA Cup Quarter-Final)
Ulsan cruised into a fourth FA Cup semi-final in a row thanks to a glorious cameo from top-scorer Junior.  The Brazilain striker waltzed on for the last thirty minutes and wasted no time in unlocking the resolute Gimhae defence with a neatly placed free-kick. He followed that with a sweet 20-yard daisy-cutter on 70 minutes to seal the tie for the Horangi.  Gimhae had proven a tough nut to crack up to that point and had a few openings of their own, especially through their own bright Brazilian, Vitor.  But it is Ulsan who move into the final four, and manager Kim Do-hoon will be growing confident that his side can again lift the cup that probably saved his job last season.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-2 Gangwon FC 
The hosts had to come from behind twice to grab all three points and edge within touching distance of their fourth league title in five years.  An unlucky Gangwon led at halftime through a quality half-volleyed finish from veteran striker Jung Jo-gook.  But some very soft goalkeeping from Gangwon's Lee Beom-young twice let Jeonbuk back into the match - the second a disastrous own goal that made it 2-2 after Diego had again given the visitors the lead.  The stage was set for a late Jeonbuk victory and giant frontman Kim Shin-wook did not disappoint the home fans. His trademark chest and volley on the turn found the bottom corner in the 89th minute, leaving Gangwon empty-handed and Jeonbuk a step closer to K League glory.

Video Highlights here

Previous Meetings

Ulsan's Munsu Stadium has proven a happy hunting ground for Jeonbuk of late, as they are unbeaten in their last five visits.  In fact Ulsan have really struggled in this fixture in recent years, registering just one win, four draws, and five losses over the course of the last three campaigns.  That single victory came in Jeonju last season courtesy of a goal from former Jeonbuk striker Lee Jong-ho.

This season, Choi Kang-hee's side have won both meetings by a score of 2-0.  The first game came way back on the opening day of the season when second-half goals from Lee Dong-gook and Han Gyo-won sealed Jeonbuk's victory.  Lee was amongst the scorers again when Jeonbuk won the return fixture shortly after the World Cup.  Incidentally, that was Ulsan's last defeat at home and their only loss in their last thirteen games at Munsu.

Team News

Ulsan Hyundai
Manager Kim Do-hoon once again showed the importance he places on cup competitions by picking a close to full strength side in the win over Gimhae FC last Wednesday. The only notable change was up front where Junior dropped to the bench, giving Kim Seung-jun an opportunity to find some form in front of goal. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in knockout ties, the diminutive striker was up against a tough backline clinging onto their clean sheet by any means necessary.  Ulsan were forced to call upon the cavalry, and Junior duly won the game. However, there is no reason to think the Brazilian marksman will be any worse for wear come Sunday following his game-winning turn. 

K League 1 Ulsan Hyundai vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Park Joo-ho
Park recently made his return from an injury picked up during the World Cup (image via K League)
Kim Do-hoon will most likely stick with his attacking 4-5-1 formation, deploying the impressive Han Seung-kyu in the hole behind Junior, flanked by the pacy wingers Kim In-sung and Hwang Il-soo.  Ulsan will rely on the play-making skills of Mix Diskerud to control the tempo of the game - vital if the Horangi are to keep the likes of Lopes and Han Gyo-won quiet.  Elsewhere, Park Joo-ho will return to the team after he was also rested midweek. Overall Kim Do-hoon has a strong attacking lineup, but the concern will be whether or not they can match a relentless Jeonbuk, should the visitors choose to move up into their top gear.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Choi Kang-hee will have some selection headaches ahead of this match with Hong Jeong-ho, Son Jun-ho, and Lee Seung-gi all returning from suspension. There has been no room in the last four matchday squads for Brazilian attacker Tiago.  No injury has been reported, suggesting the ex-Pohang and Seongnam man has fallen out of favour with his manager.  Tiago's fellow countryman, Adriano, has also been absent from the last two squads, but given the role he has played in Jeonbuk's successful campaign, it is likely he has just been rested. International defender Kim Jin-su is the only major doubt as he continues his recovery from the injury that kept him out of this year's World Cup. The left-back is training but has yet to return to the squad.

The Adversary

With seven rounds left to play, the reigning champions are already homing in on their sixth K League crown.  It is no less than Jeonbuk deserve, given the ruthlessness they have shown this season. It is a team built for continental glory, but have instead found themselves having to “settle” with just the league.

That may be an arrogant attitude to have, but their overall form and the incredible points gap show just how far ahead of the domestic competition they actually are. Jeonbuk are currently unbeaten in their last eight league matches, winning six and drawing two.

However, their performances in their last three outings, despite collecting seven points, have been somewhat lacklustre by their own high standards. After falling out of the AFC Champions League, Jeonbuk have fought hard for a goalless draw against Suwon Bluewings, just edged a 1-0 victory against provincial rivals Jeonnam Dragons, and came back twice from a goal down through two fortunate equalisers to eventually defeat a Gangwon side lacking identity. The hangover of quarter-final despair is still clear for all to see.

Now they face a stern test away to an Ulsan side who had looked unbeatable until the last couple of rounds. Until their recent upsets, Ulsan have been playing some of the better football in the division. Fortunately, Choi Kang-hee should have nearly a full squad to select from, and he will not look to rest anyone given the upcoming international break.
by Matt Binns

Prediction

It is hard to say whether or not Gyeongnam's result will influence Jeonbuk's mentality come kick-off on Sunday.  Regardless of the scenario, they are a formidable team and I am sure Choi Kang-hee will want to seal the Championship as soon as possible so he can focus on developing some of the younger members of his squad.  Ulsan are an excellent team at home but they have consistently struggled on the big occasions, especially if they are forced to defend a lead.  I expect a closer game than the first two meetings of the season, but Jeonbuk will probably just edge it with another late goal.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-3 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

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