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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Suwon Bluewings

Title hopefuls Ulsan Hyundai kick off their campaign at home to Suwon Bluewings this Friday afternoon. With the Horangi strengthening their already intimidating squad in the offseason, all eyes will be on Munsu Stadium to see if Kim Do-hoon's side can live up to the hype. It won't be easy though, as perennial top half rivals Suwon Bluewings will be looking to start on a positive note after last year's disappointing sixth-place finish. Dan Croydon previews this one, with help from site editor and Bluewings fan Scott Whitelock. 
(courtesy of soccerway.com)

Last Time Out

Daegu 3-0 Ulsan (FA Cup Final 2nd leg)

Going into the first game of the two-legged cup final, few predicted Ulsan's shock 1-2 loss to a Daegu side that were supposed to be there to make up the numbers. Kim Do-hoon's men had it all to do in the second leg then, but a combination of fatigue and a lack of imagination on the manager's part stifled the Horangi's attack and the comeback never really materialised. Young Player of the Year Han Seung-kyu missed an early chance in a frustrating first half, and after a lapse in concentration at the back gifted a goal to Daegu's Kim Dae-won on the hour, it was all over for the Horangi. Further goals from Brazilian duo Cesinha and Edgar Silva were deserved, but only added insult to the traveling fan's already considerable injury. 

Highlights here

Suwon Bluewings 0-2 Jeju United

First-half goals from Tiago and Jovanovic were enough to seal the win for the Islanders in this one - their third win in a row at Suwon's Big Bird Stadium. The loss brought to an end a roller coaster year for the Gyeonggi Province giants. The Bluewings made it to the semi-final of both the Asian Champions League and the FA Cup, but at the cost of their league form. After crashing out of both competitions at the end of October, Suwon did not win another game as they slipped down the table to sixth.

Highlights here

Notable Stats

Ulsan have had mixed results on opening day in recent years, while Suwon have often struggled to get anything out of their first fixture. The Bluewings' last win in Week 1 came back in 2014, while Ulsan have recorded three wins and two losses in that time. Interestingly, this is the first opening day meeting between the two in several decades.

The two teams got very used to each other last campaign though, as they met on seven occasions across three different competitions. Ulsan had the better of the four league encounters with a win and three draws. Couple this with that FA Cup semi-final victory and the Horangi will be confident they have the measure of their northern rivals. But Suwon's one win over Ulsan last year was in a highly significant match - a 3-0 hammering in the knockout stages of the ACL. So it was not entirely one-way traffic between these historic clubs.

Team News

Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon may choose to shuffle his lineup ahead of the trip to Sydney next week, but expect a strong-looking side nonetheless. Last Tuesday's ACL playoff victory over Perak FA saw debuts for four players. Kim Bo-kyung started on the right wing and quickly formed an understanding with fullback Kim Tae-hyeon. Expect the former Jeonbuk player to feature again on Friday, although he may find himself in a more central role. Elsewhere, the new centre-back partnership of Dave Bulthuis and Yun Young-sun look likely to keep their places, along with new midfield general Shin Jin-ho.

(Kim Bo-kyung made an impressive debut against Malaysian outfit Perak FA)

Two players definitely missing out are Hwang Il-soo and Park Yong-woo. Hwang limped out after just a few minutes of the Perak game with an achilles problem, while Park is suspended due to a red card he received at Pohang on the final day of last season.

The Adversary

Suwon Bluewings head into this season opener having had a quiet but effective pre season. New manager, Lee Lim-saeng, should feel confident having had a chance to assess his squad and integrate a few younger players into the team, whilst also perfecting his style of play. Only 3 new signings have come through the door but Suwon have rotated some older heads with quality replacements, bringing in two of the K League 2’s top performers of 2018. Goakeeper Kim Da-sol arrived in from Suwon FC and is likely to be the first choice shot stopper this term, whilst centre-back, Ko Myong-seok, has joined from Daejeon Citizen and will almost certainly start in this game. Adam Taggart has also arrived in from Brisbane Roar, but this match may come a little too soon for the striker and he is expected to take a place on the substitutes bench.

This is a new start for Suwon and it is difficult to know how they will lineup come Friday afternoon. However, they have deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation in every warm up game and it’s likely that Lee Lim-saeng will stick with this when his team heads to Ulsan. Last seasons top goalscorer, Dejan Damjanović, will surely be given the nod to lead the line, whilst winger Waguininho will make his first start since rupturing his ACL, and shattering his leg, in late July.

Central midfielder, Song Jin-gyu could be in line for a full debut after being marked for a place with the first team by Lee Lim-saeng. The 22 year old started 5 of Suwon’s 7 training camp friendly matches, and even scored a sublime goal in Suwon’s victory over Bate Borisov.

The Bluewings' recent record against Ulsan Hyundai does not make for good reading, but they can go into this game without the weight of expectation that they usually carry. Suwon aren’t expected to challenge the big boys this season and that may play into their hands a little in this fixture. Ulsan will be expected to produce a big statement this weekend after the winter they have had and if Suwon just relax and play their natural game there is no reason why they can’t return home without at least a point.

- Scott Whitelock

Prediction

Munsu Stadium was a fortress last season, as Ulsan had the second best home record in the league. With Kim Do-hoon claiming his side are ready to beat Jeonbuk to the title this year, it is vital Ulsan get off to a winning start. Meanwhile, it is five years since Suwon last took maximum points away from the Munsu, and with their recent managerial issues and meager transfer activity, they look unlikely to halt that run on Friday. Ulsan should win this one by a couple of goals.

Dan's Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 Suwon Bluewings

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