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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers

K League 1 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors return to action this Saturday as they look for their first home league win of the season against the visiting Pohang Steelers. With the North Jeolla outfit having lost their last two matches, can the Steelers take advantage and heap more misery on the reigning champions?

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have had two weeks to mull over there last outing; a one-nil defeat to Gangwon FC on home turf. The standard match statistics pointed to a closely contested game yet, given they were clear favourites against a side yet to score and widely-tipped as bottom half finishers, there can only be disappointment in such a defeat.

Having lost the Wednesday match prior away to Buriram United in the AFC Champions League, manager José Morais made a number of changes including reverting back to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Tiago was handed his first start of the season in place of the absent Han Kyo-won as well as Han Seung-gyu. Lim Sun-young returned to the AM role after scoring in the opener and Kim Shin-wook was chosen to lead the line ahead of captain Lee Dong-gook. Finally, Choi Bo-kyung was installed in central defence as a replacement for Kim Min-hyeok who seemed to be rested.

The resulting performance left a lot to be desired, with Gangwon FC opting to sit back and catch the reigning champions on the counter. By leaving forwards Kim Hyeon-wook and later Kim Ji-hyeon higher up the pitch with an order to press, the visitors managed to open up Jeonbuk numerous times and leave their defence scrambling. It would be substitute Kim Ji-hyeon who would eventually get the goal, but it would be a worthy team effort as they made a back line featuring three Korean internationals look hapless. Only when a goal down and familiar faces called into play from the bench did the home side finally begin to stir into life once more, but to have robbed Gangwon of any points would have been unfair on the visitors who executed their game plan perfectly.

While Jeonbuk may well have the strongest squad in the division, and while it is far too early for onlookers to talk of crisis and the need for rash decisions, there will be concern that this is not the start the board will have had in mind. Most new managers endure a transition period however, and José Morais, along with his coaching staff, will hope this blip is merely to do with that.

Highlights can be found here.

After two poor performances in their opening matches, Pohang Steelers finally stumbled upon the winning formula on the third time of asking as they defeated 2018 runners up Gyeongnam FC to the tune of four goals to nil.

Despite their strong performance, however, Pohang were handed their first goal as goalkeeper Lee Beom-soo passed the ball out straight into the path of a lurking Lee Gwang-hyeok who capitalised quickly on the gift bestowed upon him. Having been put on the back foot so early, Gyeongnam did try to find ways back into the match before half time but most of their shots were speculative at best as they faced an organised Pohang defence.

Just seven minutes into the second half saw the Steelers double their lead through an audacious Kim Seung-dae chip. By the 69th minute it was three as David da Silva volleyed Wanderson's low cross beyond the Gyeongnam 'keeper. The game was all but done and dusted when Kim Ji-min made it four on the stroke of 75 minutes. Gyeongnam did pull a goal back six minutes from time when Pohang's Jeon Min-gwang was unfortunate to turn a low cross into his own net but, for the most part, the match was a stellar showing from Pohang and a far cry from their opening exchanges this season.

Highlights here.

Team News

Kim Jin-su received two yellow cards in the previous match and was sent off to much protest, especially after replays showed the second yellow card in stoppage time had a whiff of error about it. Kim is likely to be replaced by Park Won-jae down that flank whilst the rest of the defence should be made up of Kim Min-hyeok, Hong Jeong-ho and Choi Chul-soon as he continues to deputise for the recovering Lee Yong. Adriano and Ibini are also in the recovery phase and there is hope that the latter, at least, will be fit to make his Jeonbuk debut either this weekend or in the very near future.

Given the numerous options, it is quite difficult to name who will be selected for midfield and striker roles yet it seems likely Ricardo Lopes will command a start after being the team's most prominent performer across the five matches played this season. Kim Shin-wook has also started as a striker for each match in the league so far but, given his penchant for scoring against them in addition to a fixture heavy April, captain Lee Dong-gook may be chosen to lead from the off on Saturday afternoon

Pohang Steelers have no suspensions to concern themselves with and should be able to field a team similar to that which defeated Gyeongnam FC so emphatically.

The Adversary

Having finished fourth last season and an Ulsan FA Cup win away from continental football, 2018 represented a return to form for one of the K League's more historic outfits. With some reasonable business within the transfer window, not to mention no additional commitments other than the league, there were whispers that this season could see them break into the top three.

Those muted predictions were quickly hidden away after opening defeats to both FC Seoul and Sangju Sangmu, yet the manager's call for patience followed by the result over Gyeongnam have arrested any fears of a slide for now.

When on-form, Pohang's passing game is a pleasure to watch and is capable of matching most teams in the division. Last season, the Steelers held the best record against Jeonbuk with their sensational 3-0 and 5-2 victories against the champions being highlights for the club.

The man Jeonbuk should be most wary of is attacking midfielder and captain Kim Seung-dae. Kim had a very strong showing in 2018, starting every game and only being substituted once. It was quite the comeback season for a player who only featured eleven times the season prior after returning to the club midway through the campaign. His eight goals and five assists for last year, not to mention featuring the league's top ten for key passes (55), made him a pivotal figure for the club and early signs suggest he will be equally important in 2019. His performance against Gyeongnam also won him the player of the round.

Interestingly, in his Power Rankings for the first three rounds, Football Radar's Alex Lee also noted the repurposed role of Wanderson from left wing to left back has somehow made him more effective whilst allowing room for another attacking winger down that channel. Given that Jeonbuk are currently without Lee Yong and have recently fielded an ineffective Tiago, the visitors could very well find joy on that side of the pitch.

Prediction

Jeonbuk will be hoping that the international break will have served them well in both allowing them to regroup and also delay Pohang from building any momentum off the back of their Gyeongnam victory. Regardless though, their performances against Buriram United and Gangwon FC were lacklustre and concerning. If Pohang can play to the level they are capable of, then the home side could very well be in for more misery on Saturday afternoon. An away victory would certainly not be a suprise.

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