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Preview: Jeonnam Dragons vs Gwangju FC

Jeonnam Dragons welcome first place Gwangju FC to Gwangyang Stadium for the second time in four days as they prepare for the K League 2 rematch of their midweek FA Cup encounter. Gwangju got the better of the Dragons in the knockout competition, but with a seemingly improved defense and a much stronger lineup expected to take the field, Jeonnam may be able to steal a signature win. 

Last Time Out

The Dragons picked up their first win of 2019 and a desperately needed clean sheet last weekend when they hosted FC Anyang in Round 3 of the K2 season. Choi Jaehyun hit home a rebound in the 45th minute for his first of the season and despite all expectations, the lone goal proved to be enough as the Jeonnam defense held firm. The clean sheet was the Dragons' first in 10 matches dating back to last season and could be an important building block with key figures like Lee Seulchan returning to the backline.

Jeonnam Dragons v FC Anyang highlights here

After two nearly flawless matches to start the season, Gwangju stumbled slightly last weekend with a 1-1 draw vs Busan. Gwangju went down early when Rômulo converted a questionable penalty given after defender Kim Joonhyung appeared to make contact with Busan's Lee Dongjun in the box. The rather obvious dive was awarded with a kick from the spot and last season's MVP candidate made no mistake. Gwangju was able to draw things level in the 62nd when K2 leading scorer Felipe got on the end of a bouncing cross in the box and put it past Kim Hyunggeun. Despite some late pushes from both sides, the match finished in a draw.

Gwangju FC vs Busan IPark highlights here


Previous Meetings

Just a few days ago these two met for the first time in nearly two years in the FA Cup. In what was essentially a closed doors match played in front of a few hundred spectators and no live stream provided by either team, it's difficult to get a sense of what transpired. One thing we do know is that Gwangju's game winning goal came on a set piece, a weakness in the Jeonnam defense from last season that continues to haunt them this year.

Prior to Wednesday night, these two Jeollanamdo rivals last squared off in 2017 where Gwangju came away 4-2 winners in spite of later being relegated from the first division that season. The win was Gwangju's second in a row over Jeonnam and pushed their all time mark to nine wins, five draws, and just six losses against the Dragons. Oddly enough, Jeonnam's last win over Gwangju came away from home in 2017 and they have fared far better on the road with four of their six series wins coming at Gwangju World Cup Stadium. A trend the Dragons will be looking to reverse this weekend.

Team News

Australian defender Nick Ansell has been out after suffering an injury in the team's 3-1 loss vs Daejeon Citizen in Round 2, but may make his return this weekend after a full week to rest during the international break. Given the team's defensive performances in recent matches, it seems unlikely manager Fabiano Soares will switch things up too much even if Ansell is available. However, the 25-year-old might see limited minutes as he returns to full fitness.

Along with Ansell's likely absence on the back line, defender Lee Youhyeon is returning from U23 duty in Cambodia where the youth team came from behind to secure a 2-2 draw against Australia and continue their quest to qualify for the Olympics. Midfielder Han Chanhee featured the match before that against Cambodia's U22 team, and neither is overly likely to get the start this weekend due to the minutes they've put in at the international level.

The Adversary

It's doubtful even the most optimistic of the Gwangju fan base would have predicted the Yellow's splendid start to the season. Despite a tough opening month on paper Park Jin-seop's side have come through unscathed and are yet to taste defeat this term. With Saturday's Gwangyang fixture a prelude to three consecutive home games, victory on Gwangju's second trip south in just three days could really set them up for an assault on the second division. Making wholesale changes for the midweek FA Cup clash, the league leaders will also have plenty of fresh legs to call upon. New signing Willyan Baribosa made his debut on the wing after signing last week while Rustam Ashurmatov partnered Kim Tae-yun in defence for the first time. Trusting his second string to deliver the goods, star man Felipe was left out of the squad altogether alongside captain Yeo-reum.

Clearly Gwangju's focus lies on the league this year, perhaps even more so now considering their blistering start. There should be no reason to fear their Jeolla rivals this weekend and surely the most impressive feature of Wednesday's performance was a clean sheet despite a changed back five. Park Jin-seop now faces a selection headache with his most interesting decision being on the wing, with Om Won-sang helping Korea U-22s secure qualification for Thailand 2020 on Tuesday, you would suspect the opportunity could be presented to one of those impressing in the cup to stake their claim.

- Peter Hampshire

Who To Watch


Lee Hoseung

It's been an up and down season for the Jeonnam keeper and his time between the sticks may be running out with youngsters Lim Minhyuk and Park Daehan on the bench behind him. A sound shot stopper and decent distributor of the ball, it's hard to place the blame of Jeonnam's league worst defense from a season ago on the keeper, but if things are going to change, then significant changes must be brought and that could start with his exit. A continuation of dropped points could usher in a youth movement in Gwangyang, leaving the veteran keeper out in the cold.

However, Lee did lead the team to their first clean sheet of the season and by all reports played well against Gwangju in the Cup. He is also one of the very few that always know what they're doing at the back with a mix-and-match defense that continues to get torn to pieces by the simplest of off the ball runs. If Jeonnam is to get any points out of this match up, Lee Hoseung will unquestionably be called on to make a number of strong saves and turn things around quickly on the counter. He has proven capable of it in the past, and another strong performance this weekend would go a long way to securing his starting spot.

Prediction

Until Jeonnam can prove they are capable of scoring more than one goal at a time, they will continue to drop points. Especially with the likes of Felipe lining up against them. Having just played a few days ago, expect this one to be a tightly contested match with Jeonnam managing a goal with their best lineup on the field.

Jeonnam Dragons 1-1 Gwangju FC

K League 2 Round 4 Preview: here

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