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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Jeju United

Ulsan Hyundai welcome Jeju United for the first Friday night match of the new K League 1 season. The Horangi have made an efficient start to the campaign and are unbeaten in 2019, while the Islanders, who are still winless, find themselves languishing near the foot of the table. Is this the game that finally kickstarts Jeju's season? Or will Ulsan continue their fine home form? Horangi columnist Dan Croydon previews this one, with the help of Jeju writer, Branko Belan.

Courtesy of soccerway.com

Last Time Out

Daegu FC 1-1 Ulsan Hyundai

These two teams met having made very similar starts to the new campaign; both were unbeaten and in high spirits having seen off China's top two teams in their respective ACL matches earlier that week. So it was no surprise when this entertaining affair ended in a stalemate. Ulsan perhaps edged the best of the play in the first forty-five, although the first clear chance fell to Daegu's Brazilian wizard Cesinha on the half-hour mark. The tricky attacker managed to wriggle free of Ulsan's central defence, but 'keeper Oh Seung-hoon did just enough to turn his shot around the near post.

Ulsan finally broke the deadlock on 65 minutes when a poor punch from Cho Hyun-woo went straight to Kim Bo-kyung on the edge of the box. The technically-gifted midfielder duly chested the ball down and rifled his shot into the roof of the net for his first goal in Ulsan colours. Not to be outdone though, the Sky Blues' own master technician, Cesinha, leveled the match fifteen minutes later with a lovely finish following a one-two with recent Japanese recruit, Tsubasa Nishi. The Ulsan defence will be disappointed by how square they were caught, but that takes nothing away from the little number 11's stylish finish. And so it ended all square; both teams remain unbeaten on five points and look to have a big season ahead of them.

Highlights here

FC Seoul 0-0 Jeju United

The Islanders returned from the nation's capital with a point, but in truth, they could and perhaps should have had all three. Despite being top of the table going into the game, FC Seoul looked short of ideas in the final third, and even the introduction of new striker Aleksandar Pešić on the hour could not spur Choi Yong-soo's men on. For Jeju, Brazilian frontman Tiago had the best of the few clear cut chances they created, but he lacked coolness when it mattered.

The game briefly threatened to come alive when Kim Dong-woo put the ball in the net on 81 mins, but Magno Cruz had already been harshly penalised for a foul on Seoul 'keeper Yoo Sang-hoon. At the final whistle, the hosts were the happier of the two teams, as Jeju let more precious points slip through their fingers.

Highlights here 

Previous Meetings

Overall, this is a pretty even fixture with Ulsan winning eight, drawing six, and losing seven of the 21 matches at Munsu Stadium. Jeju United have a decent record in Ulsan of late, having won three of their last four visits, all by a score of one to nil.  The latest victory came in the penultimate match of the 2018 season with the Horangi needing a win to pip Gyeongnam FC to the runners-up spot. But despite dominating the game, the hosts were wasteful in front of goal and paid the price when Jeju's Mango Cruz volleyed home from inside the six-yard box. The loss meant Ulsan had to settle for third spot while Jeju climbed above Suwon Bluewings into fifth.

This has traditionally been a fixture of fine margins and few goals. However, Ulsan's only win over the Islanders last campaign was a surprisingly entertaining affair. The hosts won it 3-2 with Junior, Mix Diskerud, and Kim Seung-jun all finding the net in the first half. Jeju did fight back after the break with customary goals from their Brazilian duo, but a red card for veteran defender Cho Yong-hyung stopped Jeju's momentum dead.

Team News

The international break will have given Kim Do-hoon's men time to rest and take stock after a busy start to the season. No Ulsan players represented their country last week so they will have had plenty of time to prepare for the run of games coming up, which includes games against surprise early front-runners Sangju Sangmu and FC Seoul. But first comes the visit of Jeju, a match that has proven tricky for Kim Do-hoon in recent years.

In terms of personnel, Ulsan fans were happy to see winter signing Joo Min-kyu on the scoresheet for the reserves last week. With Junior netting just once in the opening three K League matches, the team has been crying out for another attacker to take some of the goal-scoring burden off the Brazilian's shoulders. Joo may feature off the bench, if not this Friday, then certainly soon.

Elsewhere, Ulsan lost a member of its midfield contingent last week when Jeong Jae-yong moved up the coast to sign with rivals Pohang Steelers. The 28-year-old, who was signed from FC Anyang in 2016, made just over 50 league appearances for the Horangi, but had a frustrating 2018 with injuries and loss of form limiting him to just nine starts. The transfer means that Kim Do-hoon has more space to pick an U22 player in the middle of the park, although current favourite Lee Dong-kyeong has been away with the national U23s, so Ulsan University graduate Park Ha-bin may get a look in.

Winger Hwang Il-soo is still recovering from an achilles injury he sustained in the ACL qualification playoff with Perak FA, and there is still no word on club captain Lee Keun-ho.

The Adversary

Jeju have been slow out of the gate once again this first month of the season, as was the case in 2018. Last weekend’s performance against FC Seoul was again frustrating to watch, as Jeju’s front men still have yet to find their form in front of goal. One player who did stand out for Jeju on the afternoon was rookie defender Kim Seung-woo. He has already passed through all of the lower categories of the national team, and was a key player during his time at Yonsei University, a member of Korea’s U-20 World Cup squad in 2017, and also made the final qualification list for the Asian Games last year. Talk has even started to surface recently that Kim may become the next in the lineage of great central defenders for the club, such as the likes of Cho Yong-hyung, Hong Jeong-ho, and Oh Ban-suk.

“It was an impressive performance,” manager Cho Sung-hwan said of his new central defender. “He certainly didn’t look like a rookie out there. He is not afraid to play a physical game, and he gives us options on our defensive line,” Cho added.

Talking about his performance, Kim remarked “It was the first time I felt nervous, but the senior players breathed together as one, and it helped a lot. I will continue to improve my game with the mindset of being a rookie, and follow in the footsteps of my seniors,” he said.

There are no suspensions in the side for the trip to Ulsan, but a few players will still be unavailable through injury. Jung Woo-jae won’t return until next month, at the earliest, while the team is still waiting on Yun Il-lok to be healthy enough to make his debut for the club. Another question is whether Cho will pick the same central defensive pairing of Kim Seung-woo and Kim Dong-woo, which worked well last weekend. Elias Aguilar will return from international duty with Costa Rica in time, but whether he will be in the starting eleven or come off the bench remains to be seen. Changes to the squad are likely, as Jeju have yet to find a working formula to produce positive results.

Branko Belan


Ulsan have made an efficient if unspectacular start to the campaign. They are unbeaten in their first six competitive games but are yet to hit the heights of last year. Still, the fact the Horangi have played twice as many games as Jeju this year means they will probably be better prepared and more cohesive going into this match.  Having said that, Jeju usually defend well away from home and are sure to be difficult to break down, so I don't expect a lot of goals. I'll go for a narrow home win under the Friday night lights.

Dan's Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 1-0 Jeju United

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