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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Gyeongnam FC

It's the first South Gyeongsang Derby of the season as Ulsan Hyundai face Gyeongnam FC in the late kick-off this Sunday afternoon. Both teams will need to refocus on domestic matters after returning from successful trips to Japan in the Asian Champions League. Whichever team can show the greater stamina and desire will surely take the three points.Daniel Croydon previews this match for us, with help from Gyeongnam writer Chris Park. 

Last Time Out

Kawasaki Frontale 2-2 Ulsan Hyundai
In this roller coaster of a match, the Horangi managed to hold on for a vital draw meaning they are now just one point away from qualifying for the knock stages of the Champions League for the second year in a row. Ulsan conceded their first goal of the competition early on, but quickfire strikes from Park Yong-woo and Junior saw them go into halftime with a 2-1 lead. The Tigers withstood all that Frontale could throw at them in the second half until young striker Kei Chinen pounced on a loose ball to stab home the equaliser on 82 minutes. Ulsan can be proud of their performance after losing two games on the trot going into this one, and with a home tie against Sydney coming up there is every chance now the Horangi can book their place in the next round with a game to spare. 

Kashima Antlers 0-1 Gyeongnam FC
Gyeongnam salvaged a lot of pride following their collapse against Kashima a fortnight ago by beating the reigning ACL Champions in their own stadium this past Wednesday night. A goal from their own Japanese midfielder Takahiro Kunimoto was enough to seal the three points for the visitors on a night they restricted Antlers to just one shot on target. The win keeps Gyeongnam's hopes of qualification alive, but it still may not be enough as they will probably need Malaysian team JDT to get a result against Kashima on Match Day 5. That being said, for those fans who traveled to Japan last Wednesday, the memory of Gyeongnam's first ever ACL win will stay with them forever.

Previous Meetings

Ulsan have had much the better overall record in this fixture, winning 18, drawing 6, and losing just 5 of the 29 meetings across all competitions. Most recently the Horangi were one of the few clubs Gyeongnam failed to beat in their remarkable return to the top flight last season. In the two meetings at Munsu in 2018, the first ended in a 1-1 draw despite Ulsan going down to ten men in the early minutes of the second half. The Horangi then won the post-split match by a goal to nil, although it was not enough to take them above their local rivals in the table as in the end, Gyeongnam pipped Ulsan to the runners-up spot.

Team News

Kim Do-hoon selected what appears to be his preferred XI for the midweek visit to Kawasaki and so may choose to rotate his team for this match. Having said that though, he is yet to make wholesale changes to the team despite the congested fixture list. In midfield, Shin Jin-ho is still unavailable as he serves his ban for the red card he received at Incheon two weeks ago. Other than that, Kim is likely to have a full squad to select from, although Dave Bulthuis did seem to be nursing a knee problem in the closing minutes of Wednesday night's game. Judging by social media posts, there is a possibility fans will get to see Lee Keun-ho in action for the first time this season.

The Adversary

Gyeongnam finally earned three precious points against Kashima in the ACL; their first ACL victory in the club's history and kept their hopes to advance to the round of 16 alive. Now, the Reds need to move toward the top of the league table. The Reds desperately need to earn at least a point from this match. If the visiting team is able to earn a point through a win or draw, it would be the best scenario for them.


Both Ulsan Hyundai and Gyeongnam went to Japan for their ACL away games. According to the schedule, Hyundai took another day off, and is expected to be more advantageous as they face the Reds at their home. Also, looking at the most 10 recent games the Reds have never won against the home team, so earning a point from this match will be very difficult for Gyeongnam.

Unfortunately, Jordon Mutch is suspended from the league for two games since he was sent off from the match against Sangju Sangmu. Therefore, Gyeongnam FC can't help but expect more from Kunimoto. Manager Kim Jong-boo will try to focus on defence in the first half and seek goal opportunities through counterattacks in the second half, as he will want at least a draw. Therefore, Kwak Tae-hwi, who didn't play in the last match, is expected to start. Other than him, there will be no major changes from the starting XI and the starting formation will also be 4-4-2 in the same way as they did for last several league games.

Who To Watch

For Ulsan fans, all eyes will be on star striker Junior. The Brazilian marksman has already netted seven goals in all competitions this year, showing everyone he is no one season wonder. His goal against Frontale midweek showed his ability to create half a yard for himself to get a shot away no matter how tight the space may be.

Junior celebrates after scoring his third ACL goal of the season against Kawasaki Frontale

This game will mark the return of two players Gyeongnam signed from Ulsan in the winter in Kim Seung-jun and Lee Young-jae.  Although both players were well-liked at Munsu, neither was really able to hold down first-team spots under Kim Do-hoon. So they may feel they have a point to prove, and considering the fact Kim Seung-jun has already got his name on the scoresheet three times this season for his new club, you wouldn't bet against him doing just that this Sunday.

Prediction

Gyeongnam have been incredibly difficult to predict this season. They may be in the bottom half of the league, but there is no doubt they still have the quality and spirit to beat any K League team on their day. Having said that, Gyeongnam are yet to win away from home this season and have conceded eight goals in their last three matches on the road. Ulsan may have given up their unbeaten start to the season with that surprise loss to Seongnam last weekend, but there is no doubt the Horangi are a formidable side this year, especially at home. I think Ulsan are better equipped to handle the quick turnaround between ACL and K League matches, and so I expect them to take all three points on Sunday.

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 Gyeongnam FC

K League 1 Round 9 Preview: here

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