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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

K League 1 Preview: Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Having fallen to Shanghai SIPG on the penalties midweek and subsequently exiting the AFC Champions League, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors return their attention to K League 1 duties once more as they travel to face an out-of-sorts Pohang Steelers at the Steel Yard. With Pohang also coming into this match off the back of a humiliating defeat to Gangwon, both sides will be hoping to right the ship on Sunday evening.

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk limped out of the AFC Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday, having been taken to penalties by Chinese Super League champions Shanghai SIPG in Jeonju. Jeonbuk entered the match with the slightest of advantages with an away goal in a 1-1 tie from the first leg. The home side started off this encounter strongly in a bid to kill the tie off quickly, taking the lead with a well-worked goal just inside the half-hour mark. A cross in from Lee Yong was headed down to Moon Seon-min who in turn held the ball up well to bring Son Jun-ho into play. Son chipped the somewhat static SIPG defence for Kim Shin-wook to volley home his fourth goal of the tournament.

Jeonbuk were unable to continue their strong start into the second half however, with a Hulk-led SIPG outfit somewhat resurgent after the interval. Despite this, Jeonbuk held on until ten minutes from time when Hulk volleyed a shot into the ground which deflected off a Jeonbuk defender and into the net. It was not his most memorable goal, nor his best opportunity of the evening, but it was enough to take proceedings into extra time.

Extra time would see Jeonbuk manager José Morais sent off early into the stands for his consistent protesting. The referee had not managed the game well, opting to let things play out rather than caution, leading to some harsh tackles on both sets of players. The manager would have also been incensed at SIPG's equaliser which showed Elkson had brought the ball back from Hulk from beyond the byline. However, with Kim Jin-su having clearly handled the ball in the area earlier in the match and going undetected, perhaps the home side could consider themselves lucky.

Extra-time saw Jeonbuk battle-back in search of a winner, knowing full well their track record in penalty shootouts. While Jeonbuk have never been defeated in extra time, they have lost their last six shootouts across all competitions. Jeonbuk looked the better of the two sides for the added half hour yet it was SIPG who came closest with Hulk striking the crossbar in the 119th minute. Moments later, a brawl threatened to ensue between players and staff when Moon Seon-min violently retaliated to a foul by Li Shenglong. Moon's retaliation was borne of frustration at incompetent refereeing yet his punishment was accurate. He left his side down a man going into a penalty shootout. Lee Dong-gook, Jeonbuk's first kicker, was the only player to miss for both sides, with SIPG progressing 5-3 on penalties.

Highlights here.

Pohang Steelers were on the wrong end of the headlines last weekend after featuring in the match of the round. Having led Gangwon by four goals with twenty minutes to spare, the Steelers proceeded to blow their advantage and leave with zero points, losing 5-4. Most worryingly, three of Gangwon's five comeback goals came within injury time, with the away sides' apparent inability to cut out crosses being laid bare for all to see.

Pohang had started the game well, with Wanderson scoring two to give them a 2-0 lead at half time. His first was an excellent low driven, long-range effort whereas his second came from a free kick crossed into the box that no Pohang or Gangwon player was able to touch as it bounced into the net. Wanderson was involved in the build-up for the third in the 54th minute, laying it off for Kim Seung-dae who blasted a shot against the crossbar. Fortunately, the rebound was picked up by Lee Seok-hyun who fired in a deflected effort to make it three. Wanderson would claim his hattrick minutes later as Pohang caught Gangwon on the break, curling in a low effort beyond the 'keeper from the edge of the area. It would normally be an easily deserved man-of-the-match performance but for what was to come.

Gangwon's substitution of Uros Đerić for Jung Jo-gook moments later seemed to bring things back to life for the home side. Cho Jae-won began the comeback in the 70th minute with a whipped shot from just inside the area at the 'keeper's near post. Cypriot Valentinos Sieles would double Gangwon's tally seven minutes later after pouncing on a rebound from Kim Ji-hyun's initial shot. Cho Jae-won would pop up on the scoresheet in the 91st minute with a close-range header, before scoring moments later, volleying in a headed-on ball from Sieles from six yards out to earn his hattrick. With a minute left, Gangwon forced a corner, and while it was cleared, the ball was whipped back in by Cho Jae-won and met by the head of Jung Jo-gook, leaving Pohang having lost their last four consecutive matches.

Highlights here.

Team News

Jeonbuk welcome back Kim Jin-su to the fold after having sat out the last two league matches through suspension. However, Han Seung-gyu and Lee Ju-young will be forced to sit out after both picking up their third yellow cards of the season against Pohang Steelers. Jeonbuk will also be without Lee Seung-gi and Choi Bo-kyung through injury, while Adriano and Han Kyo-won remain out for the long-term.

Pohang Steelers have no players suspended and should have most of their roster available. Pohang have also been busy in the transfer market, signing attacking midfielder Aleksandar Paločević midweek from Portuguese Primeira Liga side C.D. Nacional. However, Paločević will be unable to play this round as the window does not open until Monday.

[READ: Aleksandar Paločević Transfer Profile]

The Adversary

Pohang Steelers come into this encounter having lost their last four matches in the K League and with no win in five, tasting victory last in mid-May against a struggling Gyeongnam side. Their form had picked up for the Steelers upon replacement of their manager, yet their initial form has resurfaced and they are desperately waiting for the transfer window to open so as to bring in new recruits.

As evident in the Gangwon match, Pohang do boast considerable attacking talent in the likes of Wanderson and Kim Seung-dae, yet those four goals were also their only four in their last five matches. Perhaps it marks an improvement, although it may also have been due a somewhat generous Gangwon side who have negative goal despite being in fifth. Gangwon are also the only side to concede more shots than Pohang this season.

The team have tended to sit back and move on the counter, passing quickly via through balls to transition into attack and catch defences off guard. They are, however, the second-lowest shot takers in the league, firing at 9.64 times per game with an on-target accuracy of 36.78%. It is unsurprising then to learn that Pohang have the second-fewest touches inside the opposition box, taking over half of their shots from outside the area and subsequently have the lowest expected goals (xG) in the league with 16.83, an expectation they are matching with 17 so far.

Pohang often play in an attacking 4-5-1 formation in recent weeks, with Kim Seung-dae usually spearheading the attack and Wanderson posing a threat from the left wing. Their midfield has mostly consisted of the same personnel in recent weeks, with Lee Seok-hyun in attacking midfield, and Lee Soo-bin and Jeong Jae-yong in central midfield. Youngster Song Min-kyu was trusted out on the right last time against Gangwon, but normally the position has been filled by Lee Jin-hyun who sat out initially before making an appearance from the bench. He may well be restored this weekend.

Prediction

Both teams come into this match off the back of disheartening showings, yet it is still difficult to look beyond Jeonbuk for this encounter. Pohang have been in dreadful form and, while shoots of optimism may well be found in their first seventy minutes against Gangwon, ultimately they were badly exposed in defence and may struggle with the increased attacking talents Jeonbuk offer. With at least one of Ulsan and Seoul certain to drop points in the title race on Sunday, the away side will be focused on making up for their continental defeat and retaking control in the hunt for the K league crown.

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