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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Pohang Steelers

K League 1 Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs Pohang Steelers

After a long two and a half weeks wait, Ulsan Hyundai are finally back in action at Munsu Stadium this Saturday evening, as they play host to local rivals Pohang Steelers in the second East Coast Derby of the season.  The Horangi will be desperate for the win to keep pace with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at the top of the league, but as one of only two teams to have beaten Ulsan this year, the Steelers will believe they are capable of taking at least a point back up the coast to Pohang.  Ulsan columnist Daniel Croydon previews this fiercely contested fixture below.

Match: Ulsan Hyundai vs. Pohang Steelers
Venue: Munsu Football Stadium
Kickoff: Saturday, June 15th, 2019; 19:00 KST

Last Time Out

Jeju United 1-3 Ulsan Hyundai

A trip to the Island is usually a potential banana skin for any club with title aspirations. But this Jeju team is a pale shadow of the one that finished in the top half of the league for the past few years. Despite the fact Ulsan rested some key players and were forced to play without a recognised first-team central defender, Jeju rarely caused them trouble, while at the other end the hosts left yawning gaps in their defence.

Mix Diskerud broke the deadlock after 23 minutes when he latched on to a through-ball from youngster Lee Dong-kyeong. The provider then turned scorer when Lee finished off an incisive breakaway just before half time.  Jeju brought on Yun Il-lok and Aguilar shortly after the break to salvage something from the game, and indeed the latter scored late on, but Ulsan's Kim Bo-kyung was on hand in injury time to restore the visitors' two-goal cushion.  The win means Ulsan remain level on points with Jeonbuk at the top of the league, while Jeju are joint bottom with Incheon United and look to be in deep trouble.

Highlights here

Pohang Steelers 0-2 Daegu FC

Daegu looked to be headed for a third goalless draw in a row until they were gifted a goal in the 82nd minute by Pohang keeper Kang Hyeon-moo.  The 24-year-old has played second fiddle to Ryu Won-woo for much of this season and won't have done himself any favours when he dropped what looked like a routine catch at the feet of Brazilian striker Edgar for an easy finish.  Five minutes later, the same player sealed the win with a back-post header to condemn the Steelers to their first loss at home since the opening day of the season.

Highlights here

Previous Meetings

Pohang are one of only two teams to beat the Horangi this season, the other being Seongnam FC.  The Steelers won the Children's Day Weekend fixture just over a month ago by of score of two to one, thanks to goals from Lee Jin-hyun and Kim Seung-dae either side of half time.  Ulsan could count themselves unlucky after VAR denied them what looked like a stonewall penalty for handball late on.

The East Coast Derby has been a very close affair over the years, with Ulsan slightly edging it overall with twenty wins to Pohang's nineteen.  The Horangi have dominated at home in recent years though, going eight games unbeaten at Munsu in a run that started back in 2014.

Team News

Ulsan will be well-rested after the international break, but manager Kim Do-hoon may still choose to rotate his squad slightly with one eye on the first leg of the ACL encounter with Urawa Red Diamonds on Wednesday night.  Top scorer Junior will most likely return to the starting lineup having been dropped to the bench for the trip to Jeju, along with Kim Bo-kyung and Kim Tae-hwan who were both unused members of Paulo Bento's squad for last week's international friendlies.

Elsewhere, both Kang Min-soo and Kim Su-an are eligible again after serving their respective suspensions, meaning Dave Bulthuis may have to wait a little longer to slot back into the back four, despite the fact he looks to have overcome the knee injury that sidelined him for eight weeks.

[LISTEN: The K League United Podcast looks at this weekend's marquee matches.]

The Adversary

After a dream start to his managing career that saw him win his first four games in charge, manager Kim Gi-dong has come crashing down to earth in recent weeks, as the Steelers are currently without a win in three, and have failed to score a single goal in that time. Losses to Suwon and Daegu meant the Steelers dropped into the bottom half and look to be in need of a major tactical rethink. Their talisman Lee Seung-dae poses a constant threat up front with his pace and guile, but Kim Gi-dong needs to find a way to get supporting players in and around him, otherwise he can quickly become isolated.

One player who won't be able to help out in attack on Saturday is striker Yoo Jun-soo, who was shipped out on loan this week. The 31-year-old ex-Ulsan player signed for Pohang last winter from Thai side Buriram United. However, having started just four games this season for the Steelers, Yoo has returned to Thailand on a six-month deal at Ratchaburi, where he will link up with another former Steelers striker, Kang Soo-il.

Kim Gi-dong continued his clear out on Thursday when it was announced that another winter signing, David da Silva, would leave the club after scoring just two goals in eight starts this season.

Who To Watch

Both Kim Bo-kyung (L) and Kim In-sung (R) are having excellent seasons in front of goal

Junior gets a lot of plaudits as one of the most consistent strikers in the K League, but much of Ulsan's success so far this year has come from the fact that the midfield has started chipping in with their fair share of goals.  Kim In-sung, for example, has already equalled his best goal tally for a league season with five goals, while Kim Bo-kyung's five goals mean this is his highest-scoring season since he left Cerezo Osaka for Cardiff back in 2012.  The Horangi are causing problems for opposition defences from a variety of positions, making them a much less predictable proposition in attack compared to last year.  Pohang's back four are bound to have a lot on their plate this Saturday afternoon trying to keep Junior and Joo Min-kyu quiet, so don't be surprised to see either Kim In-sung or Kim Bo-kyung on the scoresheet once again.

Prediction

Derbies are always difficult to predict, as form often counts for little when local pride is at stake.  But with Pohang scoring just three goals away from home all season, and without a win at Munsu in five years, Ulsan should be confident of winning this match.  That being said, the Horangi have occasionally struggled to break teams down at home if they are faced with two banks of four. Kim Gi-dong certainly knows what this rivalry means to Pohang fans, so his team is unlikely to roll over easily.  But if Ulsan can grab the first goal, they should be able to hold on for yet another derby win in front of the Horangi faithful. 

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 Pohang Steelers

See also: K League 1 Round 15 Preview

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