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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan Hyundai

K League 1 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan Hyundai

Sunday evening sees first-placed Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors welcome second-placed Ulsan Hyundai to Jeonju in what may prove to be a key match in the fight for this year's K League 1 title. Given the strong domestic form of both these sides, and with neither team having anything else to play for, expect this to be the marquee match of Round 21.

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors began life without their goalscorer Kim Shin-wook with a convincing 4-1 away victory over fourth-placed Daegu FC. Two goals within the first four minutes of play from Moon Seon-min and Jeong Hyuk set the initial tone and left Daegu and their worrisome defence somewhat scrambling to find a way back into the match. The home side did pull a goal back from the spot early into the second-half but were punished by Moon Seon-min moments later as he converted a rebound from the post to restore Jeonbuk's two-goal advantage.

Things went from bad to worse for Daegu as their stand-in goalkeeper Choi Young-eun proceeded to get himself sent off by earning a second yellow card for a mistimed sliding tackle on Moon Seon-min. It was the second time he had committed such an offence in the match and his rash actions meant regular stopper Jo Hyun-woo, who had sat out due to supposed flu-like symptoms, was hauled out into the torrential rain for the remaining half an hour. Jo was unable to stop Jeonbuk from worsening the score however after a header from Lee Dong-gook struck the upright for Moon Seon-min to score a carbon copy of his second goal and claim a well-earned hat-trick. It was a strong showing from the away side and demonstrated that there is still plenty of goal-scoring talent in this side despite their current lack of strike options.

Highlights here.

Ulsan Hyundai were in action on Tuesday night as they travelled to Changwon to take on a Gyeongnam FC side floundering near the foot of the table. Lee Sang-heon opened the scoring after returning from his recent loan at K League 2 side Jeonnam Dragons. Lee capped off a well-worked goal which had seen Kim Bo-kyung do the hard-work to drive into the penalty area and pull the ball back to him. Ulsan continued to mostly dominate proceeding up until the interval, yet when Junior was forced to make up for his 'keeper's mistimed punch on a corner kick by clearing off the line, there should have been warning signs that Gyeongnam were not going to go quietly. Despite this, the score remained at 1-0 until the interval.

Ulsan continued their dominance into the second half yet were thwarted by some solid last-minute Gyeongnam defending and goalkeeping. A Gyeongnam chance against the run of play, produced somewhat by Ulsan's inability to clear, allowed Kim Hyo-gi to bring the scores level in the 75th minute. However, there would be some late drama to see out the match. Junior broke up some indecisive defending from Gyeongnam to thread a ball through to Joo Min-kyu and score and give Ulsan the lead in 90th minute. Moments later, however, Gyeongnam looked as if they had equalised again through Bae Ki-jong yet the referee ruled the goal out for a foul on the Ulsan 'keeper in the build up. Finally, the game was put to bed in the final minute when Junior broke through Gyeongnam's high defensive line to beat 'keeper and end the game at 3-1.

Highlights here.

Previous Meetings

These two sides met in the eleventh round of the season at the Munsu Football Stadium, with Ulsan Hyundai running out 2-1 victors though arguably the score should have been somewhat more emphatic. The Horangi made easy work of the reigning champions and truly stated their title credentials.

However, it has normally been Jeonbuk that have held the upper hand in this tie, winning 27 and drawing 19 of the 67 times these two teams have faced. Ulsan have also not fared well in Jeonju, winning just seven times. They last claimed a victory in North Jeolla just under two years ago, snatching a 1-0 victory thanks to former Jeonbuk player Lee Jong-ho.

Team News

Jeonbuk manager José Morais will have a number of unwanted selection dilemmas coming into this crucial match. Central midfielder Jeong Hyeok will sit out of this encounter due to a suspension through yellow card accumulation. He will likely be replaced by Son Jun-ho who was rested on Wednesday evening. Jeonbuk will also be without injured midfielders Lee Seung-gi and Han Kyo-won and central defender Choi Bo-kyung, as well as striker Adriano who is out for the season.

The main concern though will be regarding the fitness of captain Lee Dong-gook. With the departure of Kim Shin-wook to Shanghai Shenhua earlier this week, the prolific 40-year-old veteran is Jeonbuk's remaining recognised striker, but multiple matches per week does take its toll on the player's meticulously-managed fitness regime. There were doubts post-match after Daegu if he will be fit for Sunday as he seemed to be in some discomfort with his foot, with reports suggesting he will likely rest up until this encounter. If he is unable to start, wingers Bernie Ibini, Ricardo Lopes or Moon Seon-min may be trusted to lead the line in what could be a more flexible yet underused setup.

Ulsan Hyundai manager Kim Do-hoon has no suspensions to concern himself with, nor any key injuries. With close to a full strength to select from, Ulsan should be in good shape to try and claim the three points in this encounter.

The Adversary

Ulsan Hyundai are expected to deploy their usual 4-2-3-1 formation with key names who were rested on Tuesday evening likely to return to the fold. Left-back Park Joo-ho is expected to start after being in among the substitutes midweek and will be likely tasked with foiling the threat by Jeonbuk's pacey wingers. Hwang Il-su may also find himself starting on the left flank.

The Horangi boast quite the midfield this season and are likely to rely on the talents of Mix Diskerud, Kim Bo-kyung and either Park Yong-woo or Shin Jin-ho to take control of the centre of the pitch and spread the ball out wide to the pace they possess the flanks, who in turn pull the ball back in for a striker to convert.

Leading the line on Sunday is likely to be Junior. The Brazilian suffered a rare dry spell throughout June yet has rediscovered his scoring touch with a goal in each of Ulsan's last two matches. However, he has struggled against the league's tougher defences this season, partly due to a reaction to his free-scoring antics last season, only scoring two of his eight league goals against opposition currently residing in the top six (Seoul and Suwon). The player is also performing slightly below his expected goal total of 10.78 (the league's highest), suggesting he has been squandering scorable chances yet would also mean that, over the course of the season, he will likely return to form soon. Jeonbuk fans will just be hoping it is not this Sunday.

What To Watch

With Lee Dong-gook's involvement from the start a doubt, or at least his participation for the full ninety minutes, Jeonbuk manager José Morais will at some point have to explore alternative avenues of attack for this match. Ricardo Lopes has been tried out in the lone striker role before, but his effectiveness did not match up to his usual position out on the wing. Another option would be Bernie Ibini who has played in a striking role at former clubs and could be the most suitable solution. With Moon Seon-min in fine goalscoring form, the manager may also consider utilising his pace in a central role to quickly counter an Ulsan side that is likely to push forward.

There is even an argument for all three rotating given the usual fluidity of their positions. They have all tended to act as inside forwards this season and regularly switch flanks throughout the match. It may even offer up an alternative to Jeonbuk's predictable crossing tactics of late. Regardless, it is likely central midfielder Son Jun-ho will be asked to sit further back alongside regular defensive midfielder Shin Hyung-min so as to help quickly recover from potential mistakes that may occur in the attack.

Prediction

As evident in their recent match against Urwara Red Diamonds, Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon still harbours a subconscious desire to dig in and defend in crucial matches, often to his team's detriment. However, he has been more willing to let his team off the leash in domestic competitions and, given how well they performed against an arguably stronger and fitter Jeonbuk earlier this season, he should have nothing to fear from the home side come Sunday.

While Jeonbuk did play well against Daegu midweek and are certainly a team that have managed to find crucial results when needed in the past, Ulsan have shown that they a different beast this season and will smell blood against a thinned out Jeonbuk side. The match should be close, but the away side should be favourites to take the three points and control of the title race come full-time.

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