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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai vs. FC Seoul

It's another top-of-the-table clash for second-placed Ulsan Hyundai this Tuesday night, as they take on FC Seoul who currently sit a place below them in K League 1. With six points between them as it stands, the visitors desperately need a win to keep their title-challenge alive, while a draw or better for Ulsan would see them move into first place. Here, Daniel Croydon previews the third and final regular-season match between the sides this campaign.

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 2-2 Sangju Sangmu
Ulsan missed a chance to go clear at the top of the table on a night of frustration and fine margins.  The Horangi twice had the lead over a well-organised Sangju side -- Junior side-footed home a penalty, and Mix Diskerud prodded in another, either side of a neat goal from Sangju's Park Yong-ji.  It wasn't enough though, as a last-minute handball by veteran defender Kang Min-soo gave Yoon Bit-garam the chance to nick a point from the spot.  The midfield dynamo duly obliged, although 'keeper Oh Seung-hoon almost kept the shot out with what turned out to be his last touch of the ball in an Ulsan shirt. So the hosts had to settle for a point, meaning they still trail Jeonbuk Hyundai at the top of K League 1 on goals scored.
Highlights here

FC Seoul 2-4 Jeonbuk Hyundai
This season's K League continued to provide plenty of drama when first-placed Jeonbuk managed to see off the challenge of FC Seoul in an end-to-end encounter at Seoul World Cup Stadium last weekend. The hosts twice pegged Jeonbuk back with a brace from Park Dong-jin, but it was Jeonbuk's new number nine Kim Seung-dae who took the headlines with a cool finish to make it 2-3. It was Kim's first goal for the current champions after signing from Pohang Steelers the week before.  Ricardo Lopes scored a fourth late on to condemn FC Seoul to their first home loss of 2019.
Highlights here

Previous Meetings

Ulsan are unbeaten in their last five league encounters with FC Seoul and have won the last three meetings at home, including a 2-1 win early on in this campaign.

The two clubs last met in Seoul back at the end of June in a match of high drama and great controversy. Ulsan went in front early on with a lovely effort from full-back Kim Tae-hwan, before the home side took the lead with a quickfire double from Alibaev and Park Dong-jin before halftime.  The Horangi then dominated the second half but were twice denied an equaliser by VAR offside calls.  Then, in one of the most controversial moments of the season, what looked to be a stonewall penalty for handball went to VAR, but unbelievably the referee denied Ulsan another chance to draw level.  

In the last meeting between these sides Kim Bo-kyung gets to the ball ahead of Seoul's Kim Won-sik to give Ulsan a 95th-minute equaliser
The Horangi did manage to salvage a point in the last minute of added time -- Kim Bo-kyung nodding home from close range -- but having been much the better team over the ninety-odd minutes, Ulsan were left with a bad taste in their mouth, as they left with just a single point when it could easily have been three.  

Team News

Kim Do-hoon took an uncharacteristically cavalier approach to Ulsan's match with Sangju last Wednesday by naming both Joo Min-kyu and Junior in the starting lineup without a recognised holding midfielder.  This more fluid, attacking shape took some time for the players to get used to and was partly to blame for allowing Sangju to gain a foothold in the match.

Kim is expected, therefore, to name a more tried-and-tested side for the visit of FC Seoul, with a compact 4-5-1 formation and more patient buildup play.  Mix Diskerud and Kim Bo-kyung should start as the creative powerhouse in midfield, despite both playing 45 minutes in the Team K League friendly against Juventus last Friday.  Mix is in particularly good form at the moment, scoring in his last two games and providing an assist for Kim Bo-kyung in the win over Gangwon.  He also enjoys playing against FC Seoul, having scored in both of their last two visits to Ulsan.

Ulsan's Seung-gyu shows safe hands against FC Seoul on the opening day of the 2015 K League Classic season
The big news for Ulsan fans last week was the return of goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu from big-spending J League club Vissel Kobe.  Korea's No.1 made the shock permanent move back to the club he made 130 appearances for between 2010 and 2015 and is in line to start against Seoul after Ulsan's regular 'keeper Oh Seoung-hoon moved to Jeju United the same day.  Kim won the 2012 AFC Champions League with the Horangi and played all of Korea's games at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. He was also part of the 2013 Ulsan team that suffered a heartbreaking final-day-of-the-season loss to Pohang that meant the K League trophy went to the Steelers rather than the Horangi.  So, with scores to settle, there would be no better way for Kim Seung-gyu to celebrate his return to Ulsan than to send them back to the top of K League 1. 

The Adversary

When Seoul last met Ulsan they were on an unbeaten run of eight matches, and had Kim Bo-kyung not scored that late equaliser, they would have gone top of the league.  But with just one win in the four games since that match, the capital club now find themselves six points adrift of the Hyundai clubs.

Many eyes will be on Oscar this weekend after his barnstorming opening goal for Team K League against Serie A champions Juventus last Friday.  The 31-year-old Spaniard robbed World Cup finalist Gonzalo Higuain on halfway before striding forward and belting a 30-yard effort into the top left corner.  It was a truly moment to savour for Osmar on his home ground, but no more than he deserves for his efforts so far this season after spending much of last year in the wilderness on loan at Cerezo Osaka. 

In terms of team news, Choi Yong-soo is not missing anyone through suspension, but he will most likely be without goalkeeper Yang Han-bin after he suffered a horrible head wound in a collision with his own player at Jeonbuk last time out. Yoo Sang-hun is a very capable replacement though.  Club top scorer Aleksandar Pešić will also be missing as he continues to recover from a broken toe. He sits alongside Kim Wonkyun and Ha Dae-sung on the longterm absentee list.

One good piece of news for FC Seoul fans though is a potential return to action for central defender Kim Nam-chun. He could make his first appearance of the season at Ulsan having featured for the reserve team last week.

Prediction

It's been a tough job predicting how Ulsan will play at home since they moved to the Sports Complex last month.  Although they remain unbeaten with two wins and a draw, they still do not seem to have fully acclimatised to their new digs and are yet to put in a dominant performance away from Munsu.

FC Seoul are having some trouble lately too though. Despite the fact they are still in this title race, the cracks they managed to paint over in the first half of the season are starting to open up again.  They conceded four against Jeonbuk, just weeks after doing the same at struggling Jeju, showing that they are prone to giving away too many opportunities over the ninety minutes.

So the question is whether or not Ulsan can convert their chances.  They were unlucky against Sangju last time out, hitting the woodwork twice, but with Mix Diskerud and Kim Bo-kyung pull the strings in the middle of the park, Ulsan are sure to cause trouble for this attack-minded Seoul side. 

Both teams dearly need a win so it is bound to be an entertaining affair. Overall, I believe Ulsan will be able to outscore the visitors -- just.    

Prediction: Ulsan Hyundai 3-2 FC Seoul

[READK League 1 Round 23 Preview]

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