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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan Hyundai

K League 1 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Ulsan Hyundai

This Friday evening sees the top two in action as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host Ulsan Hyundai as one of the K League’s most intriguing title races in years looks set for further twists. With two points separating both sides, can the North Jeolla side claim a victory to leapfrog the visitors or will the Horangi extend their lead at the summit?

Last Time Out

Pohang Steelers 1-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Jeonbuk made difficult work of the home side, eventually finding some joy when Lopes entered play for the ineffective Moon Seon-min. The Brazilian’s effort from the edge of the area broke the deadlock in the 71st minute with midfielder Han Seung-kyu doubling the visitor’s talents moments later with a well taken effort of his own. Lopes looked to have put the game out of site towards the end of regular time but was adjudged by the referee to have handled the ball in controlling it. Subsequent replays, that were not afforded to the referee due to his early whistle, showed their had been no infraction but, while the players protested, Jeonbuk’s defence were left out of sorts for Pohang’s Wanderson to capitalise. It made for an anxious period of injury time for Jeonbuk, with the side looking visibly rattled and in danger of conceding again, but Jose Morais’ side managed to hold on to claim all three points.

Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Daegu FC
While Ulsan’s performance perhaps merited more, they could just as easily consider themselves fortunate to have walked away with anything from this match with the visitors missing not one, but two penalty kicks. The first of those penalties saw Daegu’s Cesinha skew his spot kick wide, wasting an opportunity for his side to take the lead. It would be an opportunity he would rue almost immediately when, three minutes later, a shot from Ulsan striker Joo Min-kyu struck the upright and deflected off the back of goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo’s head to give the Horangi the lead. Ulsan had opportunities to further their lead but, instead, a handball in the area saw another penalty correctly afforded in the visitors’ favour. It was a decision that riled Ulsan manager Kim Do-hoon to a visible extent, resulting in his protests to the officials being met with a dismissal from the touch line. Fortunately for Kim, Daegu striker Rildo blazed his penalty over the bar. Daegu did eventually find a way through, however, with Edgar marking his return from a lengthy injury with a well taken effort late on. Ulsan’s Junior did manage to score in injury time but the goal was correctly ruled out after VAR as the striker had handled the ball in the lead up to his shot.

Previous Meetings

This will be the third time these two sides have met this season with Ulsan holding the advantage, having won one and drawn the other.  The draw took place when these sides last met in Jeonju back in July. Jeonbuk took the lead through an early Lee Dong-gook penalty only to be pegged back later on that half by a Joo Min-kyu equaliser.

These two sides have met on 64 occasions, with Jeonbuk winning 27 to Ulsan’s 17. In the 31 occasions, they have faced one another in Jeonju, Ulsan have enjoyed victory just seven times. The last of these victories was in early August two years ago, with a late Lee Jong-ho effort proving to be the difference.

Team News

Jeonbuk come into this match with no suspended players and very few on the sickbed. Central midfield Lee Seung-gi remains injured but Han Kyo-won and Choi Bo-kyung have seen returns in the recent rounds meaning that the home side should be at full strength for this encounter. Moon Seon-min did come off early against Pohang but there have been no reports of an injury at the time of writing. K League 2's second-highest goalscorer and former young player of the year Ko Moo-yeol has returned to Jeonbuk after completing his 20-month military service down with Asan Mugunghwa but the winger may not be risked for such a large game so soon after his return.

Manager Jose Morais is likely to stick with his usual 4-1-4-1 formation but there will be some questions regarding team selection. Having not started Lopes against Gangwon and Pohang, there will be an expectation that Sunday’s goalscorer is restored to the starting eleven for this. Striker Samuel Rosa, who assisted Lopes on Sunday, could be given the nod to start once more, raising doubts over Kim Seung-dae’s inclusion. Kim was fielded in the unusual position on right wing on Sunday to little effect and it would make more sense that Morais goes for a more traditional winger such as Han Kyo-won on Friday, especially if pace is required to track back and assist in defence. Central midfielder Han Seung-gyu was afforded a start and picked up a well-taken goal against Pohang. He, therefore, could keep his place and line up against his former employers.

As for Ulsan, their most notable suspension is their manager Kim Do-hoon who will be serving a touchline ban for this encounter, although he will still be selecting the strongest lineup available to him. One player he will be without though is young winger Lee Dong-gyeong who also sits out through suspension due to yellow card accumulation. Kim should have a relatively strong squad at his disposal, but will continue to be without centre-back Dave Bulthuis who is still some way from recovery. There are also some doubts about Mix Diskerud who has been on the bench for the last two games with a slight knee injury but could be fit enough to feature on Friday.

[LISTEN: K League 1 Title Chase Update]

The Adversary

Ulsan's form coming into this match has seen them go unbeaten in their last 16 league matches, drawing just five times over the period in question. Manager Kim Do-hoon has stayed fairly loyal to his 4-2-3-1 formation, often opting to utilise a creative trio of central midfielders to overrun opponents before dispersing the ball out to the wings for a winger or full-back to pull the back in to the lone striker. The last two outings have seen a fairly similar side fielded, with usual first team names Mix Diskerud, Junior and Park Joo-ho rested for cameos later on. Whether they will start on the bench this time though remains to be seen. It is difficult to imagine Ulsan lining up for this encounter without their most prised talents from the kick-off

Lee Keun-ho or Hwang Il-su may also be handed a start due to the suspension of usual right winger Lee Dong-hyeong. It could even be Kim Tae-hwan moved up into the position from full back or Kim Bo-kyung from central midfield, though whoever is eventually selected will have to find a way past Jeonbuk's Kim Jin-su. Kim Tae-hwan has been particularly effective for Ulsan this season down the right flank, picking up the joint highest number of assists in his team (5). If played in his usual full back role, he will be expected to overlap with the winger to help spread Jeonbuk's defence and create gaps for the attack to move into. Ulsan rarely convert from outside of the penalty area, scoring just three times with shots from distance this season, and like to ensure the ball is shot from within the box for the best possible chance of conversion.

However, despite this apparent tactic, the discrepancy between their actual goals scored (47) and expected number of goals scored xG (39.49) is the second-highest in the league (behind FC Seoul), suggesting that the side is somewhat over-performing at present and this might not be sustainable. Looking in the other direction, they also have the third-highest discrepancy (behind FC Seoul and Gangwon FC) between expected goals against (26.2) and actual goals conceded (20) also suggesting that teams have not been converting chances against them. For comparison's sake, Jeonbuk have also been achieving over their expected goals figure yet they have been conceding at a rate similar to that expected. Furthermore, when converted into an expected points table, these two teams are switched at the league summit.

Whether these actual figures revert back to their means as this season progresses remains to be seen but their is no denying that Ulsan are a team in superb form and performing beyond what data tells us they should be achieving. If they find victory and move five points clear on Friday evening, the motivational springboard it could give them heading into the K League's run-in could be paramount to potentially claiming the title.

Who to Watch

Perhaps one particular contributor to these out of line statistics are the efforts of central midfielder Kim Bo-kyung. Kim, a former Jeonbuk player, moved to the Horangi from Kashiwa Reysol in the pre-season and was lauded as a coup for side. Often paired alongside the creative talents of Mix Disekerud, the central duo have wreaked havoc on K League defences this season.

Kim's performance has been particularly worthy of note. So far, he has made five assists and scored an incredible ten goals. Given the aforementioned suggestions over Ulsan's over-performance, Kim's contribution is perhaps the biggest outlier. With an expected goals figure of just 5.3, Kim has nearly doubled that. Therefore, he is scoring goals with lower probabilities of conversion, which may not be sustainable as the season progresses, but it does mean he is very much an in-form talent that Jeonbuk should be looking to keep quiet if they are to escape this match unscathed,


Jeonbuk have looked slightly rattled at the back in recent rounds and could be easily shaken if Ulsan start strong, yet Daegu posed a threat to Ulsan in the last round which the hosts on Friday are equally capable of matching. Jeonbuk do also have the home advantage, especially on a Friday evening where it is unlikely as many Ulsan fans can make the trip across the country in time. However, these are marginal differences that are unlikely to phase the Horangi who have been relentless in their title pursuit this season. When these two sides met here earlier in the season, it was a tightly contested affair resulting in a deserved draw for both parties. It feels quite likely a similar result could emerge once more this Friday.

[READ: K League 1 Round 26 Preview]

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