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Preview: Gyeongnam FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

K League 2 Preview: Gyeongnam FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

With a three-point gap opened up between them and Ulsan Hyundai, K League leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors head to Changwon to face Gyeongnam FC this Sunday as they look to keep their 18 match unbeaten streak going and maintain their position at the summit. 

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Sangju Sangmu
Late Lee Dong-gook heroics were required for Jeonbuk to capitalise on Ulsan Hyundai's slip and take a three-point lead in this year's title race. The home side had looked to be initially struggling with what was a new look Sangju. The military side had recently discharged twelve key players back to their parent clubs and were predicted to struggle against the reigning champions. However, despite Ricardo Lopes eventually opening the scoring moments before the interval, latching on to finish off some fine back passing buildup, the North Jeolla side were pegged back Kim Gun-hee in the 70th minute. The ball was won back in central midfield and played through to Kim who, with players still to beat, managed to shake off the scrambling defence and get his shot away. Lee Dong-gook was brought on to bolster his side's attack moments later, however, and it paid off within ten minutes of his introduction. Han Kyo-won was unable to meet the aerial threat as he was challenged by Sangju's Kim Kyung-joong, but Kim's clearance landed at the feet of an unmarked Lee Dong-gook who made no mistake in retaking his team's initial lead. The hosts had a couple of chances to extend their lead afterwards but 2-1 seemed a just result given the performance.



Gyeongnam FC 3-3 Ulsan Hyundai
In one of the more end-to-end fixtures of the round, Gyeongnam FC managed to claim a 3-3 draw against title contenders Ulsan Hyundai, a valuable point which saw them edge a tiny bit further from the relegation places below them. Uroš Đerić opened the scoring for Gyeongnam before the home side was pegged back by deadly Ulsan attack Junior in the fifteenth minute. Two minutes later, however, and Gyeongnam found themselves back in front thanks to Osman who managed to fire home from a tight angle, despite two onrushing Ulsan defenders. By the half-hour mark the scores were level once more, with the promising youngster and now Korean international Lee Dong-gyeong working well with veteran Lee Keun-ho to equalise.

Ulsan would finally take the lead on the hour mark through Junior once more, a reward for their consistent pressing. However, the lead was not to be enough and when Kim Bo-kyung was ruled to have handled the ball in his side's penalty area in the dying minutes, Đerić calmly slotted away to bring the game level once more. A last-minute goal from Ulsan's Kim In-sung was controversially ruled out after consultation with VAR. The referee somewhat harshly deemed that Kang Min-soo had been in an offside position and, more importantly, interfering with play when the shot was made. It meant the home side would hold on to a vital point, leaving the visitors frustrated with the decision but also ruing their own wastefulness in front of goal.



Previous Meetings

Jeonbuk have picked up four of the six points available from the meetings between these two sides this season, drawing 3-3 in Changwon before recording a comprehensive 4-1 win over Gyeongnam in Jeonju back in May. The three-all draw, however, was most notable for Gyeongnam's late comeback, scoring three goals against a ten-man Jeonbuk (through a late Choi Bo-kyung injury) in the final ten minutes. 

In terms of the history of this fixture, Jeonbuk have the upper hand, winning 19 of the 32 encounters and drawing 6. They last lost to Gyeongnam last season, however, conceding a late Kunimoto goal against the run of play in Jeonju resulting in a 1-0 defeat.

Team News

Jeonbuk manager José Morais has a full squad to select from with no major injuries nor suspensions to be concerned with. He also has winger Ko Moo-yeol available after he returned from military service at Asan Mugunghwa a couple of weeks ago. It is an ideal situation for the Portuguese manager given the three matches his side will contest over the next seven days, including difficult encounters with Daegu FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Therefore, given Gyeongnam's current predicament, Jeonbuk could well opt for some minor rotation to the side that defeated Sangju last weekend. Given Kim Jin-su, Lee Yong and Kwoun Kyung-won were left out of that team to rest after their international call-ups though, they may well be reinstalled to the starting eleven here.

Gyeongnam welcome back a number of defenders who were suspended for the Ulsan match including Kim Jong-pil, Lee Gwang-seon and Woo Ju-sung, but will be without midfielder Lee Gwang-jin who picked up his third yellow of the season in that encounter. They will also be without defender Park Tae-hong who was reported this week to have been handed a 15 game ban (with one match already served) for drink-driving and causing an accident in Busan. He was also fined four million South Korean won.

The Adversary

Gyeongnam have been somewhat inconsistent of late, picking up two wins, two losses and a draw in their last five outings. However, all seven of those points have come at home and points towards a slow uptick in form. Their most recent point saw them move three goals clear of the relegation spaces, with a far superior goals scored tally than those below them. Instead, it has been their defence that has perhaps been their biggest flaw, with the Reds shipping 51 goals for the season, the second-highest behind foot-of-the-table Jeju United.

The goals conceded are not just from facing more shots either. Gyeongnam have faced far fewer shots at goal than Seoul, Ulsan and Suwon, yet have conceded significantly more. Their success rate in blocking shots and defensive duels is the second-lowest league pointing to an inability to close their opponents down and win tackles when do they do offer them time to attack. This is backed up by their stats for "Challenge Intensity" (ie. duels, tackles and interceptions per minute of opponent possession) stand at 5.3, the third-lowest in the league. It is these defensive lapses that have contributed heavily to their current predicament and could prove to be their undoing once more when they face the attacking might of league leaders Jeonbuk on Sunday afternoon.

This season, Gyeongnam have been altering their formation in recent weeks, opting for a 3-4-3, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 in their last three matches. However, it seems possible that manager Kim Jong-boo could opt for a similar gameplan to last time out given the questions they posed of Ulsan's defence, even if it did cause them headaches of their own. With three of their preferred defenders returning from suspension, however, not to mention the return of star midfield talent Takahiro Kunimoto to the starting eleven in recent weeks after injury, Gyeongnam should have a reasonably strong squad to select from and look to build on last weekend's result.

Who To Watch

Gyeongnam striker Uroš Đerić did not get off to the best start this season, falling out of favour at Gangwon despite coming second in last year's golden boot race. His switch to Gyeongnam FC in the summer seemed to make sense to everyone involved and he now seems to be delivering on his promise once more. Đerić has six goals in eight appearances for Gyeongnam since his switch, picking up two in the last round against Ulsan. He also has four from his time at Gangwon earlier in the season meaning he has now reached double digits for this campaign and will be looking to break into the league's top five goalscorers this weekend with another goal or two, making up for the lost time.

Prediction

Jeonbuk are now 18 matches unbeaten in the K League 1 and have finally wrestled control of the title race after a few weeks of it constantly changing hands. In recent seasons, we've seen Jeonbuk at their strongest when in a position to pull away from the rest of the chasing pack, with their on-field experience sure to be of assistance come these final nine rounds. Gyeongnam do have the attacking prowess to pose questions of Jeonbuk, but the home side's defensive frailties are there for all to see and it seems unlikely they will be able to hold out the league leaders this weekend.

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