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Preview: Busan IPark v Jeonnam Dragons

 Busan IPark, Jeonnam Dragons, Romulo
Busan IPark are under pressure to deliver a strong performance this Sunday after their hopes of becoming K League 2 champions evaporated at the Gudeok Stadium last weekend. This weekend's visitors are a Jeonnam Dragons outfit with an outside chance of making the playoffs after a strong second half of the season, but will it be too little too late for the Jeolla-namdo side?


Source: Soccerway

Last Time Out

Busan IPark 0-2 Ansan Greeners

Busan's season fizzled out on Sunday as they lost for the first time since July to an impressive Ansan Greeners side, tamely surrendering their title challenge as Gwangju FC claimed the K League 2 title and promotion to the Korean top flight. This was a terrible performance from an IPark side that desperately needed three points after Gwangju's 4-0 win on Saturday, but that result seemed to demoralise rather than galvanise IPark, as most players turned up with their minds on a beach rather than a fight in the trenches. On the other hand, Ansan proved they don't just have the talent and attitude to sow up a playoff spot, but the tactical nous to outwit Cho Duk-jae's side and must now be considered serious contenders to progress to the K League Playoff Final in early December. The Greeners are now six points clear of Asan in fifth and require just one more win to confirm their place in the playoffs.

Credit should be given to Ansan for successfully nullifying Busan's creativity in the centre of the pitch, marking the usually mercurial Romulo out of the game, whilst their counter attacking was remincent of Manchester United in the 1990s - dangerous and clinical - as the Gyeonggi side soaked up pressure then broke with pace and efficiency every time they poured forward. The Greeners' first goal stunned a backpedalling Busan defense, as Masatoshi Ishida and Choi Myeong-hee combined at pace to draw Busan's back line out of position, before Choi played in Jang Hyeok-jin at the back post, wide open to slot into an empty net. Their second was similarly opportunistic, as Jang won the ball on the edge of his own box and played the ball out of trouble under strong pressure from Romulo. He excellently threaded the ball through midfield to Ishida, who masterfully dribbled the ball 40 yards down the left wing, past Park Joon-gang before slotting into the bottom right corner to double the Greeners' advantage. On reflection, Choi Pil-soo will be disappointed that he could not get down to make the save, but he was not the only IPark player to put in a sub-par performance on this occasion. 

As Busan pushed for a way back into the game, Diego hit the post from six yards out, sparking a goalmouth scramble before Ansan cleared. Only the Brazilian substitute and Lee Dong-jun came out of the game with any credit after lively performances on the wings, both stretching Hwang In-jae in the Greeners goal but failing to spoil his clean sheet. The match ended as a meaningful contest in the 72nd minute as Park Jong-woo saw red for foul play, the Olympic bronze medallist harshly adjudged by VAR to have deliberately stamped on Park Jun-hui when replays showed the action had been accidental.

Many thanks to Tom Marcantonio for his match thoughts.

Jeonnam Dragons 0-1 Bucheon 1995

Jeonnam missed out on an opportunity to go fifth after a narrow home loss to midtable rivals Bucheon FC, who leapfrogged the POSCO backed side to keep their own slim playoff hopes alive. After three straight wins against other midtable sides, caretaker manager Jeon Kyung-jun has managed to save Jeonnam's season after a horrendous first half of the campaign, but this result is a reminder the side is still a work in progress with much work to do in the offseason if they are to make a promotion push in 2020.

Bucheon dominated the first half as the home side failed to register a shot on target, dominating the midfield to create a reliable supply line for Gam Han-sol and returning top scorer Marlon Jesus, who both forced Choi Cheol-won into several reaction saves as pressure built throughout the half. This pressure boiled over just before the interval as Bucheon deservedly took the lead in fortuitous circumstances. Lively former Seoul E-Land attacker Gam was recklessly bundled over in an aerial challenge with Kim Jun-su, who was penalised on the edge of the penalty area. Brazilian defender Nilson stepped up and his free kick took a wicked deflection off the shoulder of Jeong Jae-hee, past the diving keeper and into the back of the net.

Jeonnam were much improved after the break, aided by the dismissal of Park Yo-han for two poor tackles early in the second half. The Dragons used their man advantage to build pressure, as Bucheon weathered an aerial storm largely from the left wing that targeted the aerial prowess of Bruno Nunes and Bruno Baio. Fortunately for the away side, the Brazilian front two were terribly wasteful in front of goal, afforded free headers by the Bucheon defence but unable to keep any of their attempts on target. Baio's best chance in open play came ten minutes from time when the ball fell kindly to his feet when unmarked ten yards out, but he could only tamely sidefoot the ball directly into the arms of keeper Choi Cheol-won, and the visitors held on for a precious three points.

Previous Meetings

Despite the gulf of quality on paper between the two sides, all three meetings between Busan and Jeonnam this season have been competitive and closely fought encounters. Each side has taken three points from a 1-0 home win before sharing the points in a dramatic 3-3 draw, a match where IPark came from behind three times to salvage a point.

This is the 42nd meeting between two sides that established themselves as competitors in the top division of Korean football until the mid 2010s. Jeonnam have won 17, Busan have won 13 and 11 games were tied.

Team News

Busan IPark
Coach Cho Duk-jae is set to ring the changes for IPark as he experiments with his personnel to find a winning formula for an upcoming playoff push. Central midfielder Park Jong-woo and left back Park Jun-gang are both suspended, whilst centre back Alexsandar Susjnar and top scorer Lee Jeong-hyeop return to contention. Both are likely to play some part with Seo Yong-duk given a rare start in central midfield.

Signs have emerged that Cho is looking at alternatives to his established first eleven. Busan named an unusually strong line up for their R League game against Ulsan Hyundai on Tuesday, giving gametime to fringe players in unusual positions. Rookie wingers Park Kyung-min and Lee Sang-jun were given 90 minutes in the full back positions alongside established centre backs Susjnar and Hwang Jun-ho. What on paper appears to be a strong defense still shipped five goals to Ulsan's reserve team, which may stop the coach from giving the same players an opportunity in a league game. 36 year old Kim Chi-woo is most likely to step in at left back but is unlikely to resolve the side's defensive culpabilities in that position.

Club captain Han Ji-ho was pulled in the 33rd minute against Ansan for tactical reasons, exasperating the coach after blazing a ball out of the stadium from 10 yards out with the goal gaping. Han was shortly after replaced by the lively Diego Mauricio, but Kwon Yong-hyun is likely to be given an opportunity this weekend to stake his claim on the left wing as part of a front three with Lee Jeong-hyeop and Lee Dong-jun.

It is worth noting that Romulo and Soma Novothny are both one yellow card away from a one match suspension. They might take a tactical yellow card for a one match suspension to ensure they serve their ban in a pointless game against Asan or Seoul rather than risk suspension during the playoffs.

Jeonnam Dragons
The Jeonnam Dragons have no fresh injuries or suspensions for their game this weekend, although the side has no less than ten players one caution away from a suspension. The side will no doubt be bolstered by the return from suspension of midfield lynchpin Han Chan-hee. The 22 year old should replace youngster Kim Geon-ung in the starting line, adding quality and steel to a Jeonnam side that has caused Busan problems with their physicality this season. Kim Gyeong-min and Cho Yoon-hyung are in contention for a starting position after lively substitute appearances against Bucheon.

What to Look Out For

Busan IPark
Busan are now ten points adrift of Gwangju and ten points clear of Ansan, which guarantees Busan will finish second, ensuring they will host the winner of third vs. fourth in the second round of the K League 2 Playoffs. There is absolutely no doubt that Busan have the individual talent, squad depth and dynamic attacking prowess to compete even in the K League 1, but the players are at risk of their efforts counting for nothing. After the disasterous no show on Saturday, there are many more questions than answers. Does Cho Duk-jae know his best back four? Can he modify his midfield to better protect a defence that is often outnumbered on the counter attack? Do his players know where they should be positioned? Do his players trust him? Does this team want promotion enough? Ultimately, the next three fixtures mean nothing for Busan's season, but they mean so much in desperately finding the correct balance before they meet Ansan or Anyang in the playoffs.

Though a huge selection headache at GK has been settled after the emergence of Choi Pil-soo as a reliable and vocal shot stopper, there are enormous questions at centre back. Cha Young-hwan looked rusty on his first appearance for two years, and his partnership with Kim Myoung-jun did not look to provide a solution to the side's troubles. It is possible he will partner Alexsandar Susjnar, the sixth centre back partnership the coach will have tried this season. Look out for the partnership's positioning when defending, as the side's centre backs have easily been stretched out of position defending counter attacks and long crosses this season.

At the other end of the pitch, Busan's chief goal threat Soma Novothny was yet again isolated playing as the lone striker and coach Cho Duk-jae must be seriously worried of how his side will cope if he loses Lee Jeong-hyeop to injury or further suspension at any point for the remainder of the season. It has become obvious that the side is absolutely reliant for him to drop deep and contribute to build up play when without Romulo's creativity in the middle of the park. His partnership with Lee Dong-jun has been absolutely fantastic to watch this season, and the two will want to hit goalscoring form as they prepare for the postseason.

Lee Jeong-hyeop, Busan IParkLee Jeong-hyeop chases a loose ball in their 1-0 home victory over Jeonnam.

Jeonnam Dragons
Jeonnam likely saw their playoff hopes fade at home to Bucheon last weekend, however there is an optimistic mood amongst supporters that the side have finally turned the corner and will be serious contenders for promotion in 2020. They have taken 22 points since the half way point of the season, just three points shy of Busan's total, including impressive wins against Anyang and a full strength Asan side. This uptick in form has coincided with the emergence of Lee You-hyeon and Nick Ansell in defense, which has given the side a more stable base.

Up front, the signing of former Internacional forward Bruno Baio has transformed the Dragons from toothless to fearless, becoming the side's top scorer with seven goals in only 13 appearances. The team has never lost in the six appearances where he has found the net, including a brace in a 3-2 win over Suwon and an early goal in the 3-3 draw against Busan. Busan must beware of Jeonnam's penchant for playing long balls and whipped in crosses, where Bruno's height is very dangerous and likely to bring other attackers runs into play.

Bruno Baio, Jeonnam Dragons
 Bruno Baio dribbles the ball past two Seoul E-Land defenders.


Busan are likely to get back on the scoresheet in a big way this Sunday, as the return of Lee Jeong-hyeop gives the side a quality outlet in the final third. However, Jeonnam will provide a strong test for the home side and will be licking their lips at the prospect of attacking a vulnerable and untested back four.

Busan IPark 2-3 Jeonnam Dragons

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