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Horangi held by bouyant Busan (Recap: Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Busan IPark)

Busan IPark, Ulsan Hyundai, Júnior Negrão, Dostonbek Tursunov
Ulsan Hyundai were unable to maintain a 100% start to their K League 1 season as they were held at home by new boys Busan IPark, who themselves picked up their first point after a challenging start to 2020. Todd Wilde recaps the game, and analyses what went right and what went wrong for the two sides. 

What Happened?

Ulsan Hyundai came from behind to secure a draw against a Busan IPark side that is settling well into life in the top flight. One of the favourites for the title, the Horangi will consider drawing at home against a newly promoted side as two points dropped, however they should have no complaints as they were closely matched by their opponents from start to finish.

Busan's defence appeared nervous in the opening stages, weathering an early period of pressure targeting Park Joon-gang down the right wing, however Ulsan were eventually contained further up the pitch, as a new look defensive midfield pairing of Lee Gyu-seong and Park Jong-woo took control of the flow of the game. Lee Sang-heon, Kim Ki-hee and the league's top scorer Júnior Negrão all had good chances saved early on for Ulsan, whilst Lee Jeong-hyeop's long range drive was well held by Jo Hyeon-woo.

Lee Sang-heon, Park Joon-gang, Ulsan Hyundai, Busan IPark
Park Joon-gang holds off Ulsan attacker Lee Sang-heon

The game came alive in the second period as Busan grew in confidence and attacked their opponents with more freedom and flexibility. Lee Jeong-hyeop was pivotal to the side and became well known amongst fans in the second tier last season for his unique abilities that allow advancing players to progress into space in the final third - crucial to how the team builds attacks. Lee is less known for his goalscoring abilities, but his world class goal early in the second half is sure to have impressed Korean national team coach Paulo Bento, who was in attendance.

It was former Taeguk Warrior Park Jong-woo who won the ball in central midfield, allowing Lee Byong-oh to survey his surroundings then shuffle past two midfielders into open space. His beautiful floated ball caught out former Seattle Sounders CB Kim Ki-hee, as Lee chested the ball then struck powerfully with his weaker left foot past the stretched body of Jo Hyeon-woo.

Two controversial refereeing decisions bookended the rest of the action. Yun Bitgaram's free kick met Júnior Negrão's head, who flicked the ball forward to Lee Chung-yong to nod home, however the goal was ruled offside. Television replays however showed that Kim Moon-hwan was playing the Ulsan midfielder (the second most advanced blue shirt below) onside, suggesting that the men in the VAR booth had reviewed the decision incorrectly.

courtesy of K League / JTBC
There was more drama soon after, as Kim Tae-hwan's hopeful cross met the shoulder of Royals skipper Kang Min-soo in the 18 yard box, the referee immediately pointing for a penalty. This provoked an incensed reaction amongst Busan's bench, as they believed the centre back was trying to avoid a potential handball. IFAB rules state that a penalty should be given if the ball touches a player's arm when it's raised above the shoulder or if the player has made their silhouette unnaturally bigger, but Kang appears to do neither as he tries to move his hand away from the ball (below).

courtesy of K League
Regardless, Júnior Negrão stepped up to equalise and claim his fifth goal in three games, his shot too powerful for stopper Kim Jung-ho. Ulsan had chances to steal all three points at the death through Júnior and substitute Bjorn Johnsen, but both were squandered wide and Busan lived to fight another day.

Match Highlights:

What Went Well?

Royals coach Cho Duk-jae's made six changes for the trip up Highway 65 to Munsu Football Stadium. The former Suwon FC coach sprung an enormous surprise before the game as he named rookie Kim Jung-ho in goal, the 20 year old making only his third professional appearance. The inexperienced youngster appeared nervous but was excellent in the face of fearsome opposition, and his inclusion solved a major problem as Cho could name ten overaged outfield players.

Busan IPark, Kim Jung-ho

Kim Jung-ho had an assured performance between the sticks

In his press conference after the match, coach Cho noted that the team's three goalkeepers were all in competition for a starting place, with each goalkeeper "already preparing for their opponents before the first game". His customised tactics extended to the inclusion of Park Joon-gang at left back, who was included specifically to counter the threat of former Bolton Wanderers veteran Lee Chung-yong, whilst veteran Park Jong-woo was brought into the side to break up attacks, particularly frustrating Ulsan's number ten Yun Bitgaram, who was anonymous at times for the home side.

Lee Gyu-seong had a brilliant game as the pivot at the base of a midfield three, excellent at breaking up Ulsan's passing capabilities in central positions whilst capable of driving at the opposition when in possession deep in his own half. Unlike Busan's other midfield options, Lee possesses the ability to surge past several opposition players at the mere drop of a shoulder, buying his side time to break into space before utilising his brilliant spacial awareness to find a white shirt who can pick up the attack. Note here how Lee turns a save from a corner into a counter attack with a surging run into midfield:

Lee Byong-oh bounced back from his poor performance against Jeonbuk with a man of the match performance on Sunday, playing a significant part in the goal but more importantly in his all round play. Kim was often seen dropping deep defensively to mark opposing wing back Kim Tae-hwan, preventing the defender from making overlaps - whilst he also was influential in finding space to attack at pace both in central positions and wide.

As for Ulsan, the Horangi moved the ball quickly and efficiently. Júnior Negrão's movement in the final third was excellent, not only getting into smart shooting positions on the edge of the box, but also drawing space behind for an on-rushing attacker as he was man-marked throughout, particularly at dead ball situations. Ulsan crafted enough decent opportunities to win most games, however were unfortunate to meet a goalkeeper in Kim Jong-ho who positioned himself well for shooting positions - particularly from around the edge of the box.

What Didn't Go Well?

Dostonbek Tursunov, who looked excellent in the first half and provided determination in the air that was missing at times against Jeonbuk, had to come off after receiving a head injury just before half time. In his place, Kim Dong-woo came on and looked relatively assured, but his partnership with club captain Kang Min-soo is one that looks susceptible to mistakes and pressure - particuarly given the lack of pace between them. As a result, they often cleared the ball desperately only as far as an Ulsan attacker - and Júnior Negrão should have clinched a winner when the home side were gifted possession 25 yards out in stoppage time. Whilst such mistakes were less likely to be punished in the second division, at this level defensive errors must be ironed out otherwise the side will surrender precious points in the side's quest to avoid relegation.

Busan IPark, Ulsan Hyundai, Júnior Negrão, Dostonbek Tursunov

Dostombek Tursunov and Júnior Negrão fight for a loose ball

In each of Ulsan's first three games, the opposition have made attempts to press the back four high up the pitch with varied degrees of success. Busan's mobile front three arguably had the most success of all, pressuring the back four to pass the ball back to GK Jo Hyeon-woo, or to pass the ball into wide positions where passing options could easily be cut off by the midfield three. Distribution from the back is threatening to become a severe limitation of a side which is otherwise strong from back to front, with National Team goalkeeper Jo finding himself under severe pressure in front of Taeguk Warriors coach Paulo Bento.

What Do They Need To Do Now?

Healthy competition for places presents challenges going forward for both sides. Busan have an embarrassment of riches in central midfield, and with a run of winnable fixtures now ahead, coach Cho Duk-jae may decide to revert back to a more attacking set up in central midfield. Korean U-23 international Kim Jin-kyu could partner Romulo as part of a roaming attacking midfield duo that lit up the second division last season, however this would require sacrificing one of Park Jong-woo or Lee Gyu-seong, with one likely to play in the holding role.

Cho must also decide whether Park Joon-gang or Yun Suk-young will be preferred at left back, and whether experienced Kim Dong-woo or mobile Dostonbek Tursunov should start alongside Kang Min-soo at centre back, though the competition for places is undeniably a positive 'problem' for a coach of a promoted side.

Ulsan Hyundai, Kim Do-hoon
 Ulsan Hyundai coach Kim Do-hoon

Coach Kim Do-hoon's decision to experiment with his midfield backfired as Ulsan struggled to gain an influence in midfield, failing to account for the presence of Park Jong-woo who did an excellent job of limiting the passing strength of Yun Bitgaram and Won Du-jae. Kim is getting a better idea of his best eleven, as the introduction of Koh Myong-jin and Sin Jin-ho early in the second half significantly improved the midfield, offering a much stiffer challenge as they were able to finally gain control of possession in the closing phases. Koh should start against Gwangju after featuring more prominently in the two opening wings, with Lee Sang-heon and Won Du-jae likely to drop back to the bench, though they are likely to be given further chances as fatigue sets in down the stretch.

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Who's Up Next?

Both teams are next in action on Saturday 30th May at 7pm KST (11am UK, 6am ET). Busan IPark begin a run of easier fixtures at home to Suwon Samsung Bluewings, whilst Ulsan Hyundai travel to the league's only pointless side, Gwangju FC.

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