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Preview: Busan IPark vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

After a humbling loss away to Pohang Steelers in their first game back in the K League 1, Busan IPark face an even more daunting task this Saturday. The visitors to the Gudeok Stadium are reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai, who got their campaign off to a winning start in the league’s grandstand opening game last Friday. Can the newly-promoted Royals spring a shock in their first home game of the year, or will it be business as usual for José Morais’ title-hungry Jeonbuk side?

Last Time Out

Pohang Steelers 2-0 Busan IPark

Last Sunday Busan IPark travelled to Pohang for their first top flight game since their relegation in 2015. Coach Cho Deok-jae handed debuts to five of his winter signings, Brazilian striker Gustavo Vintecinco joined in the lineup by goalkeeper Kim Ho-joon and defensive trio Kang Min-soo, Yoon Suk-young, and Dostonbek Tursunov.

The Royals got off to a bright start, with Lee Dong-joon, Kim Moon-hwan, and Lee Sang-joon all getting into good positions as they took the game to the hosts. Striker Vintecinco was well guarded, however, and Busan were restricted largely to efforts from outside the area.

Pohang soaked up the pressure well before striking against the run of play, Kim Yong-hwan providing an irresistible cross for German forward Stanislav Iljutcenko to glance home for the opening goal. Iljutcenko could have had a hattrick of headed goals before the end as Pohang racked up the pressure and took advantage of the space between defensive pairing Kang Min-soo and Dostonbek. The Uzbekistan defender capped a debut to forget with a clumsy challenge on Iljutcenko at the 70 minute mark, and Aleksandar Paločević stepped up from the penalty spot to keep the points at the Steel Yard.

Jeonbuk Hyundai 1-0 Suwon Bluewings

Jeonbuk Hyundai were far from their best in the K League 1’s opening game last Friday, but they did enough to secure three points against an underwhelming Bluewings side. Kim Bo-kyung, Cho Gyu-sung, and Murilo were handed league debuts for Jeonbuk, but clear chances for the hosts were few and far between in a ponderous first half which saw several speculative efforts from distance.

Suwon showed little ambition in taking the game to the hosts, and the match swung further in Jeonbuk’s favour when Bluewings midfielder Terry Antonis was rightly sent off for a reckless studs-up challenge on Son Jun-ho. Jeonbuk eventually broke the deadlock in the 84th minute, when Son’s corner found 41 year-old substitute Lee Dong-gook unmarked at the front post, and the Lion King nodded home to ensure a winning start for the reigning champions.

Previous Meetings

Busan and Jeonbuk last met in August 2015, the year of Busan’s relegation from the K League 1. Jeonbuk ran out 2-0 winners that day, with a Yoo Ji-hoon own goal and a Leonardo effort both coming in the final five minutes to ensure victory.

Jeonbuk have won nine of the last ten meetings between these sides. You have to go all the way back to June 2013 for Busan’s last victory, a 4-1 win that saw current striker Lee Jeong-hyeop score his first two goals for the club.

Team News

U22 full back Lee Sang-joon was thrown in at the deep end last weekend.
One of the biggest talking points in the build-up to Busan’s opening game was the concern about a lack of sufficiently experienced U22 players in the Busan squad. Right back Lee Sang-joon was shoe-horned into a left wing role for the trip to Pohang, but despite a performance full of running, he was hooked off after 36 minutes. The short-lived experiment suggests that Cho Deok-jae is no clearer on his best eleven, and the U22 rule is threatening to become a running dilemma for the side.

19 year-old Kwon Hyeok-gyu could be given a chance from the start in Busan’s problem left wing position this time out, or Cho could decide to sacrifice a substitute and start with one of the squad’s more experienced options in Han Ji-ho, Kwon Yong-hyun, or Kim Byung-oh, all of whom came off the bench last weekend.

Striker Lee Jeong-hyeop was deemed unfit for the Pohang game having only appeared sparingly in pre-season, but he could come into contention for Vintecinco’s spot at the head of Busan’s forward line. Lee Gyu-seong is another who could come into the side, the defensive midfielder a possible insurance policy at the expense of a more attack-minded player.

The Adversary

Jeonbuk Hyundai are the most successful Korean team of the past decade, with seven league titles and two second-place finishes in the past eleven years. This season they will once again expect to challenge for the title, especially after strengthening an already stellar squad with last year’s league MVP Kim Bo-kyung and Korean U23 striker Cho Kyu-sung.

Jeonbuk will line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Son Jun-ho likely to pull the strings from the base of midfield, allowing Kim Bo-kyung and Lee Seung-ki to join the front three in attacks. Murilo and Han Kyo-won flanked striker Cho Kyu-sung last weekend, but Takahiro Kunimoto could replace the Brazilian after impressing off the bench last week. If the Japanese midfielder starts, he is likely to play centrally, with Kim Bo-kyung moving out wide.

The two wingers will look to get into the box and invite full backs Kim Jin-su and Lee Yong to get forward as often as possible. Busan IPark looked vulnerable from crosses last weekend, so Kim and Lee could enjoy a fruitful evening if they are given the time and space to swing balls into the box.

Cho Kyu-seong is likely to keep his place in attack, but if veteran Lee Dong-gook is recalled to the starting lineup then Lee Soo-bin could come into defensive midfield in order to fulfil the U22 quota. Lars Veldwijk looks set to miss out again due to fluid on the knee, but he has returned to first team training and looks close to a return.

Who To Watch

Kang Min-soo

At times during the loss against Pohang, Busan’s centre-back pairing of Kang Min-soo and Dostonbek Tursunov appeared to be taking social distancing to the next level. Pohang repeatedly found space between the Busan debutants, and in truth the margin of victory could have been wider. Of Busan’s back four and goalkeeper, only right back Kim Moon-hwan was part of the squad last season, so it will take time for the back line to coalesce.

Key to their hopes will be new captain Kang, a veteran of almost 400 K League games. The 34 year-old needs to form an understanding with Dostonbek quickly, especially as the Uzbek defender endured a nightmare debut, having been outjumped for the opening goal and being directly at fault for the second. If there are any holes in the Busan defence on Saturday, Jeonbuk could have a field day. Kang will need to marshal his troops and use all of his experience to ensure sure Busan have a fighting chance against the league’s top team.

Kim Bo-kyung

Last year’s K League 1 MVP Kim Bo-kyung re-signed for Jeonbuk this winter, having last played for the club in 2017. The creative midfielder enjoyed a stellar year for rivals Ulsan last season, racking up 13 goals and nine assists as Ulsan ran Jeonbuk close to the title.

Kim, like most of Jeonbuk’s players last weekend, failed to show his best on his return to action. There were still glimpses of his talent, however, with neat touches around the box and some clever movement. If Jeonbuk are to retain their title this year, Kim is likely to be their key man. New faces Cho Gyu-sung, Murilo, and Kunimoto look like shrewd signings for José Morais, but Kim is a proven performer at this level and he will be given license to probe Busan’s defence this weekend.

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During the first half hour against Pohang, Busan IPark looked like a team that could hold its own in the top tier. Eventually their flaws were exposed, however, and Jeonbuk shouldn’t have too much trouble containing Busan’s forwards while taking advantage of a new-look Royals defence. Jeonbuk may not have been at their best in last week’s opener, but they should have too much for the newly promoted seasiders.

Predicted Score:
Busan IPark 0-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai

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