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Preview: Gyeongnam FC vs Jeonnam Dragons


As, one of the pre-season favorites for promotion Gyeongnam FC take on a much-changed Jeonnam Dragons outfiit.  The new man at the helm for the home side Seol Ki-hyun will be hoping to hit the ground running whilst the man sat in the opposition dug-out Jeon Kyung-jun will be hoping his Dragons team can spring a surprise at the Changwon Football Center and take home the spoils.  Gyeongnam FC columnist James Edrupt previews the clash.


Match: Gyeongnam FC vs Jeonnam Dragons.
Venue: Changwon Football Center, Changwon.
Kick-off: May 10th.  Sunday.  18:30 KST.

Pre-season

After the obvious disappointment of relegation to the second tier of the K League, Gyeongnam rang the changes somewhat within the squad.  Some outgoings had to be made with players like Kim Jeong-beom, Kim Hyo-gi, and Kunimoto all opting to stay in K League 1 signing for Incheon United, Gwangju, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors respectively.  Gyeongnam has, however, made some very impressive signings in the offseason as well namely bringing in Baek Sung-dong (Suwon FC), Yang Hyeok-jin (Ansan Greeners), Hwang Ill-soo (Ulsan Hyundai) and Nick Ansell (Jeonnam Dragons) to name just a few.  The return of Brazilian winger Negueba will be a welcome sight for the Gyeongnam faithful as well.

The Reds started off the pre-season campaign back in January as they headed for some hot weather training in Thailand, where they mainly focused on embedding the new players with the existing squad members and the new coaching staff.  It was a get to know each other trip with some football thrown in.  New manager Seol Ki-hyun has been working flat out with his staff and the players trying to implement his style of football on them.  They returned to Korea and headed to a regular pre-season location for the Reds, Namhae.  They played a series of games against K3 and University opposition winning them all and scoring over thirty goals in doing so.  The aforementioned Baek Sung-dong and Yang Hyeok-jin, in particular, catching the eye with some impressive performances.   The Changwon based outfit finished up their practice games just last weekend drawing 1-1 against K3 side Changwon City FC.  It was somewhat of an experimental side selected by Seol as he looked to use this game as an opportunity for some of the fringe players a chance to impress the staff and force their way into the managers' plans for next Sunday.

Manager Seol Ki-hyeon in discussion with his players.

The Dragons, on the other hand, have had quite the turnaround.  They seemed to have had somewhat of a clear-out of players.  Key player, Brazilian Bruno Baio joined fellow K League 2 big spenders Daejeon Hana Citizen after tallying an impressive ten goals in just sixteen games for the team last season.  There have been some incomings as well, most notably twenty-two year old, six-foot-five inch striker Julian Kristofersen.  The target man hails from Norway and joined from Norwegian Superliga outfit Hobro FC.  He will hope to form a good partnership with a returnee to Jeonnam in Lee Jeong-ho.  The big man-small man combination could reap it's reward if they form some sort of chemistry with each other in attacking areas.  Just behind them they signed attacking Brazilian midfielder Rodolfo.  He seems to be a bit of a journeyman having played for eleven clubs already with him only being twenty-seven years old.

The Dragons' top assist maker in Jeong Jae-hee signed on again for another year.  He will be hoping to have another stellar season just like he had last campaign.  They have been quite secretive in publishing much information about their pre-season fixtures and results but what we do know is they have won the majority of them and that Kristofersen has been in fine form, bagging four goals in the games he has started in.  Like Gyeongnam, they have played a smattering of games against a mixture of K3 and University sides.

The return of Lee Jeong-ho is a welcome sight for Jeonnam fans


Previous Meetings

The two sides haven't met since the 2018 season. A campaign that saw Jeonnam relegated and Gyeongnam finish in 2nd place and an Asian Champions League berth.  They have played each other a total of 28 times, with the Dragons having the slight upper hand, winning thirteen of them.  The Reds' have come out on top nine times with just six ending in draws.  The last time these sides clashed it was a classic in Gwangyang, the game ended 3-3 with Marcao rescuing a point for the away side with a 90th minute leveller after the home side had come back from 2-0 down to be 3-2 up.  It was a breath-taking game.  This fixture tends to have goals in it.  When the two sides clashed three times in 2018, thirteen goals were scored in those games.

Team News

The Reds won't be able to call upon the services of Brazilian winger Negueba as of yet.  He is nearing full fitness but this fixture has come to early for him.  All other members of the squad are fit and raring to go.  It will be interesting to see what formation and team manager Seol goes with to start.  In the last home friendly he went with Uros Deric up top and played quick, nimble players up and around him but in previous games he has opted for Kim Seung-joon and Hwang Ill-su as a pairing up top and it's looked very dangerous.

For Jeonnam they have stayed relatively injury-free during pre-season and travel an hour east in good spirits.  Jeon's side won't be afraid of coming to Changwon, and I fully expect them to have a go on Sunday and make it an entertaining spectacle for the neutral.

The Adversary

The Dragons finished last campaign in quite brilliant fashion only losing three of their remaining 14 games narrowly missed finishing in the playoff positions.  The then interim (now permanent) manager Jeon Kyung-jun switched up Jeonnam's formation on numerous  occasions between a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 and it seemed to reap its rewards.  With the addition of the aforementioned tall center-forward in Kristofersen, he may be forced to change the formation again to a 4-5-1 with smaller, quicker players running off the Norwegian to get on the end of his flick-ons.  Looking at the average age of the Jeonnam Dragons squad (24.1 years old) it must be one of the youngest in the division.  They will have youth on their side and will have bundles of energy throughout the squad.  With the manager proving to be a success towards the end of last campaign he will want to hit the ground running with this Jeonnam bunch of players and make a claim that they should be fighting it out near the right end of the table.

Who To Watch

Lee Kwang-seon


Picture image credit- Gyeongnam FC facebook page
I am going to go for quite a left-field pick here and go for Gyeongnam center back Lee Kwang-seon.  The former Jeju United towering defender stands at six-foot-three inches tall, he will have his hands full on Sunday.  He will undoubtedly be assigned the job of keeping Kristofersen quiet.  He is a difference-maker in both boxes as well.  As a really good communicator on the pitch, he is a menace in the attacking penalty area using his strength and height to great use.  He is also used on occasions as a makeshift center-forward if the Reds are chasing the game in the final fifteen to ten minutes.  His role during the game will be the difference if Gyeongnam can have some joy in both penalty areas of the pitch.

FNR

Prediction

The first game of the season can often throw up some surprise results.  Plus, with the game being played behind closed doors, the home advantage which is vital to Gyeongnam is lost.  Jeonnam comes to town as a bit of an unknown entity whereas the Reds, being one of the strongest teams in the division, will know that every team they come against will give their all against them.  I think it'll be a scrappy affair in which I think Gyeongnam will have just too much quality and depth in their squad to get them over the line and grab all three points.

Predicted Score: Gyeongnam 2-1 Jeonnam Dragons.



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