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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Incheon United

K League 1 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Incheon United

K League 1 leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors play host to bottom-of-the-table Incheon United on Saturday as they look to extend their stay at the summit. The visitors, on the other hand, remain winless and know they face an uphill struggle if they are to claim their first three points of the season this weekend.

Last Time Out

FC Seoul 1-4 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

After defeat to Gangwon FC in Round 4, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors traveled to the capital to face rivals FC Seoul in the hope of bouncing back and keeping apace of Ulsan Hyundai. With manager José Morais sidelined through a touchline ban, assistant manager Kim Sang-sik took the helm of the North Jeolla squad. Jeonbuk kept possession for the first half, often resorting to short sideways passes as they tried to pry open an organised FC Seoul defence in addition to keeping tabs on their former teammate Adriano who was leading the line for the hosts. For the most part, the champions were prevented from clear chances but a late first-half sub, in which youngster Cho Kyu-sung was replaced by winger Murilo, brought them some joy. Murilo’s 42nd minute cross was met by the head of Lee Dong-gook whose effort hit the bar and into the path of Han Kyo-won who finished with ease. However, Jeonbuk were unable to take the lead into the second-half as FC Seoul replied immediately. Substitute Park Chu-young found himself in space within the box, with the time to turn and finish with the ball ricocheting down from the crossbar and over the line.

The equaliser was not to rattle Jeonbuk though. Minutes into the second half, the visitors were able to retake their advantage thanks to a spectacular effort from central midfielder Lee Seung-gi. Lee reclaimed the ball in midfield and moved it forward into space before unleashing an effort from close to 30 yards straight into the top-left corner of the goalmouth. Jeonbuk then furthered their lead ten minutes later when Lee Dong-gook was granted plenty of space in the Seoul area to calmly finish the pass in from Han Kyo-won. Han and Lee would team up for Jeonbuk’s fourth not long after seventy minutes, with Han delivering a low pass into the centre of the area for Lee to meet with a well-timed run and calmly finish in order to cement the three points.

Incheon United 1-2 Gangwon FC

Incheon continued their dismal form with defeat to high-flying Gangwon FC, with results elsewhere over the weekend eventually seeing them sink down to 12th place. The home side did get off to a bright start in the 21st minute, however, with Jung Dong-yoon making a driving run down the right flank and into the penalty area before cutting the ball back to Kim Ho-nam who in turn finished with ease. The lead was to last for mere minutes though, with Chae Gwang-hoon collecting the ball in midfield and unleashing a long-range shot to bring things level. Gangwon continued to press and nearly took the lead ten minutes late when Ko Moo-yeol's glancing header hit the post.

Incheon did look brighter at the start of the second-half, but still struggled to get their shots away but as the visitors began to reassert their dominance. In the end, it was Gangwon who claimed the three points when Ko Moo-yeol converted from the spot after being brought down initially by the Incheon centre-back Moon Ji-hwan.

Previous Meetings

Over the years, these two sides have 44 times yet, surprisingly given the ends of the table they occupy, their records are fairly even. Jeonbuk has won 16 matches to Incehon’s 14 with the remaining 16 finishing in draws. The seven points claimed against Incheon last season was Jeonbuk’s best point tally against them since 2014, with the North Jeolla team not conceding once in the process. However, prior to 2019 this fixture has tended to be closely fought, with Jeonbuk often underestimating their opponents, opting to rotate heavily and being made to pay the price.

Incheon last won this fixture in at the start of 2018, claiming a 3-2 win at home. However, Incheon have not won in Jeonju since August 2015 when Kim In-sung put the hosts to the sword.

Team News

Jeonbuk will continue to be without manager José Morais and central defender Hong Jeong-ho as they miss their second and final matches through suspension. Assistant Kim Sang-sik will once take charge within the dugout while Kim Min-hyeok is likely to continue to deputise for Hong in the defensive backline along with usual suspects Kim Jin-su, Choi Bo-kyung and Lee Yong. It remains to be seen who will lead the line, especially given that Jeonbuk face the difficult task of traveling to Pohang the following Tuesday. After their strong performance against FC Seoul, it surely would be tempting to keep things the same, yet given Incheon’s position in the table, it would be more likely for the team to rotate for this fixture. Lars Veldwijk could potentially be handed a start, while Takahiro Kunimoto, Lee Soo-bin and Murilo could also be given the nod as they look to establish themselves with regular starting berths.

Incheon United’s biggest injury concern is that of Lenre Kehinde who looks set to be ruled out for the rest of the season through injury. There are also doubts regarding the fitness of Rashid Mahazi as he continues to recover. It, therefore, seems like Incheon are unlikely to venture too far away from the side that were defeated by Gangwon FC due to lack of squad depth and alternative options. Expect a 3-4-3 shape led by Stefan Mugosa and flanked either side by Kim Ho-nam and Lee Jong-wook.

The Adversary

Rooted to the foot of their table, Incheon United are once again looking as if they are to put their fans through the stress of another relegation scrap. After five games, however, the side look more bereft of ideas than usual. Credit should be handed to the clean sheets they kept in their opening two rounds, but their inability to find the net is going to ultimately cost them if they are unable to score soon.

So far, only Kim Ho-nam has come to the fore for Incheon, with Stefan Mugosa seemingly unable to open his account for 2020. Last season Mugosa scored 14 goals in 32 appearances, with a notable amount coming in the season run-in as he once again helped haul the teams from the relegation positions. With a shorter campaign this year though, and with Kehinde seemingly out for the rest of it, the Incheon fans need their talisman to find his scoring boots soon as time is less on their side than usual.

In terms of playing style, recently appointed manager Lim Wan-seop has stuck rigidly to his 3-4-3 on paper with the emphasis placed on avoiding defeat rather than over-exposing themselves by moving forward, giving it a more of a 5-3-2 shape with the strikers often isolated from the rest of the midfield.

The thought might be to sit back and catch teams on the break, yet Lim's side have averaged just 1.4 counter-attacks per-match, with only 42.9% of them actually resulting in a shot. Furthermore, they have averaged 7.6 shots per game (the lowest in the league), with only 23.7% ever making it on target (only bettering that of Busan). The majority of their opportunities have come from positions with a low probability of conversion thus explaining why their expected goals (xG) after five rounds is 2.65, by far the lowest in the division. Ultimately, Incheon are struggling not only to convert chances, but are finding it difficult to make the opportunities in the first place. Lim's conservative tactics may be designed to stifle opponents and grind out a point, but when the attacking threat they pose does not intimidate in the slightest, it is simply allowing teams to line up and take their time to prise open Incheon's resolve. It is not a sustainable tactic for the season's duration and, if it does not change, could lead to their demise.

Who To Watch

Han Kyo-won

With midfield rotations expected for the hosts, selecting winger Han Kyo-won comes admittedly with an element of risk. There is no doubt, however, that he was one of Jeonbuk’s most dangerous players going forward last weekend and has continued to be a reliable presence for the side in recent seasons.

Until this year though, Han’s status within the squad has been one of third-choice winger, standing in last year for either Moon Seon-min or Ricardo Lopes when either of those two were unavailable for selection, making just four starts in total. In fact, you have to go back to 2015 to find the last time the 29-year-old made more than 20 league starts in a season. His role of dependable backup has become something that is almost taken for granted by the fanbase; the team always needs marquee wingers but the alternative has always been able to provide a service unnoticed that most other clubs would envy.

After a season in which he was unable to find the net and make just two assists due to his limited playing time, Han has already notched up three assists and a goal in the league this year, not to mention a late equaliser in Sydney back in early March to salvage a point in the AFC Champions League. While the absence of Moon and Lopes has been lamented, supporters should keep their eye on the former-Incheon man as he is quietly staking his claim to the spotlight.

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Upsets have often happened in this fixture in the past, with Incheon United being perhaps the closest to a ‘bogey side’ Jeonbuk have. However, last season Incheon barely troubled the North Jeolla’s backline and they are arguably in a worse condition in attack coming into Saturday’s encounter. The visitors look unlikely to cause any problems.

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