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Preview: Busan IPark v Gwangju FC

Last season's two promoted sides go head to head this Saturday, as on-form Busan IPark host a stuttering Gwangju FC at the Gudeok Stadium. Can Busan claim a remarkable sixth win in seven matches, or will Gwangju claim the league double over their southern rivals? Todd Wilde previews this K League 1 clash.

Last Time Out

A weak Busan IPark side claimed an excellent win in the FA Cup at Suwon FC, the current leaders of K League 2. Captain Park Jong-woo's low drive from the edge of the box was enough to give the visitors a 1-0 win, a result which was harsh on a home side that created more but was wasteful in the final third.

Match Highlights:

Gwangju FC were dumped out of the FA Cup with a 4-2 loss at home to fellow K League 1 side Gangwon FC. The game was won by the away side's second string in the first half, as Gangwon raced into a 3-0 lead before half time through Jung Suk-hwa, Lee Hyun-sik and Lee Yeong-jae. Gwangju threatened a comeback after the interval as Kim Hyo-gi and Han Hee-hoon slashed the lead to one goal, however Lee Yeong-jae doubled his tally for the game to ensure Gangwon progress into an all K League 1 last eight.

Previous Meetings

The two sides last met on the 14th June, as Gwangju came alive after the interval to defeat Busan 3-1 at the Guus Hiddink Stadium. Willyan, Felipe and Kim Ju-kong all got onto the scoresheet as the Yellows impressed on the counter attack, taking advantage of a porous and disorganised Busan backline.

Interestingly, seven of the last nine games between the sides have ended in a draw, suggesting that the two sides have been closely matched since the beginning of 2018. Overall, the two sides have met 18 times, with 50% of all games ending in a tie. Busan have four wins, whilst Gwangju have five.

Team News

Busan IPark go into this clash with a growing injury list, testing the depth of a squad coach Cho Duk-jae has used extensively throughout this season, using no less than 29 players in 13 games. Left backs Lee Ji-min and Yun Suk-young, midfielders Kim Jin-kyu and Kim Jung-hyun and wingers Park Gwan-woo and Kim Byung-woo are all sidelined, in addition to strikers Jung Sung-min and Gustavo Vintecinco - who revealed on Instagram that he has an ankle injury and is likely to be out for 2-4 weeks.

On a more positive note, Park Jong-woo played a full 90 minutes for the Royals on Wednesday as he recovers from a long term ankle injury. The veteran enforcer will be an excellent option for IPark to bring off the bench if they need an extra man to protect a lead late on Saturday. Hwon Hyeok-kyu is the only IPark star that should retain his starting place from their FA Cup win, as Cho Duk-jae keeps faith with the starting XI that defeated FC Seoul 2-0 in Busan's last league match.

Gwangju FC will be sweating on the fitness of their talisman Felipe, who hobbled off late in their K League 1 loss to Gangwon FC last weekend. The beanpole striker is integral to the side and is likely to start even if the striker is not at 100% fitness, however if the Brazilian is ruled unfit to start he will be replaced by Kim Ju-gong - who has featured regularly in a wide position for the Yellows this season - or Costa Rican international Marcos Ureña.

Yeo Bong-hun and Lee Min-gi are both unavailable for selection for the away side, however coach Park Jin-seop will be boosted by the return of dynamic Brazilian winger Willyan, who has finished serving a two game suspension. Park will have a difficult decision in deciding whether to introduce Willyan from the start, or to drop Kim Jeong-hwan, who was so effective against IPark earlier in the season.

What To Watch

Busan IPark are on hot form largely thanks to the harmonious understanding that has built up between the midfield trio of Romulo, Lee Gyu-seong and Kwon Hyeok-gyu. Whilst talisman Romulo is still relied upon by Cho Duk-jae to be his side's playmaker with a mercurial range of passing and crossing high up the pitch, this season he has been much more flexible in terms of positional awareness, often seen dropping deep to win possession and moving wide into space to progress attacks.

Lee Gyu-seong, Busan IPark

Lee Gyu-seong has been on fine form for Busan

Rookie Kwon Hyeok-gyu has assumed an attack minded mezzala role in the Busan midfield, working hard to get up and down the pitch, often occupying the channels between the central and wide areas. The 19 year old has become an integral figure in the build up to attacks, making runs that stretch and disrupt opposition defences. The most defensive and important of the midfield three is the underrated Lee Gyu-seong, best described as the player that does the dirty work quietly but elegantly, but in reality offers so much more to the side.

This game against Gwangju offers a great chance for Kim Seung-jun to truly announce his arrival at the club. The former Gyeongnam striker arrived in a swap deal with Han Ji-ho earlier this month, and demonstrated a positive, workmanline attitude in his debut against FC Seoul. His interplay and willingness to receive the ball in dangerous positions shows that he could finally be the solution to Busan's left wing problem position, one that has been an issue for IPark since the start of 2019. 

Kim Seung-jun
Kim Seung-jun was lively up front on his debut for Busan

As for Gwangju, huge questions persist surrounding the side's defensive stability after a disasterous run which has seen the side ship 17 goals in their last six games. The side has struggled particularly to contain wide players that drift out of position, illustrated best by the performance of Kim Dae-won for Daegu on 5th July. Kim's skillful runs and awareness created the space and killer passes for Cesinha and Dejan to flourish in the second half, which spells bad news for Gwangju given the fantastic form of Lee Dong-jun, who has three goals and three assists in his last two starts.

There are plenty of positive signs for Gwangju up the other end of the pitch, as the Yellows identified a weakness in Busan's left side in the last encounter between the two sides. A tactical switch at half time saw Kim Jeong-hwan replace a disappointing Eom Won-sang on the right wing, whilst Willyan moved into a number ten role between striker Felipe. With natural left back Lee Ee-ddeum pushing higher up the pitch and directing aerial balls into the box, Gwangju were able to target Busan's back line through a mixture of crosses and direct attacks down the right wing.

Felipe, Willyan, Gwangju FC
Felipe (left) and Willyan (centre) tormented Busan's backline earlier this season

Kim Jeong-hwan targeted out of position LB Park Jun-gang and nervous CB Dostonbek Tursunov, creating space for Willyan and Felipe to get into shooting positions between the channels and behind the back line. If Gwangju can repeat these tactics in the second leg they will successfully get themselves onto the scoresheet, however Busan are now wise to this danger and will attempt to counter this with the introduction of Kim Dong-woo at CB, who himself could be exposed for a lack of pace on counter attacks.

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These two sides have enjoyed some fantastic chess-like encounters in recent years, and this game promises to be no different. With Busan clicking as a unit and appearing to improve by the week, this could be a totally different match to the one which Gwangju deserved to win in mid June. If Busan can cut Gwangju's supply line on the wing and limit Felipe's involvement in the game, they will stand a great chance to take advantage down the other end.

Busan IPark 3-1 Gwangju FC

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