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Preview: Busan IPark vs Incheon United

A faltering Busan IPark side host a resurgent Incheon United this Sunday evening in the K League 1, in what could be a crucial match in the fight to avoid relegation to the K League 2. Will Incheon continue their charge towards another great escape, or can Busan put themselves nine points clear of the drop zone? Tomas Marcantonio previews.

Last Time Out

FC Seoul 1-1 Busan IPark

Busan will consider themselves fortunate to have come away with a point last weekend, after a late Kim Jeong-hyeon header salvaged a draw against an impressive FC Seoul side.

Seoul took the lead when Park Chu-young beat the Busan offside trap and rounded keeper Kim Ho-joon, with Dostonbek Tursunov turning the resulting cross into his own net. After an abysmal first half showing, Busan improved after the break, and Kim’s header from Romulo’s corner snatched a vital point for the away team.

Gangwon FC 2-3 Incheon United

A 14 minute hattrick from Stefan Mugosa set Incheon on their way to a thrilling 3-2 win away to Gangwon FC last weekend. Goals from Kim Ji-hyun and Lee Ho-in sparked a comeback for the home team, but Incheon held on to secure their third win from four games.

Previous Meetings

These sides last met back in June under very different circumstances. Busan had been playing well up until that game without getting results, and the trip to a freefalling Incheon side was expected to be a comfortable win.

It turned out to be anything but, with Busan nervous and unconvincing throughout. One moment of brilliance ended up separating the sides, however: Kim Moon-hwan’s stunning long-range strike was enough for Busan to get their season up and running.

The last time Incheon visited Busan was all the way back in May 2015, when Incheon ran out 2-1 winners in a season that would see Busan get relegated from the top tier.

Team News

Busan IPark will be without Park Jong-woo after the defensive midfielder picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the draw with FC Seoul last weekend. Cho Deok-jae could be tempted to hand a first start to Kim Jeong-hyeon, who came off the bench to score on his long-awaited debut in that game. Alternatively, Cho could recall 19 year-old Kwon Hyeok-gyu, who impressed in the wins over Gangwon and Seoul earlier in the season but was left out of the last three lineups.

Lee Gyu-seong will have more defensive responsibility in the absence of Park Jong-woo.
Up front, Lee Jeong-hyeop is an injury doubt after missing the last game with a back problem. Kim Hyun was an ineffectual deputy last time out, so Cho may replace the striker with Jung Sung-min, who recently returned from a long-term injury.

Elsewhere, Park Joon-gang could return at left back in place of youngster Lee Sang-joon, who was caught out for Seoul’s goal last weekend. Kim Ho-joon should keep his place in goal despite an unconvincing performance last weekend.

[READ: K League 1 Round 20 Preview]

Incheon United have no new injury concerns, and coach Jo Sung-hwan is likely to name a similar team to the one that beat Gangwon last weekend. Captain Kim Ho-nam could come back into the side after missing the last two games, while Brazilian winger Gustavo could also come back into contention.

The Adversary

15 games into this season, Incheon United looked down and out. They had zero wins, five points, and a nine point gap to the team above. Even to the most optimistic Incheon fans, the annual great escape looked out of the question in 2020. Fast forward one month, and Incheon have won three games out of four while their rivals continue to flounder. Incheon now sit just three points behind Suwon Bluewings, and a win on Sunday would be a veritable ‘six-pointer’, dragging Busan within three points of the relegation spot.

Stefan Mugosa celebrates a goal in last weekend's 3-2 win over Gangwon FC.
Central to Incheon’s resurgence are two of their foreign contingent: Stefan Mugosa and Elias Aguilar. After a slow start to the season, Mugosa is now climbing the scoring charts with eight goals in total, including five in his last four appearances.

Aguilar, meanwhile, is the playmaker extraordinaire, a skillful and intelligent midfielder with the ability to unlock defences and produce moments of magic in the final third.

With their two biggest names on song, very few would bet against Incheon extending their unlikely march towards safety.

What To Watch

Can Cho Deok-jae Address Busan’s Imbalance?

Busan coach Cho Deok-jae arguably deserves credit for attempting to adapt a free-flowing attacking team with a leaky defence into a more solid outfit that would hold up against the top teams in the country. The last time Cho was promoted from the K League 2 (with Suwon FC in 2015) his side went straight back down again, and Cho was eager to learn from his mistakes this time around.

While Busan have certainly looked more solid at the back (largely thanks to the signing of veteran centre back Kang Min-soo) and have impressed against the likes of Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Motors, Cho has continued to rein in his team’s more attacking instincts against teams in the bottom half.

His cause hasn’t been helped by the long-term absence of key creative midfielder Kim Jin-gyu, who has been the team’s link between midfield and attack over the past three seasons. Cho must also take responsibility for a succession of poor signings that have failed to address the side’s weaknesses. For all of the talent in Busan’s midfield, they are sorely lacking a dynamic threat behind the striker, and the absence of a quality left winger has left the side unbalanced, their overreliance on right winger Lee Dong-joon too predictable.

19 year-old Kwon Hyeok-gyu is Busan's only available attacking midfielder.
The key to unlock Incheon could be teenager Kwon Hyeok-gyu. Although raw and inexperienced, Kwon has shown enough glimpses of his talent to hint at a bright future. On Sunday the roaming attacking midfielder could act as the line-breaking link that has been so badly missed on several occasions this season. If he can provide the creative spark that will be required to get a vital three points this weekend, Cho Deok-jae’s future in the Busan dugout might start looking a little rosier.



Incheon are the in-form team coming into this one, and the likes of Aguilar and Mugosa will keep the Busan defence busy. The home side will be desperate to keep clear of the relegation zone, however, and they won't be rolled over easily. Expect it to be a tight encounter, with a stalemate the most likely outcome.

Predicted Score:
Busan IPark 1-1 Incheon United

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