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Preview: Gwangju FC vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Two sides in differing form, Gwangju FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors meet in a Honam derby on Saturday as K League 1 reaches a highly-anticipated climax. The first match of the weekend, both teams will be hoping to steal a march on their rivals with champions Jeonbuk looking to close the five-point gap to Ulsan Hyundai.

Last Time Out

Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Gwangju FC

On the back of their memorable 6-4 victory in Daegu a week prior, Gwangju were once again bold in attack as they claimed a second draw with league leaders Ulsan this season. Managing to restrict the plethora of striking talent at Kim Do-hoon's disposal to limited opportunities, the Yellows took the lead through Willyan on 23 minutes as the Brazilian winger headed home Eom Won-sang's cross. Under inevitable Horangi pressure in the second half, Junior Negrao's front-post run allowed him the space to head home an equaliser but Gwangju, despite being down to ten men for the last twenty minutes, hung on for an impressive point.

Seongnam FC 2-0 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

A second consecutive defeat after losing at home to Gangwon in game week 18, Jose Morais' Jeonbuk failed to inspire, mustering just four shots on target despite having more of the ball. It was a worryingly comfortable victory for the Magpies in truth who took the lead through Yu In-soo's rebound effort on the half-hour mark before Park Tae-jun was afforded far too much time to shoot to double the advantage. Half time substitute Gustavo was swiftly followed by Murilo and Modou Barrow but only the latter made a noteworthy impact as the game petered out. Kim Hyun-sung's 69th-minute dismissal made for a scrappy finish to the game as Seongnam sat back to protect their lead.

Previous Meetings

Jeonbuk have won four of their last five meetings with Gwangju but they did succumb to defeat on their last journey south to Jeollanamdo. Under Nam Ki-il in 2017 three current Gwangju players featured in Hong Joon-ho, Lee Min-gi and Yeo Bong-hoon with the latter grabbing the winner in a 1-0 victory. Earlier this season that scoreline was reversed as winger Han Kyo-won struck late on to seal the three points.

Team News

Gwangju's front three has been highly-coveted of late, dismantling Daegu with ease and looking sharp against other top sides Ulsan and Pohang Steelers. However, the balance of that spearhead may be disrupted on Saturday following Willyan's dismissal for a petulant kick in Ulsan. His two-game suspension could potential see Doo Hyeok-seok move out wide after forcing himself into a central midfield role of late or Park Jin-seop may hand Kim Ju-gong a start after regularly featuring from the bench. However Park decides to shuffle the pack, we should see some well-deserved minutes for Lim Min-hyeok who himself was lucky not to see red last weekend.

Park Jin-seop will have to do without Willyan this weekend

A common headache for Morais this season has been squad rotation to adhere to U22 player guidelines, which most weeks sees a key figure such as Han Kyo-won, Gustavo or Takahiro Kunimoto drop to the bench. Cho Gue-sung was ineffective as the sole striker against Seongnam so expect to see Gustavo return to the starting XI to lead the line. Much attention is being drawn to Jeonbuk's supposed weak spot at full back with the champions not claiming a point in the two matches since the departure of Kim Jin-su. Lee Yong is set to return from suspension so could replace Choi Chul-soon at right back but veteran striker Lee Dong-gook remains absent through injury.

What To Watch

Could Gwangju sneak into an ACL place?

Unbeaten in six including away games at Pohang, Daegu and Ulsan, Gwangju seem to have fully found their feet at this level. While they don't have the strength in depth of other teams in the top six, should they come out top of the pile in the tightly-packed race for sixth before the split, they have certainly demonstrated a no-fear approach to big fixtures such as Jeonbuk at home. With three of the top four featuring in the FA Cup semi-finals, fifth place is likely to be enough to qualify for the Asian Champions League. Currently five points behind faltering Daegu, if Park's side can avoid injuries and further suspensions it's not inconceivable Gwangju could make a shock continental entry.

K League 1 race for sixth - Courtesy of K League

How can Jeonbuk plug their vulnerabilities?

Goals conceded in consecutive defeats to Gangwon and Seongnam have been notable for how much time has been given to opposing strikers with Park Tae-jun's strike last time out a case in point. Dominating possession, Jeonbuk's full backs have been given free reign to attack regularly down the wings over the past few seasons, primarily in the shape of Lee Yong and Kim Jin-su whipping balls into the box for a commanding centre forward. With Lee ageing and Kim departed, Jeonbuk have lost a lot of experience in that area of the pitch and know-how of when is the right time to drop back and cover. Left back Lee Ju-young is by no means without K League minutes under his belt, but has been caught out of position as Gangwon profited twice from an unbalanced back line. Considering Gwangju's pace on the right wing in Eom Won-sang, perhaps Morais should consider sacrificing balls into the box and play through the middle where the Yellows themselves can get quite leggy in high tempo games as demonstrated by Cesinha's jinking run to net for Daegu the other week.


Prediction - Gwangju FC 1-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk have not lost three in a row since losing to Pohang, Ulsan and FC Seoul under caretaker management at the end of the 2013 season. This would not be a mantle Morais will be keen to take on and could see them play in a slightly more conservative manner. However, with games running out fast for their title aspirations and also the threat of repeating 2013 by not winning any silverware, a point will not suffice for Jose's men this weekend. While Gwangju have been in impressive form of late, they are yet to taste victory at their new home and performances have undoubtedly been better on the road. Willyan's quality on the ball and link-up play with Felipe may also be missed.

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