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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Vs. Pohang Steelers

Preview Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Vs. Pohang Steelers
Having claimed an AFC Champions League spot with an entertaining victory against Gwangju, an in-form Pohang Steelers head to Jeonju to face champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and see if they can affect the title race. Matthew Binns previews the encounter.

Last Time Out

Sangju Sangmu 0-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

An assured performance from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors saw them pick up a victory against Sangju Sangmu and maintain pressure on league leaders Ulsan Hyundai, bringing themselves level on points with four matches remaining. It took over an hour for the Green Warriors to break the military's resolve though, requiring substitute Lee Seung-gi to score the game's only goal. Defender Kim Min-hyeok played a long ball into the box that was headed down by Cho Kyu-sung to the feet of Brazilian striker Gustavo who opted to square it to Lee to convert. While there were further opportunities to increase their lead, including a header against the crossbar late on from Gustavo, Sangju rarely troubled the champions and the scoreline remained.

Pohang Steelers 5-3 Gwangju FC

Pohang Steelers played out a thrilling encounter with Gwangju FC storming into the lead with goals from Stanislav Iljutcenko and Aleksandar Paločević before the visitors mounted a comeback with goals from Felipe, Wilyan and Eom Won-sang. However, Gwangju's lead was to be short-lived when Iljutcenko converted just two minutes later to restore parity before Gwangju then conceded a penalty that not only saw Hong Joon-ho sent off, but also handed Paločević the chance to retake the lead. Gwangju were to be reduced to nine men when Felipe had been judged to have committed a foul with his elbow before Pohang would secure all the points with Iljutcenko's third of the match in the final minutes.

Previous Meetings

Of the 85 meetings between these two sides, wins fall in the favour of Jeonbuk 35-30 with Pohang not winning in their last seven meetings. The Steelers' last victory over the North Jeolla side was in August 2018 when a depleted Jeonbuk squad lost 5-2 in Pohang.

This season Jeonbuk has won both matches by two goals to one, with their last encounter in Round 14 seeing them take advantage of Manuel Palacios' first-half dismissal. It was, however, Pohang who took the lead with youngster Song Min-gyu opening the scoring before goals from Son Jun-ho and Kim Bo-kyung spared Jeonbuk any blushes.

Team News

Jeonbuk will look to field their strongest side possible for this encounter as they look to maintain their title chase. Kim Min-hyeok is expected to keep his place at centre-back with Hong Jeong-ho and will likely be tasked with man-marking Iljutcenko, a strategy that has worked well before this season. There are injury concerns still surrounding Han Kyo-won who was not in the squad last weekend, however, and it is likely Cho Kyu-sung will be asked to deputise on the right while also meeting the team's U22 quota.

Pohang manager Kim Gi-dong is likely to try and make as few changes as possible to his side after their recent run of good form. However, captain and defensive midfielder Choi Young-jun will be unable to play as he is on loan from Jeonbuk and cannot face his parent club. The manager will also be without right-back Jeon Min-gwang who sits out through suspension and will likely be replaced by Park Jae-woo once more.

What To Watch

The further bolstering of Pohang's four-pronged attack.

The Steelers come into this match in fine form, going unbeaten in their last six outings and winning five. Over the same period, they have found the back of the net 17 times, being shutout just the once. The names of the goalscorers have all seemed fairly familiar as well, with Stanislav Iljutcenko (5), Aleksandar Paločević (7), Song Min-gyu (3) and Manuel Palacios (2) being the sole four on the scoresheet during this period.

Furthermore, these front four feature in the top ten-assist makers in the league, each with five to their name for the season. To add to this attacking might, Kang Sang-woo has returned from military service from Sangju Sangmu for these six matches and has been responsible for four assists in this time. This is in addition to his five this season at Sangju putting him top of the K League assist table for the season.

Pohang have become a frightening prospect in attack and could prove more of a test to Jeonbuk than that feared of Ulsan just three rounds ago. Jeonbuk's previous two meetings saw the champions benefit with the removal of at least one of these formidable four. In their first encounter in Round 7, Paločević was removed halfway with injury and only returned during the last six minutes of their second meeting in Round 14. Furthermore, Palacios' first-half red card in Round 14 certainly skewed the odds in favour of the Green Warriors further. Yet, on both these occasions, Jeonbuk found themselves fighting from a goal down to claim the points.

With AFC Champions League qualification confirmed, the Steelers are playing for fun and could well upset the champions on Saturday evening as they look to exact revenge for the early season defeats.

"Mid-Autumn is the season for harvest"

While Pohang Steelers are unquestionably the form side heading into this match, Korea's national Chuseok holiday is the time when we see Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors truly shift up a gear. As pointed to in the club's official match poster, Jeonbuk have won the title in the last three seasons losing just one game post-split, a final day match against Suwon Bluewings in 2017 when the title had already been decided. The Champions have a knack of holding their nerve when the pressure is at its highest, as evidenced in their recent three consecutive victories. Finding a win here, against one of the most dangerous sides in the top-half, would certainly send an intimidating message to faltering league leaders Ulsan Hyundai that this title race is to run down to the wire.

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Despite Jeonbuk's post-split poster posturing, they really should not be considered favourites for the weekend considering the form of their opponents. Pohang come to Jeonju with an attack at full strength, one that could be set to expose the champions and hand an advantage to East Coast rivals Ulsan.

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