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K League 1's Two Best Defenses to do Battle in Jeonju

League leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors welcome third placed Jeju United to Jeonju on Sunday afternoon.  It will be the second meeting between the sides after their 1-1 draw on the island earlier in the season.  Jeonbuk remain unbeaten to this point while Jeju have only lost once.  Both teams are jointly tied with the best defensive record in the division thus far.  Will it be another tight encounter or will there be a winner this time around?  KLU's Branko Belan looks ahead to the match.

Match: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeju United
Venue: Jeonju World Cup Stadium
Kickoff: Sunday May 2nd, 2021; 14:00 KST

Recent Form

Defending Champions Yet to Lose This Season

Kim Sang-sik's men have created some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack already after the first twelve rounds thanks to their unbeaten run which began at the beginning of the season.  After a thumping 5-0 win against Incheon United earlier in the month, things have cooled down a bit in the past few weeks, as they managed a 1-0 win against Seongnam FC on April 18th, followed by a pair of draws, a scoreless result against Ulsan Hyundai and a 1-1 tie against Gangwon last time out.  

Islanders Turning Heads With Consistent Performances

After winning promotion back to the top flight for the 2021 campaign, there were mixed initial reactions as to how the islanders would actually do back amongst the big boys.  A third of the way into the season and it is fair to say that they have most likely proved more than a few of those doubters wrong.  Jeju continues to be a defensively strong team, having conceded just eight goals thus far, the exact same number as their opposition this weekend, and it is owing to the strong defensive unit in front of Oh Seung-hoon.  

Kim Oh-gyu, Kwon Han-jin, and Jung Woon have carried over their stellar play from last season and continue to frustrate opposing attackers week in and week out.  Joo Min-kyu has caught fire of late, and is now second in the division with five goals to his credit.  The return of Kim Young-wook and the emergence in recnt weeks of Gerso Fernandes, who signed in the winter transfer window from MLS side Sporting Kansas City has given the islanders an incredible amount of depth throughout the lineup.

Team News 

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Han Kyo-won, who has scored four goals for Jeonbuk this season and one of their most influential players, sat out last weekend with an injury and is still not fully fit to return against Jeju.  Early projections have him coming back next weekend against Suwon Samsung Bluewings.  

Kim Sang-sik has been consistent in terms of his tactics employing a 4-1-4-1 formation, most recently with a pair of U22 wingers in  Lee Sung-yoon and Lee Ji-hoonModou Barrow will almost certainly see time from the bench as a substitute for one of the two youngsters.

Stanislav Iljutcenko is likely to start in attack, but there are one or two options on the bench.  Kim Seung-dae has not been in the squad three of the past four matches but could get a spot on the bench with Han unable to play.  Gustavo is also an option but his scoring form left a lot to be desired as he has only netted once with two assists in nine total appearances this season.  His minutes have dwindled somewhat recently but he did get a decent chunk of playing time against Gangwon last weekend.

Paik Seung-ho could see an uptick in minutes as well, but the expectation is that Choi Young-jun will get the start in the DM role.

Jeju United

Jeju United have remained fairly consistent this season with Nam Ki-il preferring his 3-4-3 setup going back to last season.  The back line has long been cemented and is the backbone of the club.  They have remained quite uniform in midfield as well, with Ahn Hyun-beom and Jung Woo-jae regularly starting on the wings.  Lee Chang-min has become irreplaceable as the team's captain.

Life in the first division has not come easy for last season's K League 2 Young Player of the Year Lee Dong-ryul, as evidenced by his decreased minutes in recent weeks in the U22 spot.  That has facilitated more playing time for rookie Kim Bong-su, who has impressed with his showing of late, even scoring his first K League goal in the team's 2-1 win over FC Seoul.  Gerso Fernandes has been much improved over the past few rounds and is a strong candidate for a spot in the starting eleven.

On the injury front, Song Ju-hoon, Lee Jung-moon, and Oskar Zawada are all out with undisclosed injuries and their estimated return to action is unknown at the moment.

What to Watch

Which striker is more likely to add to his goal tally?

Two of the hottest teams in the league also have the two hottest strikers heading into the latest round of play.

Stanislav Iljutcenko celebrates with teammates after scoring against his former club Pohang Steelers.
Stanislav Iljutcenko has been in fine form since some early season struggles.  He came on as a substitute against Jeju the first time the two sides met and was mostly a non-factor but he has hurt Jeju before when he played for Pohang Steelers in 2019, so he is definitely capable of scoring against them again.  Always a threat in close spaces in the area, he has a natural instinct to find the ball in dangerous positions.  Any team has to be wary of a player of his caliber and Jeju will have their work cut out for them.

Joo Min-kyu captured a brace earlier this season against Incheon United.
Joo Min-kyu recently had a four match scoring streak snapped but that doesn't mean he won't be keen to find the net when the teams take the pitch on Sunday.  It seems to be a theme with Joo - likes to score in bunches but has been kept off the scoresheet each of the last two times out.  Will his adept feet find time and space in the area to help the islanders to victory?  It will be a tall ask against such a staunch defense but he is the type of player who only needs a moment to make something happen.  He was substituted in the 65th minute with what looked to be a bit of a knock but according to a team source, it isn't serious and he should still be able to play.

Who to Watch

Lee Seung-gi - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Lee Seung-gi will be key to Jeonbuk's chances of victory against the islanders.
It seems he doesn't get the sort of credit he deserves but Lee Seung-gi's importance to everything Jeonbuk does moving forward in attack deserves credible mention.  He has found the net three times this year to go with three assists in eleven appearances, one of those coming in the previous matchup against Jeju.  He has been a vital cog in the side for years now and would be an MVP-type player for any club in the division.  He definitely deserves consideration for such an honor with his current club as well.

To prove just how effective he has been for Jeonbuk this year, he has only played two-thirds of the team's total minutes according to Transfermarkt, yet has made effective contributions all-around whenever he has been on the pitch.  He will be pulling the strings again on Sunday afternoon and is a player who must be closely guarded.  Failure to contain him will give Jeonbuk an advantage to claim all three points.  


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