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Islanders and Horangi Face Off in All-Important Clash

This coming Sunday afternoon sees a crucial clash at Munsu Football Stadium as Jeju United make the trip from the island to face Ulsan Hyundai with both teams searching for a win for different reasons.  The hosts are looking to stay in the title race while the visitors are hoping to keep their prospects of qualifying for next year's Asian Champions League alive.  KLU's Branko Belan previews one of the biggest matches of the season with the finish line coming into view.

Match: Ulsan Hyundai vs Jeju United
Venue: Munsu Football Stadium
Kickoff: Sunday November 21st, 2021; 16:30 KST

Recent Form

Ulsan Looking to Rebound at Home

Ulsan's form of late has not been up to par with results throughout the year, as they have won just one in their last five matches across all competitions.  They lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai last time out on November 6th and need a spark to steer themselves in the right direction.  If the Horangi will have any chance of lifting their first league trophy since 2005, the turnaround will have to start this weekend.  

Hong Myung-bo will have to be a bit more daring with his tactical setup if he wants to come away with full points against an islander squad that is in the midst of one of its best runs of the season.

Islanders Still Eyeing Asia

Jeju United are currently unbeaten in their past six matches going back to the regular season and have won both of their playoff round matches without conceding a goal, including a 5-0 rout of Daegu FC which put them in contention for continental football next year.  

Their 2-0 win against Suwon Bluewings last time out was significant on two levels.  Suwon has had a significant advantage in terms of the head-to-head battle through the years and they were also the team to seal Jeju's relegation to the second division following the 2019 season.  The win allowed them to exact a measure of revenge, while Joo Min-kyu added two goals to his account, bringing his current total to 21, making him a clear favorite for the Golden Boot.  The Tangerines have serious aspirations to play in Asia next year but may have to win out for it to happen.

Team News

Ulsan Hyundai

Lee Chung-yong's equalizer against Jeonbuk Hyundai was canceled out by a late winner.
Jo Hyeon-woo, Kim Tae-hwan, and Hong Chul, all of whom were called up for November World Cup qualifiers for South Korea's matches against the United Arab Emirates and Iraq, have all returned to the team and could be available to play on Sunday despite the long trip home from the Middle East.

Hong Myung-bo used the international break to solidify the team following the loss to Jeonbuk, understanding well that his team still has a shot at a championship.  They are currently unbeaten in six matches against Jeju going back to the 2019 season and know anything short of victory could cost them their title dreams.

In other team news, it has been announced that central defender Dave Bulthuis will leave the club when his contract expires in December.  The good news is that his likely replacement has already been found, as it has been reported in local media in the past week that Kim Young-gwon had rejected a new contract offer from his current side, J League 1 outfit Gamba Osaka and is being linked with the Horangi.

Jeju United

The win against Suwon Bluewings erased painful memories from 2019.
On the current run of form, the islanders are confident they can record a victory over Ulsan, something they have not done since November 2018, when Magno Cruz netted the only goal of the match in the 65th minute for a 1-0 away win.  The stakes will be much higher on Sunday as both teams have their seasons to play for.

Joo Min-kyu is the runaway leader atop the goal-scoring charts and is also looking to reach 100 goals for his career with the season winding down.  In fact, he needs just one to hit the century mark.  Only eleven other players in the history of the K League have been able to celebrate such a career achievement.  

Two of them played for Jeju at one stage in their careers.  

Kim Eun-jung scored twenty goals across all competitions for the islanders in 2010 when they were league runners-up and made it to the semifinals of the Korean FA Cup.  Jung Jo-gook played eighteen seasons in the league, his last with Jeju, as he helped the club to its first league title in three decades and is currently the team's strikers' coach.

"Rather than being satisfied with being in the moment, I want to continue to set high goals.  I continue to work hard to become the leading scorer in the league but there is also the matter of qualifying for the Asian Champions League, which is the team's goal, so I have to turn a new page.  This team from Jeju still has moments to shine," Joo said in a statement released by the club.

Elsewhere, both Oh Seung-hoon, who has missed the past month and a half because of injury, and Lee Chang-min, who picked up a knock against Daegu FC, should be fit and available for selection.  Kim Bong-su played only as a substitute against Suwon Bluewings but could be a candidate for the starting eleven on Sunday.

What to Watch

A Draw Will Cost Both Teams

Both teams will be playing to win on Sunday but for different reasons.  Ulsan Hyundai can ill afford to drop points for the rest of the season if they want to keep their title hopes intact.  Jeju United have their sights set on Asia and will likely have to win out for that to be a possibility.

Jeju are the better team on form at the moment and may have a slight advantage psychologically based on recent results.  Ulsan virtually have their backs to the wall and will come out looking to take the match to their opponents from the first whistle.  

With both teams having everything to play for, an offensive match should be expected.  Even though Ulsan have dominated the series in recent years, this has the makings of a classic.  It will all come down to which side executes better but if it goes to the wire, it would not be a surprise.

Who to  Watch

Joo Min-kyu - Jeju United

Joo Min-kyu has scored three goals against his former club this season.
If there ever was a player to fit a storyline going into the most important match of the season, Joo Min-kyu is the best fit for the narrative.  His scoring pace has been blistering of late with six goals in his previous three matches.  He is one short of the century mark and his club still has a chance to qualify for Asia.

Is it possible to write a better script?

Being the away side on Sunday will surely present a daunting task but this year's Jeju side has shown its resilience of late, needing Joo's injury time penalty against Jeonbuk on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the top half, followed by back-to-back clean sheets to open the playoffs.

Joo is motivated to produce for the team and sees them as capable of challenging at a higher level, which is why the team is ambitious enough, thanks to the influence of Nam Ki-il to set next year's Asian Champions League as a primary goal for the squad.

Joo has led all season and has been an influencer both to the veterans and young players alike.  He understands that another big test is in front of him and the team when they face Ulsan but it should be noted that he has scored three goals in his past two encounters against his former club.

He'll be looking to sink his claws in once again in hopes of leading his team to victory to keep their dream of continental football for next season alive.


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