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Writers' Chat Preview: FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

For the second Children's Day in a row FC Seoul face Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, only his time it's the capital club that's flying high while Jeonbuk are languishing at the wrong end of the table. Will An Ik-soo's men be able to heap more misery on Jeonbuk, or will the Green Warriors bounce back from two straight home defeats? Columnists Paul Neat and Tom Bolger look ahead to Friday's 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 Round 11 clash. *Edited following resignation of Kim Sang-sik on Thursday, 4th May.

Paul Neat asks Tom Bolger

Paul NeatGiven how things are going for both teams, more so Jeonbuk, FC Seoul be the favourites for Friday's clash. Would that be fair to say? What are you expecting from Jeonbuk this Friday?

Tom Bolger: I think it is fair to say that FC Seoul enter Friday's clash as favourites. They have had an impressive beginning to the season, while Jeonbuk's recent performances have been disappointing, with no indication of improvement. The players have worked hard and given great effort, but the tactics don't work at all, and I'm sure many players have lost some confidence. I expect Jeonbuk to find it difficult defensively. Going forward will also present challenges, especially on the wing. Song Min-kyu's injury is a major blow for the team, and it looks quite bad. With numerous other injuries and suspensions as well, picking up any points against Seoul will be a tough task.

PNWhat's been Jeonbuk's main problem, do you think? 

TB: They have struggled to break down teams, especially those who press and contest Jeonbuk in the midfield rather than dropping back. It used to be the case that many sides would sit back, and often Jeonbuk would find it difficult to get through, but pressing what was until Thursday Kim Sang-sik's side high up has been much more effective as of late. Teams have figured that out, and it has been working well. A great example of this is the recent 1-0 defeat at home to Gangwon, who sat back and defended for most of the first half, then in the second, they came out pressing and were able to create more opportunities. It has been far too easy for teams to pressure Jeonbuk into making mistakes and punishing them on the counter. It's happened many times this season.

PNKim Sang-sik was serving a touchline suspension for the two recent losses, so it would probably be hard for the club to justify sacking him. But then, in something of a shock, he steps down, just over 24 hours before the game to Seoul. How surprised were you by this? 

TB: It's quite a big shock, I wasn't expecting him to resign, and the timing of it baffles me. I did expect Kim Sang-sik to be gone quite soon, but to be sacked not resign. I think he finally came to the realisation that things were not going to improve under his management. It's a really strange situation, but despite the crazy timing, I am delighted. Fans will stop protesting and the atmosphere around the club will massively improve.

PNTwo key defenders will be suspended, who do you think will come in to replace them, and what sort of impact do you think the absences of Hong Jeong-ho and Kim Moon-hwan will have?

TB: Hong Jeong-ho's absence will be felt strongly by Jeonbuk. His leadership and experience are essential to the defence and the team as a whole. I'm not sure what formation Jeonbuk will use, but without Hong, they'll likely play with a back three consisting of Kim Geon-woong, Park Jin-seob, and Jeong Tae-wook, or possibly Park and Jeong as part of a back four. Kim Moon-hwan's suspension is another significant loss at full-back, he only recently returned from injury and during the time he was out, the team struggled, even putting Maeng Seong-ung and even Paik Seung-ho at right-wing-back at one point. U22 player Park Chang-woo will likely take his place. Jeonbuk will struggle at full-back with no Kim Jin-su or Kim Moon-hwan.

PNFinally, prediction for Friday's game?

TB: FC Seoul 3-1 Jeonbuk


[READ: FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors official preview]

Tom Bolger asks Paul Neat

Tom BolgerNa Sang-ho is now the current top scorer in the division and has been performing well as of late. How significant will he be for FC Seoul on Friday, and how important has he been for the team this season?

Paul Neat: Massively important. He is full of confidence at the moment and probably feels like any shot he tries is going in. With the bizarre Iljutcenko situation - club captain but hardly playing - and with Hwang Ui-jo having been a bit unlucky in front of goal, having a wide player like Na Sang-ho produce in front of goal has been so important. He likes to drift into central positions and so whoever plays at full-back on Friday for Jeonbuk will have to watch for him doing that. Normally a left winger, he has been deployed from the right in recent weeks with Lim Sang-hyub on the left. This enables him to cut inside and shoot on his stronger foot. He's also shown how alert he can be in the box, he has those predatory striker instincts.

TBFC Seoul have been underwhelming in recent seasons. What is going right for them now, and how important would breaking the 19-game winless streak against Jeonbuk be for the club, could it help signal that they are finally back to being a top side?

PN: I still feel as though the situation is a bit delicate and that Seoul could fall away once the going gets a bit tough. They sit second heading into Round 11 and will feel a bit hard done by in some games, certainly the 3-2 loss to Gangwon with the referee's decision to disallow a late equaliser deemed as being an error, and that now infamous error by goalkeeper Choi Cheol-won at home to Ulsan. Seoul still have Hosam Aiesh to make his debut, injury has prevented him from doing so thus far, while Willyan has been injured too, and Kang Seong-jin's involvement with the Korea U23s has meant limited game time. In theory, they should get better but the true test will be in the second round robin. 

TBThe last meeting between these two sides was in last year's FA Cup f=Final, and had plenty of goals. Additionally, FC Seoul currently have scored the most goals in the league with 21. Do you anticipate another high-scoring match this time around?

PN: I think both teams will score, for sure. Neither are solid enough to keep cleansheets on a regular basis but have the attacking talent to score goals. Seoul have kept three but one was against 10 men but have been averaging over two goals per match. Seoul will smell blood and I think they want to make sure they don't be the ones to miss out and get their win over Jeonbuk this season, just like the six other teams that have done so already. You'd hope that the winless run against Jeonbuk is put to the back of the mind as this is not the same, ruthless Jeonbuk as have become accustomed to. I'm sure the injured players are desperate to be back fit and be involved. Now's the time to land a solid punch on a stumbling giant.

TBLast time out for Seoul, they won comfortably 3-0 away to Suwon FC, lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Do you expect An Ik-soo to keep this going, or revert back to the 4-4-2, or perhaps something else?

PN: I think a back four is a must, the three just doesn't work. Now that Lee Han-beom is back too is a big boost. His distribution is important to how Seoul like to play and will mean they don't need to have a back three as Ki can drop deep if need by and act as a quarterback of sorts. I think the shape will be more or less the same, a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 depending on whether they are in possession or not. It will be interesting to see which goalkeeper gets the nod as Baek Jong-beom was dropped for the win over Suwon FC having made an error during the loss to Gangwon the week before. Choi Cheol-won

TBScore prediction?

PN: I think 2-1 to FC Seoul, perhaps 2-0 up and then a late-ish Jeonbuk goal to spur a rally towards the end.

[READ: 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 Round 11 Preview]

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