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scouting

Gwangju FC vs. FC Seoul Preview: Will Jesse Lingard make his K League debut?

A match that sold out in two and a half minutes sees Kim Gi-dong take charge of his first FC Seoul this Saturday as the capital club take on Gwangju FC in Round 1 of the 2024 Hana Bank K League 1 season. Gwangju away has been a happy hunting ground for Seoul over the last couple of visits and it could be the venue where Jesse Lingard makes his K League debut. 

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: Gwangju FC vs. FC Seoul
Competition: 2024 Hana Bank K League 1 Round 1
Venue: Gwangju Football Stadium
Date: Saturday 2nd March 2024, 14:00 KST

FC Seoul's season opener takes them to South Jeolla Province for a clash with last season's surprise package Gwangju FC. The two teams finished either side of the K League 1 demarcation line last season with the Griffins qualifying for the AFC Champions League, while Seoul were left to slum it in Final B for the fourth year in a row. But it's a new and improved FC Seoul, or at least that's what the Sangam faithful are hoping with a new manager in charge and key players penning new contracts. Gwangju, not to mention their outspoken manager, will have a target on their backs this season and faced with the unenviable task of bettering or even matching what they did last term.

Over the last 10 seasons, FC Seoul have picked up three wins, two draws, and lost four times. Two of Seoul's wins came in the last two seasons, after beating Daegu away in 2022 and Incheon at home in 2023. On the road, it’s just one win from six matches over the last 10 years with three defeats and two draws. 

Gwangju's opening day record reads: won three, drawn three, and lost four over the last 10 years. In terms of home matches on the opening weekend over the last 10 seasons, it’s just one win from four with two losses and one draw.


Team News

Lee Seung-mo is a major doubt having had surgery on an injury only recently, according to Sports Kyunghyang. But it's the availability of Jesse Lingard that'll be the most searched ahead of the weekend. As reported by Yonhap News, Kim Gi-dong said at Media Day on Monday that "He's still not feeling 100% so we're approaching it carefully." It had been suggested that Lingard might not be able to play this first match but Bolmanchan reported on Thursday that the only person who knows whether Lingard can or will play or not is Seoul manager Kim Gi-dong. Lingard's participation in a now sold-out season opener at Gwangju's tight stadium is very much unclear. 

Lingard hasn't played a competitive match since April last year and that was a two-minute cameo for Nottingham Forest against Manchester United. His last full 90 minutes was on the opening day of the 2022-2023 season. In pre-season for FC Seoul, Lingard has been able to build slowly and get more and more minutes under his belt with each friendly. He played 15 minutes in Seoul's first pre-season friendly and built up enough fitness to play 80 minutes in the last one. Overall, Lingard featured in four friendlies and scored three. Speaking to Sports Kyunghyang on February 23rd, one club source said that Lingard is at around 80% in terms of match fitness and that the club is doing what it can to get him ready. Kim Gi-dong said that he'll keep an eye on Lingard's fitness and have a conversation with him about it.

Elsewhere, there are expected debuts for Choi Jun and Ryu Jae-moon although Rebin Sulaka, having only just joined up with the squad last week, should be seen as a doubt.

Head-to-Head

FC Seoul had a decent enough record against Gwangju FC last season, earning two wins and six points from the three matches. The only trip to Gwangju last season - the first of 2023 - saw Seoul come away with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Osmar and Park Dong-jin.

The previous encounter at the tail end of the 2021 season, also at Gwangju Football Stadium, saw FC Seoul come back from 3-0 down to earn a 4-3 win. Kim Jong-woo, Lee Chan-dong, and Um Won-sang had the Griffins three goals to the good with 51 minutes on the clock but an Aleksandar Andrejević own goal on 65 minutes started a Seoul comeback. Aleksandar Paločević made it 68 minutes made it 3-2 before Kang Seong-jin restored parity in the 79th minute. But Seoul weren't done there, though, as Go Yo-han sent in an 88th-minute winner

Over the last 10 encounters, FC Seoul have managed seven wins, Gwangju just one and two draws. Overall, from 22 meetings, Seoul have picked up 15 wins, Gwangju three, and four draws.

What to Watch

Seoul under Kim Gi-dong vs. Gwangju as a known quantity

Seoul under their new manager will likely look to press from the front, be aggressive in winning the ball back, and quick to attack. Gwangju have lost some key players, most notably centre back Timo Letschert and all-action midfielder Lee Soon-min and so whoever lines up alongside Jeong Ho-yeon in central midfield will have big shoes to fill, but the Griffins have quality on the flanks in Eom Ji-sung and Jasir Asani. Australian centre back Aleksandar Popovic, just 21 years of age and with just 45 career appearances, could be targeted by Seoul if Stanislav Iljutcenko is given the nod to start up top. 

In general, there's a sense of desire around FC Seoul. Ki signing a new contract after taking several months to think about it suggests that he has something he wants to achieve before retirement. Kim Gi-dong got the best out of Iljutcenko and Paločević and, even with Seoul have more foreigners than can be fielded at the same time, these two in particular will be determined to show that they ought to be seen as undroppable. Kim Gi-dong's team selection should offer something of a hint as to which foreign players he'll be opting for, as well.

[READ: "I've always thought about the team" - Willyan]

Prediction

FC Seoul should win this one. Their lack of depth at centre back is an issue and keeping a cleansheet is perhaps unlikely but with the attacking quality of Willyan, Paločević, Kang Seong-jin, and Iljutcenko among many others, Seoul should have enough to get the three points.

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