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Writers' Chat Preview: Incheon United vs. Daejeon Hana Citizen

Two teams still looking for their first win of the season, Incheon United and Daejeon Hana Citizen, meet in Round 4 of the 2024 Hana Bank K League 1 this Saturday. Accordingly, columnists Luke Evans and Paul Neat sat down to talk about how the two teams have performed so far.

Overview & Match Information

Fixture: Incheon United vs. Daejeon Hana Citizen
Competition: 2024 Hana Bank K League 1 Round 3
Venue: Incheon Football Stadium
Date: Saturday 31st March 2024, 14:00 KST
Streaming: K League TV (Int'l), Coupang Play (Korea)

Two teams with AFC Champions League aspirations are yet to get off the mark this term. Hosts Incheon United suffered a late defeat to Suwon FC on the opening weekend with Lee Seung-woo converting a 100th-minute penalty, before drawing 0-0 with FC Seoul in Round 2, and 3-3 with Ulsan HD in Round 3.

Daejeon, meanwhile, earned a very credible 1-1 draw with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on the opening day but then lost 3-1 away to Jeju in Round 2,  before rescuing a late draw at home to Gangwon just before the international break. With nearly two weeks off and players coming back from injury, both will be aiming to get off the mark this Saturday.

Writers' Chat

Paul Neat: Both teams are looking for their first win of the season and Daejeon are, basically, trying to be Inchon, to some degree; they want AFC Champions League qualification. Even the manager, Lee Min-sung said that he was quite envious of Incheon in the ACL, and he felt a bit guilty for the fans for not being able to guide the team to it last year. But it's quite an interesting fixture, this one.

Luke Evans: It is. And I think there's a lot for Incheon to prove as well. Qualifying for the Champions League once can be written off as a fluke, and I think there's a lot to do to make sure that people see progress and see improvement.

We came very close last year. I think a goal in the last game against Daegu would have meant we drew, would have got us an extra point, and we would have qualified possibly for ACL 2. And it's fine margins. It's little things in games that can have such a big impact at the end of the season.

Paul: Form-wise, as we head into this game at the weekend, it's identical. Two draws and one loss from the first three games of the season. Both teams have scored three, Inchon have conceded one goal fewer though, so they sit ninth and Daejeon sit tenth. In terms of away form for Daejeon last year, they won just four games all season and three were against teams that finished below them in the table: Suwon Bluewings, Gangwon and Jeju and the Jeonbuk win was early doors and that was before they sacked Kim Sang-sik or before he'd resigned, whichever way it was. Incheon though, their home form was quite good last year, Luke. 

Luke: Yeah, we did really well. We only lost five times at home last year. We had seven wins and eight draws. Ideally, this year we'll turn some of those draws into wins. The record between Daejeon and Incheon was in Incheon's favour last year. I remember the second round, I think it was the first home game last year, there was a 3-3 draw, which was quite a late equaliser for Daejeon. That was a really good game. It was quite exciting, and it was back when we didn't know what to expect from Daejeon, and we didn't know what to expect from Incheon. There was an Incheon win, 3-1  in Daejeon in June, and then a 2-0 Incheon win in the final game between the teams in Round 23. 

Paul: Yeah, just the three meetings last year with Incheon being in Final A and Daejeon in Final B. Daejeon's last win over Incheon goes back to 2013, a 2-1 away win in Round 4 that I was there for. Lee Woong-hee and Joao Paulo scored for Daejeon and Ahn Jae-hoon for Incheon. That was 10 meetings ago so it's been pretty one-sided ever since then. Eight wins for Incheon, one for Daejeon, and one draw. So, we have had an international break. How do you think Incheon will have spent that? Because they went in on a high perhaps after that 3-3 draw with Ulsan just before? 

Luke: Yeah, it was a tough game because both teams were on top in different spells. We were in front and then we were behind. So coming out with the draw is probably a fair result. Hopefully, getting on the score sheet, scoring three goals, it will work as a catalyst for the season. I mean, we've had three tough games and then we've had an international break. I actually think the international break has worked well because it provides us with a chance to kind of have a look at what's gone well, what's not particularly worked, tweak things where we need to, and analyze what we do for the next set of games. Daejeon scored late to secure a point against Gangwon as well, for you did that feel like a win? 

Paul: Yeah in some ways it did. Obviously, Mlapa as well [scoring] on his debut came on, he was very good. He looks like a really shrewd signing. Even though he hasn't played for eight months, he looked very, very good. And in that finish, he had no right to score from there at that angle, but a very well-taken goal. So him scoring on his debut and scoring late on in the game felt a bit like a win.

They also could have probably got the second goal if they were a bit more composed. It wasn't that first win that they needed, but it felt a bit like it for the fans, I think, but for the players, there are those behind-the-scenes videos that the club put on YouTube for every game,  and you can usually tell the mood by how little footage they put in after the game, but there wasn't much. There were just a few seconds of the players sat in the dressing room, kind of slumped with solemn looks on their faces. They just look a bit despondent, and from what I've heard as well, the mood's a bit low. 

So, whereas a lot of teams will have allowed their [foreign] players maybe to go back to their home countries or go on holiday, or have a little bit of time off, we haven't done that. We've been straight into getting ready for this game. Obviously, we've had Gutek going back to Latvia because he had to play for the national team, but I think most of the players have been working on how to get this first win of the season.

Given that they've both had mixed starts to the season, it could highlight some of the good things and the bad things. So as Incheon are the home team for this game, you can go first. What positive thing can you think of about the season so far? 

Luke: The first thing that comes to mind would be the young players that we've had starting and playing. Everybody always looks to the big names in the squad but for us, the younger players have actually taken their opportunities quite well. Kim Seong-min and Park Seung-ho have played quite a lot already and both have done really well. They've shown that they actually deserve to have a place in the team. Kim Seong-min is lightning quick and has been running up and down the wing. He had a really good run out against Seoul, and Park Seung-ho got a goal against Ulsan which was a really important goal. Getting a goal as a young player is a huge confidence boost.

Paul: I think I'll go with a similar tone because Gutek looks excellent. He scored in that first game of the season against Jeonbuk, he has missed a couple of chances in games afterwards, but his all-around play, you can see why they let Tiago go and are pinning all their hopes on him. So having those two proper number nines who are obviously of high quality... you know, if your strikers are on form or they look like they're going to be contributing, that's usually half the battle. So that's one positive, how about a negative? 

Luke: I think the sheer volume of injuries. One of the areas that we're struggling with is in central midfield. Typically, we have quite a lot of central midfielders but right now we've got so many injuries in central midfield that people are playing out of position to provide cover. Against Seoul, M'Poku was sitting back in a central midfield position when he's normally much more of an attacking player, maybe a number 10. Kim Do-hyuk's out, We let Yeo Reum, we've got Shin Jin-ho missing, we've got Moon Ji-hwan missing. On the other hand, I suppose with all of these people out when they come back, hopefully, you know, we'll be able to build on that and we'll have a full-strength team. But for now, injuries are causing an issue. 

Paul: For us, I think composure is still an issue. The team is very easily flustered. Against Jeju in Round 2, they just completely fell to bits. They lost all composure. In that first half, they gave away a penalty, which was handball - it was a bit unlucky but it was handball. And then in the dying embers of that first half, they gave away another penalty. Just a clumsy foul. It was soft, but it was a clumsy sort of grab of someone's shoulder, and he went down. Just have a bit of common sense, and then they were rattled, completely rattled. The passing was poor. They couldn't put together two or three passes at a time. What about another positive for Incheon?

Luke:  I think the fans are really supporting the club and they've got everybody's backing. Incheon have good fans and we have a good following but on the opening day of the season, we had 15,000 people turn out and it was bitterly cold. We took over 4,000 people to Seoul. We had a decent turnout at Ulsan despite it being all that way away on a Sunday evening, and generally, the mood from the fans is kind of, we're ready for the season to start proper. And there's not any negativity about the results that have come.

So even though we haven't got that first win, I think the fans know that it's only a matter of time, and hopefully this weekend we'll have another good crowd. To be fair, anything over 10,000 would be great given that the baseball's started now. Hopefully, you know, good turnout and the team can respond and we'll get the first three points.

Paul: Well, I think for Daejeon, one thing that I think is a positive - They can use bad luck to kind of explain or give some kind of excuse for the poor form. So in rounds two and three, they had chances to take the lead but just didn't have that sort of slice of luck, and games have then gone against them. Against Gangwon in Round 3, for example, Lee Dong-won, a young lad playing at left wing back, he hits the post on about 40 minutes when it's at 0-0. Against Jeju, Kim In-gyun nearly scores by running to put some pressure on the goalkeeper and he basically blocks the clearance. Now, if that's an inch to the right, it's a goal six minutes in and it's 1-0.

Then about 10 minutes later in the game against Jeju, Gutek seems to get caught in two minds and he's basically one-on-one with the keeper. A great ball across the top, and he was not the composed, striker that he was for his goal against Jeonbuk. So if that goes in, either it's 1-0 or it's 2-0 and the game is a completely different landscape. They get two pens. Like I just said, two clumsy but also soft pens They've lost their vice-captain to injury with a hamstring injury Kang Yoon-seong, Anton has been out so far as well. Against Gangwon, the free kick takes a big, big deflection. Luckily for them, it lands to their player and it's a goal.

And then even after Daejeon has found an equaliser,  Leandro sends a perfect ball into the box and if anybody else other than a winger is there to head it, then it's a goal. If Mlapa or Guteka are stood there, then it might be a different game, it might even have been a win. So I just think they've had reasons why they can kind of feel a little bit like there are mitigating circumstances to kind of explain it a little bit. 

Luke: Another positive, I think Mugoša scoring. Last year there was a lot of talk when Mugoša came back and we weren't sure how fit and how healthy he was going to be. He scored a couple last year, but he's come back this year and he actually looks more like the Mugoša of old.

The game against Ulsan, he was a lot more involved. It was his type of game. He was getting lots of the ball and him and Gerso have a good understanding and work well together. Mugoša getting the two goals that he got will be a catalyst for him to now push on and get some more and get back to the form that we know he's capable of. Last year was kind of just easing him in, but this year hopefully we get to see the true Mugoša.

Paul: I think for Daejeon, they seem to play a bit better when there's some sort of peril when the pressure is on. That is kind of the situation for this weekend. So that might produce a decent performance. Actually, what I wanted to say as well is the fixtures coming up, the next four are difficult. Incheon away, Ulsan at home, Pohang at home, and Suwon FC away so it's kind of becoming quite urgent that they have to get something from this game.

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Team News

Harrison Delbridge is back in training for Incheon United but it's unclear whether the Australian centre back will be fit to start. Shin Jin-ho and Kim Bo-seop are still out, as too Mun Ji-hwan and Kim Do-hyeok while M'Poku and Kim Seong-min can be seen as doubts.

For Daejeon, Kang Yoon-seong is out with a hamstring problem but Lee Soon-min, Anton Kryvotsyuk, and Park Jin-seong are expected to be available for selection again.

Where to Watch

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