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Preview: FC Seoul vs Pohang Steelers

FC Seoul will end their home campaign with a fixture against the team which it all began with back in March as Pohang Steelers make the trip to the capital for the last time in 2019. Choi Yongsoo and his men will know that a second home win over the Steelers this season would seal a place in the AFC Champions League next season. Pohang, meanwhile, will be keen to get back to winning ways having also failed to win a single FINAL A match. Kim Kidong's side are six points behind Seoul and so if the three-time ACL winners are to qualify for continental competition for the first time since 2014, nothing less than a win will do.

Overview

via Soccerway

Last Time Out

FC Seoul 0-1 Ulsan Hyundai

Prior to the international break FC Seoul took on league leaders Ulsan Hyundai. Agtainst the Horangi, it looked as though FC Seoul were on course to earn another credible point against one of the title contenders having picked up a valuable point away to Jeonbuk a week prior. However, much as he did in the last meeting at Sangam, Kim Bokyung had other ideas; the former Jeonbuk attacking midfielder struck a superb free-kick with little over eight minutes of the match remaining to earn the Horangi a huge three points.

Seoul will have felt hard done-by having carved out some genuine goal-scoring opportunities and, had it not have been for some goalkeeping heroics by Korean international Kim Seunggyu, the capital club may well have been able to register a goal of their own.

Highlights



Pohang Steelers 2-2 Gangwon FC

The Steelers, meanwhile, fought back from two goals down to earn a draw at home to Gangwon FC in Round 35. Lee Hyunsik and Nemanja Bibilja had Kim Byungsoo's side two goals to the good with goals on 42 and 61 minutes respectively but, just eight minutes later, Stanislav Iljutcenko pulled one back before Shim Dongwoon fired in a late 90th minute equaliser to see the spoils shared.

Highlights


Previous Meetings

The head to head record this season between FC Seoul and Pohang Steelers is rather even with one win each and one draw. The most recent encounter took place in mid-September when the Steelers ran out 2-1 winners at thome, despite Park Chuyoung nodding in a late equaliser for the visitors. Serbian attacking midfielder Aleksandar Paločević gave Pohang the lead via an 82nd minute penalty only for Park Chuyoung to restore parity just a couple of minutes later, centre back Hwang Hyunsoo getting to the byline and finding Park in the box. Seoul were back on level terms for a matter of minutes, however, as Wanderson turned in an 88th minute winner to earn Kim Kidong's men the lion's share of the spoils.

The first meeting between the two teams this term took place in the opening weekend of the season at Seoul World Cup Stadium. A Hwang Hyunsoo brace got FC Seoul off to a winning start, finding the back of the net in the 10th and 29th minute.

Overall, these two K League giants have met on 57 previous occasions with Seoul earning 31 wins to Pohang's 19 and 13 draws. In the capital, Pohang have won just six times whilst 17 of Seoul's 31 wins have come at home. Seoul have just one home defeat in their last seven meetings at Sangam, a 1-0 reverse thanks to an unfortunate Yang Hanbin own goal in August last year.

Team News

Serbian striker Aleksandar Pešić is believed to be nearing a return after recovering from an upper thigh injury. FC Seoul do not have any suspensions to concern themselves with but centre backs Hwang Hyunsoo and Kim Wonsik, midfielder Jung Wonjin, and attacker Park Chuyoung are all just a scribble the referee's notebook from missing Seoul's next match. Go Yohan is available for selection again having picked up a ninth booking in the draw with Jeonbuk two rounds ago.

FC Seoul starting lineup versus Ulsan Hyundai, K League 1 Round 36

For Pohang, midfielder Lee Sanggi is out through suspension after being dismissed in the 0-0 draw with Daegu on October 26th. Elsewhere, goalkeeper Kang Hyunmu, full back Kim Yonghwan, as well as midfielders Lee Soobin and Choi Youngjun are all just one yellow away from a suspension of their own. For the draw with Gangwon, manager Kim Kidong made a few changes to that which drew with Daegu, opting to field young right back Park Jaewoo and forward Heo Yongjun.

Pohang Steelers starting lineup versus Gangwon FC, K League 1 Round 36


Eulji Lewis 

The Adversary



Under the guidance of 2019 K League 1 Manager of the Year nominee Kim Kidong, Pohang Steelers were able to secure a place in the top six for the second season in succession. However, much like 2018, AFC Champions League qualification is very much out of their hands. Whereas last term, when the Steelers will have been hoping for an Ulsan FA Cup win to help pathe the way, this year Pohang will need both FC Seoul and Daegu to lose their last two matches in order to qualify, whilst subsequently winning both of their last two matches.

Heading into Final Round A, Pohang were on an impressive run of form having picked up four wins on the spin and were undefeated in seven. However, since the league split into two, the North Gyeongsang side have amassed just two points from nine available on account of a heavy loss away to Jeonbuk in Round 35, which was then followed up with two consecutive stalemates: a scoreless bore draw with Daegu and a 2-2 draw with Gangwon last time out, despite holding a two-goal lead.

Formation wise, Pohang will almost certainly start with a back four made up of Sim Sangmin, Ha Changrae, Kim Kwangseok, and either Park Jaewoo or Kim Yonghwan at right back in for the suspended Lee Sanggi. For the 2-2 draw with Gangwon, the Steelers were set up in a 4-2-3-1 but Coach Kim had opted for a 4-4-2 against both Jeonbuk and Daegu. For the last meeting between these two teams, the Steelers were set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Iljutcenko has the loan striker and Wanderson, Palcovic and Song Minkyu as the three attacking midfielders behind. Choi Youngjun and Jung Jaeyong anchored the midfield in the first half, before Lee Soobin was brought on to replace Choi. In the 0-0 draw back in May under former boss Choi Soonho, Pohang took on Seoul in a 4-4-2.

If Pohang are to get a result at Sangam then the North Gyeongsang side will have to do so despite having the third-least amount of goals away from home in 2019 with just 14, being ninth overall in terms of the number of shots on the road with 169 (9.94 per match), and seventh for shots on target away from home with 86, 5.06 per match.

What To Watch


FC Seoul need a positive result on Saturday, or to at least match Daegu's result away to Gangwon. With two games left and a four point gap between Seoul and the Sky Blues, a win would guarantee ACL for Seoul in 2020, whilst a draw and anything other than a Daegu win would also do it for Choi Yongsoo and his men. However, with Seoul heading into Saturday's clash having failed to pick up a single win post split, it would be fair to say that confidence amongst the team might not be as high as it perhaps ought to be. 

That said, Seoul do look set to welcome Aleksandar Pešić back into the fold as the former Red Star Belgrade hitman was part of Thursday's press conference at GS Champions Park, the club's training facility just outside of Seoul. Pešić has been sorely missed during his absence, initially due to a broken toe suffered shortly after the Super Match at the tail-end of June, but later to an upper thigh problem that has kept him sidelined for the vast majority of the second half of the campaign. In said press conference, Pešić made it clear that the team want to get the job done on Saturday and do not want to have to go to Daegu needing a result on the final day of the season. The 27 year-old seemingly hell bent on making up for lost time.

In order to do so, the capital club are going to need to be proactive, looking to exploit the space in the channels, where Pešić seems to thrive. In the absence of one of the league's best strikers, Seoul have had to rely on set pieces and picking teams off on the counter attack in order to pick up points. Testament to this is that no team in K League 1 has scored more goals from corners this season than FC Seoul with 10. Pešić's presence, though, will give Seoul a different dimension with his direct nature and willingness to occupy positions out-wide, in the channels, and off the shoulder of the last man. 

Before his most recent injury problems, from March up until the Super Match in mid-June, Seoul were second for goals scored in K League 1 with 28 and 1.65 per 90 minutes on average. During this time, Pešić was top of the K League 1 scoring charts with nine and was fifth in terms of the amount of shots which found the target and was 10th for key passes with seven. However, during his initial absence, between 6th July and 2nd August, Seoul fell to seventh in K League 1 for shots on target per 90 minutes. If Seoul can work the ball into the box, as they have done so often this term having notched up 608 touches in the box, the fourth most in K League 1 in 2019,  then Pešić may just get enough opportunities to add to his 10 goals this season.

Prediction

The international break will have come at a good time for Choi Yongsoo and his team, allowing the likes of Pešić to return from injury and also to regroup after an erratic run of form. Seoul have the tools to get a result against Pohang but it will all depend on how well they assert themselves whilst also nullifying the threat of 2019 K League 1 MVP nominee Wanderson. If Seoul can keep a cleansheet and be more purposeful in attack then a home win should be well within their capabilities.



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