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Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Vs. Busan IPark

K League 1 Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Busan IPark

Fresh off the back of one of their most important victories this year, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors head into the final match of the regular K League 1 season on Sunday just two points from the top and will fancy their chances against a faltering Busan IPark side that are effectively condemned to the bottom half. Can the visitors stun their hosts and pull themselves away from a now-looming relegation threat that they had previously thought they would avoid? 

Last Time Out

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Busan IPark

In perhaps the biggest match of the season so far, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors hosted K League 1 leaders Ulsan Hyundai knowing that defeat could see hopes of their title slide away. The champions began with intensity though, scoring after just a minute when Modou Barrow's low ball into the box, angling for Han Kyo-won, was left by its intended recipient and chasing defender, catching 'keeper Jo Hyeon-woo off guard and rolling into the net. Ulsan rallied though and edged the first half despite being unable to convert.

Jeonbuk collected themselves together for the second half and came out with a new sense of purpose, eventually doubling their lead just after the hour mark. Takahiro Kunimoto released Modou Barrow down the wing who crossed into Han Kyo-won once more. This time Han certainly touched the ball, with his close-range shot unable to be stopped by Cho Hyun-woo. Ulsan did manage to pull a goal back from the penalty spot in the final minute of injury time, converted by Junior, but it proved merely to be a consolation as Jeonbuk shortened the gap between second and first to just two points.

Busan IPark 1-2 Gangwon FC

Busan IPark continued their troubling form with defeat to Gangwon FC. Victory for either side could have seen them make a last-ditch attempt for a top-half finish before the split but, in the end, Busan were unable to capitalise and now, with results elsewhere going against them, find themselves just three points above the relegation zone with just one win in their last ten league outings.

Cho Jae-wan opened the scoring for the visitors, tapping in Lee Hyun-sik's low ball across the box at the far post, before Busan levelled shortly after with a Kim Dong-woo header. However, Gangwon were to have the final say when Lee Yeong-jae fired in a superb shot from just over 25 yards out to claim all three points for the visitors.

Previous Meetings

In the 65 meetings between these two sides, the advantage falls decisively in Jeonbuk's favour with 34 wins to Busan's 18. Having spent a considerable amount of time in the Korean second tier, it is also unsurprising that Busan's last victory over Jeonbuk is some time ago, picking up a 4-1 win in Jeonju back in 2013. On that day, a young Lee Jong-hyeop in his debut season, scored what would be his only two goals of the season against the Green Warriors to help put them to the sword.

Jeonbuk and Busan have also crossed paths twice already this season; once in the league where Lars Veldwijk's injury time goal claimed the points for Jeonbuk in a 2-1 win, and also in the FA Cup where Gustavo scored a second-half hattrick to lead his side to a 5-1 victory.

Team News

José Morais experiment against Ulsan paid off and relieved some of the pressure that had been mounting on him and his team. By not fielding a U22 player, Jeonbuk were restricted to two substitutions but were also able to field their strongest eleven from the off. With Seongnam in the FA Cup semifinals next Wednesday, and therefore the option to keep key personnel rested, Morais will likely bring Cho Kyu-sung back into the fold either as a striker to replace Gustavo, or as a winger and in turn dropping one of the goalscorers from Tuesday evening. There are no reported injury concerns although centre-back Choi Bo-kyung was absent altogether from Tuesday's lineup and was replaced by Kim Min-hyeok. Given the reasonable showing of Kim though, Choi could find it difficult to get his position back if he is available.

Busan IPark are still unsure on the availability of Lee Jeong-hyeop who is still trying to build up fitness ahead of this match. Given the desperate form Busan find themselves in, Lee could be forced back prematurely, otherwise, it will be Vintecinco who will be given the nod in attack. Kim Jin-kyu was also pictured in training last week after a 10-week absence. Sunday may be too soon for Kim's return but it does give Busan some hope ahead of the final five split fixtures. The rest of the team is expected to be similar to that which started midweek against Gangwon.

[LISTEN: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Ulsan Hyundai Recap]

The Adversary

After having made the mid-season stage looking to have steered clear of any threat of relegation, Busan IPark head into the weekend with the spectre of K League 2 looking once more over their shoulder. Incheon United have found their annual late surge and have capitalised on poor Busan form to narrow the gap to just three points, making things heading into the split tense for those who are unfortunate enough to be locked in with them.

Despite helping them earn promotion to the top flight after four years in the lower tier, manager Cho Deok-je is now coming under fire after returning just one win in their last eleven across all competitions. The criticism being levelled at Cho is the conservative and one-dimensional tactics he has been employing, shackling talents such as Lee Dong-jun despite the proven ability they possess. Furthermore, by treading on the side of trepidation, his side are ironically conceding far more shots. Busan have conceded the second highest number of shots in the league and are third for goals conceded in the division, with those higher than them at least finding goals at the other end to offset it. 

In fact, Busan have scored just 21 goals this season, six more than Incheon United below them. While, in a league that prioritises goals scored over difference, this is somewhat comforting, in their last 13 they have only scored more than a single goal in one match, coincidentally their last win. With just six games remaining and teams scrapping for survival, this is certainly not the most convenient time to be malfunctioning at both ends of the pitch. 

Who To Watch

Han Kyo-won: Comeback Player of the Year?

When Han Kyo-won converted Modou Barrow's cross for Jeonbuk's second against Ulsan, it saw the winger notch up his tenth goal of the season in what is quickly becoming a career year for a player who has been regarded as a third choice winger for the last five campaigns. While it has taken the addition of Modou Barrow to finally re-inject the full vigour back into the flanks of this Jeonbuk side, Han has continued to perform and has stepped in as the team's main goal outlet as well, often cutting inside to act as a second striker. Notbaly, it has been the timing of his runs to poach goals that has proved his greatest asset in this side and seen him rack up his second-highest goal tally in his career, now just one-off matching it despite it being a shortened season. Furthermore, Han's movement off the ball has often dragged defenders away to create space for others and should be noted, making him one of Jeonbuk's most impactful players at present and a potential candidate for the K League's best eleven at the end of the year. He will likely prove quite the test for Busan's U22 left-back Lee Sang-jun on Sunday.

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The result against Ulsan may well have given Jeonbuk a new lease of life after previously picking up a single point and shipping seven goals in the three games prior. It gives them a lifeline and one that they are unlikely willing to cede again with the finish line just six rounds away. Busan have looked out of form in recent weeks and are missing key personnel through injury so will be expected to find things difficult in Jeonju. 

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