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FA Cup Semi-Final Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Incheon United - Two Teams In Pursuit Of Securing Continental Football

The semi-finals of the Korean FA Cup are finally approaching! This Wednesday, November 1st, Five-time and current champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors host Incheon United in a single-leg tie for a place in the final this weekend against, and at the home of, the winners of the other semi-final between Jeju United and four-time champions Pohang Steelers. An added importance to progress in the competition is placed on Jeonbuk and Incheon as they are already participating in continental football this season, but it is unlikely that they will progress into the new ACL Elite next year via the league, and thus, achieving FA Cup glory is their best chance to do so.

Recent Form

Jeonbuk had been on a rough patch quite recently, as they have been for much of the season, and things got worse when they lost some key players to the Asian Games. However, their fortunes changed when they secured a crucial 2-0 win against FC Seoul, which allowed them to finish in the top half of K League 1. Following that win, Jeonbuk went on to win 2-1 against Daegu, achieve a comfortable 3-0 victory in the ACL over Lion City Sailors, and draw 1-1 against Pohang. (*This scoreline is possible to change to a 3-0 forfeit in favour of Jeonbuk after Pohang briefly was playing with an ineligible player. A decision on the final result has yet to be made.)

Incheon comes into this fixture with somewhat inconsistent results in recent matches. In their last five fixtures in all competitions, they won two, drew two and sustained a single defeat, which was in the ACL against Shandong Taishan, managed by 2005 Korean FA Cup-winning manager and Jeonbuk legend Choi Kang-hee.

2023 Head-to-head

K League 1 Round 6 | Jeonbuk 2-0 Incheon United
K League 1 Round 13 | Incheon United 0-0 Jeonbuk
K League 1 Round 25 | Jeonbuk 2-0 Incheon

What To Watch Out For In Jeonbuk

Jeonbuk has experienced considerable turmoil this season. However, lately, there has been a noticeable improvement in the performances despite an unsteady first few months with their new Romanian manager. There are signs that Dan Petrescu is adapting his tactics to work better with the crop of players at his disposal before he can correctly get across his ideas in pre-season. The slight tactical tweaks are concurrent with the ongoing implementation of Petrescu's 'Don't Quit' football. The team appears a bit more polished in possession, and if you look closely enough, you can notice a slight change and improvement in passing and movement sequences. The team is beginning to mould.

The pressure to win is immense, even more so on home soil. Although they are hunting down Gwangju for third place in the league, Petrescu knows that this competition is the best chance his team has of qualifying for the ACL Elite. Additionally, allowing the prospect of a trophyless season to materialize is unacceptable for a club of Jeonbuk's stature and ambitions.

Coming off the back of some positive results and encouraging performances, it is a favourable time to play this fixture. With the team chemistry and other aspects starting to tie together nicely, it will be interesting to see how the team collectively embraces this challenge. Petrescu has this team playing as a unit, a hard-working and relentless unit. That is how Jeonbuk must play to beat Incheon. It will be intriguing to see how determined and drilled the players will be this Wednesday. How motivated and hungry they'll be to win the ball back, how much fight is present. That is what it will come down to.

Who to Watch For Jeonbuk

Ahn Hyeon-beom has evolved to be a key component in the side. He joined in the summer from Jeju United to replace Kim Moon-hwan at right-back, but his offensive ability is what he is known for. His versatility already made him a valuable asset, having the ability to comfortably slot in on either wing and anywhere down the right flank. More recently, he has been utilised more on the wing, where he is more suited. Even if he is deployed at right-back against Incheon, there will be opportunities for him to burst forward and cause the opposition defence problems while being protected by a midfielder or defender who will cover his defensive duties. When on one of his forward runs, he can quickly overlap on the flank, forcing a defender to close him down, and thus, could allow for an opening for Han Kyo-won, or whoever will be his partner down the flank, to exploit the exposed spaces.

What To Watch Out For In Incheon

K League United's Incheon United writer Luke outlines what to look out for and who to keep an eye on for the away side this Wednesday:

Incheon will come into this game knowing that their chances of qualifying for any continental football next year will likely rely on them winning the FA Cup. Sitting five points behind Gwangju in third place, it looks too big a task for Incheon to make up the ground – despite their good showing at the weekend. Ahead of the Blue-Black is the formidable challenge of beating a resurgent Jeonbuk in Jeonju on Wednesday evening, and then travelling to either Pohang or Jeju within four days to try and bring home the cup. Unbeaten in six in the league, Incheon have picked up big wins over Ulsan, Pohang, Daejeon and Seoul on the road this year, so they have it in them to qualify for the final; however, their record against Jeonbuk particularly is poor. Incheon haven’t beaten their hosts in Jeonju since August 2015 – notably, the last year that Incheon made the FA Cup final. That year, the final was also one-legged and played as a Seoul home game.

Heading into this contest, Incheon chose to rest most of their main first-team players last weekend, in a bid to exacerbate their growing injury woes. With Harrison Delbridge and Shin Jinho out for the remainder of the season, and Lee Myungjoo struggling with ligament issues, the first-team squad is looking a bit thin through the middle. To counteract this, coach Jo Sunghwan may look to the juniors to fill in the gaps. A mostly Under-22 team picked up a surprising 2-0 win at the weekend over Gwangju, and those players will be looking to force their way into the coach’s plans long-term. Should they be selected this weekend, they will have a huge opportunity to stake a real claim for minutes for the remainder of the season.

Who to Watch For Incheon

The story for Incheon this season has been when Gerso plays well, the team plays well. The tricky winger has scored seven goals this year, and also chipped in with seven assists. Most recently, a beautiful outside of the foot finish against Pohang secured a point for Incheon in the first round of Final A. He links up well with Hernandes, has a growing understanding with stalwart Stefan Mugosa and generally terrifies defences with his pace. If he is presented with the opportunity to run at the Jeonbuk back line this Wednesday, you’d expect him to add to his tally.

Final Thoughts

As Luke mentions, Incheon has failed to defeat Jeonbuk in Jeonju in eight years. The current cup holders should take confidence from this statistic. They also know full well they can beat Jo Sung-hwan's side, having done so twice this season. Those two victories came for Jeonbuk amidst some pretty shocking form. So, going into this one under much better circumstances can only be an added boost to already high confidence.

However, overcoming Incheon will surely be a challenging task. With their sights also set on securing continental football next season, coupled with the formidable presence of highly dangerous attackers like Gerso and Mugosa, they possess the capability to inflict significant damage on any side. The game has all the ingredients for a tasty and closely-fought encounter this Wednesday evening.


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