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Preview: Incheon United vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors


This weekend marks Incheon United’s penultimate home game of the season, when Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors visit the Sungui Arena. On the back of two disappointing results – first against this weekend’s opponents in the FA Cup, and then against Shandong Taishan in the Asian Champions League in midweek, the Blue-Black will look to get back on track and finish with a flourish.

Recent Form

Incheon are unbeaten in their last six league games, dating back to an early September defeat at home to Pohang Steelers. On this most recent run, they have beaten Jeju United, Suwon Bluewings and Gwangju. The team has also drawn on the road against Gangwon, Ulsan Hyundai and Pohang. When focusing on league performances, Incheon fans have little to grumble about since the end of the summer. This, however, doesn’t show the whole picture: lacklustre home and away defeats to Shandong, and exiting the cup in underwhelming fashion have shown that not all is rosy on the west coast. Incheon manager Jo Sunghwan prioritised the two cup competitions, only for the fixtures to fall flat. Out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage, Incheon now face an uphill battle to progress to the next round of the Champions League this year and to qualify for any continental competitions next year.

Jeonbuk themselves are in a similar position to Incheon and enter this fixture on shaky ground with supporters. The Green Warriors are feeling the pressure mounting following a 2-0 midweek defeat at the hands of Lion City Sailors of Singapore in the Champions League. This result, compounded by a 4-2 defeat in last weekend’s FA Cup final against Pohang, leaves one of Korea’s most successful clubs in recent years on the brink of their worst finish in more than a decade and likely confirms a trophy-less season for the Green Warriors for the first time since 2013. Despite these setbacks, recent league form has been relatively impressive, with three wins and a defeat in the last five games.

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What to Watch

This weekend, it is imperative that both teams approach the game as a must-win as they fight for continental qualification. With the overhaul of Asian club competitions, the league and the football association have announced that the league and the FA Cup winners will receive an automatic spot in next year’s Champions League Elite, with the third position going to third place should Pohang finish second. This trickles down to Incheon and Jeonbuk who would then be able to seal a place in ACL2 should they finish fourth in the table.

 

[READ: Pohang Steelers confirmed for 2024-2025 ACLE]

 

With Incheon’s focus shifting to the ACL and the FA Cup in recent weeks, they have been including more and more youngsters in their matchday squads for league games. This came to a head in the Gwangju game a fortnight ago, when Jo Sunghwan fielded seven under-22 players in his starting eleven and put four more on the bench. The outcome was a shock 2-0 victory and calls from the fans to feature more of the club’s youth prospects. The following games saw the team revert to experience, with a host of regulars returning to the line-up. This weekend is more likely to follow the latter, with the club keen to finish as high in the league as possible and hopefully secure more continental football next season.

 


Despite this, some youngsters are likely to feature as Incheon find themselves amid an injury crisis and a bit thin on the ground through the middle of the team. Shin Jinho has been injured on-and-off all season and won’t recover from his latest injury in time to play again before the end of the year. Additionally, Incheon posted on their Instagram page that Harrison Delbridge was also out for the remainder of the season. Midfield linchpin Lee Myungjoo and explosive winger Gerso have an outside chance of making the final games after the international break, but both will miss this match with Jeonbuk. With four key players gone from the lineup for the time being, it would be a good opportunity for Incheon to blood some youngsters. The game against Gwangju showed the likes of Choi Woojin, Kim Geonhee, Park Hyunbin and Lim Hyungjin to be disciplined yet tenacious, however; coming up against the might and experience of a Jeonbuk team out to make a point could be a different kettle of fish. Following some questionable defensive decisions in midweek in China, one might also expect to see defender Kim Dongmin return to the line-up. Sunday will pose a difficult decision for the boss, as he looks to ensure Incheon don’t let their season end with a whimper.

 


Jeonbuk have also had their fair share of injury problems this year and recently added two more to that list. Gustavo and Lee Dongjun sustained injuries in the ACL defeat in Singapore, with the latter appearing to have a season-ending injury. Despite this, the visiting fans will demand nothing but a win. A defeat against Incheon this weekend would push Jeonbuk down to fifth position, and even a draw would negatively affect their chances of securing a spot in the top three. With Gwangju four points and several goals ahead of Jeonbuk in the table, a third-place finish is already looking tough. The Green Warriors face Gwangju in the next round of fixtures, and if they can narrow the lead to fewer than three points, it will put their destiny in their own hands. From a Jeonbuk perspective, it is vital to avoid defeat in Incheon. 



Who to Watch


One man who has been playing like he has a point to prove in recent outings is Incheon’s Hernandes Rodrigues. Should Incheon go with experience over youth, and with the injury to Gerso in mind, Hernandes is likely to start and be the focal point of Incheon’s attack. Quick on the ball and with an eye for goal, he’s had a good season overall. He’s been without a league goal since his stunning last-minute winner against Jeju United in September, although he has found the net three times in the Champions League. With Incheon’s recent defensive woes, the hope of a positive outcome in this game could fall at the Brazilian’s feet.

Where to Watch


Fans inside Korea can watch games on Coupang Play. Fans overseas can watch this game for free on K League TV. Fans in countries with K League overseas broadcasting rights can also follow the game live on their television. The game kicks off at 2pm Korean time (GMT+9).

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