Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Gwangju FC
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are already five points behind in the title race after the first two rounds. They host newly-promoted Gwangju on Sunday. The K League 2 champions will be looking to take advantage of Jeonbuk's poor form by causing an upset but will have to attempt to do so without Eom Ji-sung who is serving a suspension after his red card last week.
Pressure is building on Jeonbuk manager Kim Sang-sik after a frustrating draw against Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Optimism has been rising among the fans this year due to a bright transfer window and a promising performance in the defeat against Ulsan in round one. However, the performance against Suwon was different from what fans hoped for. The Bluewings were the better side overall and were comfortably in control for much of the second half. A theme throughout the first two rounds was a poor defensive showing. If that is to continue, it will be a long season for the fans of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
For Gwangju, it has been a strong start so far. A strong performance away to Suwon Bluewings in round one earned Lee Jung-hyo's side a 1-0 win through debutant Asani in the 89th minute. What followed was a 2-0 home defeat to FC Seoul. It was not a comfortable win for the away side. Gwangju did have some decent chances and thought they had taken the lead at the end of the first half but were denied by VAR. They are a side expected to be in a relegation scrap this year. But overall, it has been a positive display up to this point.
A major loss for Gwangju in this game is highly rated 20-year-old winger Eom Ji-sung who was sent off in last Sunday's clash with FC Seoul after receiving two yellow cards. For Jeonbuk, the big blow is losing Lee Dong-jun, who came off injured against Ulsan in round one and is expected to miss a few rounds. Rafa Silva will likely miss out as well. The new signing has yet to feature for Jeonbuk due to his lack of fitness.
Over the years, Jeonbuk have dominated this fixture. In the last ten meetings between the two sides, Jeonbuk has won eight, drew once and lost once, and over the past 12 years the sides have met in the league Jeonbuk have come out victorious 13 times with five draws and only one defeat. That defeat was back in April of 2017, a narrow 1-0 victory for Gwangju through Yeo Bong-hun's volley after a headed clearance from now-Napoli defender Kim Min-jae.
Can Jeonbuk perform at a high enough level to earn a much-needed three points?
What to Watch
Kim Sang-sik will be desperate for all three points on Sunday. With the quality of the squad at his disposal against a side expected by many to go down, there can be no excuses for failure. The outcome of this match will be based on how Jeonbuk performs. If we see a bright and attacking display, the likes of which were shown throughout the first half against Ulsan, it will likely turn out to be a fairly convincing victory for the home side. However, if the performance is not up to par like against Suwon, then it will offer Gwangju a great chance to cause an upset. The importance of this game for Jeonbuk is huge. This season could quickly turn into a disaster already if the winless run continues. After all, it was dropped points in games like this which cost Jeonbuk the league title last season.
How will Gwangju approach this game?
Gwangju will likely set up in a 4-4-2 as they did against FC Seoul and Suwon. They tactically set up well vs Suwon and stayed strong defensively, kept their composure and took their chance when it came. If Lee Jung-hyo plays his cards right, and Gwangju can hold off the Jeonbuk attack long enough, then there is a good chance Gwangju can get something from this game, especially if the green warriors continue their defensive frailties.
Jeonbuk: Cho Gue-sung
Who to Watch
Eyes have been on Cho Gue-sung from across the globe ever since his performance at the world cup that put him into the spotlight. He opened his account for this season with a penalty last week and will be looking to net many more this year. That he is vitally important to Jeonbuk is undeniable. Even if the team fails to perform well on the weekend, Cho will only need one or two chances to score and could be the decisive factor for a Jeonbuk win on Sunday.
Asani is not a proven K League player yet, but he has shown glimpses of what he may be capable of. He scored Gwangju's only goal of the season so far with the winner against the Bluewings. A composed and powerful finish. The Macedonian will be especially important on the wing with Eom Ji-sung out.
The match is available for free on tv.kleague.com