In K League 1 Round 27, which will see another instalment of Friday Night Football with relegation threatened Gyeongnam FC host Suwon Samsung Bluewings, the top two continue to jostle for position when new league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors take on Seongnam FC at home, whilst Ulsan Hyundai in second take on an in-form Sangju Sangmu side. Elsewhere, FC Seoul travel to the league's basement side Jeju United, Pohang Steelers host escape artists Incheon United, and Daegu FC take on Gangwon FC in the battle for fourth place. K League United Editor Paul Neat previews all six matches in K League 1 Round 27.
Friday 23rd August
#GYEvSSB: Gyeongnam FC (10th) vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings (7th) - 19:30
The latest edition of K League Friday Night Football sees Suwon Samsung Bluewings make the long trip to the South Coast to take on relegation threatened Gyeongnam FC. Gyeongnam failed in their attempts to build on the 2-0 win over Seongnam two rounds ago, the Reds' first in the league since March, after a Jeong Taewook goal for Daegu condemned Kim Jongboo's side to their 13th loss of the campaign. Suwon, meanwhile, thought they had done enough to maintain their place in the top half of the table after defeating Gangwon by three goals to one, Adam Taggart the hat-trick hero with his 14th, 15th, and 16th goals of the season, only for Sangju to edged past Pohang 24 hours later. Suwon, though, have the fourth worst record in the division for the amount of passes made into the final third. Gyeongnam though rank eighth in the division for the amount of interceptions made.
The two sides meet this Friday, both keen on picking up all three points. For Gyeongnam a win would go a long way in easing the pressure on manager Kim Jongboo as his side look to avoid the drop just two years after winning promotion. For Suwon, momentum heading into the FA Cup semifinal with Hwaseong next month will be key, if not simply to try and cement a top half finish. The two previous meeting this term ended in draws, a 0-0 at Big Bird in June after the two teams had shared six goals in a 3-3 draw in April. Last season, Suwon picked up two wins and a draw against Gyeongnam but both wins were i front of their own supporters.
Saturday 24th August
#ULSvSAN: Ulsan Hyundai (2nd) vs Sangju Sangmu (5th) - 19:00
Having had the lead at the top of the table for a couple of weeks, Ulsan's stronghold over the K League 1 summit was relinquished last Friday following the damaging 3-0 defeat to title rivals Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. A disastrous second half in Jeonju enabled the Green Warriors to score three times in just 13 minutes to condemn the Horangi to their first league defeat in 16 matches. Therefore, with just one point separating Ulsan from Jeonbuk, a win on Saturday will be seen as an absolute must. Ulsan haven't lost two in a row since the beginning of the 2018 season, and have gone more than two games without a win just once this term. The South Gyeongsang side can boast of the least ball losses per 90 minutes and the best through passing accuracy in the division with 42.8%.
The visitors to Ulsan Civic Stadium this weekend is Kim Taehwan's Sangju Sangmu side. Sangju find themselves in the dizzy heights of fifth place following the 2-1 win over Pohang Steelers last time out, their third straight maximum. With an exodus of first team players looming large, as is the norm for some of those completing their mandatory military service, Sangju will have to make the most of the likes of Kim Minwoo and Yoon Bitgaram before they depart to Suwon Bluewings and Jeju United respectively, the latter joined the 40-40 club last time out following his goal and assist at home to the Steelers. The last meeting between the two teams ended in a 2-2 draw thanks to a 90th minute Yoon Bitgaram penalty but the Horangi came out on top following the first meeting in 2019, a 1-0 away win on account of a Joo Minkyu strike. Midfielder Lee Gyuseong is back from suspension for Sangju but Ulsan are set to be without Dave Bulthuis for a little while longer due to injury. Sangju sit ahead of Ulsan in terms of the amount of passes made and have an almost identical passing accuracy rating of 84.3% to Ulsan's 84.5%.
#JHMvSFC: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Seongnam FC (8th) - 19:00
After regaining their place at the top of the K League 1 summit, reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will be doing their utmost to stay there. A rampant second half performance at Jeonju Castle which saw the influential Moon Seonmin heavily involved and a brace from Brazilian star Ricardo Lopes, enough to see Jose Morais' side leapfrog Ulsan following the 3-0 win in last Friday's blockbuster clash. Seongnam, meanwhile, will perhaps feel as though they have all-but sealed their place in K League 1 for next season with a hugely important win over ACL hopefuls FC Seoul at home on Saturday. A Moon Sangyoon strike just after half time was enough to seal all three points for the Magpies who now have a 14 point cushion over the dreaded relegation playoff place.
The two meet in Jeonju this Saturday for what will be the third and possibly final meeting between the two sides in 2019, unless Seongnam make a late push for the top six. A win for Nam Ki-il's side could be enough to move Seongnam above Suwon and into seventh should results elsewhere go their way. In the two previous meetings this term, Seongnam were able to hold the Green Warriors to a 0-0 draw at home but fell to a 3-1 reverse in the last meeting in North Jeolla. Seongnam, though, haven't beaten Jeonbuk in the league since 2013. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jeonbuk have the best shooting accuracy in the division with 42.8% of all shots finding the target, but have also won the most aerial duels with a 51.6% win rate. Seongnam, though, have the fourth best expected goals against (xGA) ratio in the league with 28 goals conceded from an xGA of 28.8. The Magpies will be without former Jeonbuk forward Eder through injury but defender Moon Jihwan and forward Lee Jaewon are both available again after serving their respective a one-match bans.
#DAEvGAN: Daegu FC (6th) vs Gangwon FC (4th) - 19:30
Still clinging on to a place in the top six, Daegu FC picked up their first league win in five and first at home since mid-May thanks to a narrow 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Gyeongnam last time out. The only goal of the game came from an unlikely source in centre back Jeong Taewook but manager Andre Gaspar will not have minded one bit. Gangwon, meanwhile, continue to light up K League 1 with "Byungsoo Ball", manager Kim Byungsoo's possession-based brand of football. Gangwon have had the most possession in K League 1 with 58.8% and have made the most passes in the top flight too and with a success rate of 86.1%, testament to the way the Chuncheon-based side play under Coach Kim. Daegu, meanwhile, with Andre's counter-attacking approach, have had the least amount of possession in the division with 44.8% but have had the most shots in K League 1, the most per 90 mins with 13.93, as well as the most from outside the box.
Since these two teams last met they have traded places in the league. At one point it looked as though Daegu were going to be the team which was hot on the heels of the top three but injuries to some key players began to take its toll on last year's FA Cup winners. However, with just two points separating Daegu and Gangwon, a win for the Sky Blues could put them back in pole position in the race for fourth place. Daegu are unbeaten against Gangwon so far this season with one win and one draw. The most recent was at DGB Daegu Bank Park in June where the spoils were shared following a 2-2 draw. Tsubasa Nishi and Hong Jungwoon remain long term doubts for Daegu but Edgar is back and is likely to start. For Gangwon, centre back Kim Ohgyu is suspended after picking up a sixth yellow of the season in the defeat to Suwon Bluewings last Saturday.
Sunday 25th August
#POHvINC: Pohang Steelers (9th) vs Incheon United (11th) - 19:00
Pohang Steelers' indifferent form in 2019 continued last time out following a 2-1 away reverse to Sangju Sangmu. An unlucky penalty, which appeared to strike the arm of on-loan Jeonbuk midfielder Choi Youngjun, was initially saved by goalkeeper Ryu Wonwoo but Yoon Bitgaram was on hand to convert the rebound from his original spot kick. Then, despite getting back on level terms through full back Kim Yonghwan, Park Yongji restored Sangju's lead just a few moments later. The defeat was Pohang's fourth in five outings and leaves them sitting in ninth place but with a ten point cushion over the bottom three. Incheon, on the other hand, remain in grave danger, sitting in eleventh and just a point above Jeju United in the automatic relegation place. The Durumi have managed to pick up two wins from their last five with just one defeat but remain as the league's lowest scorers with just 16 goals, 11 fewer than the Steelers.
The two sides meet at the Steelyard this Sunday for what is really a must-win game for the visitors Incheon. Pohang's cushion over Gyeongnam leaves Kim Kidong's men with no real urgency to pick up results, which could be used to Incheon's advantage, and a four point gap behind Seongnam means that no matter the outcome of Sunday's match, Pohang will still be sitting in ninth. From the two previous meetings this term, both sides have one win each, Incheon's was a 2-1 victory at the Steelyard just last month. United, though, have had the most shots against them this season, an average of 12.9 per 90 minutes, and the most ball losses with 105.29 per 90 minutes. Pohang, whilst Coach Kim's side have had the most touches in the box, they are the most fouled team in the division and have the worst defensive duels record in K League 1 with a win percentage of 55.2. Pohang have also been caught offside the most out of any team in the top flight with 41 and will be without promising youngster Lee Soobin after the 19 year-old midfielder picked up a third yellow of the season against Sangju.
#JEJvSEO: Jeju United (12th) vs FC Seoul (3rd) - 19:00
Jeju United remain at the bottom of the K League 1 table following last Sunday's 0-0 draw away to Incheon United in what was billed as a genuine relegation six-pointer. A chance missed it may have been but the islanders can take solace in knowing that they have beaten FC Seoul on home turf once before this season and so Choi Yunkyum's side will be hoping for a repeat of when the last time FC Seoul made the one hour flight to the island. Just last month, Jeju pulled off one of the shock's of the round with a 4-2 win over their capital counterparts, abruptly ending Seoul's unbeaten run of 10 matches. However, Seoul can't boast of such form this time around as the ACL hopefuls have managed just one win in their last five with three defeats.
Sunday's clash at Jeju World Cup Stadium may be something of a mis-match of styles; Jeju have the third most possession in K League 1 with 51.2% whereas FC Seoul have the second least with 47.1%, such is the nature of Choi Yongsoo's counter-attacking approach. Interestingly, Seoul have the second highest expected goals against average with 39.29 compared to 31 goals conceded. Ahead of Sunday's match, Seoul will be without captain Go Yohan through suspension and vice captain Park Chuyoung with a calf injury, meaning that Osmar could don the armband for the first time since 2016. Jeju have won three out of the last four meetings and are unbeaten at home against Seoul since 2017.
K League United Associate Editor