Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors ultimately finished the five day weekend with six points from two matches and found themselves within a point of the K League 1 summit thanks to leaders Ulsan Hyundai dropping points elsewhere. After overcoming what proved to be a difficult test in Suwon Samsung Bluewings last Saturday thanks to a Paik Seung-ho penalty, the reigning champions travelled south to Gwangju midweek and played out a 2-1 win. Paik was once again on the scoresheet, opening the scoring on the hour mark before teammate Koo Ja-ryong failed to clearly cut out a ball in and directed it into his own net. Fortunately for the Green Warriors, a mistake by Gwangju 'keeper Yun Pyeong-gook in injury time was pounced on by Song Min-kyu to claim the three points as well as the young wingers first goal for the club.
Incheon United head into this weekend having put an end to their three-match losing streak with a goalless draw against FC Seoul in the Gyeongin Derby. Fielding a heavily rotated lineup with the likes of Mugoša, Aguilar and Negueba all on the bench, Incheon weathered the storm for large portions of the match, with the capital club having two goals ruled out for offside. Still, having recorded a clean sheet and also having rested their key personnel, Incheon head to Jeonbuk in stronger spirits and could pose serious questions of the Champions.
Jeonbuk come into the match with almost a full squad to choose from. Only Modou Barrow and Choi Young-jun are unavailable through injury but the Green Warriors do have the depth to cover. Having rotated frequently, it seems likely Gustavo will start as striker instead of Stanislav Iljutcenko, while the wings will likely faeture Song Min-kyu and Moon Seon-min. The midfield three are likely to feature Paik Seung-ho and Kim Bo-kyung, while Kim Seung-dae could be handed another chance in the attacking midfielder role as the manager looks to keep his squad fresh.
Incheon United look likely to rotate back in some of the key first-team players having opted to rest them midweek. Stefan Mugoša, Elias Aguilar and Negueba are all expected to feature. However, manager Jo Sung-hwan will continue to be without Kim Kwang-seok and Kim Joon-yup, while Kim Yeon-su, and Jung Hyuk are doubts with short term injuries,
Given how often these two sides have frequented opposing ends of the table at the ends of each season, it may come as a surprise to those not fully acquainted with this fixture that Jeonbuk have only come out on top six more times than Incheon, leading by 18 wins to 12 in their 48 meetings, with the other 18 meetings being draws. Incheon have regularly caused Jeonbuk difficulties in the past and, even when on the wrong side of defeat, have sometimes made it difficult. Their last encounter in Incheon saw Jeonbuk trail by a goal for nearly the entirety of the second half until a last-minute effort from Takahiro Kunimoto spared the Champions blushes. Jeonbuk did come out convincing victors in their last clash in Jeonju, however, finishing 5-0 winners with both Han Kyo-won and Lee Seung-gi each bagging a brace with Modou Barrow capping it off.
The last time Incheon tasted success over Jeonbuk was at home at the start of the 2018 season, running out 3-2 victors, but you have to go back to August 2015 to find the Mariners last win on Jeonju turf. That day, a 65th minute Kim In-sung strike was enough to separate the sides in a 1-0 win for the visitors.
What to Watch
Can Incheon United's defence hold out?
In Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Incheon United head to Jeonju knowing that they face the division's top scorers, boasting an array of attacking talent. Of further concern to manager Jo Sung-hwan will be just how prone his side's defence are to conceding. Incheon have currently allowed the joint second highest number of goals in the division with 38, but what is more worrying is that it could arguably be more. Incheon have the worst expected goals against (xGA) in the league with 51.25, also making it the biggest discrepancy between actual and expected for a side. In short, plenty of scorable opportunities are being presented to their opposition but Incheon have come away relatively unscathed. The team's current form of three losses and a draw, further suggests that perhaps their fortune has been running out in recent weeks.
However, credit too should be given to the Incheon backline for exceeding such expectations. Incheon have conceded the most shots in the league but have also blocked the most. They also rank within the top five for defensive duels and interceptions, with Harrison Delbridge also ranking fourth in the division for the latter. Ultimately, Incheon are standing firm in the face of the onslaught, putting in showings that now see them on the cusp of a top-six finish if they can navigate the right results in these last few games.
Who to Watch
Joining at the start of the season from 2. Bundesliga outfit Darmstadt, there was a lot of anticipation for Paik Seung-ho's arrival in K League, having shown flashes of his potential for the Korean National Team as well as coming through the youth ranks at Barcelona. It has naturally taken a period of adaptation for the 24-year-old to become acclimatised with the division, but his talent has began to show in recent months, especially in the last fortnight with his efforts attracting international recognition. In the AFC Champions League Round of 16 against BG Pathum United, Paik proved to be one of the tournament's players of the round. The central midfielder made an impressive 136 passes from 165 touches over 120 minutes, completing them with a 93% passing accuracy in addition to accuracy percentages of 89% and 88% in the opposition's half and final third respectively, creating four chances.
Paik followed this up with an emotionally-driven performance against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, culminating in him stepping up and cooly dispatching what would prove to be the match-winning penalty in addition to yet another solid display. It would then prove his drive and determination in breaking through Gwangju's resolve on Tuesday afternoon, forcing the opener despite a fortuitous deflection to give his side the advantage. His passing statistics also reflected an encouraging display, recording a 95% passing accuracy for his 61 passes, with the majority moving the ball forward and assisting in Jeonbuk's attack.
With an international break looming, Paik Seung-ho is putting in performances to not only put behind him the disappointment of not being selected for the Olympic squad in the summer, but to warrant the attention and consideration of National team manager Paulo Bento. Another strong showing on Saturday may well be enough to convince doubters of a recall.
Where to Watch
Fans in countries with K League overseas broadcasting rights can follow the game live on television. More information can be found here
Alternatively, the match is also available for FREE on tv.kleague.com