Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs. Daejeon Hana Citizen

Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs. Daejeon Hana Citizen
Writers' Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs. Daejeon Hana Citizen

Dan Petrescu has had a full pre-season and his squad looks like the Jeonbuk of old, stacked with proven stars and the envy of most of the teams in the league. Lee Min-sung, now in his fourth year in charge, guided Daejeon to safety last season but isn't just aiming for a place in the top six in 2024. In fact, has made no secret that the aim is to reach the AFC Champions League. Both managers, then, will be looking for the teams to get off to a good start.

Daejeon managed to pick up five points against Jeonbuk last year with a win and a draw at Jeonju Castle and another stalemate at Purple Arena but Tiago, who scored in two of those matches, made the switch from the Purples to the Green Warriors over the winter.

There's been much change at both clubs with plenty of transfer activity, including a couple of other comings and goings between the two teams. For instance, left back Park Jin-seong joined Daejeon from Jeonbuk while promising attacker Jeon Byeong-kwan joined Jeonbuk on a free. Then there's Kim Seung-dae, a winter recruit at Purple Arena, who had a less-than-successful spell with Jeonbuk between 2019 and 2022 and may feel like he has a point to prove in what will be his debut for the club this Friday.

Jeonbuk columnistMatthew Binns sat down with his Daejeon counterpart Paul Neat to preview the match.

Paul Neat: Well, I suppose the first thing we should really talk about is our reactions or initial thoughts on our teams getting this fixture to start the season.

Matthew Binns: Now this is no offense to you, Paul. I am underwhelmed, because now bear with me, technically, this is the second time I've watched Jeonbuk when they've not been the FA Cup holder or the league winner. So for me, again 'woe is me,' but I'm used to seeing a trophy when Jeonbuk comes out of that tunnel, but I am excited because you and I actually don't watch games where we've both got a team on either side,... we've never actually watched a Jeonbuk-Daejeon game so there is a bit of excitement in that.

PN: I wasn't underwhelmed, but I was hoping for either a home fixture, obviously, or, if it's an away game, it's a ground where I haven't been before. Because it's a tough game against a big team away from home, it's like 'Oh, okay, this is tough. This is a very, very, very tough start to the season.' And because, as we talked about in the season preview pod,  I talked about how I thought Jeonbuk have done the best business in the transfer window, this is probably the best, the strongest squad in the division that we're going to have to face here. It doesn't really get any tougher than Jeonbuk away.

MB: You never really want the toughest club first game of the season. You want them like, give yourself a month to get the players settled before you have those games. Daejeon's a tricky fixture. It's not an easy one by any stretch because Daejeon and have also done an incredible amount of business and I think we're both going to be complimenting each other's teams here, but this is actually when you really think about it, this is actually a pretty good fixture. It's really local, fans can all get to it so it should be a good turnout but I think we both had different expectations of what it should be.

PN: Yeah, it's a good fixture, and it's almost a shame that it is on the same day as the East Coast Derby, because the East Coast Derby is the one where it's been picked for overseas broadcasting and English commentary, whereas this game is probably the second biggest. The other game that's been picked is Gwangju vs. Seoul, which  I think they were maybe hoping that Lingard might make his debut there. But I just hope it's not as tough, as I'm expecting it to be.

PN: Jeonbuk have played already this season. They played two matches, of course, in the ACL round of 16. What have we learned from those two games? Have there been any notable differences in terms of tactics?

MB: Yeah, simpler I think. It's just a simple 4-4-2. Okay, there was a slight variation against Pohang, probably like a 4-3-3 but more direct, more forward passes, more tackles, more aerial duels. They're also ceding possession, and we learned with Dan Petrescu's side, if you look through his last five, six, seven results in K League, every time Jeonbuk ceded possession, they usually won the game.

It was every time they had the ball, they lost or dropped points. And I think they've kind of gone back almost to that 2016 kind of mentality, defend from the front, get the ball back, and just be direct with it and just be not afraid to take a shot. The number of shots has gone up. I mean the last game, the last K League game against Ulsan, sure it was Ulsan, but Jeonbuk didn't have a shot on target in that final game of the season.

To kind of see them now getting more shots away and they are having more fouls. They are getting stuck in a bit more, but that Pohang game, Pohang is a difficult team. That's a difficult way to start your season with a Round of 16 match against. Sure, Pohang's had some changes, but the nucleus of that team is still there. They had a difficult game and then going to the Steelyard and getting the draw - fantastic. And I think it's just it just feels like it's back to basics a little bit more and obviously the talent of the players as well as it's going to help a lot in that sense, but they've been given more freedom to do something rather than, there seemed to be a bit of anxiousness before on what they should be doing. 'Well, should I be passing it forward? Should I be passing it sideways now?' It just seems like, oh, go on, get it sorted kind of thing. I mean, I think I'm very much oversimplifying it here, I'm just really kind of going off stats and what I saw, but it's also such a very small sample,  but I do think they are going to employ something very similar.

But I mean, what do you think of like Daejeon? How are they going to, because you've had a lot of signings and you haven't had the Champions League games to kind of get a bit of prediction. Daejeon did put their friendlies on YouTube, I know you watched a couple of them. What kind of systems are you seeing employed?

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PN: It's funny, I think K League managers can be quite guarded and keep their cards close to their chest. So having these ACL games before the season is kind of revealing their hand probably and it's kind of similar, like you just said, with Daejeon having those friendlies in Vietnam on YouTube, it kind of perhaps forced the manager to just sort of say 'Yeah, we are looking at changing to a back four," because that became quite obvious. They're playing with a back four (in pre-season) which is quite unusual. When they played a back four last season even a season before, it's like this is uncomfortable, they just never look comfortable in a four. And, that was the plan. They were going sort of change and the manager has spoken about how he wants to put aside the counter-attacking style from last year. If you want to be a real force in this league and progress in the way that they want to, they want play out from the back and possession-based football.

Now all this was done with Cho Yu-min in mind as being at the heart of the defense, he was given the captaincy again after he gave it up last year, but then he left all of a sudden. So, him gone is a huge loss. Now they have brought in Lee Soon-min, who obviously is a midfield player, but he will bring a little bit of the missing aggression that Cho Yu min's absence has sort of left. But in terms of the formation and the style, I think the manager said that they are having to sort of think about it again a little bit because they don't really have somebody else to play in that same way that Cho Yu-min did. So they might go back to a back three. I think the formation and the tactics that we see in this first game might not necessarily be how he approaches the season in general. Last year they just were so effective on the counter, it's a kind of a shame really because I do like that counter-attacking style and they had quite a lot of pacey players last year I know they also had Tiago to go along with if it didn't work. Obviously, he's gone now. So changing formations, changing the approach completely has me a little bit worried.

MB: I was going to say, are you worried about facing Tiago?

PN: Yeah, I am worried about facing Tiago because it's just written in the stars. There's similarities to the Kevin Oris situation in 2012-2013 because he was Daejeon's top scorer in 2012 and in that season I think he scored 16 goals and that set the club record for top-flight goals by a single player. Tiago, last year, beat that with 17. Both players then moved to Jeonbuk the season after. Kevin Oris scored against Daejeon in that first game of the season. So, I think Tiago will score against Daejeon on Friday. I am worried about facing him. Yeah. And he's gonna, I mean, it's not as if he was like sold.

They're putting a lot of faith in Gutek because he only played three times last year and he got injured. They are convinced from what they've seen in training and those three games that he's the real deal. He's a Latvian international, so he can't be bad. But, we're putting a lot of faith in that player. I was quite upset that we sold Tiago but he's 30 and we sort of made a profit on him. So, you think, well, business is business, we'll see.

Score predictions...

MB: I think it's going to be 2-0 Jeonbuk. I think it's just going to be another solid performance. It wasn'tthat good against Pohang but it was good, it was better than we had seen Jeonbuk in a while. There were still plenty of flaws. They did look a bit unassured sometimes in the centre of the park. [But] I do think it's going to be comfortable for Jeonbuk.

PN: I'm not feeling confident. I think a Jeonbuk win, maybe 2-1. I'd be delighted with a draw in this game, so I guess we'll see.