Professional soccer’s K League 1 2023 leaders Ulsan Hyundai (50 points) and Pohang Steelers (37 points), as well as third-place FC Seoul (33 points) and fourth-place Jeonbuk Hyundai (30 points), will meet in Round 21 this weekend. A win by the lower-ranked team won’t change the standings (it will if Jeonbuk wins by more than six goals). But there’s more at stake than just the standings.
Traditional K League rivals Ulsan and Pohang will play the 176th “East Coast Derby” at 6 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the Pohang Steel Yard. The Steel Yard had its second sellout of the season following Pohang’s 50th anniversary game.
Pohang leads the all-time series with 64 wins, 53 draws and 58 losses. Ulsan, which has been repeatedly stymied by Pohang on its way to the title in the past, has a slight edge in the East Coast derby with three wins, three draws and two losses since the arrival of former Pohang legend Hong Myung-bo as head coach. However, Pohang is in good form with two wins and two draws in its last four matches. In the league, Ulsan has won four straight and Pohang has won two straight.
Ulsan has been on fire all season long, scoring 2.2 goals per game. Lee In-gyu and Bako are tied for the team lead in goals with 10, while Rubikson is seventh with six. Pohang will be hoping to get top scorer Ko Young-joon (six goals) and league-leading assists leader Baek Sung-dong (seven assists) back from injury for the East Coast derby. In addition, foreign striker Zeca has found his goal-scoring touch, scoring in three consecutive matches.
On the same day, Seoul and Jeonbuk clash at 7:30 p.m. at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. Jeonbuk has been in strong form against Seoul, going 18 games unbeaten (13 W, 5 D). Their last loss was in July 2017, six years ago. They also played to a 1-1 draw in the 11th round this season, when they were coming off a bad run of form.
Jeonbuk slumped to 10th in the standings, below the relegation zone, after a poor first half of the season, but they have improved their fortunes with four wins in their last five games. Dan Petrescu’s first game in charge was a 0-2 defeat at Gwangju FC in the 19th round, but he followed that up with a 4-0 home win in the FA Cup quarterfinals against Gwangju four days later, and a 2-0 home win against Jeju United in the 20th round. This is another home game, so they’ll be well positioned to continue the momentum.
Seoul lost Hwang Eui-jo, who had been the lifeblood of their attack, to a contract extension. He hasn’t scored a multi-goal game since Round 13 against Ulsan in May (2-3 loss). The team is unbeaten in its last four matches with one win and three draws, including a 0-0 draw against Daejeon Hana Citizen in Round 20 when it was unable to finish off an attacking move despite being on the front foot, so it’s not looking good. 안전놀이터
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