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Preview: Ulsan Hyundai Vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

league 2023.02.24   I   hits 1007

The 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 season kicks off this Saturday afternoon with reigning division Champions Ulsan Hyundai hosting FA Cup Winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in what is set to be an enticing clash between two sides expected to be leading the title race once more in 2023. K League United Editor Matthew Binns previews the curtain raiser.


After strong finishes to their 2022 campaigns, both Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors took the decision to prepare for this season by heading to Portugal and Spain respectively. Ulsan Hyundai competed in the pre-season tournament The Atlantic Cup alongside Danish sides Lyngby and Midtjylland in addition to English club Brentford's B side, winning against the latter. Ulsan also lined up against Swedish side Mjällby AIF in a friendly who they also defeated 2-0.

Meanwhile, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors based themselves on the outskirts of Barcelona for several weeks as they took on a number of teams in friendlies between training sessions. Draws against Swedish side Hammarby, American outfit Dallas and Norwegian club Molde, as well as a narrow defeat to Sarpsborg provided tests for Kim Sang-sik's squad ahead of a campaign where they will look to reclaim their title.

Team News

Ulsan Hyundai have made a number of moves in the off-season to further strengthen their Championship winning side. In attack, Joo Min-kyu has joined from Jeju after having previously played for the Horangi back in 2019. Since then, he has gone on to win the Golden Boot with the Islanders in 2021 and levelled the tally of eventual winner Cho Gue-sung last season. Joo will be looking to compete for a starting spot in a probable 4-2-3-1 formation that currently sees Martin Ádám most likely to lead the line. 

Elsewhere, Ulsan have reinforced by signing two players from Swedish side Hammarby IF, attacker Gustav Ludwigson and central midfielder Darijan Bojanić. Manager Hong Myung-bo will be hoping that they can continue their chemistry on Korea's East Coast. Ludwigson has had a solid scoring record throughout his career, capable of playing up front but also out wide, while Bojanić will look to replace Won Du-jae's distribution after Won joined Gimcheon Sangmu to complete his military service. One other new recruit for Ulsan is Urawa Reds attacking midfielder Ataru Esaka who comes in to replace Jun Amano who has made the switch to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and is likely to feature against his former employers on Saturday.

Jeonbuk manager Kim Sang-sik will probably continue to employ his usual 4-2-3-1 formation as he looks to squeeze in more of his team's winter acquisitions into an already strong squad. Golden Boot holder Cho Gue-sung seems likely to hold his starting spot over teammate Gustavo, while Song Min-kyu and recently signed Lee Dong-jun are expected out wide. Jeonbuk have also signed two more Brazilian attackers during the break. André Luis returns to K League having last plied his trade on these shores for Daejeon Hana Citizen in 2020 while Jeonbuk have also signed Rafael Silva who has plenty of experience on the continent having won the AFC Champions League with Urawa Reds in 2017. However, both of these new recruits are expected to make their debuts from the bench.


This will be 106th encounter between the two sides across all competitions, a fixture in which Jeonbuk leads by 44 wins to 35. Last season, however, the two met five times across league and cup, with them both winning twice and drawing once. 

Their last encounter at the Munsu produced one of the most historic moments in recent K League history, with Ulsan confirming an eight-point lead with three games to play and effectively steering themselves towards their first title in 17 years thanks to two injury-time goals from Martin Ádám, winning the game 2-1. With the memory still fresh in the minds of both sets of fans, Saturday's repeat of this fixture is bound to stir emotions once more.

What to Watch

Battle of the Golden Boots

Last season saw the race for top scorer ultimately decided by who had played fewer games after both Joo Min-kyu and Cho Gue-sung finished the season with seventeen goals apiece, with the latter being awarded the trophy. With Joo Min-kyu having now made the switch back to Ulsan Hyundai over the winter, both of these two top scorers will meet again on Saturday.

Despite having to compete with Martin Ádám for a starting spot, Joo Min-kyu has lit up the league for the last two seasons, finishing with the most goals in each campaign for Jeju United, scoring 22 and 17. Further to this, he also made six assists last year, the second-highest in his team. However, Joo's previous stint for Ulsan did bear as much fruit, with the striker bagging just five goals in a campaign in which he struggled with injury. With Hong Myung-bo now at the helm of the Horangi though, the 32-year-old forward may feel he can finally deliver the Ulsan fans the potential he promised back in 2019.

Meanwhile, after a strong end to the season, a sublime showing in the FA Cup Final and then World Cup heroics that forced him into international consciousness, Cho Gue-sung made the decision to stay at Jeonbuk despite a number of European suitors reportedly interested in his services in the off-season. While interest is likely to resurface later in the year, for now, Cho wishes to focus on his output for Jeonbuk and demonstrate his potential further. Cho faces stiff competition for the starting spot alongside Gustavo, but had shown by the end of last season to be in manager Kim Sang-sik's plans. Having scored the winner at the Munsu in the FA Cup semifinals, Cho will be hoping to pose a headache to the Horangi again this weekend.

Who to Watch

Jun Amano

While there is much to be made of both sides strike options, it is the departure and arrival of one attacking midfielder both clubs that is set to drive the narrative heading into this fixture. Having joined Ulsan Hyundai on loan at the start of 2022 from J. League outfit Yokohama F. Marinos, Jun Amano took well to life in K League and his East Coast surroundings, scoring nine and assisting one in league play. 

Ulsan manager Hong Myung-bo stated his desire to keep the midfielder but, upon returning to his parent club a deal was struck with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors for a 2023 loan spell instead.

Jun Amano will look to replace the space vacated by Jeonbuk's attacking midfield talents Kim Bo-kyung and Kim Jin-kyu and combine for a starting central midfield three combination that likely includes Paik Seung-ho and Park Jin-seop. Ulsan, meanwhile, will be hoping that their Amano replacement Ataru Esaka can gel quickly to fill the void and that their former player does not come back to haunt them on Saturday.

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.