From 2 losses in 21 games to 3 losses in 5 games, when will the clouds over Ulsan lift?

A dark cloud looms over the tiger’s den in Ulsan. Showers or a late long run?

The defending K League 1 champions have had a long summer. Ulsan has won one, drawn one, and lost three in the past 토토사이트 month, including a 1-2 defeat to Incheon United at Anbang and a 0-2 loss to visiting Gangwon FC on July 12. The team has clearly lost momentum after a dominant run that saw them lose only twice in the previous 21 rounds. In particular, the loss to Suwon Samsung Electronics (1-3) on March 15 and the defeat to Gangwon are two consecutive losses by the league leaders to teams at the bottom of the table, which heightens the sense of crisis.

“I’ve been here for three years, and (this is) the lowest mood,” Ulsan coach Hong Myung-bo said in a postgame interview after the Gangwon game. “We have to overcome this situation. There’s a feeling that we’re being chased, and that’s why we’re making rushed and unwanted plays.” Back in May, when the team was riding high on a five-game league winning streak, he said, “At some point, we’re definitely going to hit a rough patch.” That premonition proved costly.

Ulsan’s Martin Adam (center) reacts after losing 0-2 against Gangwon FC in the 2023 Hana One Q K League 1 match at Gangneung Stadium in Gangneung, South Korea, on Nov. 12. It was Ulsan’s first defeat in Gangwon in 11 years. Courtesy of the Korea Football Association

Ulsan is a dominant team. They dominate games with lots of passing, high defensive lines, and organic movement on the field, and they’ve used that dominance to dominate the league. Recently, they’ve started to struggle to translate that dominance into goals. Commentator Kim Dae-gil said, “Ulsan’s tactic is to push forward and build up, so they are always at risk of being counter-attacked in the back of the defense. The lack of finishing from the front led to an increase in counters.”

The front line has been blunted. Having scored the most goals in the league this season (45), Ulsan’s cumulative expected goals (xG) is 36.5. In 26 games, they could have scored about 36 goals, but they scored about 9 more than that. Their goal determination metric, which is actual goals scored divided by expected goals scored, is 1.23 (the higher the number, the better the determination). Only FC Seoul (1.34) is more decisive than Ulsan. However, based on the past month, Ulsan’s Goal Decision Index is 0.62, the second lowest among the league’s 11 teams.

Ulsan head coach Hong Myung-bo watches the game against Suwon Samsung on March 15. Courtesy of the Korea Football Association

“The pressure and stress of winning in a dominant system accumulated, and along with fatigue, the overall physical condition of the team dropped,” Kim Dae-gil explained. This is the same explanation as Hong’s diagnosis that the “feeling of being chased” led to “rushed play”. Specifically, Ulsan has only scored three goals this season as a result of injuries to winger Uhm Won-sang, who has been pressuring opposing defenses from the flanks, and the absence of defensive midfielder Park Yong-woo, who moved to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates last month.

That hasn’t changed the fact that Ulsan still dominates the league table. Ulsan has 57 points, 11 more than the second-place Pohang Steelers (46). That’s a gap that can only be overcome by dropping four games. Protecting that margin of safety is Ulsan’s task with 12 games remaining. The first test will be the ‘Hyundai Derby’ against Jeonbuk Hyundai at Munsusu Stadium in Ulsan on May 19. Hyundai has a 1-1 record in the derby this season.

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