Friday morning/evening, and we are now just two rounds away from the split of the K-League Classic. Jeonnam and Ulsan are on the bubble, with one of them securing a top half finish and perhaps even a shot on a Champions League spot (more on that later). There’s a relegation scrap, a promotion D-Day and a title race. There’s a lot of footy left and a lot left to decide in the K-League Classic and Challenge!
The K-League Classic Table (with two rounds to go before the split)
The K-League Classic Schedule makes teams play each other three times (for a total of 33 games) before splitting the top half and bottom half for the remaining 5 games (round robin with the teams in your half). No one in the bottom half after the split can move into the top 6, and no one in the top half after the split can fall lower than 6th place. For some teams, it’s really a waste of 5 games, because they either have no chance of winning the title or getting an ACL spot, or because the best they can do is not get relegated, even though they’re nowhere near that poor level of play.
The ACL Spots:
The top three teams in the K-League Classic get an Asian Champions League spot + the FA Cup winner. (Jeonbuk, Seongnam, Sangju and Seoul are in the final four.)
However, if the FA Cup winner finishes in the top three of the K-League, the fourth place team gets the final ACL berth. As Jeonbuk (and mathematically Seoul) can finish in the top three, the 4th place spot, which at the moment is between Jeju, Seoul and maybe even the 6th place team (Jeonnam or Ulsan) can still qualify for Asia.
Just to clarify, for the casual follower, 12th place gets relegation, 11th place gets a playoff against a K-League Challenge rep. The K-League Challenge winner gets promotion, while 4th place plays 3rd, winner plays 2nd, and winner of that game plays the K-League Classic 11th place team in a two-legged affair.
Incheon-Jeonbuk (2pm KST, 1am ET)
As much as I hate to admit it, Choi Kang-Hee (shudders) has done a fine job with Jeonbuk. They’ve only lost twice since the World Cup break, and have scored the most goals in the league, and conceded the least. Incheon will welcome the title favorites into their home, and, although they can’t reach the top half mathematically, they can still try to distance themselves as far away as they can from the relegation chaos.
Prediction: 2-0 Jeonbuk
Jeonnam-Seoul (2pm KST, 1am ET)
Both teams are currently in the top half, and both could drop down. Both teams are also in terrible form. If Seoul can win this game (or draw), they are realistically safe from the split. If Jeonnam win or draw, then they are safe unless Ulsan also is victorious this round. That would set up an exciting Matchday 33, in which both the Dragons and Tigers can finish in the top half. Seoul has yet to beat Jeonnam this season, losing one and drawing one game.
Prediction: 1-1 Draw
Jeju-Pohang (4pm KST, 2am ET)
This is realistacally now a battle for the last “guaranteed” Champions League spot. Pohang are 10 points off the leaders and I don’t smell a miracle comeback from a depleted team who have failed to find ways to win after the transfer of their top playmaker. Kim Seung-Dae’s absence during the Asian Games didn’t come at a good time either. Jeju faltered last weekend against Busan, but I think the (relatively) low-scoring side can turn things around.
Prediction: 1-0 Jeju
Suwon-Seongnam (2pm KST, 1am ET)
Out of nowhere, Suwon have themselves into a battle for the title. Although Jeonbuk control their own destiny, Suwon needs to get close to maximum points in their final 7 fixtures to try to take advantage of any Jeonbuk slipup. Seongnam on the other hand are in a battle of a different kind. Sunday is really a day for the relegation candidates, and the team averaging just 0.7 goals per game will really need as many points as they can get before they enter the clutch games.
Prediction: 2-0 Suwon
Busan-Gyeongnam (2pm KST, 1am ET)
It’s not exactly the most mouth-watering of fixtures, but to supporters of these two teams, this games matters. Busan, second to bottom, beat Jeju in a much-need surprise last week, sending Gyeongnam into the bottom. The two teams have drawn twice this season, but I expect Busan’s slightly superior form to give them the win.
Prediction: 2-1 Busan
Ulsan-Sangju (4pm KST, 3am ET)
Kim Shin-Wook is out for the rest of the season and for a team without a win in their last 5, not having their best striker around for the clutch two games before the split is an issue. Although they know that if they lose, only a Jeonnam loss could possibly keep their top half hopes alive, I’ll make a wild guess and predict that the Army side edge out the Tigers due to the latter’s lack of offensive bite now.
Prediction: 1-0 Sangju
K-League Challenge Fixtures/Table
Unless I’ve forgotten to carry the one or whatnot, Daejeon Citizen can clinch promotion this weekend. (squeals in delight). Daejeon play Anyang, and with a win and Ansan draw or loss at Daegu, Daejeon would mathematically win the K-League Challenge. If Daejeon and Ansan win, it’s not a mathematical but a logical certainty that Daejeon would win (with a +27GD compared to Ansan’s +9).
Daejeon-Anyang (Sat, 2pm KST, 1am ET)
Gangwon-Goyang (Sat, 2pm KST, 1am ET)
Choongju-Gwangju (Sat, 2pm KST, 1am ET)
Daegu-Ansan (Sun, 2pm KST, 1am ET)
Bucheon-Suwon FC (Sun, 4pm KST, 3am ET)
Ansan, Anyang, Gangwon currently hold the three playoff spots in that order, but Gwangju, Goyang, Suwon FC and Daegu aren’t far behind. The K-League Challenge does 36 rounds (Classic does 38), and Anyang and Ansan have a game in hand (against each other.)
What game/team will you watch this weekend? Let us know in the comment section below. Jalgayo!