The halfway point of the 2015 K League Classic season was Wednesday. For a recap of that round, click here. 19 games have been played, and thousands of fans have flocked to their respective stadiums. There have been dull goalless draws and exciting goalfests from all corners of the country. There have been countless bookings and even a few big suspensions, as well as a couple managerial casualties.
But halfway through the season, where are teams at? Which teams are excelling and which teams need to go back to the drawing board? Which teams’ transfers have stood out and which teams’ off-season moves have them scrambling to do better in this window? Although school may be out in North America, I have some report cards to hand out on the 12 K League teams. (I wanted to make this post in more detail but I grounded myself to a strict 300 word limit per team so I could get this out.)
Last season: Champion of K League Challenge
Pre-season expectation: Survival
Current position: 12th (1-5-13 record, 8 points)
After obtaining promotion, Daejeon have been… hmm, how to put this nicely… an absolute shitshow. Manager Cho Jinho showed early in the season that he was devoid of ideas and so tactically limited that we could probably just get someone on Twitter to do a better job than him. (Perhaps not, but you get the gist of it). His persistence with centrebacks who weren’t near the quality that they should be and had no chemistry whatsoever was simply appalling. I was singing Glory to God when he was sacked in favor for U-23 Team Assistant Manager Choi Moonsik. In the latest transfer window, they have made some young, attacking signings such as Ko Minhyeok and Han Euikwon, while getting rid of mis-firing Brazilians Sasa and Ricardinho.
What they’ve done well/strengths
Keeping the fans away from the stadium. Daejeon’s attendances are awful and have dipped under 1,000 at times during the season.
What they can improve on/weaknesses
Pretty much everything, as the stats reveal. Daejeon are worst in the league in scoring goals and conceding goals. But, I think I’ll single out one area where Daejeon needs to simply get better at – defending. More particularly, the current Daejeon defenders (especially the CBs) are too slow, always a step off, easy to beat. Teams simply need to run at the centrebacks to score or create an opportunity.
Mid-season mark: F
Projected finish: 12th, relegation (cries)
Well, with 8 points in 19 games, and firing your manager not even 25% through the season, and passing so terribly at times you could a) put me to sleep (has happened) b) give me a disease or something (hasn’t happened), you pretty much deserve an F. Even if you’re my team. Why are you my team. (Cries again).
Last season: 8th place
Pre-season expectation: Surviving comfortably, but top half longshot
Current position: 11th place (4-4-11, 16 points)
Busan came into this season in a new back five set-up, with the hopes of simply staying up and not having to face a relegation scrap. However, since the better part of the first half, they have sat in the unpleasant relegation playoff position. They boast(?) the second worst goal total in the league, and concede far too many evitable goals for my liking. Busan have also have failed to thrill the crowds at the Asiad with only 6 home points. Their Brazilian trio of forwards have also struck out. Bergson’s been released, Nilson’s disappeared and Wesley was injured (I think?) and no one’s heard anything since. In this window, Busan has brought in a new Brazilian, Elias, as well as swap winger Park Yongji to Seongnam for former KNT striker Kim Dongsub.
Glass half full
Busan have done what they tend to always do and provide the national team with a player ready to don the Taeguk Mark. Joo Sejong, the team lynchpin, has been called up once by Stielike and will likely be making the trip to the East Asian Cup this summer as well.
Glass half empty
Busan need goals. Badly. And I wonder if a 31-year-old midfielder-turned-striker in Choi Kwanghee and out-of-form player like Kim Dongsub will do to ameliorate the team’s goaldrought. Not to mention their lacklustre defending at times. Against Seongnam in Round 18, they conceded two goals on failing to track the late run into the box. These are the kinds of errors that can turn wins into draws, and draws into losses.
Mid-season mark: D+
Prediction for end of season: 11th
Busan have already thrown already too many points. Is it a lack of fitness? Concentration? Without players who can consistently find the back of the net, I can see (somewhat hesitantly) Busan just failing to escape the relegation playoff.
ULSAN HYUNDAI TIGERS
Last season: 6th place
Pre-season expectation: Challenging for Asian Champions League, perhaps even title
Current position: 10th place (4-8-7, 20 pts)
Ulsan Hyundai came into the season with a new manager, a new look team and new hopes. And, after a hopeful start that saw them pick up 10 points in the first 4 games, they have picked up the same total of points in their last 15 matches. They now sit just 4 points above the relegation playoff. Many of Ulsan’s transfers in the last window have been rather underwhelming. In fact, their 4 foreign signings are seldom featuring for the Tigers now, and the midfielders that were signed such as Ha Sungmin, Koo Bonsang and Kim Taehwan are not thriving under Yoon Junghwan’s direct style of play. There are no indications, however, that Ulsan will be dipping their feet in the transfer market this window.
Glass half full
Ulsan has a quality team. Kim Shinwook and Yang Donghyun, their two strikers, both have their places on the top of the K League scoring charts. Many of their players are consistent or emerging Korean National Team players and are of very good quality.
Glass half empty
Something is missing for Ulsan. On the surface, their tactic isn’t such a terrible one. It’s pragmatic. You’ve got a giant striker, quality fullbacks, two and two go together. But the lack of a cohesive centreback pairing combined with the inability to turn to a Plan B when the service for a direct style of play is a bit off, it’s not impossible to see why Ulsan would be struggling to rack up the points.
Mid-season mark: D
End-season prediction: 7th
Although Ulsan have had a terrible start to the year, I’m willing to dismiss it as just growing pains and a lack of luck. Ulsan have played 13 games that could have or have been decided by one goal, and if they can get more leadership in their backline, as well as convert and create chances, which they can do with the players that they have in their set-up, Ulsan can still try to crack into the top half.
Last season: Winner Promotion Playoff vs Gyeongnam (finished 4th in K League Challenge)
Pre-season expectation: Survival
Current position: 9th (6-6-7 record, 24 points)
Gwangju have been the surprise story of this season. After a slightly fortunate promotion to the K League Classic, they have taking the league by storm (relatively) and sit only 6 points out of the Asian Champions League (despite being in 9th currently). They have a tendancy to dominate possession with their pesky aggressive press and even after conceding, throw the kitchen sink at the opponent to try to get the tying goal. Bottom line is, they have been competitive in nearly every game and could very well be higher up the table if not for a somewhat understandable lack of attacking talent.
Glass half full: Look at this team. Gwangju, a team that few experts (and one, humble, biased blogger such as I) expected to be competitive this season. Only on three occasions this season have they participated in a game where the winner won by more than a goal. They have been competitive against the big boys of the league such as Jeonbuk, and they even beat Suwon. For a promoted team, that’s already pretty impressive in itself.
Glass half empty: The quality in this side, however, isn’t exceptional. Their squad didn’t improve a ton from the one that barely got promoted in the K League Challenge. And they aren’t converting their chances as they should be doing. Combine that with a very disappointing goalkeeping tandem and Gwangju aren’t as well off as people may think they are.
Mid-season mark: B+
End-season prediction: 9th
Despite my personal grudge and jealously-driven disgust of this team, Gwangju should be easily safe from the grasp of relegation. However, I doubt that they will be able to make the top half, as they are simply not converting the chances they create, and don’t really have a solution in-squad for that.
Last season: 5th Place
Pre-season expectation: Top half and hopefully more
Current position: 8th Place (7-4-8, 25 pts)
Jeju are always a bit of a wild card coming into every season. They usually come in with a fresh-set of foreigners and hope for a top half finish. Nothing spectacular, nothing terrible. Just average. This year, however, the outlook was promising. A pacy three-pointed spear (my analogy/metaphor game is off today) of Fernando Karanga, Kang Sooil and Ricardo Lopez, backed up with playmaking from deep by Song Jinhyung and Yoon Bitgaram. It was very promising, though things uncontrollably began to take a turn for the worse. Three became two, and then there was one, and now there are none. Injury to Karanga, suspension to Kang Sooil and I’ve lost track of Lopez but he’s not playing anymore. Brilliant.
Glass half full: Still, Jeju have scored the second highest amount of goals in the entire league, and despite their three attacking threats going down, still have their important playmakers who can thread accurate passes. Yoon Bitgaram has done so well in this respect he has earned a call to the K League All-Star Game.
Glass half empty: On the flipside to their attacking depth and prowess, Jeju’s defending can best be classified as “questionable”. Alexander Jovanovic, their ringman in organizing the defense, can only do so much if his teammates are unable to execute basic defensive plays under pressure.
Mid-season mark: B-
End-season prediction: 6th
I feel that I am being extremely generous to Jeju by predicting that they will finish 6th. It could happen, because the mid-table is so tight that any team could really jump up to 4th position in a fortnight of good results and good fortune. Jeju have been involved in 5 games that consisted of 5 or more goals this season. What does this stat reveal? They score a lot, but they concede a lot. If Jeju can ignore their horrendous showing against Seoul midweek (only 3 shots) and return to goal-scoring ways, they have enough depth on the wings and up top with Kim Hyun to break into the top half.
Last season: 9th Place, Korean FA Cup Champion
Pre-season expectations: Best case scenario would be challenging for top half in the league, and making it out of the Group Stage in the ACL
Current position: 7th (6-8-5, 26 pts)
This Citizen club has had to balance the Asian Champions League and the K League, and acquire decent depth on a tight budget, and halfway through the season, you can say they’ve succeeded. They surpassed expectations by giving the all-conquering Guangzhou Evergrande a run for their money in the ACL Round of 16. Now that they can focus on the league, Kim Hakbum’s side finds themselves with a decent shout at cracking into the top half of the table.
Glass half full: Seongnam were always going to need a few players to step it up this year, and they have delivered. Goalkeeper Park Junwon is fairly reliable in goal, while centrebacks Yoon Youngseon and Lim Chaemin have acquitted themselves as one of the best central defense pairings in the league. Kim Doheon has returned to the team and the veteran playmaker is the heart and soul of the success of the squad, while the Magpies have also watched as 23-year-old Hwang Uijo blossoms into a quality centre-forward who has all the main elements of the modern striker.
Glass half empty: Despite this, Seongnam have had a couple “WTF?!” games such as their failure to dispose of Yeungnam University in the KFA Cup until extra time. Hwang also has failed to convert many of the chances that are created for him, showing understandable shades of inconsistency. It is this inconsistency, and dependence on two or three players, that has them midtable and not higher.
Mid-season mark: B
End-season prediction: 8th
Seongnam will be involved in a battle to crack the top half. Although I have them missing out here, if Hwang Uijo consistently finds the back of the net, then Seongnam have a good shot at finishing the season above the split.
Second half to the post to come later tonight… then in the post after that, we have a special request for you, our readers… stay tuned!