(Programming note: I’m going to try to bring more domestic coverage to the Tavern than before, it being summer and all.)
The K League Classic will see two of the biggest derbies in the league happen this weekend. On Saturday, it’s the second installment of the Super Match between FC Seoul and the Suwon Bluewings, and on Sunday, it’s the Jeolla-do derby between Jeonbuk Hyundai and Jeonnam Dragons.
Why don’t we start with a quick look at the table after 17 matches…
FC Seoul vs Suwon Bluewings
5pm KST, 4am EST ; TV: KBS1
After being humiliated in a shocking 5-1 defeat in the last Super Match, FC Seoul will attempt to exact revenge on their home turf against their fierce rivals Suwon in the 2nd installment of Korea’s El Clasico this season. Although attendances may be slightly dampened due to the MERS outbreak in Seoul, enthusiasm is high with both sides using social media to hype up the battle. This is also Park Chuyoung’s first Super Match since his return to the capital club, and FC Seoul’s social media team is painting up a Park Chuyoung vs Jong Taese battle in this game.
In terms of the standings, a Seoul victory would see them go up to 3rd in the standings at the highest, while a Suwon win will ensure that they will not lose ground in their chase of reigning champions Jeonbuk.
Prediction: Seoul struggled against 4th-tier Hwaseong midweek in their FA Cup Round of 16 tie (eventually coming out 2-1 winners), but are unbeaten in 5. Suwon’s form isn’t equally as impressive but boast the best offense in the league. 1-1 Draw
Pohang Steelers vs Gwangju FC
Saturday 7pm KST, 6am EST ; Streaming (Daum, Afreeca, Naver) only
In a clash of two teams who are extremely tight top end of the table, the Steelyard will be the battleground for Pohang and Gwangju. The Steelers, somewhat surprisingly, find themselves at 3rd place in the table, and are in good form, having knocked out Jeonbuk who had treble aspirations in the Korean FA Cup midweek. Gwangju have certainly been a surprise this year, sitting in 6th position, but that could change very quickly due to the tight mid-table.
Prediction: Pohang did burn some of their best players on that FA Cup Round of 16 tie while Gwangju rested. 1-1 Draw
Ulsan Hyundai vs Seongnam FC
Saturday 7pm KST, 6am EST ; Streaming only
With 1 win in their last 6 games, to say that the Ulsan Hyundai Tigers are struggling would be an understatement. Yoon Junghwan seems to have finally figured out what his best XI is – going for the two striker approach – and what his tactic will be – with two KNT-calibre fullbacks, longballs and crosses to Kim Shinwook. It was the lack of a real plan B that had them struggling against Daejeon Citizen midweek in the Korean FA Cup. Indeed, it was the return to Wookie later in the game, coming on as a substitute, eventually saw them come out winners after extra time, with a KSW brace to thank for the result. Seongnam had an awfully embarrassing game at Tancheon in their KFA Cup tie, needing extra time – and two gifts of goals – to beat Yeungnam University. The struggles meant they also had to use some of their best players as subs, including Hwang Uijo and Kim Doheon.
Prediction: With key defender Im Chaemin’s availability up in the air, I believe that Ulsan can hold their own on their home ground and deliver a narrow win. 1-0 Ulsan
Busan I’Park vs Jeju United
Saturday 7pm KST, 6am EST ; Local TV: CJ Hellovision Busan, Streaming otherwise
Jeju are in all sorts of disarray. First they lost their stalwart centreback Alex for a couple games, meaning they concede 5 goals in two games. Then they lose pacey, dangerous forward Kang Sooil to mustache-gate until the end of the season. And all along, they haven’t one a single game on the road. Not a single one! Plus, Jeju had to navigate a Korean FA Cup game midweek against Daejeon Korail. As strange it sounds, all the variables tip the balance in Busan’s favor.
Prediction: A win for Busan to put even more distance between themselves and the auto-relegation spot. 2-1 Busan
Incheon United vs Daejeon Citizen
Sunday 7pm KST, 6am EST ; Streaming only
Daejeon are beginning to get some traction. A dramatic draw against Jeju midweek (which they could have won with the last kick of the game) and coming back twice against Ulsan midweek in the FA Cup. Adriano is finding form, the new shape and tactics (3-4-3) are working relatively well. Although Daejeon still do not have a home win, and although they were forced to use some key players midweek, I’m feeling oddly optimistic about Daejeon’s chances.
Prediction: Win number 2 for Daejeon against an Incheon team who have 1 win in their last 7. 2-0 Daejeon
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Jeonnam Dragons
Sunday 7pm KST, 6am EST ; Streaming only
Jeonnam are in a good place right now. They come into this game as the most in-form team in the league, with 12 points in their last 6 games. A relatively easy booking of a Quarter Final FA Cup berth as well as a 4th place League position is something Jeonnam fans can be really happy with at this moment in time.
League-leaders and title holders Jeonbuk, however, tried to salvage their treble aspirations (K League, KFA Cup and ACL) midweek against Pohang, and ultimately were defeated at a Steelyard crowd that was delighted to play buzzkill. They come into the game with 2 losses in their last 6 (not something they are used to) and a draw last weekend against Suwon.
Prediction: The last time these two teams met, Jeonnam dealt a historic defeat of the Green Machine. This will be a test for Jeonbuk. Consistency is what champions are made of. Ultimately, it’s very difficult to look past Jeonbuk in Jeonju in this derby. Jeonnam beating Jeonbuk twice just doesn’t happen. 2-0 Jeonbuk
Korean FA Cup Round of 16
I mentioned the Korean FA Cup Round of 16 several times earlier – I wrote a Round review for K League United on a guest contributor basis (I’m not jumping ship, fear not Tavern-goers). Check it out here.
K League All-Star Game Voting
Only three days to go for the fan-voted K League All-Stars Best 22 to be announced. This year’s All-Star match pits former KNT manager Choi Kanghee against currently KNT manager Uli Stielike at the Ansan Wa~ Stadium (gotta love that name). Although we can pretty much get a general picture of the winners, there is one position in particular, goalkeeper, that could come down to the wire.
Kim Seunggyu (Ulsan) (91,053)
Kwoun Suntae (Jeonbuk) (75,920)
Kim Byungji (Jeonnam) (72,234)
Jung Sungryong (Suwon) (24,541)
Goalkeeper remains the tightest position. Only about 3,600 votes separate Kwoun from legendary Jeonnam keeper Kim Byungji.
Hong Chul (Suwon) (77,952)
Choi Chulsoon (Jeonbuk) (70,128)
Kim Chiwoo (Seoul) (63,045)
Jeong Dongho (Ulsan) (52,623)
A gap of 7,000 may be too much for Kim Chiwoo to close over Choi Chulsoon. Surprisingly KNT fullback Jeong Dongho is left at the bottom. Probably is most contested position, with all players receiving above 50,000 votes, and no one coming close to 100,000.
Kim Hyungil (Jeonbuk) (99,956)
Osmar (Seoul) (86,576)
Alex (Jeju) (75,125)
Jonjic (Incheon) (71,540)
Kim Wonil (Pohang) (61,484)
Oh Banseok (Jeju) (52,273)
Yoon Yeongseon (Seongnam) (50,524)
Lee Gyeongryeol (Busan) (30,018)
Interestingly, three of the four ‘Top 22’ centrebacks will be foreigners.
CHA DURI (Seoul) (116,772)
Im Changwoo (Ulsan) (62,356)
Choi Hyojin (Jeonnam) (50,760)
Lee Jongmin (Gwangju) (33,860)
Cha Cha Cha
Right Midfield (2)
Kim Seungdae (Pohang) (109,827)
Ko Yohan (Seoul) (75,782)
Kim Inseong (Incheon) (44,771)
Im Seonyeong (Gwangju) (33,278)
Kind of harsh on Im, because without him Gwangju wouldn’t be in the place that they’re in right now.
Central Midfield (4)
Lee Jaesung (Jeonbuk) (108,955)
Kim Doheon (Seongnam) (105,009)
Yoon Bitgaram (Jeju) (96,203) Ko Myongjin (Seoul) (61,447)
Joo Sejong (Busan) (48,485)
Son Junho (Pohang) (42,909)
Kwon Changhoon (Suwon) (40,690)
Cho Soocheol (Incheon) (23,798)
Left Midfield (2)
Yeom Kihun (Suwon) (107,508)
Leonardo (Jeonbuk) (104,472)
Kim Honam (Gwangju) (30,019) Ahn Youngwoo (Jeonnam) (21,479)
Lee Donggook (Jeonbuk) (108,577)
Edu (Jeonbuk) (92,563)
Kim Shinwook (Ulsan) (78,141)
Jong Daese (Suwon) (72,793)
Hwang Uijo (Seongnam) (54,755)
Park Chuyoung (Seoul) (53,931)
Adriano (Daejeon) (33,611)
Lee Jongho (Jeonnam) (33,125)
And last but not least…
The many faces of Choi Kanghee. Jalgayo from the TSQ!
— Jeonbuk_hyundai (@Jeonbuk_hyundai) June 25, 2015