2016 K-League Classic Preview: Part Two

Part two of our 2016 K-League Classic Preview looks at Sangju Sangmu, Seongnam FC, FC Seoul, Suwon FC, Suwon Bluewings, and Ulsan Hyundai. We look at the key arrivals, departures, strengths, and weaknesses of each of these sides, before assessing their chances for the upcoming season.

Sangju Sangmu FC
by Jae-hyeok Lee

Key arrivals:
Lim Seong-taek (Suwon FC), Lee Kyung-ryeol (Busan), Cho Ji-hoon (Suwon), Cho Young-cheol (Ulsan), Park Hee-seong (Seoul)

Key departures:
Lim Sang-hyub (Busan), Lee Seung-gi (Jeonbuk), Hwang Su-il (Pohang), Lee Yong (Ulsan) [*all will be discharged in September]

Last season:
Champions. Sangju was tipped early to be a promotion contender due to their strong winter intake, and they did indeed do well. However they tailed off later, and Daegu made a charge up the table. The Gyeongbuk-do side faltered late, and Sangju nicked the title (and promotion) right at the death on goals scored (level on points and goal difference).

Despite losing Lee Jeong-hyeob last season, Sangju will still boast a formidable attack in the form of Lim Sang-hyub, Lee Seung-gi, and Hwang Il-su. The highly experienced Cho Young-cheol will also give them another weapon in attack. The defense will also have some decent players in Lee Gyeong-ryeol, Lee Woong-hee, Lee Yong, and Park Jin-po. The midfield and goalkeeper positions are a bit weaker, but Sangju should be able to trouble the smaller Classic sides.

As always with Sangju their biggest weakness is the set amount of time that they can keep hold of players. Of the eight players mentioned in the strengths section, five of them will leave in September, forcing a massive change for new coach Cho Jin-ho at the business end of the season.

Relegation (or playoffs). Sangju’s best hope for survival is to do something similar to Gwangju last season. Come out of the gates flying and pick up max points while the team is strong, and then hold on for dear life (and hope there are a couple other really weak sides) at the end. Ultimately, I believe that Sangju’s year in the Classic will be similar to the last time. They’ll put up a fight early, but gradually slide down the table and get relegated again.

Tavern Prediction: 12th

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 12.15.16 PMSeongnam FC
by Jinseok Yang

Key arrivals:
Hwang Jin Sung (Fagiano Okayama), Yoo Chang Hyun (Jeonbuk), Kim Dong Jun (Yonsei University)

Key departures:
Park Jun Hyuk, Park Jin Po, Kim Seong Jun, Nam Jun Tae (all to either Ansan or Sangju for military duty)

Last season:
5th. Seongnam was a bit of a surprise this season for me, as I certainly never expected them to play as well as they did. Well, they weren’t solid all season, as they had dips in form that saw them go down to 10th place in two stretches of the season, but overall, Seongnam was a pleasant surprise. Hwang Eui Jo established himself as one of the K League’s top strikers, and the Seongnam defense became quite famous as being difficult to penetrate – it was a year to be proud of for Seongnam fans. Unfortunately, some really important players left for military service, but Seongnam did a decent job of directly replacing the departed players in the attacker Yoo Chang Hyun (ex-Pohang player who was not getting any PT at Jeonbuk), the defensive midfielder Hwang Jin Sung (also ex-Pohang), and Kim Dong Jun (our U23 starting keeper).

Defense – it’s not common to see a defense as a strength for teams but the Seongnam defense was very good this year, even earning Lee Chae Min and Yoon Young Seon looks from the NT. They conceded 33 goals, 2nd only to Pohang and Incheon’s 32. And then there’s the rise of Hwang Eui Jo, who scored 20 goals in all competitions (15 in the league). In some ways Seongnam was the opposite of Jeju. Jeju went all out on attack and was awfully porous in defense (only Daejeon conceded more (72) to Jeju’s 56), while Seongnam was strong in defense but didn’t score all that much altogether, relying on mainly Hwang EJ (who scored more than a third of their goals) in one goal – two goal margin victories.

Seongnam’s squad is somewhat lacking in depth. There is a reliance on Kim Do-heon to create chances, and a lot depends on whether Hwang Ui-jo can maintain the form that he showed last year.

Midtable but on the upper end – if they stay consistent, they will be on the top half before the split league starts. Fortunately, Seongnam has done fairly well in the transfer window so I actually envision them as 5th or 6th – to me, Seongnam or Ulsan will be fighting for that 5th place spot.

Lineup Predictions: (again apologies for the old Ilhwa Chunma kit)
My assumptions here are 1) Hwang Jin Sung, Jung Sun Ho, Jee Jong Won will all be rotated in the 2 CM positions; it’s possible that Hwang Jin Sung will start more than I expect but I’m going off of last year’s CM pair here 2) Yoo Chang Hyun will slot into the starting XI in Nam Jun Jae’s absence 3) Kim Dong Jun wins the GK battle over Jeon Sang Wook and 4) Lim Chae Min is fit again.


Tavern Prediction: 7th


FC Seoul
by Steve Price

Dejan Damjanovic (Beijing Guoan), Shin Jin-ho (Pohang), Ju Se-jong (Busan), Yoo Hyun (Incheon)

Kim Yong-dae (Ulsan), Cha Du-ri (retired) Mauricio Molina (Independiente Medellin)

Last Season:
Last season’s poor start completely derailed any title hopes that the club may have had, and the upturn in form in mid-season was not enough to even lift them into the top three. They did have cause to celebrate last season, winning the FA Cup in front of their own fans.

Seoul’s likely attacking line-up on the opening day of this season couldn’t be more different to the opening game of last season. Park Chu-Young and Adriano arrived after last season had begun, and their arrivals coincided with improvements in form for FC Seoul. This winter, Seoul have brought back their legendary striker Dejan Damjanović, whose goal scoring record across Asia is simply incredible. Top, or joint-top, scorer in the K-League for three seasons, he was also the third highest scorer in the Chinese Super League last year. Dejan may be thirty-four, but Lee Dong-gook has proven that age is not necessarily a barrier to goal-scoring in the K-league.  Park Chu-young and Yoo Jun-tae provide quality back-up in the striking department, although a chronic knee problem may limit Park’s involvement this season.

At the back, goal-keeper Kim Yong-dae has made the move to Ulsan as a replacement for J-league bound Kim Seung-gyu. This has led Seoul to acquire Yoo Hyun from Incheon United. Seoul have also lost key defender Cha Du-ri, who retired at the end of last season. Their defense and midfield look a little bit shaky.

Top-two finish. Could win the league if they get off to a good start and get lucky with injuries. Definitely stronger this season than they were last time around.

Tavern Prediction: 2nd


Suwon FC
by Tim Lee

Key arrivals:
Jaime Gavilan (Atletico de Kolkata), Adrian Leijer (Chongqing), Marvin Ogunjimi (Stromsgodset), Lee Gwang-hoon (Pohang), Lee Seung-hyun (Jeonbuk)

Key departures:
Im Seong-taek (Sangju Sangmu), Japa (Meizhou Keija), Sisi (Lech Poznan), Kim Jong-woo (Suwon Samsung, end of loan), Kwon Yong-hyun (Jeju United)

Last season:
Playoff champions. Suwon FC were able to remain in the playoff spots nearly all season long and never made a major misstep that would see them fall out of these places. A thriller with Seoul E-Land and a late win against Daegu FC set them up for a two match playoff with Busan I’Park, and they delivered. Japa shone with 19 goals and 7 assists and helped promote the citizen Suwon club despite spending in the bottom half of K League Challenge clubs.

Scouting! Despite losing all of their promotion winning side pieces (which we’ll look at below), Suwon FC have gone out and gotten three impressive foreign signings, especially for a club of their low stature. Formerly of Fulham, and boasting nearly 200 caps in the A-League, Adrian Leijer is a good acquisition, likely to form a centre back partnership with Vladan Adzic. Former Belgian international Marvin Ogunjimi will look to fill the void up top while Jaime Gavilan will be an interest presence on the wing – at the peak of his career, he was transferring from Valencia to Getafe with a 4.8 million USD transfer fee attached.

There’s a huge drop off in quality after the foreign players, and bar Yoo Ji-no, none of them really have had a shake in the K League Classic before. They also have to integrate a new group of players – as the core group (Im Seong-taek, Kim Yong-woo, Kwon Yong-hyun) have left to other clubs.

Relegation (though lol it seems my fellow writers think otherwise). If their foreign players really shine then maybe Suwon FC have a fighting chance, but this is a very K League Challenge side otherwise and there is a very good chance that that is where they will return come November of this year.

Tavern Prediction: 10th

Suwon FC lineup

Suwon Samsung Bluewings
by Tim Lee

Key arrivals: Cho Won-hee (Seoul E-Land), Cho Dong-geon (end of duty), Lee Jung-soo (Al-Sadd)

Key departures:
Jung Sung-ryong (Kawasaki Frontale), Oh Beom-seok (Hangzhou Greentown), Kim Eun-sun (Ansan Mugunghwa), Seo Jung-jin (Ulsan Hyundai, on loan)

Last season:
Comfortably second last season, the Bluewings almost had their wings clipped by Pohang at the death, but were able to consolidate second place with late wins over the Steelers and Jeonbuk in the final rounds. They never really challenged Jeonbuk for the top spot however, and their ACL journey ended in the Round of 16.

Suwon’s real strength lies in their midfield. Yeom Ki-hun on the left wing boasts the best left foot in the K League and has a wealth of experience. Santos, who usually plays behind the striker, has championed this role with a dose of much needed relative consistency, and an ability to threaten the keeper from distance or by finishing the buildup. Kwon Chang-hoon can play pretty much any role in the Bluewings’ midfield, putting in shifts on the wing, tidying up the opposition’s errors or searing vertical runs.

The Bluewings’ new found lack of buying power has meant that the team had to go low-budget or in-house to fix the problems that plagued them last season. The striker role remains by and in large unfilled, though it seems like the untested Kim Gun-hee will play there this season. Also, Suwon seems a bit thin at the back, especially in the centre back roles, where Min Sang-gi and Yeon Jei-min, both fairly lightweight, unproven players, have not been impressive in the latter parts of last season and the beginning of this one. No Dong-geon needs his defensive line to hold strong, and if it allows itself to be pushed around so easily, Suwon are going to have problems.

3rd. The Bluewings’ inability to compete in the transfer window will consign them to be overshadowed by FC Seoul and Jeonbuk Hyundai. However, most of Suwon’s midfield remains intact from the previous season and their constant strength in this department will serve as their life line for this year at least.

Tavern Prediction: 3rd

Suwon Samsung lineup


Ulsan Hyundai
by Tim Lee

Key arrivals:
Seo Myeong-won (Daejeon Citizen), Kim In-sung (Incheon United), Lee Jeong-hyup (Busan I’Park, loan), Seo Jung-jin (Ulsan Hyundai, loan), Kim Yong-dae (FC Seoul), Lee Ki-je (Newcastle Jets)

Key departures:
Server Djeparov (Tashkent), Cho Young-cheol (Sangju Sangmu), Lee Yeong-jae (Busan I’Park), Kim Seunggyu (Vissel Kobe), Yang Dong-hyun (Pohang Steelers), Rim Chang-woo (Al-Wahda), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai)

Last season:
Poor. The season started with high hopes and expectations for Yoon Jung-hwan’s first year at Ulsan Hyundai – a proven manager, a (on paper) perfect target man and a dose of midfield creativity and fullback prospects. But it became evident that Ulsan ran out of ideas and their hopeless longball tactic was a broken record. Ulsan plummeted into the bottom half and only found some remnant of form in the waning weeks to finish a disappointing but respectable 7th.

They’ve had a great transfer window in terms of their re-build. Seo Myeong-won is one of Korea’s hottest prospects while Kim In-sung offers bounds of bursts of pace. Lee Jeong-hyup’s story is well documented and has a very good work rate, unlike their former centre forward, and Seo Jung-jin can slot in the midfield when necessary. Ivan Kovacec was also acquired last season, surely in this same spirit of “tear everything down and build it back up again”. He showed last season his fearlessness to dribble at players and take them on, but also the awareness to thread passes, and the confidence to cut in and shoot when the time was best.

Ahh! So much turnover. The 2016 squad is very different from the 2015 squad, and so will (in all likelihood) the systems they will be playing and the ideas they will be trying. It’s a perfect recipe for a slow start. Kovacec might accelerate this process if he continues his form from last season, but otherwise, most of these players have not played with each other.

4th-6th. If Ulsan come out of the gate at a good pace and click well, this rebuilding Tigers team could push for an ACL spot (if the FA Cup goes to a top three team, that is). However, they should be content if they finish 5th or 6th, as this season is all about getting back on the right track and stabilizing this rocky Ulsan ship.

Tavern Prediction: 4th

Ulsan Hyundai lineup

2016 K-League Classic Predicted Table

This league table was made by taking the average of each of the Tavern Writer’s predictions.

1st Jeonbuk Motors
2nd FC Seoul
3rd Suwon Bluewings
4th Ulsan Hyundai
5th Pohang Steelers
6th Jeju United
7th Seongnam FC
8th Jeonnam Dragons
9th Incheon United
10th Suwon FC
11th Gwangju FC
12th Sangju Sangmu

To read the previews for the other teams in the K-league, please read 2016 K-League Classic Preview: Part One.

About Steve Price 11 Articles
Writer on Korean, Asian, and global football. Runs the website www.kleaguefootball.com and writes for various other magazines and websites. Steve has also worked as FIFA's correspondent for the Korean national team.

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