This will probably be shorter than I hope (time you know), but the K League Classic is into split mode this weekend and there’s a race down in the Challenge for those playoff spots. So, get your mind off of Korea’s dispiriting loss to Iran and the Stielike-Soria-Son/Ki fallout post-match, and start thinking about some K League!
I know Tim normally does previews and predictions, but I don’t have time and my prediction ability have been verified as crap. So, I’ll just present a more general picture of who is playing who and potential repercussions of the weekend’s results.
Jeonbuk‘s lead over Seoul at the top of the table sits at three points, and it’s possible that the capital side could be league leaders when they go to bed on Saturday night. Remember the first tie-breaker is goals scored, and Jeonbuk narrowly edges Seoul in that category (60 vs 58). It seems unlikely to happen though as Ulsan (Seoul’s opposition) doesn’t usually concede a lot while Jeju (Jeonbuk’s opponents)… uh… does. Jeju, it should be mentioned, also recently appointed a new manager in the form of former Pohang assistant manager Kim In-soo. Apparently, this is just a temporary move as current boss Cho Sung-hwan has been shifted to assistant manager while he obtains an AFC ‘P’ level license. Ulsan boss, Yoon Jung-hwan, has also been in the news recently as his agent was spotted in Japan and rumors swirled about the former Sagan Tosu boss returning to the J League (to take over Cerezo Osaka). Also to look for, apparently some fan groups are going to protest the league’s decision to hand Jeonbuk just a nine-point deduction. The final top half match sees Sangju take on Jeonnam in a match that is surprising they both finished top-half and, in reality, few will really care about (sorry).
Down in the bottom half Pohang host Suwon in a battle of underperforming “big” clubs while Seongnam host Incheon, Suwon FC face Gwangju.
With the top three (Seongnam, Pohang, Gwangju) all facing a bottom three (Suwon, Incheon, Suwon FC) side, how these matches shake out could really make the relegation race exciting or kind of wrap it up. Obviously with four matches to go (after this weekend) there are far too many permutations to list now, but this could be a rare year since relegation was introduced, that there really is a race to beat the drop. If any (or all) of the top three sides win, it would certainly open a significant split between them and the bottom three. Gwangju vs Suwon FC should be the most interesting match as a Suwon FC loss could see Gwangju virtually confirm their safety for next season (11 points with 12 points to play for). Seongnam and Pohang could do the same should they beat Incheon and Suwon respectively. Conversely any win for the bottom three could really drag the top three into the scrap (especially if Suwon FC beats Gwangju). In theory, if the bottom three all win, then the gap from 7th to 12th would be just five points, and the gap from 7th to 11th (the playoff spot) would stand at just three.
Like the Classic, the Challenge also has a race going on at the end. Ansan, if you haven’t heard, cannot be promoted to the Classic, so the highest-placed team other than them will get automatic promotion and then the next three will enter the playoffs.
Two big matches to watch for this weekend are Gangwon hosting Daejeon and Daegu hosting Seoul E-Land. Both Daejeon and E-Land are battling for their playoff lives. A Gangwon win ends Daejeon’s hopes of getting to 5th as they could only reach a maximum of 57 points. A Daegu win doesn’t end E-Land’s hopes, but it gives them a hefty dent as they would remain six points behind Busan with just nine to play for (although Busan and E-Land will meet on the final round). Daegu and Gangwon, while comfortable in their places for playoff spots, are battling for the automatic promotion. Daegu will of course remember the pain of last season when Sangju snatched the top spot on the final day, and Daegu would bow out to Suwon FC in the playoffs. They’ll want to avoid a repeat of that. Bucheon, who host Anyang, will look to both keep their nose in the automatic promotion race and put some space between them and Busan for the home advantage for the first playoff match. Busan, for the record, are the ‘bye-team’ this round. Leaders Ansan, who I assume can still claim a trophy (if not promotion), will take on Chungju, while in the nothing to play for match Gyeongnam (*Gyeongnam mathematically could reach 5th, but would need to win all four remaining games while Busan would have to lose all three of their games) face cellar dwellers Goyang.
For fans of youth football, yesterday the K League clubs announced their list of ‘special’ players that will join either the first team next season or enter university (but the club retains their rights). Sorry, in Korean only.