The K League 1 is doing something different this year and actually coming up with a really cool name for the final round before the “split”! Today will be the K League Final and it’s going to be a lot of fun. All matches will begin at 2 PM KST/1 AM EST and I’ll explain below what is on the line. Let’s get into it. But first, here is the official K League video explaining the K League Final in Korean!
What is the KLeague Final?
The K League is a twelve team league that plays a 38 match season, which is standard for most men’s leagues. But if you do the math, this means that there is not an even way to play the other eleven teams in the league the same amount of times as all the other teams in the league. That sounds complicated. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. In the EPL, there are 20 teams and you play 38 rounds. That works out that you play each of the nineteen other teams once at home and once away. You can’t do this in the K League.
Enter the Scottish Premier League and their brilliant split system (h/t The KLeague Kilt for his home country’s amazing solution)! The twelve teams all play 3 matches against the other eleven teams. This means that round 33 is the last match of the 33 rounds before the split! This year, the K League has branded today’s 6 matches as KLeague Final.
What is the Split?
Well, the split is what happens for rounds 34-38, the last five matches of the 38 match season. The top 6 teams will contest the Final A, playing each other once. The bottom six teams will contest Final B, also playing each other once. This presents a evenly contested final five rounds full of meaning. The Final A teams are playing for 3 spots in the AFC Champions League. The Final B teams are playing to avoid the bottom two spots, with the last-placed team facing automatic relegation to the K League 2. The 11th place team contests the promotion-relegation playoff with the winner of the K League 2 playoffs.
As you can see, the table is jumbled around 5-7 and those places are not decided yet. In an interesting twist, if you qualify for Final A, you are guaranteed to finish no lower than 6th place in the league. This is a unique wrinkle in that even if a Final B ends up with a higher point total than a Final A team, they will finish no higher than 7th place. So, Sangju Sangmu, Pohang Steelers, and Gangwon FC are still fighting to determine if they will be in the Final B or Final A places.
There are some tasty matchups here. Incheon United-Jeonbuk Hyundai is the one I will be watching and live-tweeting on my personal Twitter, since Incheon is my favorite team. However, I would imagine that the most hotly contested match will be Gangwon-Sangju Sangmu. Depending on results, a Sangju Sangmu victory could propel them into Final A and drop Gangwon FC into Final B. That’s some drama right there.
Incheon United-Jeonbuk: I think this one ends in a 3-2 win for Incheon. Incheon is on good form since getting out of the bottom spot in the league and will want to try to grab a spot outside of the relegation zone to start off the split rounds. They always seem to score against Jeonbuk but will find it tough to win against a Jeonbuk side not wanting to fall farther behind Ulsan in the title race. It’s going to have to be a late Mugosa winner to delight the home fans.
Jeju United-Gyeongnam: This is the relegation six pointer. Whoever wins keeps precious points away from a relegation-faced team. However, neither of these teams are having as good as season as they wanted. Gyeongnam struggled to replace the scoring of Marcao and the defense of Park Jisoo, bowing out of the AFC Champions League and staying rooted to the bottom of the table. Jeju United wanted to challenge for the title and spent as though they could do so. Instead, very little has gone right and they are now in danger of being relegated. I’m backing Jeju United to win at home 2-1.
Pohang Steelers-Ulsan Hyundai: This one isn’t hard for me. I think Ulsan will take care of business. They prefer to win 2-0 so that is what they will do. Maybe a goal from Junior Negrao and another from Kim Insung will do it.
Sangju Sangmu-Gangwon FC: The tension will be in the air in Sangju. However, I think that Gangwon will break the hearts of the fans in Sangju because I do believe they have much more in the tank compared to the military side. Their midfield is run by Han Kookyoung, a former KNT midfielder, and they have exciting wingers in Lee Youngjae and Lee Hyunsik. I think they win this 3-1.
Seongnam-Daegu: In a battle of K League “citizen” clubs, to me there will be one winner: the K League. I kid a little but to be honest these are two of the most vociferously supported clubs run by cities in Korea and it’s always a win to see a matchup like this. Daegu has secured their place in Final A and will want to push closer to FC Seoul to contest for that final AFC Champions League spot. I give them some more Edgar goals and a 3-0 win.
Suwon Samsung Bluewings-FC Seoul (Supermatch): This is the biggest derby on offer today. Suwon and Seoul hate each other and the fans will be loud at the Big Bird today. It’s hard to say who will win. However, I have analyzed both lineups and I am more partial towards the attacking options that Suwon have presented. Adam Taggart has been having a stellar first K League season and he is flanked by current and former KNT talent in Jeon Sejin and Kim Minwoo. I like that more than a two striker system of Park Dongjin and Park Chuyoung that FC Seoul will put out, even if it is supported by 2 CAMs, Lee Myungjoo and Ikromjon Alibaev (Uzbekistan U23 starlet). I give this one to Suwon, 2-1.