The final round of matches before the split throws up some pretty interesting fixtures, with the table-topper of Jeonbuk v Suwon probably being the highlight. There are also high stakes matches for the bottom four on a weekend that will go a long way to shaping how the final table looks.
First up that all important 1st v 2nd….
Jeonbuk v Suwon
Jeonbuk currently hold a 7pt lead over 2nd placed Suwon and are on a pretty impressive run of form, they haven’t lost a match (in normal time) since August 31st when they lost away to Jeonnam. They did lose the FA Cup semi-final on penalties to Seongnam on Wednesday and that may have shaken their confidence slightly. Suwon have also been impressive of late but they also tasted a bitter pill from Seongnam when they threw away a 2-1 lead in the 93rd min on Sunday. If Suwon were to win then Jeonbuk’s lead would be cut to a realistically ‘catchable’ 4 pts, if Jeonbuk win on the other hand then I think 10pts would be too large a gulf for Suwon to bridge. Barring injuries this match will also see the K-League Classic’s two deadliest hitmen go head-to head. Lee Dong Gook of Jeonbuk on 13, Santos of Suwon on 12.
Prediction Jeonbuk 2 Suwon 2
Pohang v Sangju
The last match at The Steelyard before the split sees Pohang take on Sangju. Both teams have are having poor runs right now and will not be happy with their current league positions. Pohang had been in contention for the title for most of the season but now 13pts adrift of Jeonbuk will probably have conceded any hope of keeping the trophy in Pohang. Sangju have been plagued by poor defending all season and now that most of their players have returned to their parent clubs it doesn’t look too good for them for the remainder of the season. They also lost at home in the FA Cup to Seoul midweek but in theory that should allow them to concentrate solely on staying up. On paper it has to be Pohang…..as long as they don’t need to rely on a penalty.
Prediction Pohang 1 Sangju 0
Seongnam v Ulsan
Another match with all to play for for Seongnam pairs them against Ulsan. Both teams need victories to ensure they don’t end up in poor positions come the split. After Jeonguk v Suwon this should be the next ‘must watch’ match of the weekend. Seongnam knocked Jeonbuk out the FA Cup on penalties midweek and although it was a ‘backs-to-the-wall’ performance for most of the second half onwards they are still the team in the final. They also came from behind twice against rivals Suwon last Sunday so you would imagine confidence won’t be an issue come kick-off. Ulsan are back in the top 6 again, albeit on goal difference, after defeating Sangju 2-1 at home last Sunday. Top 6 must be the minimum requirement for them this season after narrowly losing the title with the last kick of the ball last year. With Jeonnam away to Incheon at the same time they might feel a draw will be enough at Tancheon to see them into the split.
Prediction Seongnam 1 Ulsan 1
Gyeongnam v Jeju
Events midweek may have changed the dynamic of this one a little. FC Seoul are now in the final of the FA Cup and should they win it they would be guaranteed an ACL spot so for Jeju that might be good news as Seoul might fancy their cup chances more than stealing 3rd place and the final ACL spot. Also for Gyeongnam they will be hoping that Seongnam’s mind will be on the cup and a return to their old ACL stomping ground. Whether either or both of these ideas are true it now means a victory for either team would be huge. Last weekend saw completely contrasting results for both these teams, Gyeongnam losing 4-0 to Busan and Jeju trouncing Pohang 3-0. Another match that on paper and form should be easy to call for Jeju but you can never write off an injured animal and Gyeongnam need the points desperately.
Prediction Gyeongnam 0 Jeju 0
FC Seoul v Busan
Both teams are coming into this match off the back of good results. Seoul have reached the FA Cup final for the first time since they moved from Anyang, Busan will be bursting with confidence after destroying Gyeongnam last weekend . Seoul’s form this season has been indifferent with their away form being far better than their home. In Escudero and Molina though they have a goal threat and are always capable of snatching something. The midweek cup win will have boosted their morale and although may be a distraction in the coming weeks I’m sure Choi will use it to good effect. Busan are coming into this one off the back of two good victories against Gyeongnam and Jeju but with only one win in the last 10 away matches they would probably settle for the point that would keep them out the playoff spot.
Prediction Seoul 1 Busan 0
Incheon v Jeonnam
The final match of the weekend is a must win for Jeonnam against Incheon. Incheon are in that most undesirable of positions of their season being effectively over with 6 games to go. They can’t get into the top group and they really shouldn’t end up embroiled in the relegation battle. The mayor has recently faced criticism for claiming he wanted to relegate them due to the high costs of K-League membership and the financial disaster that was the Asian Games. Whether he actually does this we will have to wait and see. Jeonnam had an amazing start to the season and the prospect of that being completely undone by them not making the top group after the split is definitely not something they will want to face. With only one win the last 10 though it is a real possibility. I would also imagine the bottom half of the table would rather see them than Ulsan as opposition while fighting to stay in the league.
Prediction Incheon 1 Jeonnam 1