Now that Jeonbuk have wrapped the title up with three games to spare all attention turns to the relegation battle. With one automatic relegation spot plus one play-off spot against the second best K-League Challenge team there is a lot to play for, or play to avoid. Things are too tight to call at the bottom but below is who I think will be the winners and losers, who will be celebrating with champagne and who will be miserable on the mokgeolli come the end of play on Nov 29th.
Jeonnam have been safe from relegation since before the league was finally split and the bottom six confirmed. Their manager, Hak Seok Ju, came out at the weekend and claimed he was struggling to motivate the players to perform in their remaining matches. A 1-1 draw at home to Seongnam and a 3-1 humbling away to Gyeongnam are proof that he still has some work to put into his motivational speeches before he challenges Obama for ‘speaker of the year’. News this week that he will not be re-signing as manager for next season will only add to the malaise that is spreading through the ranks at the Dragons. They can’t be relegated but they can still have an impact on those who can. They look likely to be ‘good for at least a point’ for the three teams left to play them.
Final Position Prediction – 7th
Busan are sitting pretty in 8th and are almost certainly safe from danger now. A 1-0 win over Incheon saw them leapfrog them into 8th. For large parts of the season Busan looked like they couldn’t buy a win but they’ve hit form at exactly the right point of the season. Four victories and one draw in their last five games is an impressive haul for any team least alone one that looked consigned to the relegation battle at the end of September. They sit six points clear of Seongnam in the play-off place so a victory at the weekend would see them home and dry, the fact they are playing Jeonnam at home increases the likelihood of all three points. They will still have to keep one eye on Incheon though or they could slip back into 9th.
Final Position Prediction – 9th
Incheon have lurched from ‘dead cert bottom’ to ‘safe’ to almost ‘back in the mire’ again. A draw and a defeat since the split leave them facing the potential prospect of a playoff spot battle if they fail to get something from their next match at home to Sangju. They were flying high before a two nil defeat against Jeonbuk but since then they have only managed 2pts from 12 . The fact they face the bottom two clubs next does mean that they have their fate in their own hands and will know that even two draws in those matches would be enough to secure their K-League Classic place for 2015. With Ivo and Lee Chun Soo in the middle of the park and Yoo Hyun between the sticks they should have enough quality to see themselves through the next couple of matches.
Final Position Prediction – 8th
I think Gyeongnam surprised most people with their victory over Jeonnam last weekend, for a long spell earlier this year they looked like they were favourites to go down but. like Busan, they have managed to find the results when needed. 4 pts since the split has seen them move 2 pts above Seongnam into 10th position. They play Seongnam at Tancheon this Sunday in what must be the biggest match of the season for both teams. An away victory, depending on how Sangju fare against Incheon on Saturday, could guarantee they avoid automatic relegation. They have Busan at home followed by Sangju away after Sunday and on paper this does seem the easier of the two team’s paths to end the season.
Final Position Prediction – 11th – playoff spot
Seongnam have put their fans through an emotional wringer this season. The highs of a home victory over rivals Suwon and of course the FA Cup final on the 23rd have been eclipsed by off the field antics and on the field performances. They have amazingly led in their last three matches yet have only 2 pts to show for it. They are a resilient bunch though and I wouldn’t write them off just yet. On Sunday they have the chance to put their final league position back in their own hands. A home victory over Gyeongnam would see them move up to 10th and then they have the FA Cup to look forward to before a trip to Incheon the Wednesday after. They’ve performed well against Incheon this season and if that was a ‘must win’ game they might edge it again. Their final match is back at Tancheon against Busan who might just have tuned out by then.
Final Position Prediction – 10th
Sangju will have it all to do if they are to remain in the K-League Classic for next year. The best they can realistically hope for is a playoff spot and then win that over two legs to stay up. They obviously have experience in the playoff having earned this season’s entry into the Classic by easily disposing of Gangwon last year. The irony is that they could face Gangwon again in this year’s playoff. Defensively Sangju have been poor this season and with a goal difference of -23 it’s no wonder they prop the table up. They are away to Incheon on Saturday followed by another away match at Jeonnam before a home match against Gyeongnam which could be the match that finally decides who stays up and who drops to the K-League Challenge. You would expect with those two away matches that it will be all decided before Gyeongnam come visiting though.
Final Position Prediction – 12th – Automatic Relegation