After a week off for international duty domestic football returns this weekend with the first of the post-split fixtures. For some the international break is a welcome distraction and a time to rest and recharge the batteries and this is undoubtedly the case for most K-League players as international coach Uli Stielike continues to select his players on a ‘anywhere but Korea’ basis. And so after a rather disappointing international week for Korean football fans in which they yet again fell short in Tehran it’s time to get back to real deal and the bread and butter of the K-league.
K-League Classic Round 34 Previews
The Classic has now split into two groups, one that will compete for the title and the automatic ACL spots the other that will fight to avoid relegation and the play-off spot against the best from the Challenge. Unlike last season, this year we have really competitive matches in both groups and with all to play for it should be a tense end to the season for most teams.
First up we have the Championship Group….
Jeonbuk v Jeju United (Sat @ 3pm)
Jeonbuk welcome Jeju to the Jeonju World Cup Stadium for a match that would really have been practically meaningless were it not for the host’s 9pt deduction a couple of weeks ago, now though it is a match which could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title and also ACL qualification. Jeonbuk still remain undefeated so far this season in the league and as undoubtedly impressive as that is they have found themselves snatching a draw from the jaws of victory on several occasions. They have drawn four of their last five matches and in fairness that’s probably not really what you would call the form of champions. Jeju have put together a late run of form that has seen them edge above Ulsan into third place and with two wins in a row they will be feeling confident about staying there. With both Jeonbuk and Jeju topping the scoring charts you would imagine there will be goals in this one…so I guess it’ll probably end up 0-0 now I’ve said that.
Prediction: Home Win : Jeonbuk 2 – Jeju 1
FC Seoul v Ulsan (Sat @ 3pm)
The other Championship group match on Saturday sees second placed FC Seoul welcome fourth placed Ulsan to the capital with, you imagine, as many eyes on Naver watching the Jeonbuk score as watching the action on the pitch. This will be the third time the teams have played at Sangnam in the league this season, as yet again we see why having a league with a split tends to be as unpopular as a certain presidential candidate at a sewing circle. Seoul have had their title bid reinvigorated by Jeonbuk’s punishment and now a cause that seemed lost is almost within their grasp again, although that’s usually when they blow it. They have won their last two league games which has pulled them to within 3 points of Jeonbuk who they also meet midweek in the ACL semi-final. Ulsan are firmly in the battle for an ACL spot although they will also have the safety net of the FA Cup which if they were to win would guarantee them a place in next year’s groups and probably an easier route to the last sixteen also. They lost their match, a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Incheon, so will be looking to bounce back in this one. It will be a close game with the last two matches, also played in Seoul, finishing in draws.
Prediction : Score Draw : Seoul 1 – Ulsan 1
Sangju v Jeonnam (Sun @ 3pm)
This season the K-League has decided to spread the group matches across the weekend instead of in previous years where one group played on Saturday and the other on Sunday. That means that on Sunday we have Sangju hosting Jeonnam as the only two teams with nothing to play for in the Championship group go head to head. Sangju secured their first every spot in the top group on the last day of the pre-split with a draw at home to Jeonbuk. They have been on a poor run of form since losing so many key players to their parent clubs and haven’t won in the last seven games and probably only the shocking form of Seongnam allowed them to make it into the top half. Jeonnam came from nowhere to make the Championship group but will probably view an ACL spot as being out of their reach. They lost to Jeju in the last round but had been unbeaten in six before that. Interestingly this game could see Sangju’s key player of 2016 Park Ki Dong start against them as he recently returned to Jeonnam. These games do tend to see goals and this could be another high scoring affair.
Prediction : Away Win : Sangju 1 – Jeonnam 2
Pohang v Suwon Bluewings (Sat @ 3pm)
At the beginning of the season if you had said that one of these sides would be in the Relegation group you would have been scoffed at yet alone the idea that both would find themselves among the bottom teams and potentially fighting to remain in the Classic. The year started with both sides playing Champions League football so it is quite the fall from grace for both. After a quite atrocious run of four defeats Pohang have won their last two games and are probably the only team in the bottom six that goes into the split with a modicum of confidence and security. They defeated Seongnam FC in the last round and even though the 4-1 result was a little more than they deserved they showed a hunger in that match that has been missing much of the season. Bluewings have only one win in ten games, I feel that needs repeating one win in ten, and have been a pale reflection of the team that finished second last year. They have amassed sixteen draws this season and although the optimist among you will say if they had won some of them they could be sitting at the top the flip side is just how lucky they are not to be bottom. None of their key players have turned up consistently this year and if they continue this way for the last five fixtures they could well be facing a playoff. This year all three matches have been draws, it could be tough to separate them again.
Prediction : Home Win : Pohang 2 – Bluewings 1
Seongnam FC v Incheon United (Sun @ 3pm)
The first of two matches in the Relegation group on Sunday is somewhat of a derby as Seongnam FC host Incheon United in a game few thought they would see again until 2107. If Pohang and Bluewings fans are disappointed to be in the bottom six Seongnam fans are almost distraught, and in fact only the prospect of potentially relegating their Bluewwings rivals is helping them crack a smile. Sitting atop the table in April Soengnam have gone on the kind of poor run that keeps managers awake at night. Only 4 points from their final 8 games has pushed them close to the edge of the relegation dogfight. They need to stop the rot asap or they might well end up being the team representing the Classic in the playoffs. Incheon on the other hand are in the middle of a purple patch with three wins from five keeping them above Suwon FC. Their away win at Ulsan in the last round raised many an eyebrow and ruined many a bet in the process. They won on their last visit to Tancheon, Kevin Oris the hero that day. That match also set the ball rolling for Seongnam’s drastic decline in form. This a huge match for both teams.
Prediction: 1 – 2
Suwon FC v Gwangju FC (Sun @ 3pm)
The final game to preview of the weekend pits bottom club FC Suwon against Gwangju FC in a match that is a huge match for the hosts as relegation rivals Incheon and Bluewings have tricky away fixtures. Suwon come into the match on the back of a quite incredible 5-4 away win in the Suwon derby in a game that must be a contender for match of the year. Although they have been at the foot of the table most of the season they are capable of rising to the big occasion and have taken quite a few big scalps over the year. Gwangju failed to make the top 6 after losing three of their last five matches and sit in 9th tied on 41 pts with Seongnam and Pohang. They were unlucky in their match when they fell at home to Seoul to a last minute Yun Il Lok goal. They of course have previous in the playoffs having defeated Gyeongnam back in 2014 but it’s an experience you can guarantee they don’t want to have to repeat. We have had two home wins and a draw so far this season between the teams and you just get the feeling that Suwon might have a little more desire to win than their opponents.
Prediction: Home Win : Suwon 2 – Gwangju 1