After a midweek FA Cup distraction which witnessed a host of K-League One teams fall at the first hurdle and all but clear a path for a Bluewings v Daegu final it’s time to get back to main event and league action. Results last weekend saw the top three begin to put a little bit of distance between themselves and the rest of the pack as Ulsan, Jeonbuk and Seoul all emerged victorious on their travels. The only other team outside of those three to win was Seongnam as they defeated a poor Pohang team 2-0 at home to move up to 7th in the table.
With Asian Champions League clashes next midweek we have four games on Saturday this weekend and two on the Sunday, on current form you can’t see there being many changes at the top come 6pm on Sunday.
All four ACL teams are in action on Saturday, with Jeonbuk being the only one away from home. First up we have Daegu, fresh from an FA Cup scare, hosting Pohang Steelers in the 2pm kick-off. Suwon FC almost knocked the FA Cup holders out midweek but surrendered a 1-0 lead with only minutes on the clock as they lost 2-1 with Daegu’s winner coming from a wild deflection in the box. It was a mainly reserve team that they put out and for the visit of Pohang you would imagine they’d be welcoming the likes of Jo Hyun-woo and Cessinha back to the starting eleven. Pohang, rather meekly, lost to Seongnam last weekend and followed that up with a 1-0 defeat in the cup at the hands of Suwon Bluewings. They were second to every ball in the 1st half at Moran and only Lee Seok-hyun looked like he was capable of creating something out a rather slow and flat midfield. Daegu should have the pace and guile to punish them.
Jeonbuk are on their travels again as they head to Sangju to face the Army. They came back from Jeju with a slender 1-0 win courtesy of Kim Shin Wook. They sit third in the table with two wins in a row but still don’t look like the dominant force of recent seasons. They have games against Seoul and Ulsan coming up in the next couple of weeks and they could well be the benchmarks for whether Jose Morais is cut out for the job or not. Sangju drew 1-1 with Gyeongnam last week after taking the lead albeit for the sum total of 6 minutes. They defeated Seongnam in the cup on Wednesday after a drab 0-0 match was sparked into life with a 10-9 victory in the resulting penalty shootout. They have’t won in four in the league and face a Jeonbuk team thirsty for victory.
Gyeongnam host Bluewings in the other 4pm kick-off while Seongnam travel to Ulsan for a 6pm kickoff. Gyeongnam, Bluewings and Seongnam are all locked on 8pts with ‘Goals For’ seeing Gyeongnam claim the final top 6 spot. Seongnam face an uphill struggle to get anything from an Ulsan team that before Wednesday night’s hugely unexpected cup exit were disposing easily of anyone who dared challenge them. The three teams have only 5 wins between them in the last five games and you wouldn’t bet against that number being the same come the final whistle at Ulsan.
The early kick-off on Sunday pits the league’s two brightest (kits) teams together as Jeju welcome Gangwon to town in a match that the hosts can ill-afford to lose. 3pts separate the teams in 11th and 10th respectively and if Gangwon are to return from the island victorious if would be a disaster for Jeju even this early in the season. Still the only winless team in the K1, Jeju did give their fans something to smile about as they finally overcame a plucky Gangneung City on penalties in the cup. They do have a far better squad than their position suggests and it might just take a victory to spark them into life. Gangwon lost in the league to Seoul last weekend and then bounced back in the cup to knock them out with Deric bagging a brace.
The final match of the weekend is the first Gyeongin Derby of 2019 as Seoul welcome a, technically, managerless Incheon United to Sangam. Seoul are sitting 2nd in the league despite not really getting out of second gear so far this season, a combination of luck, VAR and stellar goalkeeping having propelled them to heights they could never have dreamed of at the end of last season. They controversially defeated Gangwon last weekend with VAR hitting the headlines again as the K-League admitted Tuesday that the video reviewer “got it wrong”. Gangwon avenged that loss in the cup and did expose holes in the Seoul backline. Incheon prepared for this game by firstly firing manager Jorn Andersen and then crashing out at home in the cup to Cheongju. They are as injury-ravaged and they are tactically naive and it will take a huge performance for them to stop it being six defeats in a row.