It’s back! In the words of The Rock, finally the K-League has returned to our TVs albeit with closed stadiums and no fans. It’s been a long wait and here’s hoping it’s been worth it as the 2020 season kicks off on Friday May 8th with pretty much the whole footballing supporting world having access as numerous countries and TV stations have secured broadcasting rights, with even the BBC jumping on the K-League express and streaming the opening game live on the BBC Sport website. With so many eyes on the beautiful game in Korea we can only hope that it delivers and to be honest a Jeonbuk vs Bluewings game almost always does.
Below are brief previews and predictions for the games.
Jeonbuk Motors v Suwon Bluewings – Friday May 8th, 7PM
The 2020 K League season kicks off on Friday night as 2019’s Champions Jeonbuk hosting last year’s FA Cup winners Suwon Bluewings in Korea’s version of the Charity Shield. Jeonbuk, boast a side packed with talent and will be everyone’s favourites for the title again this year. They have been the dominant force in Korean football of late but were pushed all the way last year by Ulsan. They are managed by Jose Morais who replaced long-time Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee last year and seemed to struggle at times as he cut a passionate figure on the touchline. After one of the closest title races in years, Jeonbuk eventually finished the season as Champions due to goals scored, with Ulsan finishing in second after capitulating on the final day against rivals Pohang.
Suwon Bluewings had a bit of a disaster of a season last year but did redeem themselves by winning the FA Cup although they managed to make heavy work of that despite playing 3rd and 4th tier opposition from the quarter-finals onward. The one player who seems to make the difference for them is Australian international striker Adam Taggart who more often than not dug them out of a hole last year, they bolstered their squad in the close season with Canadian international Doneil Henry who they’ll hope can settle as quickly into K-League life as Taggart did
Ulsan Hyundai v Sangju Sangmu – Saturday May 9th, 2PM
Ulsan came agonizingly close to their first title in over a decade last season before, quite literally, throwing it away in the last game and quite rightly earning a reputation as ‘bottle merchants’ in the process. They lost two of their best players in the close season as Mix Diskerud’s loan expired and Kim Bo-kyung moved to Jeonbuk. They haven’t been slow in trying to bring players in though and have brought in Korean National Team goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo as well as former Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace midfielder Lee Chung-yong.
Sangju Sangmu are Korea’s army team with their squad being made up of players who are completing their mandatory military service, and therefore on loan from other clubs in the K League. Current players include internationalist Moon Seon-min, and Ulsan’s Oh Se-hun. Unfortunately for the team the city of Sangju no longer wish to house them and as such they will be automatically relegated at the end of this season and will also have to find a new base for next year.
Incheon United v Daegu FC – Saturday 4:30PM
Incheon United have carved a name for themselves as survival experts and always seem to be propping up the bottom of the league for most of the season, before somehow escaping relegation on the final day. With the season being shorter this year due to Coronavirus it will be interesting to see if that impacts on their ability to pull off yet another great escape this time around. As per the last two years all eyes will be on striker Stefan Mugosa who always seems to deliver when they most need him.
Daegu have been the surprise package in the K1 the last couple of seasons, winning the 2018 FA Cup and finishing 5th last year although they did seem to run out of steam and ideas towards the end of last season.They have brought in legendary striker Dejan from Bluewings and managed to keep Cesinha and they could form a lethal partnership. As mentioned above they lost Cho Hyun-woo to Ulsan but it will probably be the departure of manager Andre that will hit them the hardest.
Gwangju FC v Seongnam FC – Saturday 7PM
Gwangju are back in the top flight after being relegated to the K2 in 2017. They won the league comfortably last year spending only 2 weeks out of the top spot. There are rumors that they will have a new stadium at some point this year although much of the talk about it seems to have cooled a little of late. Touted along with Incheon as many a punter’s tip for the drop they will be looking at striker Felipe to bring his scintillating form of 2019 into the new season.
Seongnam really haven’t had the best of close seasons, manager Nam Ki-il has left for Jeju and taken Brazilian playmaker Eder with him, gone too is defender Lim Chai-min and goalkeeper Kim Dong-jun and it will be a different looking squad that will take to the field in 2020. They have kept captain Seo Bo-min and recently signed verteran goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang from Seoul E-Land. It does look like it will be a tough season spent scrapping at the bottom of the table for The Magpies but their fans will be hoping that their experience last year will keep them above the newboys of Gwangju and Busan.
Pohang Steelers v Busan IPark – Sunday May 10th, 2PM
Pohang ended last season on a high, denying rivals Ulsan the title and finishing 4th in the table narrowly missing out on an Asian Champions League spot on goal difference to FC Seoul. Russian forward Stanislav Iljutcenko had a big hand in that end of season flurry scoring 9 times in 18 games after joining in the summer. They have a strong squad and should be pushing for the ACL spot again this season.
After languishing in the K League 2 for the last four seasons Busan finally won promotion via the playoffs last season as they defeated Gyeongnam FC over 2 legs. Their promotion will give midfielder Romulo the chance to showcase his talent in the top flight after being their shining star in the K2 the past two years. Busan also have U23 Lee Dong-jun in their squad and he is being hotly tipped to make the step up to the main squad soon. Busan being back in the K1 also means that one of the best away trips is now back on the menu, not because of the stadium but because any excuse to get down to Korea’s 2nd biggest city and it’s beaches, bars and better makgeolli should be taken.
Gangwon FC v FC Seoul – Sunday 4:30PM
Gangwon will split their games this year between Chucheon (where they played last season) and Gangneung and they’ll be hoping that doesn’t impact on their form and that they can finish in the top half of the table again this year. They ended last season as the 3rd highest goalscorers and do tend to take a more cavalier attacking approach than most Korean teams.
FC Seoul had a strange 2019, on paper it looked like a vast improvement on 2018 when they ended up in the playoffs and almost found themselves relegated. They finished the season 3rd and qualified for the ACL but if truth be told it still baffles me as to how they finished so high up the table as every time I watched them they were poor. They have re-signed Brazilian striker Adriano who disappointed at Jeonbuk but who was a fantastic player for Seoul the first time around, if he can rediscover that form then he could well propel them into the ACL spots again this year.
Predictions for the games are below.