The K-League returned last week and while it might not have been a goal-fest of a weekend it did feel good to be able to watch some live football again albeit in fan-less stadiums. The games were spanned over 3 nights with Jeonbuk defending their crown on the Friday and Gangwon vs Seoul bringing up the rear on Sunday. This week the games are limited to Saturday and Sunday with three games on each day
Saturday, 16th May
Sangju Sangmu vs Gangwon FC (14:00)
Sangju started their campaign with a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Ulsan and, although early, did have the look of a team that know they are getting relegated no matter what. They do have a good squad on paper with national team regular Kwon Kyung-won and Jeonbuk’s Moon Seon-min two names that stand out although both had debuts to forget last weekend. It must be tough to remain focused knowing you are being relegated and that unenviable job falls on the shoulders of manager Kim Tae-wan who has been in and around the club his whole managerial career. They face passing experts Gangwon who completed 614 passes, almost 3 times as much as the opposition in their 3-1 victory over FC Seoul last weekend. That statistic was only overshadowed by an early ‘goal of the season’ contender from Cho Jae-wan who ingeniously flicked the ball past Yoo Sang-hun . They came from behind to beat Seoul with Kim Seung-dae scoring the 3rd and final goal. They looked assured in possession, quick on and off the ball and could very well clinch an Asian Champions League spot, or higher, if they can maintain that opening day form.
Daegu FC vs Pohang Steelers (16:30)
Daegu, under caretaker manager Lee Byung-keun, started their season with a share of the spoils at Incheon as both teams were unable to find the net in a rather bleak 0-0 draw. Dejan made his debut from the bench while fellow new signing Hwang Tae-hyeon was hooked at HT and replaced by Jung Seung-won. Daegu will be hoping for another season in the top six this year but a lot will depend on whether Lee is able to galvanize the squad in the same way as ex-manager Andre did . One positive for the Daegu fans was the appearance of Nishi coming off the bench to pull on a shirt for the first time since last May. Pohang recorded a straightforward 2-0 victory over Busan in The Steelyard thanks to goals from Stanislav Iljutcenko and Aleksandar Palocevic (penalty). Pohang, like Jeonbuk, pumped pre-recorded crowd noise into the stadium as the match went on which to be honest was better than I imagined it would be.Pohang will be looking to secure a return to Champions League football this term, although whether that might be as Champions we will find out, on their display last weekend I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Busan IPark vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (19:00)
Busan disappointed on their return to the top division and you have to feel for their fans after a four-year absence that they were unable to watch the experience live, even if it was a defeat. I mentioned last week that this was Romulo’s chance to finally shine on the Korean big stage and he’ll need to get more involved going forwards as he was often an isolated figure at Pohang as he definitely seemed to struggle. They will also be without Lee Jeong-hyup who is still out injured. They face a big task this weekend if they are to avoid propping the table up for another week. Jeonbuk had the legend that is Lee Dong-gook to thank for getting their 2020 title defence off to a winning start as his late header gave them all 3pts in a rather drab affair against Bluewings. The fixture is well-known for it’s fiery atmosphere at times and we were treated to the almost ubiquitous red card as Bluewings went down to 10 men. The Champions were not at their best it has to be said and you do wonder if it had remained 11v11 for the full 90 minutes if they would still have emerged victorious.
Sunday, 17th May
Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Ulsan Hyundai (16:30)
A global audience was treated to the enigma that is Bluewings’ manager Lee Lim-saeng on Friday night as he took his FA Cup winning squad to Jeonju to take on the Champions. The visitors fell to a late Lee Dong-gook goal as they huffed and puffed their way through the game with last season’s top scorer Adam Taggart especially looking frustrated at times as his teammates failed to provide many, if any, chances for him. They will be, of course, be without midfielder Terry Antonis who saw red for a rash challenge on Son Jun-ho and he really couldn’t complain about the early bath. Bluewings fans can be excited though at the performance of Doneil Henry as the Canadian international put in a solid debut and could finally plug the hole left behind when Matt Jurman left. Ulsan couldn’t have asked for a better start than that 4-0 thrashing of Sangju and they looked like a team determined to make up for disappointment in the previous two seasons. Kim Do-hoon’s men will travel to The Big Bird full of confidence and none more so than Junior Negrao who grabbed a brace. A victory over Bluewings would almost certainly leave them sitting pretty at the top and given their next two fixtures are against newly promoted sides Busan and Gwangju they might be there for a few weeks.
FC Seoul vs Gwangju FC (19:00)
Seoul might have gone into their opening K-League match in a confident mood as they had performed well in the ACL but that all came crumbling down around them on Sunday when they lost 3-1 to Gangwon. They took the lead through Park Dong-jin’s opener and looked fairly comfortable until Kim Nam-chun had to leave the field after having his head clattered by a rogue boot from Kim Young-bin. They led 1-0 at HT before watching helpless as Gangwon time and time passed the ball around them and seemed able to score for fun with even the usually reliable Osmar giving the ball away for the 3rd and final goal. They seem to have started the K-League the way they ended it last season and will need to figure out some way of plugging the gaps in their leaky defence. Gwangju lacked creativity as they fell to a 2-0 home defeat to Seongnam last weekend, they were rocked by two early goals and despite creating chances they lacked the cutting edge and composure to get back into the match. The Influential Felipe led the line up front alongside Marcos Urena but they were unable to find a way past a dogged Seongnam defence and a determined Kim Young-kwang. They won the K2 easily last year but they will need to make more of their chances if they are to avoid dropping back down there again next year.
Seongnam FC vs Incheon United (19:00)
Seongnam seemed to surprise more than a few people on Saturday night as they came back from Gwangju with all 3pts. Yang Dong-hyeon, who made the K League 1 team of the round, scored twice within the first 11 minutes to give The Magpies a dream start to the 2020 season. Yang linked up well with his new teammates and was a constant thorn in Gwangju’s side. Kim Nam-il has shored up the defence and they stood firm all night with close season signing Kim Young-kwang both marshaling them perfectly and being more than capable to deal with anything that did get past them. The Magpies were without defender Igor Jovanovic and captain Seo Bo-min while new signing Tomas Kis failed to make it off the bench, which all went to make the victory even more impressive. Lim Wan-seop’s first game in charge of Incheon resulted in a 0-0 draw with Daegu with their ability to effectively nullify Cessinha drawing attention. Incheon fan favourite Stefan Mugosa had to settle for a place on the bench with Nigerian striker Olanrewaju Kehinde making the starting XI ahead of him. Mugosa was on the scoresheet in the same fixture last season as Incheon won 1-0 and it will be interesting to see if he is able to add another, if given the chance of course.