It’s a Challenge getting into the playoffs – K-League Challenge Preview

 

This weekend sees the final round of the K-League Challenge and there are still two playoff spots up for grabs as Asan, Seongnam and Bucheon all fight for the right to face-off to see who will play Busan and ultimately the lowest placed Classic club to join Gyeongnam at the top table of the K-League Classic. Gyeongnam and Busan have been running away with things at the top of the table for what seems like the full year while everyone else (well maybe not Daejeon) have been making up the numbers in the race for best of the rest. After some surprising results on Saturday past it was left to Seongnam only needing a win to clinch one of the spots, alas they failed to show up yet again which sets up the 3 team battle in the final week. With the table looking like this……

 

The Challenge table heading into the final round.

Below is a preview of the teams involved and predictions for their final positions.

 

Asan Mugunghwa FC

The Police team have, for the most part, performed better this season than their flailing Army counterparts in the Classic. They recently saw a four game winning streak come to an end as they lost at home to Champions Gyeongnam after being 2-1 up with only 30 mins to play. They of course won the league last year under the guise of Ansan Mugunghwa but were prohibited from promotion due to some ‘office politics’ involving Ansan wanting their own team. This year they have flirted between 3rd and 5th pretty much since the season began and would surely consider it a failure if they were to fall out of the playoffs now. Their final game is away to 2nd placed Busan who are in FA Cup semi-final action this midweek against Suwon Bluewings, defeat there might just knock their confidence a little. Busan have won two and drawn three against the Police this year, can they go undefeated?

Prediction : 3rd (should probably have enough to come back from Busan with a point)

 

Seongnam FC

The team in the Challenge that most expected to bounce straight back up have been beyond poor this season, they started with a goal drought which lasted for what must have felt like an eternity to their fans during which time fan favoutite and focal point Hwang Uijo was transferred to Gamba Osaka. They then dumbfounded most by going on a run of fourteen games unbeaten including eight victories which clawed them into playoff contention. In recent weeks though they’ve looked devoid of both imagination and confidence and look like a team in a downward spiral, not too dis-similar to this time last year. They’ll need to find huge performances from somewhere if they are to claim the ultimate prize of playoff glory. Seongnam have arguably the hardest match of the three as they travel to champions Gyeongnam who don’t appear to be letting up. Seongnam have failed to win against Gyeongnam this season but did draw 1-1 in Changwon earlier in the year.

Prediction: 5th (a draw might not be enough)

 

Bucheon 1995

The final team vying for the playoffs is Bucheon FC who will be hoping to go one step further than last year when they lost in the playoff semi-final to Gangwon FC. This year they have been in and around playoff contention for the best part of the season, sitting between 3rd and 4th. They have a relatively strong squad and probably play some of the most attractive free-flowing football in the league although this does tend to leave them exposed at the back at times. In Waguininho they have one of the top goalscorers in the league and, along with Kim Shin, is definitely the one to watch. They travel to E-Land having lost heavily there back in August, E-Land have only their pride to play for but as we seen with Daejeon last weekend that can often be enough to squeeze a performance out.

Prediction : 4th (they have the easiest task of the three teams and should have enough to get the result)

 

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K-League Classic 2017 Round 31 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures.

The K-League Classic Round 28 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

Last week saw a rather surprising set of results as first Seoul fell to Incheon on Sunday before the all-conquering Jeonbuk crashed to a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of the Army on Wednesday. Wednesday actually saw one of, if not THE, highest scoring round of fixtures in my time in Korea as 25 goals were scored in a set of fixtures which  had some rather choice defending and some incredibly poor goalkeeping…. Shin Hwa Yong I’m looking at you. 

This weekend sees another round of fixtures that could have huge implications at both ends of the table. On Saturday we have…..

Incheon United vs. Suwon Bluewings @ 6pm

First up we have a Derby match as Incheon welcome Suwon Bluewings to home in what are usually fiercely contested battles. Incheon, amazingly,  are unbeaten in their last six matches and even more amazingly have only conceded the one goal which was against Sangju. They have chosen the exact right time to find form as they find themselves locked in a four-way battle to avoid the playoffs. They defeated rivals Seoul last Sunday, Song Si Woo being the last minute hero that day. Suwon have watched their slim title hopes dwindle away ever since Johnathan got injured against Seoul and have lost three of their last five with the most recent being a 3-2 defeat at home to Jeju United. That game witnessed one of the worst goalkeeping errors I’ve seen as a long punt up the pitch somehow bounced past the hapless Shin in goal. When you are missing the league’s best striker it’s not wise to give your opponents a goal of a start. Suwon haven’t lost this fixture this year and romped home 3-0 winners the last time they met….but then Johnathan scored a fantastic brace that day!

Prediction:  Away Win : Incheon 1 – Suwon  2

Ulsan Hyundai vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 6pm

Next up on Saturday is a match which should be as easy to predict as my drink of choice in a Soju tent in Yeouido as Ulsan and Jeonnam clash. Ulsan are strong at home and are enjoying a relatively solid patch of form with one the one defeat in the last two months, although it’s probably the draws that are hampering their title charge. They have found their shooting boots of late and you have to go all the way back to early July for the last time they failed to find the net. They sit just 6pts adrift of Jeonbuk and a win today could heap the pressure on them.  Jeonnam are quite the the polar opposite of Ulsan, they have lost three in of their last five and in fact haven’t won since the start of August. They are getting dragged into the playoff battle but unlike Incheon and Daegu they don’t really look like tough opponents. Ulsan will definitely be favorites here even though Jeonnam destroyed them 5-0 earlier in the season.

Prediction:  Home Win: Ulsan 2 – Jeonnam 0

Sangju Sangmu vs. Jeju United @ 7pm

The final match on Saturday sees Sangju Sangmu and Jeju United face off after both teams recorded vital victories midweek. Sangju dug deep to come back from 1-0 down at Jeonbuk as first Joo Min Kyu then Kim Ho Nam found the net to give them a much needed 3pts. Joo’s goal has seen the campaign to get him in the National Team getting mentioned again as he is beginning to find his feet in the army and ultimately the Classic. They still have a long way to go to secure a place at next season’s top table but that is now two wins in a row and an 11pt gap over Gwangju.  Their opponents today though are THE in-form team of the moment, and have won eight and drawn two of their last ten games. It’s that kind of form that’s been needed to keep pace with Jeonbuk and after midweek Jeju find themselves only 3pts behind the league leaders. A win today would heap a whole lot of pressure on the boys from Jeonju and as we saw last year they don’t exactly excel under pressure. Jeju again had the form of Yoon Bitgaram to thank for their winning ways and the decision to bring him back in the summer is proving to be a cracking piece of business. Jeju have won the previous two meetings by three goals, 3-0 and 4-1 but today could be a little closer.

Prediction:  Away Win : Sangju 1 – Jeju 2

K-League Classic 2017 Round 29 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

The K-League Classic Round 28 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

With the split fast approaching we are entering that period where every point becomes a prisoner as some teams look to define their season by which half of the table they finish in. For Gangwon, failure to land a top six spot would be embarrassing after their pre-season wheelings and dealings, for Pohang it would confirm that last year wasn’t a blip and they are in fact no longer a giant of Korean football. Of course for others the split throws up different concerns with Jeonbuk aiming for a title and Gwangju aiming for survival.

 

This Saturday we see a massive clash at the bottom while Gangwon and Suwon have the chance to put some pressure on those teams above them.

Gangwon vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 3pm

The early game on Saturday afternoon is between two of the sides that are vying for probably the final spot in the Championship Group as 6th placed Gangwon and 8th placed Jeonnam Dragons clash.  Gangwon lost at the weekend to Jeonbuk Hyundai in what can only be described as a goal-fest as the fans were treated to a 4-3 win for the league leaders and an incredible seven minute hat-trick from Lee Seung Ki. Gangwon have continued their early season erratic form and have only two wins from their last five. They are still managerless and it’s safe to say the ‘Orange Experiment’ hasn’t exactly been a roaring success. They do sit 6pts clear in sixth place though and should really see themselves happy come the split. Jeonnam also lost last weekend as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Suwon Bluewings. Their form has been poor of late and they now have only one win from five. Jeonnam haven’t lost this year to Gangwon and there have been goals in both games, there should be more today.

 

Prediction:  Home Win : Gangwon 2 – Jeonnam 0

Sangju Sangmu vs. Gwangju @ 7pm

The second game of the day, and one of the final evening kick-offs of 2017,  is a huge match at the foot of the table as the bottom two teams meet. Sangju got yet another pasting last weekend as they were defeated 4-2 by Ulsan and you have to almost go back to the pre-Trump era to find their last win! They have been a real disappointment and now that they are beginning to drip feed players back to their parent clubs they can only get worse. Gwangju find themselves 5 pts below Sangju going into the match but at least managed to stop their losing streak when they drew last weekend vs. Incheon. They, like Sangju, have been woeful all season and you get the feeling that the players have resigned themselves to a season in The Challenge next year. Sangju have won both matches this year and might just have the mental edge….but then again Gwangju have Kim Hak Bum pulling the reins now and he doesn’t like to lose.

 

Prediction:  Draw : Sangju 0 – Gwangju 0

Daegu vs. Suwon Bluewings @ 7pm

The final game of the day is a clash which on paper should be a forgone conclusion but in reality has all the potential to see an upset as Daegu welcome The Bluewings to town. Daegu seem to have freed themselves, slightly, from the shackles of the relegation battle and Suwon are still hoping for a league and cup double however unlikely that may be. Daegu come into the match on the back of a huge victory over Pohang in a game with as many red cards as goals. They are undefeated in four games and their Brazilian coach Andre really has them difficult to beat while dangerous on the front foot.  Bluewings got a much needed win last weekend what they skelped Jeonnam 3-0 with the diminutive Santos among the goals. There were huge concerns for the blue massive after Jonathan’s injury but the 2014 Golden Boot winner has stepped up to the plate to ease their fears. Bluewings won the last fixture 3-0 but this one should be closer.

Prediction: Away Win: Daegu 1 – Bluewings 2

K-League Classic 2017 Round 28 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

 

 

K-League Classic 2017 Round 28 Previews – Sunday Fixtures

After what feel like an eternity the K-League Classic is back. International breaks are a necessary evil in football, especially when Shin is picking the likes of Lee Dong Gook and Yeom Ki Hun, but there is nothing like good old fashioned domestic football to get the pulses racing…..okay in Korea maybe it garners a slight raise in blood flow. The Classic returns with some crackers as Jeju visit Seoul and Jeonbuk welcome Gangwon in matches which should have a huge say in both the title and ACL battles.

 

The international break is over!!

 

Moving on the weekend’s matches and below are the previews for the two Saturday games. 

Ulsan Hyundai vs. Sangju Sangmu @ 7pm

First up on Saturday is the clash between third placed Ulsan Hyundai and the struggling and relegation threatened Sangju Sangmu. Ulsan have slipped from second in the table after only managing the one win from their last five games, with the other four being draws. They have struggled to kill teams off of late and find themselves 6pts adrift of leaders Jeonbuk. They drew away at Seoul before the international break after taking an early lead and have only managed 28 goals in 27 games which is far cry from Jeonbuk’s 50. They really need to find that killer instinct again if they are to keep their ‘slimmer by the week’ title chances alive.  Of course if you want to find your goal-scoring touch again then who better to play right now than Sangju? The army have been terrible of late, with a solitary point from the last five games. They look like a team that have resigned themselves to the relegation battle. As well as a lack of points there has been a lack of discipline and they’ve racked up a couple of red cards in recent weeks. They are a good team on paper but just seem to forget that when they cross the white line. Ulsan won the last encounter 3-1, a similar result could be on the cards this week.

Prediction:  Home Win : Ulsan 2 – Sangju 0

FC Seoul vs. Jeju United @ 7pm

The second game of the day has everything required to be the match of the round as Seoul welcome 2nd placed and ‘in-form’ Jeju to town. This one could go a long way in deciding the final ACL spots for 2018 as a defeat for Seoul could leave them 7pts behind the Bluewings come Monday morning. Seoul come into the game on the back of that draw against Ulsan and although they came from behind in the match they will still probably consider it 2pts dropped. It left them a whopping 12pts behind Jeonbuk and their title defence is almost certainly over. The biggest problem Seoul seem to have is a lack of pace upfront and have been heavily relying on Yun Il Rok for the creative burst from midfield. Jeju, on the other hand, are going through a purple patch and have won three in a row. They are looking very much like the only team that can stop Jeonbuk this year. They played last week when all the others had a rest and came back form Gwangju with a 1-0 victory. With a goal difference of +24 they are not exactly struggling to find the back of the net and seem capable of getting goals from anywhere and everywhere on the pitch. Seoul won the last clash 2-1, Jeju will be looking for revenge….

Prediction:  Away Win : Seoul 1 – Jeju 2

K-League Classic 2017 Round 26 Previews – Sunday Fixtures

K-League Classic 2017 Round 26 Previews – Sunday Fixtures

Yesterday was ‘Derby Day’ in the K-League as we had the Jeolla Derby and The Supermatch with the former finishing in a 1-1 draw. The Supermatch was played in front of almost 30,000 at Suwon World Cup Stadium with a rather embarrassing Kwak Kwang Seon OG giving FC Seoul the victory. There was also a much-needed 2-1 victory for Incheon United as they won away at Sangju in a result which pulls the Army team right into the relegation fight

Moving onto today’s action below are brief previews and predictions for this Sunday’s clashes. 

Gwangju vs. Daegu @ 7pm

The first game of the day is a huge  relegation battle between bottom side Gwangju and tenth placed Daegu in what will undoubtedly be a tense affair. Gwangju crashed out of the cup mid-week after taking Suwon Bluewings to extra time and will certainly be less rested than their opponents.  In the league they’ve been incredibly poor and have only managed the one win in the last five or so. They signed Irishman Niall McGinn to help keep them in the Classic but he hasn’t featured since their victory over Jeonnam. They will need to find inspiration and soon if they are to avoid facing E-Land and Daejeon next year.  Daegu have been playing reasonably well of late and have picked up seven points from their last four games including a hard-fought draw against FC Seoul last weekend. They are a good team on their day but tend to keep those performances for teams with a bigger reputation, it will be interesting to see if they can raise their game for the trip to Gwangju and indeed they lost here earlier in the season.

Prediction:  Score Draw : Gwangju 1 – Daegu 1

Ulsan Hyundai vs. Pohang Steelers @ 7pm

The second game of the day is also the highlight game as Ulsan welcome Pohang to town in what is, I guess, a Southern Derby. Ulsan are performing better this year than last and are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup after knocking Sangju out midweek. In the league they are also looking strong and inflicted defeat on leaders Jeonbuk in the Hyundai Derby last weekend, Lee Jong Ho scoring against his old team. They have a good squad and unlike other teams in The Classic they do tend to play as a unit more than relying on individuals. As commented many times on here Pohang are all over the place right now and  have only one win in six which was a victory over Gwangju. They drew 1-1 at home with Jeonnam last weekend and look a team that is lacking confidence and belief. They also lost Kim Seung Dae to a rather ridiculous five match suspension after he was red carded against Jeonnam. It’s safe to day nothing is going right for The Steelmen right now. Ulsan have both the clashes so far this season and on current form a repeat would certainly seem the logical bet today.

 

Prediction:  Home win : Ulsan 2 – Pohang 1

Gangwon vs. Jeju United @ 7pm

The final game on Sunday comes from the the Ski jumping slopes of Gangwon as 6th place hosts 4th in a clash which might just go some way towards the final ACL spots.  Gangwon finally put an end to their losing run as they defeated the much maligned Sangju (I feel everyone has beaten Sangju in the last month) and as a result they still occupy a place in The Championship Group. They are so inconsistent this year that you wouldn’t put money on them still being there come the split.  Jeju have found form again and have now won three of their last four games although were unable to beat a dogged Incheon last weekend. They are still sniffing around the ACL spots and after yesterday’s results might just feel they have a chance at the title yet. Both these clashes have ended in 2-1 victories for Gangwon, could today be Jeju’s turn for revenge?

Prediction:  Score Draw : Gangwon 1 – Jeju 1

K-League Classic Round 2017 25 Previews – (Saturday Fixtures)

The K-League Classic 2017 Round 25 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

After another round of mid-week fixtures Jeonbuk are beginning to open a gap at the top which while not unassailable just yet definitely puts them well on their way to another K-League crown. On a ridiculously hot and humid night they coasted to a 3-1 victory in Incheon while nearest challengers, Suwon and Ulsan, played out a 1-1 draw. There were also victories for Jeju, Seoul and Jeonnam on a surprisingly well-attended night in the Classic.

Moving onto the weekend’s action, below are some brief previews and predictions for Saturday’s clasehes.

Daegu vs. FC Seoul @ 7pm

The first game of the day comes from Daegu Stadium where Daegu host a rather resurgent FC Seoul in what has become a tight contest between the teams this year. Daegu lost on Wednesday, falling 2-0  away to Jeju, but had won their two games prior to that. They have however lost the creative presence of Leo after his move to Busan and this could start to hit them going into the final stretch.  They find themselves in the thick of the relegation battle and every point right now is a prisoner.  They have done well against this weekend’s visitors however and did indeed defeat Seoul at home earlier this season. FC Seoul bounced back from their defeat at the hands of Jeonbuk by easily defeating Gangwon 3-1 at home on Wednesday, which makes it four wins from their last five games. Much has been made of Dejan’s recent form but it would also seem that Yun Il Lok is finally beginning to show the potential that almost won him a move to Europe a few years ago. As mentioned earlier, the two previous encounters this year have been close but you get the feeling that Seoul have the bit between their teeth now in their pursuit of the final ACL spot for 2018.

Prediction: Away Win : Daegu 0 – Seoul 1

Incheon United vs. Jeju United @ 7pm

The second game of the day is between the two Uniteds as Incheon and Jeju meet in a hugely important match for both sides as bottom meets fourth. Incheon have been woeful of late and have only managed to win three times all season. They were, yet again, easily beaten on Wednesday by leaders Jeonbuk as a Conor Chapman OG was followed by an Edu brace before a late Kim Young Hwan consolation. They look shaky at the back, stagnant in the middle and impotent upfront and are seriously in danger of surrendering their place at the top table.  Jeju continued their recent run of form by beat Daegu on Wednesday for their third win on the bounce which kept them 3pts clear of Seoul. They can thank Yoon Bitgaram for their return to form as he has been instrumental since returning from China, which kind of begs the question of just how unstoppable Jeonbuk could’ve been if they had snared him as planned. These matches are generally tight and this will be another close one.

Prediction:  Away Win : Incheon 1 – Jeju 2

Gwangju vs. Suwon Bluewings @ 7pm

The final game on Saturday is a practice run for next week’s FA Cup Quarter Finals as  Suwon Bluewings head South to face Gwangju. Gwangju put up a brave showing midweek and were unlucky to lose on their visit to The Steelyard to play Pohang. They look like a team that are ready to battle to stay in the Classic and won’t go down without a fight. In saying that they have lost four of their last five matches. Bluewings on the other hand are in fantastic form winning four and drawing one of their last five games. They drew away from home against third placed Ulsan on Wednesday and will maybe feel that they should have sneaked full points towards the end. In Jonathan they have a prolific, if a little selfish, striker and although most things go through him they do have threats in other areas.  They’re generally pretty solid away from home and easily won the last clash between the teams. Another Jonathan-inspired victory wouldn’t be a surprise this weekend.

Prediction: Away Win: Gwangju  0 – Suwon 2

K-League Classic 2017 Round 23 Previews (Saturday Fixtures)

The K-League Classic 2017 Round 23 Predictions – Saturday Fixtures

It’s been a crazy busy time in the K-League’s top division as we’ve seen midweek games for the last couple of weeks. This sudden flurry of fixtures has seen a slight gap open up at the top of the table as Jeonbuk, Ulsan and Suwon start to put some light between themselves and the chasing pack. We’ve also seen a resurgent Seoul team claw themselves back into the ACL contest just as we’ve seen Pohang free-fall down the table and into the relegation group.

This weekend sees a final round of fixtures before we take a short break in proceedings so moving onto the days action, below are some brief previews and predictions for this Saturdays upcoming clashes.

Gwangju vs. Jeonnam Dragons @ 7pm

The first game of the weekend is between two relegation group teams, as bottom side Gwangju welcome Jeonnam to town. Gwangju have been having a nightmare of late and have now lost three games straight and are in the kind of trouble that most people expected them to be in the last two seasons. In order to bail them out they signed ex-Aberdeen and Celtic player Niall McGinn. He hasn’t really had any time to make an impact but he’ll need to be at his best soon if he is to drag them to safety. It’s not all rosy at Jeonnam either as they haven’t been doing much better with a solitary win in their last five games. They were easily beaten 4-1 at Suwon midweek as they were cut apart time and time again by the pace and guile of Yeom Ki Hun and Johnathan. Jeonnam have won the previous two clashes between the teams and on paper will have the edge, although a huge factor though will be if Jair is fit as he missed out against The Bluewings and they severely need him back.

Prediction: Away Win : Gwangju  1 – Jeonanm 2

Ulsan Hyundai vs. Incheon United @ 7pm

The second game of the day is a tussle between two teams having hugely contrasting seasons as high flying Ulsan and struggling Incheon United clash. Ulsan have won their last three games on the bounce although they haven’t exactly been against the toughest of opposition. Their last defeat was to league leaders Jeonbuk when they were royally spanked 4-0. Even though they sit 2nd in the table they have a goal difference of -1 which goes to prove that they are not exactly solid at the back, or consistent.  Incheon come into the match after being hammered during the week as they fell 5-1 to FC Seoul, yet again. Reports from that match suggest that Incheon were pretty horrendous at the back throughout and will need to tighten up against a team like Ulsan if they are to avoid another heavy defeat.  These sides played at the end of last month when Incheon ran out 2-1 winners, a repeat for them today would tend to be unlikely.

Prediction: Home Win : Ulsan 2 – Incheon 0

Jeju United vs. Pohang Steelers @ 7pm

The final game on Saturday comes from Jeju and is between Jeju United and Pohang Steelers in a match which only a few months ago was a table topping clash. Jeju still seem to be struggling to find any real consistency although they have won two of their last three games but this was a team that at the start of the season looked real title contenders. They bounced back from losing at home to Seoul by defeating Sangju 3-0 away, Yoon Bitgaram netting his first goal since returning from China. Pohang, on the other hand have been dismal of late and have now lost their last three games, including a shock 3-0 defeat to 10th place Daegu midweek. They also brought back a former hero in the shape of Kim Seung Dae but you get the feeling it will take more than that to hoist them back up the table. Both teams have won their home clashes this season, could we see the same again?

Prediction: Home Win: Jeju 2 – Pohang 1