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2016 Season Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors team celebrating victory over Ulsan Hyundai. Photo Credit: Howard Cheng | Jeonbuk FC Season Preview
Relieved to have edged another victory, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors celebrate a 1-0 win over Ulsan back in April 2015 (Photo Credit: Howard Cheng)
Team Overview

Winning three of the last five league titles and boasting one of the largest attendances in the K-League, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are currently the dominant force in Korean football. With a large spending spree throughout the winter months on a wealth of talent, Motors should be rejuvenated for the season ahead.

Last Season

1st Place: 21-5-7

What Happened?

Back-to-back titles has been a rare feat in recent K-League history, having last been achieved some 13 years ago. Therefore, for Jeonbuk to once again claim the title at an apparent canter should have been pretty impressive.

What this masked though was an infuriating ability to wrap up the league quickly, achieving draws when victories should have been within reach, and little progress in the Champions League or FA Cup to compensate for this. It is harsh to criticise when a team wins the title, the staple for any dominant team, but in trying to create a dynasty within Korean football, as well as hoping to make more noise across the continent, there is a lingering feeling the club should be setting their sites far higher.

Jeonbuk flew out of the gates and took up residency at the league's summit early on into the season with what became an insurmountable lead, but rather than cementing it quickly to focus their attention elsewhere, they continued to sit back and wait for the title to come to them whilst other teams fought it out below. The fact that their winning margin was 6 points in contrast to the previous season's 14, and with no change in second place (Suwon's point haul of 67 for both years), highlights both Jeonbuk's late-season lethargy as well as more points being distributed elsewhere.

The problems run deeper when the season on season stats are analysed. John Emanuelson's article on the best and worst champions of the last five years on this site notes that Jeonbuk's average of 1.5 goals scored per game (57 scored in total) is the worst record for a recent champion. In addition to this, their defensive frailty became more evident with a sharp increase from 0.58 goals shipped per game in 2014 (22 per total) to 1.03 in 2015 (38 in total). A concerning decline that the team shall hope to arrest quickly.

This is not to say Jeonbuk played badly during all of last season. Games such as the highly entertaining 3-0 victory over FC Seoul certainly provide evidence to the contrary, yet there is a lingering feeling that the season could have been so much more than a laboured heave over the finishing line. It seemed the number of games took its toll on the players fitness and exposed a lack of depth in the squad. Losing prominent goal-scorers like Edu mid-season also did not help their cause.

Key Player

Lee Jae-sung

Winning last year's K-League Young Player of the Year (and finishing 2nd in the race for MVP in our site's end-of-season awards), Lee Jae-sung's efforts in central midfield last season were instrumental in helping land Jeonbuk's 4th league title. After an impressive debut season in 2014 that saw him score 5 goals and create 4 in 36 games across all competitions, the 23 year old went onto improve on this in 2015, scoring 9 and making 7 in 44 appearances. It is this form that has seen him cement a place in the national team, having already picked up 13 caps and scoring 4 goals.

If the stats alone are not impressive enough for a young central midfielder, you can always search YouTube for a highlight reel of all his 2015 goals and assists. His close control, awareness as well as his ability to convert in front of goal make him the club's most exciting player by far.

A brighter future away from the K-League potentially beckons for this young talent. While he has stated he wants to win the Champions League with Jeonbuk, if a club from overseas came knocking, offering an opportunity for him to develop his potential further, then even the most hard-nosed supporter would not stand in his way. Enjoy watching him while he is here, he really is one of the league's most promising players.

Korean National Teamer To Watch

Kim Shin-wook

I could have easily chose Lee Jae-sung again if I am being completely honest, such is my admiration of him. However, I will refrain my outpouring of gushing sentiment and shed some light on another national team player who has recently rocked up at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium.

At 27 years of age, Kim Shin-wook offers Jeonbuk a prolific goalscorer who has constantly improved season upon season. He also offers the team valuable experience in terms of his 32 international caps and in having been an integral part of the Ulsan Hyundai squad who lifted the Champions League trophy in 2012. Last year, Kim Shin-wook scored 14 league goals, placing him level with Seoul's Adriano and one ahead of Jeonbuk's Lee Dong-gook. Jeonbuk will certainly be hoping he can replicate this form in the upcoming season.

In regards to the national team, having won the gold medal at the Asian Games, he has failed to replicate his scoring prowess on the global stage, with just 3 goals to his name. However, playing in a title-winning team alongside young talent who he can assist, and with experienced legends of Korean football such as Lee Dong-gook who can take him under his wing, should lead to an upturn in international form.

Transfer Window

Admittedly, Jeonbuk have sought to address the depth issue during this transfer window, with a flurry of activity both going in and out of the club.

With pretty much all of the main attacking options leaving the club besides the prolific yet ageing Lee Dong-gook, a wealth of new talent has been brought in. Most noticeably, the arrival of national team striker Kim Shin-wook (27) looks set to make an immediate impact and challenge the Lee Dong-gook's dominance as Motors' top scorer, boasting a record of 81 goals in 215 club appearances, as well as 32 international caps. The signings of Lee Jong-ho (23) and Ko Moo-yeol (25), from Jeonnam and Pohang respectively, are both positive attacking options at the fringe of the national team, and both currently entering what should be their peak years. The signing of Ricardo Lopes (25) also fills the foreign spot vacated by Vera. The Brazilian has some K-League experience accumulated, scoring 11 in 33 appearances for Jeju United last season, which Jeonbuk should look to take advantage of.

Midfield has some some of the most interesting developments. The signing of 26 year-old Kim Bo-kyung, with 32 caps for the national team and a solid amount of English Premier League and Championship experience, should be seen as a good move by Jeonbuk to bolster their midfield. After struggling at Wigan, the midfielder was transferred to Japanese side Matsumoto Yamaga where he endured another unsuccessful spell. The move to the K-League sees him play for the first time in his native country where he will be motivated to revive his stalling career. The addition of Melbourne City defensive midfielder Erik Paartalu (29) will also look to shore up the team's central efforts on the pitch.

Defensive additions include the experienced Choi Jae-soo (32) and Kim Chang-soo (30), as well Jeonnam's promising centre back Lim Jong-eun (25). As mentioned, Jeonbuk's defence had become significantly more penetrable than the season before, so additions were required to patch up the leaks.

For a while it looked as it if the players coming into the club would steal the headlines. However, recent developments have seen Jeonbuk lose key defender and Korean International Kim Kee-hee to Shanghai Greenland Shenhua in what became a record bid for a K-League player. While perhaps being a blow what with it coming so late into Jeonbuk's pre-season training, the $6 million dollars that has been exchanged was definitely too good to refuse and shows that it may not just be the European clubs that will benefit from China's loosened purse strings.

Another late loss in Jeonbuk's pre-season training was the departure of defensive midfielder Jung Hoon to Thai side Supanburi FC. While his absence may be felt, it is arguable that Jeonbuk have already sought adequate cover in this department and should be fine.

The transfer window noticeably also saw the departure of fan favourite and Australian International Alex Wilkinson. With four seasons and over 100 appearances for the club, his off-field presence and on-field reliability will be missed, even if his league appearances were in decline last season.

Overall, Jeonbuk can be relatively pleased with the business they have conducted in this transfer window. The signings they have made are mostly the right side of 30, entering or within what should be their peak years of performance, and with a reasonable amount of experience. The club should expect some kind of instant return with these signings as well as young players who can mould the shape of the team for seasons to come.

Expectations This Season

Despite what may have come across as negatives, Jeonbuk are still the team to beat and are still in prime position to retain their title this season with progress in the Champions League as a realistic target. They went unchallenged at the top for latter part of last season and, despite the coast towards the end, I am unsure if there is a massive change on the horizon yet, despite the impressive signings made by their title rivals.

The strengthening in depth and quality of the squad, especially in attack, should see to a repeat of their two previous league triumphs, whilst also allowing them to convincingly compete on another front. It will depend on the speed it takes these new signings to bed in (or even find space for them!), that will determine if this season can become the year their era of dominance is cemented into history.

Predicted Finish

1st Place

4 comments

  1. I hate to use the term game changer because it sounds like overblown bullsh*t, but getting the Wookie is probably one. Even if he doesn't integrate himself into the side (but really, he should be devastating), he is good for at least a goal or two against Seoul.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He definitely is Jeonbuk's best signing this window. As much as I enjoy watching Lee Dong-gook play, they really needed to find a long-term replacement for his goals as he can't go on forever (even though he constantly proves everyone wrong).

      Hopefully he can bag a debut goal tonight against Tokyo and start finding his feet in this team.

      Delete
  2. With the rapid rise of CSL, even those of us on the other side of the Jeolla rivalry have to root for the added depth & upgrades to challenge in ACL. Sad to have seen Lee Jong-ho hit the road, but it's amazingly understandable & hopefully he shows well. Lim Jong-eun on the other hand is all yours. I might have even paid to get that wandering klutz off the Dragons backline.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Think the Champions League trophy will reside in China for a while. I think Jeonbuk have the best chance of taking it back though.

      Thought Lim Jong-eun was a good buy at first. Age on his side and a bit of a runout now n then with a championship winning team should have seen him develop nicely. Now Kim kee-hee's gone though, he's one step closer to the starting line up, and I'm also not sure he's ready.

      Delete

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