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2016 K-League Classic Mid-Season Grades

With Round 19 officially in the books, we're now half way through the regular season (including post-split playoffs). Our contributors take stock of where each team is compared to their pre-season expectations and how they got to this point. As always, you're encouraged to let your voice be heard in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter @KLeagueUnited


Sangju Sangmu: Most expected the military team to be an automatic relegation, but instead they sit in fourth place.  Sangju leads the K-League in goals scored, most exciting games, and have won five of their last six games.  If they stay up and make it into the top six, Cho Jin-ho should win manager of the year.  
– John Emanuelson  @emanus7


Ulsan Hyundai: Ulsan have finally found a system that works, and although it means that they ultimately relinquish possession and defend in a fairly rigid 4-4-2 shape, which can be a bore for some supporters, it has helped them increase the effectiveness of their counter attacks through Kovacec, Kim Seungjun and Kim Taehwan. A negative spot will be how Lee Jeonghyeop hasn't played the most convincing of roles, but the signing of Mendy should put much needed pressure on the occasional Korean national team forward. Going forward, continued defensive stoicness from the entire back line, one which is gelling together quite nicely, and danger from one of the best midfielders in the K League, Kovacec, could allow Ulsan to perhaps make a challenge to Jeonbuk for the title.
–  Tim Lee @korfan12

FC Seoul: The season started out with so much promise but has descended into farce.  Seoul are in the quarter finals of the ACL and FA Cup, but the coach scarpered off to China and the team have no won since.  Seoul are still in second in the league, so they get a high B, but unless they arrest their free-fall, this could turn into a C or worse.  
– John Emanuelson  @emanus7


Jeonbuk Hyundai:  Tainted by match-fixing allegations from 2013, Jeonbuk’s season has been a slow-burner. Complaints early on regarding rotation, tactics and new signings have subsided with a record-breaking unbeaten streak, a fighting spirit when required, and an 8 point lead at the top of the table. The team has had a tendency to underestimate opposition and drop points easily however, with nearly half their games resulting in draws earned from winning positions. It's still their title to lose though, unless the KFA take it away from them that is.
–  Matthew Binns @Matt_Binns


Gwangju FC:  Expected by quite a few, including myself, to be relegated this season Gwangju FC have started quite well.  At one point they were in the top six and second in K-League United's Power Rankings.  Since then, they have only won once in their last 8 games turning what was an A into a B, but Gwangju are not in the relegation race and could still make the top six when the split occurs at the end of the season.
– John Emanuelson  @emanus7


Seongnam FC: Kim Hak-bum continued to show astuteness in the winter transfer window, picking up what looked to be an above average Brazilian attacker from Pohang in Tiago, and has turned him into the player of 2016. Seongnam bolted out of the gates into the ACL spots, only to be undone in late-May/early-June with a poor spell of games. Despite a shock defeat to an attack-minded Sangju recently, they have shown signs of turning a corner, have strengthened slightly in this window, and should now be heading back in the correct direction.
–  Matthew Binns @Matt_Binns

Pohang Steelers: This Pohang Steelers team would have been a great addition to Euro 2016.  They are the quintessential counterattacking team and have often put forth abysmal performances, yet the Steelers are somehow within striking distance of the top six.  Considering the exodus of last year's core during the winter transfer window and the injury to his best player Son Joon-ho, new coach Choi Jin-chul has done a damn good job so far.  
– John Emanuelson  @emanus7


Jeju United: A few games ago this would have been pushing an A. However a run of four games where we have lost three and drawn one against the bottom four teams in the league has seen us crash down into sixth position. They say it's the hope that kills you; in Jeju's case it was hope mixed with poor defending and a sudden inability to attack.
–  Duncan Elder @kleaguereview


Jeonnam Dragons: Even by Jeonnam's usually mid-table standards this season has been disappointing. Currently sitting in 11th with little hope of climbing into the top 6 is not only lower than pre-season expectations, but also poorly reflects the level of talent on this team. However, the new signings look good and the departure of Stevo and Oršić may finally stop the team from relying on a single star and lean more heavily on their collective strengths. So there's some hope.
– Ryan Walters  @MrRyanWalters


Incheon United: The first eleven games this season saw Incheon United unable to find a win and only earning four points for their efforts. Rooted to the bottom of the table and destined for relegation, a shock win away at Seongnam saw them galvanise and go on to record 15 points from the following seven matches, subsequently pulling them up into tenth. Despite having the fourth best defence in the league, they have struggled to score goals up until recently and are yet to make any signings in this transfer window. With things now going their way however, and positioned just above the danger zone, Incheon fans will be quietly optimistic that their team can continue upwards and remain in the Classic for next season.
–  Matthew Binns @Matt_Binns


Suwon FC: It all started so well for the newly promoted team, with the first month seeing many hard-earned draws and an odd win, but since then Suwon FC have taken constant defeats with barely any respite. With just twelve goals scored (and only two in the last eight games), they find themselves in free fall and firmly rooted to the league basement as initially expected. They have recently signed two decent Challenge players this summer in a bid to stay up, but at this moment it seems more like a case of when, rather than if, they will succumb to relegation.
–  Matthew Binns @Matt_Binns


Suwon Bluewings: A difficult season was expected but Suwon's form has been nothing short of diabolical. With an inept manager leading players that are performing well below their abilities the poor season could yet extend past the summer. Unable to hold leads in the last 15 minutes of games has been their biggest downfall. The only thing stopping the grade from being an F- was the good attacking play they produced throughout the months of April and May, but this has since ebbed away. 
– Scott Whitelock @ScottySSBFC

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