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2017 Season Preview: Incheon United

After winning the dramatic last game of the season against Suwon FC, Incheon United have reaffirmed themselves as the K League Classic’s survival kings. Although a relegation roller coaster ride can be full of thrills and adrenaline, surely Incheon United fans would like to see some stability in the coming season. With a number of key changes in the team, can the blue and black wolves push themselves to finish in the top 6?   
(picture courtesy of OhMyNews)


Last Season

P38 W11 D12 L15 – 10th



What Happened


Incheon United head coach Kim Do-hoon started the 2016 season with 5 at the back; this was to play quick, counter-attacking football based on solid defence. However it backfired when they failed to push their players forward when they had the ball. Incheon’s defence didn’t fare too well either with their key-player Matej Jonjic struggling to find form early in the season and a knee ligament injury ruled out first-choice keeper Cho Su-hyuk until the summer. Things were looking up when Kevin Oris started scoring goals; dramatic last-minute win against Jeju United at home and beating Ulsan Hyundai away offered some hope. Unfortunately, after 4 successive defeats in August (including 0-2 defeat to fellow strugglers Suwon FC), Incheon parted ways with Kim Do-hoon and many tipped them for relegation. Then a miracle happened, the caretaker coach Lee Ki-hyung decided to ditch the 5-man defence and opted for more aggressive approach. Lee showed how player rotation can allow the players to rest aching bodies and refresh themselves mentally. Under Lee Ki-hyung, Incheon managed to win 7, draw 3 and only lose 1 (away defeat at Suwon Bluewings, thanks to a controversial own goal from Jonjic). When K League Classic survival was confirmed after their win against Suwon FC, Incheon fans invaded the pitch to celebrate the great escape.

Notable Moves

Matej Jonjic – Twice-voted in K League Classic’s Best XI (2015 and 2016), the Croatian centre-back has been a rock at the heart of the Incheon United defence for two seasons. Unfortunately for Incheon, they couldn’t turn down Cerezo Osaka’s transfer offer and Jonjic will not feature for Incheon in 2017 after two outstanding seasons. Although his distribution game wasn’t as good as his aerial strength, Jonjic provided composure and organisation; these attributes enabled the big Croatian to lead the team from the back, so it will be interesting to see who will step up to take his place in defence.

Matej Jonjic moved to J1 side Cerezo Osaka in December (Picture courtesy of the Beffreport)

Moon Seon-min – A Nike football academy product, Moon was one of the eight winners in season 2011 of The Chance. Moon was then snapped up by Swedish third tier side Östersund and began his professional career in Scandinavia. After guiding his club to Sweden’s 2nd division, Moon moved to Allsvenskan (Swedish top division) powerhouse Djurgårdens IF.  Sadly, the Korean winger never got used to life in Sweden and he managed to convince the club to release him. However, he didn’t have to wait long and eventually found his new club in Korea; then-Incheon United head coach Kim Do-hoon approached the 24-year old and without hesitation, Moon said yes and joined United. The pacy winger will provide much needed width and speed for Incheon in counter-attacks. There was a concern initially for the player and the fans because the gaffer who signed Moon is no longer at the club. But thankfully, the new head coach Lee Ki-hyung recently named Moon as the vice-captain, which means Lee expects him to lead the attack this season.

Lee Jeong-bin – a promising local talent, Lee is said to be the next franchise star. The 22-year old came through Incheon’s youth system and joined this year from Incheon University. Lee is a creative player that likes to control the tempo of the game. He is very comfortable on the ball and has a knack for creating chances for others around him.  The diminutive midfielder was actually approached by Tottenham and Watford when he was 17 and this clearly shows how much of a talent he is.

Needs

Incheon have lost many of their key players this season; Jonjic (to Cerezo Osaka), Kevin Oris (to Kyoto Sanga), Cho Su-hyuk (to Ulsan Hyundai) and Gwon Wan-gyu (Pohang Steelers).  In fact, Incheon have offloaded 19 players from the last season’s 32-man roster. Although they have brought in very capable players to replace them, it will be interesting to see how quickly they can gel together as a team.  At the moment, Incheon have three keepers competing for the number one jersey after Cho Su-hyuk’s departure; Jeong San, a new signing from Ulsan, Lee Tae-hee and Lee Jin-hyung. It will be crucial for Incheon to figure out just who is the best player to start in goal to provide some stability heading into the new season.

Key Player

Kim Do-hyeok has been named as the new captain of Incheon United this season, a typical box-to-box midfielder, Kim is also a fighter who is good on the ball and has incredible stamina which allows him to be involved in most of Incheon’s build-up play.

Despite his small stature, when paired with more defensive partner in the centre of the park, Kim is capable of inflicting some serious damage with his charging runs and very accurate long shots.

Incheon United's new captain Kim Do-hyeok. (Picture courtesy of Incheon United)

Reason to Watch

Some might say watching the perennial strugglers will be no fun, given their previous defensive approaches. But under Lee Ki-hyung, we are starting to see more entertaining and attacking, wolf pack-style of football. Incheon’s lack of big-name attacking talents will be no cause for concern as they have given their youngsters more chances to play during the preseason. Korea’s U-17 World Cup 2015 winger Kim Jin-ya, Moon Seon-min from Allsvenskan, Song Si-woo and aforementioned Lee Jeong-bin are all very exciting prospects and they are refreshing additions not only to the club, but also to the league as well.

Biggest Question

The biggest question for Incheon United this year is whether their defence will be as good as their attack.  None of their current goalkeepers have played regularly in the top-flight.  On top of that, with the loss of defensive stalwarts Matej Jonjic and Cho Byung-kuk, Incheon will need some time before they can stabilise the defence.  Croatian Gordan Bunoza and Australian U-23 international Connor Chapman have joined the club and both defenders have impressive resumes, but they are new to the league. Incheon had an outstanding end to the season in 2016, if Lee Ki-hyung can rally his team to play with the same tenacity throughout the season, they can definitely finish in the top 6.

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