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2017 Season Preview: Jeju United

After their most successful season in six years, Jeju United will go into 2017 full of confidence and with their heads held high. They have strengthened their squad well and managed to keep most of last season's key players. Will this be enough to improve upon 2016's third-place finish and also do well in the Champions League?
(photo via www.jeju-utd.com)

Last Season

Jeju finished third and qualified for the ACL.

What Happened

Jeju United's 2017 season had all the elements required for a fairy tale story. 

A seemingly disastrous run of form midway through the season saw a decent start almost go to waste. However, Jeju rallied together, the heroes rose to the top, and a nail-biting end to the season saw them clinch third place and enter the ACL qualification round.

However, it didn't end there. During the offseason, the K League's perennial villains Jeonbuk finally got their just deserts (or was it too harsh?) and were kicked out of the ACL. This allowed Jeju to take their spot in the ACL group stages, guaranteeing at least six games in the Champions League.

Notable Moves

Foreign Signings

Aleksander Jovanovic

Aleks has returned to Jeju after spending one year with Tianjin Teda in the Chinese Super league. Aleks previously spent two seasons at Jeju.  During the first (2014) he was one of the league's standout defenders and his partnership with Oh Ban-seok saw Jeju concede only 36 goals.

While his second season was disrupted due to injuries, a new manager and a switch into midfield, he will undoubtedly be a great addition to the Jeju team in 2017.

Frederic Mendy

Frederic Mendy spent last season at Ulsan where he scored six goals in 18 appearances. He is an international for Guinea-Bissau and he spent part of the offseason competing at the African Cup of Nations.

He will offer a physical presence in attack and it is hoped his finishing ability will be the final cog in an attack that lacked an out and out striker last season.

Veteran Defenders

Kim Won-il

Signed from Pohang, Kim has a wealth of experience including a league title for Pohang where he was a key part of their defense.

Cho Yong-hyung

Cho is another veteran defender who has played in the K-league (for Jeju), the Chinese Super League, and the Qatari Star League. His experience throughout Asia will be valuable in Jeju's ACL season.

Promising Youngsters

Lee Chan-dong

After three promising seasons at Gwangju, Lee will be hoping to make the step up at Jeju. He is an ex Korea U23 player and was part of the team that won the Asian Cup.

Jin Sung Wook

The young winger has gradually improved over the last few seasons at Incheon and his four goals at the end of last season helped them stay up. 

Out

Lee Keun-ho

Perhaps due to the upcoming Champions League campaign and the extra motivation this provides for players, this year's offseason was a rarity in that Jeju kept all their main players.

The only player who left after playing a big role last season was Lee Keun-ho. The former Korean international had a good season last year but wouldn't have found as many options for first team football this season after the additions made to the team. However, his experience and obvious talent will still be missed.

Needs

Jeju have strengthened excellently during the off season. As mentioned above, they managed to keep all bar one of their key players from last year, and the addition of Aleks and Mendy will almost certainly strengthen the starting 11.

With the extra games Jeju will have to play in the ACL this year it was crucial that Jeju added some strength in depth to their team and they have certainly got options in pretty much every position now.

Key Player

While there are some exciting new signings, with no evidence of how they will actually fit into the team yet it would be foolish to omit Brazilian Marcelo as this year's key player.

He can dribble, pass, and shoot and last year this attacking prowess resulted in eleven goals and nine assists. His overal contribution was a big reason that Jeju were able to finish in the top three. If he can link up well with new striker Mendy then it could prove to be a defence-terrorising partnership.

Reason to Watch

After his breakout season last year, 22-year-old Ahn Hyun-beom is arguably the most exciting young talent in the K-league. His direct running, dribbling ability, and powerful finish make him an exhilarating player to watch.

If he can build on his form from last season not only will Jeju have an excellent talent on their hands, but the move to Europe that was semi-proposed over the winter could well materialize for the youngster.

Biggest Question

It has been six seasons since Jeju were last in the ACL and they will have to manage the extra games it brings well. They have certainly improved their squad strength, but will they have enough in the squad to fight on both fronts this year?

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