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Preview: K League Classic Round 34

With 33 rounds done and dusted, the first week of the split is upon us this weekend with all 12 teams in action. In the Championship round of match week 34 Jeju United will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to Jeonbuk Hyundai last time out by seeing off the challenge of a seemingly motive-less Gangwon FC at home. Jeonbuk meanwhile host FC Seoul, a side who will be looking to leap frog rivals Suwon Bluewings should the 2016 FA Cup winners lost at home to 2017 FA Cup finalists Ulsan Hyundai. There's no shortage of intrigue in the relegation round either with a relegation six pointer Jeolla Derby taking place in Gwangyang when Jeonnam Dragons host Daegu FC, not to mention Incheon United's tricky trip to the Steel Yard. All this and more in your guide to round 34 of the 2017 K League Classic season.

(Photo credit: KLeague.com)

Saturday 14th October

Championship Round

Jeju United (2nd) Vs Gangwon FC (6th)

Jeju United’s quest for top spot was dealt a significant blow when the islanders fell to a late Kim Jinsu winner for league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai last Sunday. The result meant that the gap is now six points heading into this weekend's round of fixtures. Up next for Jeju is the visit of Gangwon FC, a side marooned in 6th place and set to stay there barring a monumental collapse from the sides above them. Gangwon instead seem to be aiming to throw spanners in the works of teams who have things still to play for, certainly if their last result is anything to go by. Last time out Gangwon saw off the challenge of relegation-threatened Incheon United with a 2-0 win, despite United's eight game unbeaten run beforehand. Back-to-back wins for Gangwon would be well received in Jeonju and ought not to be seen as too far-fetched given the fact that Gangwon have a win at Seogwipo under their belts already this season.. A win for the home side will be seen as the most realistic outcome though and will be an absolute minimum for Jeju gaffer Cho Sungwhan if his side are to have any chance of finishing on top come November 14th.

Prediction: Jeju United 2-1 Gangwon FC 

Relegation Round

Sangju Sangmu (10th) Vs Daegu FC (8th)

Due to the nature of the split, and with all the teams that are fighting for their lives due to play each other one more time, relegation six-pointers will be aplenty between now and mid-November. Sangju Sangmu hosting Daegu FC on Saturday would certainly fall into such a category. Sangju find themselves with their heads just above water in tenth place heading into Saturday's game and can boast of one of the league's top scorers amongst their ranks in Joo Minkyu. However, the army team remain level on points with two other teams in the bottom four and so will need their main man to find his shooting boots once again after drawing a blank in Sangju's last game, a 1-0 defeat to FC Seoul. Daegu, meanwhile, made some serious headway in their bid for survival by demolishing 10-man Jeonnam Dragons 4-1 at Dragon Dungeon last time out. The result meant that the North Gyeongsang outfit have a three point cushion between themselves and the relegation playoff place.

Daegu FC columnist Muyeol Jung previews the game here

Pohang Steelers (7th) Vs Incheon United (11th)

One side who perhaps did not expect to be competing in the relegation round is five-time K League winners Pohang Steelers. Instead of chasing the top four and a subsequent place in the Asian Champions League for 2018, the Steelers are in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle. Last week, a last gasp equaliser for top scorer Yang Donghyun salvaged a point for Pohang who, heading into the split, are just four points separate Choi Soonho's team from Saturday's opponents Incheon United. Incheon fell to a 2-0 defeat away to Gangwon last time out, ending a run of eight games without defeat. The Durumi will be hoping of a repeat of the result from the last time these two sides met: a 2-0 win in August at Sungui Arena. However, the last time Incheon made the trip to the Steelyard, it was Pohang who came out on top by recording a 2-0 win back in April. Incheon's record away to Pohang does not make great reading with just five away wins in 41 meetings.

Our new Incheon United columnist Tim Barnes previews the game here.

Sunday 15th October

Championship Round

Suwon Bluewings (4th) Vs Ulsan Hyundai (3rd)

With just six points separating Ulsan Hyundai from league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and with fifteen points up for grabs, the Horang-i's title bid is far from over just yet. Jeonbuk's win over Jeju United last week helped narrow the gap at the top to help keep Kim Dohoon's side still in with a chance for the FA Cup finalists. Ulsan's opponents this Sunday, early pre-season favourites for the title Suwon Bluewings, are in a race of their own, the race for ACL qualification. At present the Bluewings sit in fourth place, level on points with the old enemy FC Seoul. Last week it looked as though Suwon were on course for an away win at the Steelyard but a Yang Donghyun equaliser in time added on saw the points shared. Although Suwon do have an FA Cup semi final to look forward to, and therefore a potential place in the ACL should they successfully defend the cup, surrendering fourth place to rivals FC Seoul would only leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Big Bird faithful. However, if Suwon are to pick up all three points then they are going to have to beat Ulsan in the league for the first time since 2015. Brazilian ace Johnathan is set to make his full return from injury but Australian defender Matthew Jurman will serve a two match suspension as a punishment for his involvement with the penalty incident for Suwon's 1-1 draw with Jeonbuk.

Suwon Bluwings columnist Scott Whitelock previews the game here

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) Vs FC Seoul (5th)

The last time these two side met post-split was on the final day of the 2016 season when a Park Chuyoung goal sealed the points and the Championship for FC Seoul. This year Jeonbuk are in the driving seat title-wise whilst FC Seoul face an uphill battle just to qualify for the ACL. With Jeju United and Ulsan Hyundai still hot on the tails of Jeonbuk, a win will be what Jeonbuk gaffer Choi Kanghee will be targeting. In the opposing dugout, FC Seoul manager Hwang Sunhong will know that anything but a win could spell disaster for his sides chances of playing on the continent next year.  What does bode well for FC Seoul is that the current K League Champions have just four post-split defeats since 2012. One of those defeats was to Jeonbuk, however in 2014. FC Seoul columnist Ryan Walters spoke with our Jeonbuk columnist Matthew Binns to chat about any potential cracks in the front-runner's armour, Asian Champions League, an intensifying rivalry, and revenge to preview the game with a writers' chat here.

Relegation Round

Jeonnam Dragons (9th) Vs Gwangju FC (12th)

A Jeolla Derby and a classic relegation six pointer is what fans travelling to Gwangyang have in store for them come Sunday afternoon. Jeonnam's dire run of form, a run that has seen the Dragons not record a win since 2nd August, means that the south coast side have been dragged into the relegation battle and in real danger of falling through the trap door. However, if Roh Sangrae's side are to get back to winning ways then playing the league's basement side ought to be seen as an ideal opportunity to do just that. Gwangju FC remain rooted to the foot of the table and are on an even worse run of form having not won since July, ironically against Jeonnam. Jeonnam's early season goal scoring prowess is all that is separating them from the relegation playoff place at present but have just seven goals to their name since their last win. From the three previous meetings this season, Jeonnam have two wins and Gwangju one. The last time Gwangju made the trip to Gwangyang they were on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering.

Prediction: Jeonnam Dragons 2-1 Gwangju FC

See also: The Split: Five Things To Look Out For

ICYMI: Columnists Ryan Walters, Matthew Binns and Paul Neat talked shop after round 33 live on Facebook from Upper Deck.

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