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The Split: Five Things to Look Out For

With the league split decided, and fixtures announced for both the Championship and Relegation rounds, we take a look at the key narratives going into the league's final stages and what to keep an eye out for.
(Photo Credit: IncheonUTD.com)

The Title Race

Main Teams Involved: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Jeju United, Ulsan Hyundai

With Jeonbuk defeating Jeju in the dying minutes last Sunday, the prospect of a tight, dare-not-blink finish was dashed somewhat but the trophy is still far from arriving at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium. Currently the North Jeolla side sit six points above Jeju and Ulsan, but with these teams both having an opportunity to take a swipe at the leaders, not to mention fierce rivals FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings who would like nothing more than to spoil the party whilst keeping their own ambitions alive, then it is still a tough ask for the reigning Asian champions. Jeonbuk also suspiciously have all of their fixtures on the Sunday, meaning Jeju and Ulsan will have a few opportunities to win on the Saturday and exert pressure on the first placed side. The earliest the title could be wrapped up is in two rounds time but it seems far more likely that the fixture between Jeonbuk and Jeju on Sunday 29th October could be the most dramatic on this particular battlefront.

Champions League Qualification?

Main Teams Involved: Suwon Bluewings and FC Seoul

Whilst not mathematically impossible for both sides to obtain automatic qualification via league entry, it seems the best hope for fierce rivals Suwon Bluewings and FC Seoul will be to claim fourth spot and then hope that Ulsan Hyundai (or Suwon obviously) lift the FA Cup at the end of the campaign to turn that league position into another Champions League spot. With the fourth 'Super Match' of the campaign penned in for Saturday 21st October, then these two sides will at least get to take a swing at one another before trying to do their best over their remaining three games. If Busan I'Park were to win the cup though, this contest could all be for nothing.

The Relegation Playoff Spot

Main Teams Involved: Daegu FC, Jeonnam Dragons, Sangju Sangmu and Incheon United

Perhaps the most contested spot will be one four (potentially five) teams will want to avoid and one who is hoping they can miraculously reach it. Eleventh place in the K League is not quite a relegation spot, with that team having to face the play-off winner in the Challenge in a two legged final, but seeing as no Classic team has survived the drop when finishing second from bottom, it is not a fate any team will want to really face. Incheon, Sangju, and Jeonnam are currently all tied on 33 points, separated by goals scored, with Daegu three points above them. Incheon, Daegu and Sangju have all been in reasonable form however, with Jeonnam's slide being the most alarming. The final day on Saturday 18th November sees all four of these sides face one another, with Jeonnam traveling to Daegu, and Incheon hosting Sangju. If standings are still this tight in four rounds time (and recent fixtures would suggest they could be), then expect scenes of jubilation and heartbreak that afternoon.

Goals Scored

Main Teams Involved: Over half of them

At the start of 2016, the K League changed the rules on determining league standings to make the first tie breaker after points being goals scored instead of the more traditional goal difference. The intention of this was to encourage teams to be more attacking and therefore hopefully generate more entertainment, yet any position decided by goals scored last season would have been the same if determined by goals difference. At this point last season, goals were at a then unusual high of 538 scored, but that number has now risen to 542 this year, despite a significant lull earlier on in the campaign. With a tight battle in the bottom half currently being determined by goals scored (meaning Incheon currently sit in 11th despite having a better goal difference than 10th placed Sangju), as well as six goals separating Jeonbuk and Jeju in addition to FC Seoul and Suwon, this year could see this rule really have an effect on proceedings.

A Gwangju Miracle?

Main Teams Involved: Gwangju FC

It seems very unlikely that Gwangju will be playing in the K League Classic next year, but it would be just this writer's luck that they then perform the impossible. The southerners are cut ten points adrift at the foot of the table, realistically needing to win all five of their remaining games to stand any kind of chance of upgrading their automatic relegation spot to a relegation play off position. The team has suffered greatly from the loss of their star striker Jung Jo-gook this season and, despite eye-catching attempts to replace his goals in the summer with the acquisition of Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn, they have been unable to put the ball into the back of the net, scoring just 28 times. The earliest the side could be relegated is next weekend if they lose and results go against them, but it seems more likely their fate will be decided on Sunday 22nd October when they host a resurgent Sangju Sangmu. However, supporters will be hoping they can at least put in a fighting performance and hold on for just a while longer.

Our Thoughts

We sat down after the full times whistles blew on Sunday afternoon and discussed live on Facebook our thoughts going into the split, and what to expect from each side over the next five weekends. You can watch our video below or by clicking here.

For a full fixture list of the championship round, click here.

For a full fixture list of the relegation round, click here.

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