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2017 K League Classic Grades

With the curtains all but closed on this season's campaign, our writers take a look back at the 2017 edition of the K League Classic, grading each team's efforts and providing a report card for them to mull over in the holidays. 
(image via hyundai-motorsfc.com)

While there is still an FA Cup to contest, the league is wrapped up with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors claiming their fifth title at the top, Gwangju's relegation at the bottom and a wealth of celebration and frustration crammed in between. Each of our writers has assessed the division's sides and offered their verdict below. Take a look to see how your team fared, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors: A

Champions, like they should be. Performances may have felt less memorable than those by last season's stellar squad, but the North Jeolla side still won the league with nine points to spare, scoring more goals and conceding less in the process. All of this with a team thinned out through high profile departures and long term injuries, which resulted in Choi Kang-hee disproving some of his detractors with some solid squad management. Ultimately though, Jeonbuk played like a side itching to set the record straight with some battling performances. The emergence of Kim Min-jae was a particular season highlight and suggests the future will continue to be bright at Jeonbuk, even if their new shirts will not.
- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

Jeju United: A

"Jeju equaled their most successful season ever by finishing second in the league. They played good football throughout the year and were a joy to watch. They also made it out of the group stages of the Asian Champions League for the first time and got further in the competition than any other Korean team. They will look at this as a valuable learning experience as they get another go at the trophy next year. The only reason that I haven't given an A+ is because without a drop of form midway through the season, Jeju could have done even better!"
- Duncan Elder  (@KLeaguereview)

Daegu FC: A

Daegu secured a spot in Classic for next season with two games left to play, which was significantly successful considering they were the most unlikely team to survive ahead of this year. Survival itself should be appraised more highly but the reason why I gave an A, not A+ was that our initial plan with former manager Son went down the drain. If plan A had gone well, then I would have given A+. Nevertheless, a few youngsters Daegu have discovered or raised, a fantastic Brazilian trio, and maximized teamwork were the strength of our team. Whether or not Daegu can hold on to key players during winter is a critical variable for the next season though.
- Muyeol Jung  (@daegu_freak)

Suwon Samsung Bluewings: B-

"For a team that was expected to challenge for the league title this year it has been a disappointment that Suwon weren't actually able to do that. However, a long run in the FA Cup that was only cruelly ended by horrendous refereeing, added to the fact that they finished the season in 3rd place, courtesy of some good late season form, saved their season. It wasn't vintage stuff but this season has been good enough to keep the wolves from Seo Jung-won's door...for now. "
- Scott Whitelock  (@ScottySSBFC)

Incheon United: C+

"Incheon survived not by scoring goals but playing defensively and drawing games. When your top scorer finishes the season on 5 you know it's been a long year.
Main Positives; the defense were generally solid and we survived.
Main Negative; Another season with little to cheer about."
- Tim Barnes (@tpbarnes86)

Gangwon FC: C

For a team with AFC Champions League aspirations heading into the season, 6th place has to be a disappointment. After assembling an Avengers style crew of Korean National Team cast offs and a reigning MVP, Gangwon looked poised to make waves in their return to Classic. However, a surprisingly poor Lee Beomyoung saw a nearly league worst 65 goals go by and kept a paltry three clean sheets in his return to Korea from J1 side Avispa Fukuoka. Add in single digit goal returns for Jung Jogook and Lee Keunho and it's a wonder Gangwon made the split at all. Of the Championship Round teams, only FC Seoul has more question marks heading into the off season than Gangwon.
- Ryan Walters  (@MrRyanWalters)

Ulsan Hyundai: C

Quite how Kim Do-hoon snuck into the K League's three-man shortlist for Manager of the Year is beyond me, especially as Ulsan have appeared to stand still this season despite promising purchases. They finished fourth once more with yet another poor return on goals scored and negative goal difference. They also failed to score in five out of their seven Champions League matches and have strolled to an FA Cup final by drawing teams in a lower division than them in nearly every round. Their grade is purely for their final position, as it is that consistency of edging victories which has seen them annoyingly stay on the heels of the league challengers. Supporters will be hoping this is only a transitional year, but with Champions League football no longer guaranteed after a humiliating post-split run, questions need to be posed of the coach and whether or not he is capable of taking them forward.
- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

FC Seoul: D

Just one year after winning the league, playing in the FA Cup Final, and ACL Semifinal, failing to at least be in contention for a single trophy this year is an utter and complete disaster for a club used to being near the top. Though less talented than their 2016 counterparts, the biggest flaw of this squad was the lack of true leadership and a player core that was content to ride the success of last season for a year regardless of results. The emergence of skilled youngsters like Yang Hanbin and Hwang Hyunsoo were the bright spots along with Dejan's continued presence up top. But none of those men could overcome the underutilized, mismanaged, and largely apathetic squad around them.
- Ryan Walters  (@MrRyanWalters)

Pohang Steelers: D-

Pohang Steelers did look as though they were on course for at least a tilt at ACL qualification or even the title. But, after a run of just three wins from May up until the split in September, the 2013 Champions fell into the relegation round. Once the pressure was off Pohang began to find form, picking off the weaker teams with relative ease. The strong finish to 2017 will perhaps mask over the mental strength issues that Pohang displayed but the momentum could help the Steelers next term.
- Paul Neat (@neatpaul)

Sangju Sangmu: E

It's hard to hand an F to a team who's nature means they are more difficult to manage than any other club in the division; a band of loanees who most likely do not wish to be there, completing their mandatory military service. They effectively play out a campaign with less time than everyone else to accumulate points before their players leave midway through, but that should not excuse them completely given the quality of the players currently on active duty. There were admirable performances along the way. Despite Ju Min-kyu's impressive goal tally however, the rest of the side struggled to score which, when combined with a poor defence, meant finishing eleventh was unsurprising.
- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

Jeonnam Dragons: F

Hopes were high after last year's top-half finish, but the Dragons finished as the worst team in the league (formwise) and were not even able to muster up one decent performance since the table split to show they belonged in the Classic. They lost the first five games and didn't manage a victory in the last 15 - picking up just 6 points from a possible 45 - despite the fact that they were mostly playing the struggling teams in those games. The only positive things all season were: Jair's form, the four game winning streak in April; the two five-nil victories over Ulsan and Gwangju; and their last day escape act. Overall, though, a desperately disappointing season and it was fitting that their fate was decided elsewhere as the Dragons, who  were hot and - for the large part - cold all season, were ultimately incapable of controlling their own destiny.
- Aodan Halligan (@aodanh)

Gwangju FC: F

Losing a K League MVP is always going to be difficult but Gwangju's transfer activity over the winter set the tone for a lacklustre 2017 season. Jung Jogook left and wasn't adequately replaced meaning that Gwangju won a mere six games all season and were by far the lowest scorers in the league. A paltry 30 points obtained also means that only Daejeon and Busan (2015) and Sangju (2012) have gone down with less points. Based on this season, Gwangju may even struggle in the Challenge next year.
- Paul Neat (@neatpaul)

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