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playoffs

2018 Season Preview: Sangju Sangmu

2018 Season Preview for K league 1 side Sangju Sangmu FC
Last season saw Sangju Sangmu become the first K League top flight side to survive the dreaded relegation playoff. With a batch of new recruits bolstering their ranks, the military side will be looking to put in a much improved performance this year to avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap again.
(image via: SangjuFC.com)

Last Season


W8-D11-L19, 11th Place in the K League Classic

What Happened?


Having enjoyed a record breaking season in 2016 under the leadership of the late Cho Jin-ho, newly appointed manager Kim Tae-wan did his utmost to follow in his predecessors footsteps, playing to the team’s attacking strengths in the hope that it could outweigh what proved to be a soft underbelly. On one end of the spectrum, striker Joo Min-kyu lit up the league with his goal-scoring prowess, matching the divisions record streak of scoring once per game for seven matches straight, whilst also totaling an impressive seventeen league goals for the whole campaign. However, as September rolled around, the squad was once again gutted as players came to the end of their 20 month national service, leaving a team that had not moved far enough away from the drop zone in perilous danger. After folding easily to a struggling Incheon United side on the final day of the season, it looked as if they were condemned to the second division once more. Tasked with defeating a high flying and emotionally charged Busan side, also built in the style of Cho Jin-ho before his sudden and tragic death last October, Sangju raised eyebrows by grinding out two unglamorous legs before defeating the southerners on penalties, that man Joo Min-kyu scoring the decisive spot kick. With lessons to be learned after coming so close to dropping out of the top flight, it will be interesting to see if their latest batch of recruits are up to the task.

Notable Moves


Kim Min-woo: Having been asked to fill the void vacated by Hong Chul at Suwon Bluewings last season, Kim Min-woo finds himself once again behind the renowned left back as he reports at Sangju to complete his military service. The player certainly stepped up to the task last season, and earned multiple national call ups for his efforts. With Hong set to end his service later this year, it seems Kim will once again be asked to step into his shoes. At least his manager will know he will be more than capable.

Yoon Bit-garam: After a prolonged transfer saga, with multiple leading clubs chasing his name, Yoon Bit-garam returned to Jeju United from Chinese Super League club Yanbian Funde to help boost them in their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to wrangle Jeonbuk's grip off the title race. With players only being able to move to Sangju from a K League club, it was a loan move of convenience for both club and player, with the creative midfielder making 17 appearances, scoring two goals and creating three. With national team and Champions League experience, he should prove a valuable asset to Sangju's midfield.

Needs

Worryingly, for a group of players technically protecting their country, Sangju Sangmu’s biggest area of weakness were their defence, particularly their centre backs, with Kim Tae-hwan probably the only one playing to an acceptable standard. Unfortunately, due to the nature of how players are acquired for this team, it seems this issue has not been adequately resolved, with apparently few reliable offerings due for call up at this time.

Of the new recruits, Jeju United's Baek Dong-kyu may be of use after playing in central role in a back three, but, having spent a large chunk of last season suspended for running off the bench onto the field of play to attempt a flying elbow on Urawa Red's forward Zlatan Ljubijankić, the defender understandably saw relatively little game time. In 2016 though, he did feature for around half of the islanders' matches and was a decent enough backup option, and will be hoping he can rebuild his reputation in Sangju. Alternatively, Busan IPark's Cha Young-hwan could also prove a viable option and featured regularly in a stellar campaign for the almost promoted side.

Key Player


Joo Min-kyu

As touched upon, stiker Joo Min-kyu will certainly be the man to keep an eye on. With time rapidly decreasing on the chances of an international call up ahead of the World Cup (if they haven’t long passed him by already), the player will be motivated more than ever to continue his goal scoring antics. Why he was not considered in Shin Tae-yong’s off season training camp, or the EAFF E-1 East Asian Cup where only players from Asian leagues in off season were allowed, remains a mystery given he was the top domestic scorer last year.

Joo’s military duty will come to an end in September also, and he will return to the second tier back to his parent club Seoul E-Land, to hopefully assist them with his goals if they manage to mount an unlikely play off chase. Sangju Sangmu will be very much hoping he will have also helped steer them clear of trouble by then also.

Biggest Question


Can they be safe by September?

It’s a pretty tall ask, and highly unlikely to be mathematically safe, but Sangju Sangmu need to have as many points on the board by the time they are gutted of last year’s new recruits and reasonably clear of relegation danger. With a seven week break for the World Cup, that target will be even harder to reach as their loans will not be extended just because the season is prolonged. They must come out of the gates flying, yet they could be hindered even further by not playing at home for the first ten rounds due to a regional sports festival being held at their stadium during the spring. Finally, for all the attacking talent they may have amongst their ranks this season, their defence looks worryingly soft. Overall, the odds are stacked heavily against them and relegation is a very real possibility.

Reason to Watch


The military side is perhaps one of the more difficult teams to get behind in the league, with their location being remote and fairly inaccessible via public transport, and that an ever changing rotation of players coming through the door, all of which do not really want to be there, making it increasingly difficult to justify rooting for.

That said, their format certainly makes them one of the more interesting sides in the division, and the brand of football they have played in recent years has been one of an all-or-nothing variety, with recent recruits suggesting that this will not be changing any time soon. With the very real risk of relegation, they may also keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

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