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2018 K League 1 Mid-Season Grades

With the World Cup break a distant memory and the summer months coming to a close, many teams in K League 1 have set their sites on the dividing line between the Championship and Relegation Round. Our writers take a look back at all 12 K1 teams season thus far and hand out grades accordingly. 

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors: A

Jeonbuk lead the K League at a canter, having scored the most goals and kept clean sheets in over half of their games. The new season has also seen them successfully bed in youthful goalkeeper Song Beom-keun, and contend with an injury crisis so bad, striker Kim Shin-wook has been asked to fill in at centre back on two occasions. They’ve even managed to squeeze additional miles out of the 39 year-old Lee Dong-gook, who leads the team’s scoring charts despite mainly appearing as a substitute. Everything thrown at Choi Kang-hee’s team has been met with an answer, though dealing with the recent departure of Lee Jae-sung could pose the trickiest problem of the campaign’s latter half. The manager has built a team to be the best in Asia though, and so far, it looks as if they could very well be.
- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

Gyeongnam FC: A

Newly promoted to K League 1 Gyeongnam have taken to the best league in Korea like a duck to water.  Always entertaining to watch, they play an attacking brand of football and in Marcao have one of the best strikers in the country.  Second in the league at the half way point of the season is a remarkable effort.  Could an ACL berth be calling?

- James Edrupt  (@james_edrupt)

Suwon Samsung Bluewings: B

For the second year running, quite a bit was expected of Suwon heading into the new season and they've fallen just short of those lofty expectations. On the positive side of things, they're on to the quarter-finals of AFC Champions League and have positioned themselves well in league play to ensure international football again next year. While those are admirable goals for most teams in K League, it's not quite enough for a side expected to challenge for the title. Most frustratingly for Bluewings fans, the team has twice come up short in pivotal six-point matches against Jeonbuk, and had a shocking loss against a poor FC Seoul side in the second Super Match of 2018. While Champions League and fighting on three fronts is fantastic for most clubs, if that's all it is for Suwon again this year, fan frustration seems poised to grow.
- Ryan Walters  (@MrRyanWalters)

Jeju United: B-

"Jeju have gone through some inconsistencies this season, getting their season off to a slow start, which saw them also knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage. After a spell which saw them briefly occupy second spot in the table of late, they have fallen off again in recent weeks and now find themselves in a bit of a dogfight for an ACL place next season. Their activity in the transfer window before the campaign has not yielded significant results, and they have yet to show impetus to upgrade the current squad, although they should have some old faces back in the fall on the completion of their military service. Cho Sung-hwan needs to utilize his roster to the best of his advantage in the summer months if the islanders are still going to be a factor for a major push in the fall."
- Branko Belan (@BBelan)

Ulsan Hyundai: B-

"The Horangi do not have the strength in depth to challenge on multiple fronts and so it was understandable that manager Kim Do-hoon prioritized the Champions League over the league in the first few months of the season. But the disappointing manner in which they limped out in the last 16 has lost Kim a lot of goodwill from the fans. Looking ahead, Ulsan do have a talented squad, with Richard Windbichler being the standout player so far this year. They are still in with a chance of a top-three finish, which gives them a passing grade. But they have struggled yet again to get results against the top sides, and even some victories against the teams below have felt like a slog.  Given the ability of their First XI, Ulsan get a ""capable of much better"" from me."
- Dan Croydon (@DolsotDan)

Sangju Sangmu: C

Things are never easy for Korea's military team with a roster almost constantly in flux, and this year is no different. They have shown promise, but have yet to truly solidify into a cohesive unit on the field for an extended period of time. After a promising seven game unbeaten streak, Sangju dropped five in a row and plummeted down the table. With World Cup vets Hong Chul and Kim Minwoo joined by the likes of Yoon Bitgaram, this team really should be punching a bit more above its weight. Something they may regret with the looming September exodus that saw them fall into the relegation playoff last year.
- Ryan Walters  (@MrRyanWalters)

Daegu FC: D+

I have to be brutal here and I would give Daegu D+ at half way. Firstly, we are at the bottom of table now with only 14 goals scored. Daegu are the only team who scored below 20 goals in the league. Secondly, all new players joined us this year have not been successful. Caion and Jean have returned home and other new players didn’t show themselves great on the pitch. However, the reason why I leave some room in the grade is that there is a chance to bounce back in remaining season. It seems Incheon, Jeonnam and Daegu are competing over relegation and difference is not that big. So I hope Daegu get out of relegation zone as they did last year.
- Muyeol Jung  (@daegu_freak)

Gangwon FC: D

Gangwon FC's goal is to qualify for the Asian Champions' League; even the club's slogan for the year is 'Beyond Korea'. But despite scoring for fun in the K League, they don't appear to be much closer to that goal than they were last season. They made some great signings in the summer, but the loss of Lee Geun-ho could hurt them in the second half of the season. However, instead of replacing him, they need to invest in a top quality defender who is strong in the air. The goals Gangwon are conceding aren't from over-committing themselves offensively, rather they are from sloppy mistakes and basic errors. It is like they are submitting their homework with their name spelled wrong. Must do better.
- Steve Price (@kleaguefootball)

FC Seoul: D

It is important to keep in mind the stature of the club and the expectation levels that surround it, rather than what has gone in during the last couple of years with FC Seoul. Very few expect the 2016 K League Champions to be knocking on the door for ACL qualification this season but, despite such low expectations, a D is perhaps the best that can be awarded. Whilst home form is solid with just two defeats all season including a Super Match win, away form has let a lot to be desired: Seoul have just one win on their travels this year, a 3-0 win over Pohang a few weeks ago. Away form is what separates the wheat from the chaff; newly-promoted Gyeongnam for instance, have actually won one fewer games at home, four compared to five, but have six away victories to boast of. With the squad that FC Seoul possess, the league position ought to be a lot better than it is. The potential is there but must try harder.
- Paul Neat (@NeatPaul)

Pohang Steelers: D

A bright start to the campaign has given way to inconsistency and a general lack of direction at the club. A lack of firepower upfront has seen Pohang fail to score in over half of their home games, six from eleven. Coach Choi Soon-ho has cut a despondent figure of late. His recent attempt, in a midweek fixture mind, to shake things up by diverging from the regular 4-3-3 in favour of a modified top-heavy 3-5-2 was a disaster and resulted in their biggest defeat of the season, three-nil at home to the equally uninspiring FC Seoul. Despite all of this they actually find themselves still only three points from 4th position so there is still hope.
- Ross Davis  (@Kleaguenglish)

Incheon United: D

It's been yet another poor season for Incheon United, who are once again involved in the relegation battle. The only positive is that Incheon have been finding the net with ease this season, but sadly issues at the back have negated that improvement. The defence has been statistically the worst in the league, and it's only been in recent weeks that Incheon seem to be clicking and turning thing around.
Hopefully they'll survive come November.
- Tim Barnes (@tpbarnes86)

Jeonnam Dragons: D-

Jeonnam Dragons' fans were optimistic at the start of the season when former Korean star Yoo Sang-chul was appointed new head coach. However, the optimism quickly evaporated and now midway through the season most people realize that the Dragons are in a real relegation dogfight. Yoo has made the Dragons hard to beat on the road, but they're too open and easy to beat at home and as the old saying goes: "If you don't win your home games, you're in big trouble". Another area of concern is Yoo's use of foreign players. He didn't have faith in Tommy (so he sold him) and has had Macedo on the bench most of the season. Thus, he's  been wasting his foreign quota - and a team like Jeonnam can ill afford to do this. If the Dragons are to preserve their top flight status this season, Yoo needs to get the team balance right at home and get the most out of his foreign contingent. Of course, it's still early into his reign so hopefully he can do all of this.
- Aodan Halligan (@aodanh)

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