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K League 1 Round 34 Power Rankings

Since the last power rankings, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors were crowned champions, two former managers returned to their old clubs, and the league split was confirmed. With five games remaining until the end of the season, Football Radar's K League Analyst Alex Lee ranks all 12 K1 teams and goes over what they each have left to play for.

1 - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk added their sixth K League title after another dominant display this season. Whether it is chances created, shots on target, or tackles, any football stat will tell why they are champions with a 19-point lead and +40 goal difference. Jeonbuk will have their eyes set on next year and will have to cope with the departure of Choi Kang-hee to Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian. Fortunately for Jeonbuk and their future manager, not much work is needed on the squad as the current players are good enough to win the league on their own. In addition, the club will be relieved from the financial burden of Choi’s contract which could be used to bring in new faces.

2 - Ulsan Hyundai FC

The backbone of Richard Windbichler – Mix Diskerud – Junior Negrão has provided strength and stability for Kim Do-hoon’s side who extend their sensational form. 22-year-old Han Seung-gyu has been the rising star for Ulsan lately with three goals and four assists in the last six games. ACL qualification appears certain for the Tigers as they aim to overtake Gyeongnam in second place. Going into next season, Ulsan will be fighting to secure Diskerud on a full transfer at the end of his loan contract. His importance to the team was shown during his absence in the defeat against Jeonnam, where the midfield was out of place and failed to influence the game. Ulsan will also be looking to retain their KFA Cup trophy as they face Suwon in the semi-finals.

3 - Jeju United

Jeju’s 1-0 victory against Jeonnam in Round 31 ended their prolonged 15 game winless run. Since then, they have won three matches in a row and secured top half finish in the split. Brazilian striker Tiago has been on target with four goals in the last six games, however, team spirit was the real key to success for this Jeju side who often scored in the dying minutes. The departure of Oh Ban-suk to Al Wasl left a void in defence, but the new partnership of Kwon Han-jin and Aleksandar Jovanović has managed to keep clean sheets in all of their recent victories. After the split and their exit from the KFA Cup, Jeju’s rollercoaster season has pretty much come to an end. 

4 - Pohang Steelers 

Pohang’s style of football has become more direct and enjoyable with star players Kim Seung-dae and Lee Jin-hyun playing further forward. I have also been impressed with Pohang’s midfielders as they have a solid understanding of their roles in the side. Defensive midfielder Connor Chapman links the play superbly from defence to midfield as well as acting as a screen to limit the number of opposition chances. Playmaker Lee Seok-hyun acts as the heart of the team having made the most passes in the K League since joining Pohang in early August. The club stands at fifth place and nine points adrift from an ACL qualification spot. Pohang’s season appears to be over, but there is a lot of potential in the team to look forward to next year.

5 - Daegu FC

Goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo returned from the Asian Games and has put in excellent performances for his club. Unfortunately, he has failed to keep a clean sheet since as his defence has struggled. On the other hand, Daegu’s strike force, led by Cesinha, has averaged two goals per game in the last 10 matches. Andre’s side sits in eighth place with a comfortable seven point cushion above the relegation zone. With only five games remaining until the end of the season, Daegu’s fight for survival matched by their excellent form in August and September seems to have paid off. Their focus will now be on the semi-finals of the KFA Cup.

6 - Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Lee Byung-keun’s short tenure as caretaker manager ended after the bizarre return of Seo Jung-won who initially resigned from Suwon just 50 days ago. Apart from this, Suwon’s form in the league has been decent considering they had to cope with playing in two cup competitions. Full-backs Hong Chul and Shin Se-gye have helped defensively since coming back from military service while Bosnian international Elvis Sarić continues to be the star of the team. Suwon find themselves in fourth place and seven points behind ACL qualification. The weakened team selections in Suwon’s league fixtures have shown that they have understandably become a cup side. I believe winning either the KFA Cup or the ACL will be deemed as a good season for Suwon, but major team rebuilding needs to be done over the winter to compete in the league next year.

7 - Gyeongnam FC

Gyeongnam have been in respectable form since they took their foot off the gas in the title race. Despite his injury, K League’s top scorer Marcão continues to add to his tally which currently stands at 26 goals. 21-year-old Japanese midfielder Kunimoto has been reinstated in the starting lineup and has put in top performances lately. Gyeongnam remain in second place with the fans anticipating ACL football next year. However, they will still have to compete against Ulsan to hold onto their runners-up spot.

8 - Jeonnam Dragons

Talented youngsters are a big part of this Jeonnam side which is unfortunately portrayed by the team’s inconsistent performances. It is a shame that although there is a lot of potential, it is not what Jeonnam require in their relegation fight as they need results now rather than the future. Their main forwards Wanderson and Macedo have also fluctuated in form and subsequently effected the results. Jeonnam are in a relegation playoff spot but are still competing in the KFA Cup. To be successful in both competitions, the boys will have to become men and step up in the final matches of the season.

9 - Incheon United

Even though Incheon are last in the league, I consider them the strongest team in the bottom six and expect them to survive at the end of the season. The trinity of Moon Seon-min, Stefan Mugoša, and Elías Aguilar is expected to provide a handful goals in their final games. However, Incheon’s defence, which includes Asian Games hero Kim Jin-ya, needs to be more organised to give them an edge in the relegation battle. Football under manager Jørn Andersen has been exciting to watch and it will a huge loss for K League fans if Incheon get relegated.

10 - Gangwon FC

Gangwon manager Kim Byung-soo gambled the team’s top six hopes on veteran striker Jung Jo-gook and 22-year-old Kim Ji-hyun with Brazilian winger Diego Maurício and Serbian forward Uroš Đerić dropping to the bench. The gamble ultimately failed as Gangwon finished outside the top six after their 2-0 defeat against Ulsan. This raises the question whether it was justifiable to drop their most influential winger and a 23-goal striker for these important games. Gangwon are now seventh with their difficult season coming to an end. There are several exceptional players in this side, but recent results make me wonder whether Kim Byung-soo is the right man to bring ACL football to Gangwon.

11 - Sangju Sangmu

After the mass departure in September, Sangju face a crisis where both new and existing players are finding it difficult to adjust to the reworked team. They have collected just one point in the past five matches as manager Kim Tae-wan makes tweaks to the lineup to find his best XI. The military team now hovers above the relegation zone at tenth place with a single point gap. The manager will be relying on key players Yoon Bit-garam and Shim Dong-woon in their fight for survival.

12 - FC Seoul

‘The Eagle’ Choi Yong-soo returns to his nest to see it in ruins with the eggs gone. The 1-0 defeat against Jeju was a reality check which acknowledged how much trouble the club was facing. Seoul have used every formation and tactic known in football, played under three different managers, and started 35 different players. With a woeful three points from the past 10 matches, Seoul are holding on to ninth place and only three points above the relegation zone. The performance against Jeju showed the lack of confidence and desire in the team. In truth, Seoul do not have players that can take the game by the scruff of the neck. It will have to be a collective effort to grab as many points they can in each fixture. To avoid relegation, club legend Choi needs to play his cards wisely with five matches remaining.

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