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2018 K League 1 Best XI

With curtains closed on another year of K League action, Football Radar’s Alex Lee takes a look back over the season and selects his best eleven for the campaign. 

With the 2018 K League season at a close, I am honoured to present the Best XI for what has been an exciting year for Korean football. After weeks of consideration, I have refrained from using a 1-1-8 formation with the abundance of attacking quality offered in the K League, and instead opted for the conventional 4-4-2 formation to give an equal opportunity for each position. I have also included a bench list for players that narrowly missed out but deserved a special mention. This article was written before the official K League Awards were announced to provide a consistent and unbiased analysis of each player’s performance this season.
- Alex Lee (Football Radar)

Goalkeeper

Song Bum-keun (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Choosing between World Cup star Cho Hyun-woo and the rookie Song Bum-keun was a dilemma that brought sleepless nights. As the 2017 Golden Glove winner, Cho has had another unforgettable year with his stellar performances at the World Cup and the Asian Games as well as winning points on his own for Daegu. However, after exclusively looking at the K League season, Jeonbuk’s Song Bum-keun was my final choice for Goalkeeper of the Year. The 21-year-old, who made his professional debut this season, has kept an impressive 19 clean sheets and only conceded 16 goals in 28 games. Even though Jeonbuk have by far the best defence in the league, this year’s champions conceded 15 goals in 8 games during Song’s absence due to the Asian Games. Given what Song has achieved in his first year of professional football, I look forward to seeing the player grow and develop as he will undoubtedly be Jeonbuk’s number one for many years to come.

Defenders

Lee Yong (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Third most assists (9), third most key passes (62), most crosses (167), most tackles (73), and fifth most interceptions (59) in the league, all from playing at right-back. The stats are enough to tell you how vital the player was in Jeonbuk’s title-winning campaign. After recovering from a long-term injury, the Korean International excelled through the season and showed why he is the best full-back the country has to offer. Truly deserves the 2018 Defender of the Year Award.

Kim Min-jae (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

Another player where not much needs to be said to justify his inclusion. Despite missing several games through injury and the Asian Games, Kim Min-jae became a ‘monster’ every time he stepped onto the pitch in a Jeonbuk shirt. Both physically and technically gifted, it was hard to find a weakness in the 22-year-old centre-back as he often made defending look easy. Reports suggest Kim could follow manager Choi Kang-hee to Tianjin Quanjian but he surely has the quality to challenge in bigger European leagues.

Park Ji-soo (Gyeongnam FC)

From Korea’s third division to international status, it has been a fairy-tale story for Gyeongnam’s Park Ji-soo. Labelled as the core of Gyeongnam’s defence, Park has a strong understanding of the game, fundamentally developed through playing in various levels of Korean football. The media refer to him as a ‘fighter’ due to his aggressive style but his defensive awareness, decision making, and inch-perfect tackling are what makes him a solid all-rounded defender. His rare attributes will be an important asset to the national team.

Hong Chul (Sangju Sangmu/Suwon Samsung Bluewings)

Sangju’s good form in the first half of the season was largely thanks to the number of top-class players they had recruited. Korean International Hong Chul had a key role in both attack and defence with the left-back amassing one goal and five assists before being discharged from military service. Since returning to Suwon, Hong has added three assists in just five starts for the club. His class was also shown on the international stage with his fine display against Germany at the World Cup. Having all the traits of a modern-day full-back, Hong continues to shine in his position regardless of the team.

Midfielders

Moon Seon-min (Incheon United)

Totaling 13 goals and six assists, Moon Seon-min’s form in 2018 has been bright and consistent like his goal celebrations. K League’s star winger terrorised any defence he faced with his rapid pace and neat footwork, even scoring four goals in three matches against champions Jeonbuk. Moon has excelled under Incheon manager Jorn Andersen with the winger being essential to the manager’s direct style of football. Incheon fans will certainly be thanking Moon for his role in their survival

Choi Young-jun (Gyeongnam FC)

The best defensive midfielder and most underrated player in Korea. Choi Young-Jun surprised many K League fans having made the second most tackles (62) and interceptions (85) in the division. Choi’s work rate is reminiscent of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and was the catalyst for Gyeongnam’s revolution. The player not only deserves an international call-up but is also needed by the national team due to the uncertainty over Ki Sung-yong’s future. Could he be the final piece of the puzzle for Paulo Bento and Korea?

Elias Aguilar (Incheon United)

Elias Aguilar has been the heart of Incheon’s attacking football this season with the Costa Rican international making the most key passes (98) and joint most assists (10) in the league so far. As arguably the best creative midfielder in the K League, Aguilar’s ability to dribble and pick out forward passes is sensational. His exquisite left foot is compared to Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil. Aguilar’s loan deal was an exceptional bargain for Incheon with rumours suggesting Jeonbuk are interested in the player. Hopefully we will see him again in the K League next year.

Ricardo Lopes (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)

The departure of Lee Jae-sung and Jeonbuk’s lack of a standout striker meant that Brazilian winger Ricardo Lopes had to step up as the team’s main attacking threat, and he did so splendidly. In his third year at Jeonbuk, Lopes scored 12 goals and assisted six, having the most combined goals and assists for the champions this season. The Brazilian’s ability to run at the defence and quick build-up play offers a different offensive approach to Jeonbuk’s typical route one style. He was no doubt the most influential attacker in Jeonbuk’s title-winning campaign

Forwards

Uroš Đerić (Gangwon FC)

Despite a late blip in form, Uros Djeric has been on another level to other K League strikers for most of the season. Keeping the challenge for Golden Boot extremely tight until the end, the Serbian striker has scored 24 goals and will be pushing for the prize in the final matches. For his first year in Korea, Djeric has performed exceptionally and could have been even better without the problems Gangwon faced both on and off the pitch. The Serbian might be known for his physique, but his movement and positioning inside the box are arguably the best in the league.

Marcão (Gyeongnam FC)

Last year’s MVP of K League 2 has gone on to conquer Korea’s top division. After scoring a hat-trick against Sangju in the first round, Marcão eased past defenders netting 26 times this season. Claiming the Golden Boot, the Brazilian’s aerial dominance, agility and technique makes him the perfect striker for any football team. Unsurprisingly he has been linked with big-money moves to China and Japan, but the 24-year-old forward will primarily be looking for a chance in Europe to follow his dreams. Wherever his future lies, he will always be remembered as The King of K League. Best XI

Bench

Cho Hyun-woo (Daegu FC)
Lee Myung-jae (Ulsan Hyundai)
Richard Windbichler (Ulsan Hyundai)
Cesinha (Daegu FC)
Kim Seung-dae (Pohang Steelers)
Stefan Mugosa (Incheon United)
Junior (Ulsan Hyundai)

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