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2018 Season Review: Pohang Steelers

Ultimately the 2018 season ended in disappointment for Pohang Steelers as their fourth placed finish wasn’t enough to earn them the coveted return to the Asian Champions League. However, a top half finish for the first time in three seasons is undeniable progression and most importantly a solid platform for the team to go one better and qualify for the ACL in 2019.
(image via [Kleague.com)

What Went Well

Finishing fourth is a marked improvement from the previous campaign where the team finished a comfortable 7th in somewhat of a no-mans land between the split, some 20 points off the top and bottom of the league. Particularly the team would have been delighted with how they bounced back from an opening defeat in the Championship Round to clinch fourth with a game in hand. This 'bouncebackability' was crucial as the team's longest unbeaten run lasted a mere four games, and that was only in the first four games of the season.

Having a clearly defined system of 4-3-3, wonderfully highlighted by the Kleague coach, plays to the strength of the team and produced some of the leagues best counter-attacking goals of the season, like this one versus Gangwon F.C. in October.

What Didn't Go Well

Although, the aforementioned 'bouncebackability' and 4-3-3 system were strengths of the team they are also somewhat an explanation for what didn't go well. The fact that the team lost 14 games, the joint worst in the top half, means that the team were hugely inconsistent throughout the season. The 4-3-3 also leaves the team exposed defensively at crosses, and a huge number of goals were conceded from aerial balls into the box, which were delivered unchallenged and not adequately dealt with.

The low points in terms of games has to be 0-3 home defeat to relegation playoff winners FC Seoul. Coach Choi Soon-ho was perhaps aware of the weaknesses in being over-reliant on the one system attempted a modified version of a 3-5-2 and the hosts were resoundingly beaten and the experiment was not repeated. This showed a lack of tactical nouse or perhaps adequate preparation on the training ground, and was certainly a concern among the fan base.

From a player standpoint having no clear focal point in attack severely limited the team's goalscoring ability; the team top goalscorer scored a quite meek eight goals.

Young Player of the Year

23-year-old goalkeeper Kang Hyeon-mu started every game this season for the first time in his career, and he certainly didn't look out of his depth. The Steelers usually relied on Kang to produce some acrobatic stops in order to secure victories or even hold on for a draw. Although, clearly still learning his trade as a number one the squad number 31 has undoubted potential with the shot stopping ability of the best keepers in the league. If Kang can add a better command of his area, especially on crossed balls, the Busan native will surely break into the Korean national team setup sooner rather than later.

Team MVP

Topscorer and all-round goal threat Kim Seung-dae returned to form this year in his first full season back at the club following his stint in China. On top of his eight goals, the 2014 Asian Games gold medalist also led the team in assists with five. His form impressed so much that he earned a recall to the national team and appeared in a few friendlies.

Most Disappointing Player

Kim had to step up to the plate for the side's main summer signings at the front of the team didn't perform. Brazilian duo Getterson, who lasted just nine games, and striker Leo Gamalho never really got going and left the team struggling for goals. Gamalho showed early promise netting twice on his debut, but the goals soon dried up as did the opportunities to start in games. So his impact was limited from the bench and may have been greater if he had been afforded more than just the 14 starts.

Most Important Decision in the Off-Season

It is clear that player recruitment is the key area to focus on. Plugging the gaps in what is quite a strong squad especially in the midfield. The likes of Connor Chapman, Lee Jin-hyeon and Lee Seon-Hyun all came into the team last season and contributed greatly to their strong push for the ACL places. So with midfield covered, the gaps are that main focal point in attack and the central of defence where again another Brazilian, Alemao, brought in last summer failed to impress and quickly fell out of favour. Young centre back Ha Chang-rae played alongside club legend Kim Gwang-seok for the majority of the season but was error-prone and failed to impress. If these two areas are suitably filled then there is no reason why the club couldn't push on and finish even higher than this year's fourth placed.

The K League United Podcast

he K League United Podcast took a look back at the K League 1 season in full with the help of a number of our website's knowledgeable columnists. You can listen to the episode in full below, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts or TuneIn Radio. You can also catch the show on Football Nation Radio, every Thursday at 5pm Sydney Time (3pm KST).

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