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2019 Season Preview: Gangwon FC

A disappointing 2018 saw Gangwon FC finish 8th in the K League 1 last year. After conceding goals let, right and centre last season a new look Gangwon FC will look to put that disastrous campaign behind them as they continue on their quest for Asian Champions League qualification. 

Last Season

12W 10D 16L, 8th place

What Happened?

Not much went well in terms of achieving their ambitions of Champions League football, but at least Gangwon did provide some entertainment in 2018. Gangwon were the highest goalscorers in the league, outside of those teams that finished in the top 3, mostly thanks to Uroš Đerić. The towering centre forward had a stellar first year in the K League, finishing as the 2nd top goalscorer and he was unlucky to miss out on the K League's best 11.

Despite the best efforts of the forwards though, Gangwon had major issues with their defence last season. Only Incheon United and the Jeonnam Dragons conceded more than Gangwon, and they conceded 3 or more goals in a game a staggering 12 times in 2018.

Their FA Cup exit to Gimhae City summed up their season, and for a team that has such lofty ambitions 2018 will go down as a disaster of a season. 

Notable Moves

Gangwon have gone some way to shoring up that leaky defence by signing holding midfielder, Lee Jae-kwon, from Busan I Park. The 31 year old was a mainstay of the Busan team that almost gained promotion from the K2 last year. Lee spent much of the season screening the back four, completing 53 tackles and 30 interceptions in the process, as Busan went on to have the 2nd stingiest defence in the K League 2. Having not played significant minutes at this level since 2011, when he was with Incheon United, this may be a big step up in level for Lee, but Gangwon will be hoping that they have found the key to improving their defence.

Despite holding on to the services of Uroš Đerić for another year, Gangwon have also brought in fellow Bosnian and Herzegovina striker, Nemanja Bilbija. The striker arrives from Zrinjski Mostar where he bagged 14 goals in 16 league appearances last year, as Mostar won their 3rd consecutive title. Having already scored 84 career goals, the striker arrives with a rich pedigree and if he hits the ground running Gangwon threaten to have one of the best strike forces in Korea.

One of the more intriguing signings of this K League transfer window has been the arrival of Japanese utility man Takumi Kiyomoto from Oita Trinita. The midfielder has spent most of his career in the J League 2, but he was most recently part of the Oita Trinita team that secured two promotions in just 3 years as they made their way from the J League 3 to the J League 1. Kiyomoto has great stamina, and has the ability to arrive in the box late to get on the end of pullbacks and crosses. As an all round, box-to-box midfielder Gangwon will be looking to the Japanese man to add some energy to their midfield.

Key Player

Gangwon's season will probably hinge, once again, upon the performances of their 2018 MVP, Uroš Đerić. The forward was one of the highlights of the K League last year, and not only did he finish as the 2nd top scorer in the K League 1, he was also statistically one of the best attacking players in the league. Đerić had the 3rd most shots from within the penalty area and also from outside the penalty area, along with being the 7th most effective shooter in the league, registering 51 of his 101 shots on target. The big man also made good use of his height, winning 248 aerial challenges, the 2nd best in the league.

It will be difficult to better those statistics, but having already established himself in the league and now having attacking reinforcements to help him, Gangwon's main man just might be in the position to go even further this year.

Young Player to Watch

The signing of Kim Hyun-wook, from Jeju United, might just be Gangwon's biggest of the transfer window. The 23 year old midfielder made 22 league appearances for the Islanders last year, scoring 4 goals in his first full year as a professional footballer. Kim completed 85% of his passes last year, and he also averaged 1.52 key passes a game, the 29th best in the league. That may not seem like much at first, but when you consider that he only had 99 minutes of first team football to his name before 2018 then that figure becomes a little more eye catching.

Gangwon obviously believe that they may have unearthed a hidden gem in Kim, and if the youngster can just improve sightly on those statistics then he may well repay the belief that has been shown in him. 

Biggest Question

Can they control games and give their defence a break?

Gangwon obviously had a terrible time in defence last season, but if you look closely at the statistics there is reason to believe that it's not only the defenders that were to blame. Gangwon averaged 55 successful challenges (3rd best in the league), completed 957 clearances (2nd best in the league), and made 408 interceptions (5th best in the league).

However, despite having a very effective attack, Gangwon seriously struggled to control the flow of games last year and their lack of cutting edge in the middle third of the field was a constant problem. Gangwon disappointingly ranked 8th in the league for key passes made and 9th in the league for forward passes completed. As Gangwon struggled to maintain control they would regularly resort to long balls up to their forwards and their average of 34 long passes in a game was the 3rd highest in the league.

Last season, the defenders often did what was required of them, the problem was that they just came under too much pressure during matches for them to maintain their performance throughout the whole 90 minutes. Gangwon's new additions in midfield should help them take control of more matches this year, but if they fail to do that then it could be another long season for those defenders.

Reason to Watch

The unpredictability and free flowing nature of Gangwon's games made them a joy to watch last season. Gangwon were effective going forward, mostly thanks to Uroš Đerić, whilst they also conceded goals on a regular basis and  9 of their games in 2018 featured at least 5 goals.

The players that they have added to their squad over the winter should add to that attack and Gangwon are expected to pick up where they left off. If you are looking for goals then you shouldn't look too much further than Gangwon FC. 

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