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2019 Season Preview: Sangju Sangmu

2019 K League 1 Season Preview: Sangju Sangmu
Once again, military side Sangju Sangmu barely survived in the K League 1 with their fate being determined on the final day of the season. With a batch of new recruits within their ranks, as well as some current players who will be there for the whole season's duration, the army team will hope to get off to a good start in order to try and avoid being pulled into a relegation scrap once more.

Last Season

W9 D13 L16, 10th

What Happened?

In similar fashion to the season prior, Sangju Sangmu ended the year flirting with the prospect of the drop, requiring a deflected Yoon Bit-garam winner on the final day to condemn FC Seoul to a relegation playoff instead.

With a side made up of players serving their 20 month military service, however, manager Kim Tae-wan often has to make-do with the hand he is dealt and, for the most part, he did as expected. Sangju did manage to climb as high as fourth by round fourteen, but a combination of a slip in form, World Cup break and the annual Autumn exodus of players saw them slide back down the table once more, entering the relegation zone in the penultimate round. At its worst, Sangju went the nineteen games immediately following the World Cup with just two wins.

Unlike last year, however, Sangju also took in summer recruits to offset the key players leaving in the months after. The transition did not go as smoothly as the manager would have liked though, contributing to their faltering form. With those recruits having now had a full pre-season, in addition to a batch of new players to boot, this year’s military team will be hoping not to leave their survival until the final day once more.

Notable Moves

Jin Sung-wook: The Jeju-forward made his move to Sangju in the winter along with teammates Ryu Seung-woo and Lee Chan-dong. Jin has been a regular feature in the Jeju lineup over the last two years, often playing out on the wing. With their fellow Jeju colleague Yoon bit-garam already in the process of carrying out his military service at the club, there is the hope that Sangju could perhaps benefit from the chemistry of having so many Islanders in the same squad.

Ryu Seung-woo: As mentioned, Ryu arrives here from Jeju United, but perhaps has the most varied experience of all seven new recruits. With stints in the German Bundesliga and the Hungarian NB 1 leagues, the former Bayern Leverkusen youth product has spent the last 18 months in the K League finally earning regular first-team football as mostly a central attacking midfielder. While there may be some adjustments required to squeeze Ryu in alongside Yoon Bit-garam, if manager Kim Tae-wan can find an effective formation to accommodate both, then he should boast quite a midfield for the first half of the season at least.

Kang Sang-woo: The Pohang Steelers player has been a regular for his club over the last few seasons, now likely leaving a void at left back where he was frequently deployed. He will face stern competition for a start at Sangju if he expects to play in the same spot, however, what with Suwon full back Kim Min-woo still due to serve eight more months of his service before heading back to his parent club. Kang boasted the highest number of crosses for Pohang last season with 100, dwarfing second place by 44 as well as completing the most tackles and second most interceptions for his side too. He should prove a useful asset to Sangju and provide competition for places if he is not afforded a starting berth.

Key Player

Yoon Bit-garam: The central attacking midfielder was one of the stand-out players last season, scoring seven goals and leading the assists for his club with just three. In terms of key passes, he led the entire league with 100, surpassing Daegu FC's Ceshina in second place by eleven, suggesting that he is at least creating opportunities and is heavily involved in most of Sangju's attacking build-up. Yoon will return to his parent club Jeju United in Autumn, so manager Kim Tae-wan will need to make good use of the creative midfielder in the first half of the season.

Young Player to Watch

Song Si-woo: Given the nature of the military team, most of the players opt to complete their national service at the latest possible date, with many of them serving during the years of 28 and 30. However, as one of the younger players in the team at 25, Incheon United’s Song Si-woo is due to have a promising season after being fairly anonymous since his switch last summer. At Incheon, Song managed to develop a knack of coming off the bench late to rescue matches for his parent club, yet has been unable to repeat the trick whilst at the military where he made only twelve appearances and scored once as he went about settling in. With a full pre-season complete, Song will be hoping to not only return to his "super-sub" status but use this year to build a case for himself as a reliable and formidable striker which his parent club will be grateful to have back.

Biggest Question

Can they survive?

As per usual, as long as Sangju are in the top flight, their focus will be on survival. Even in their strongest season back in 2016, they still fell suspect to the swathe of player departures that blight the team every Autumn when those in their second season tend to finish their 20-month spell. Unlike their competitors, Sangju's objective each year is to accumulate enough points before then to offset the poor form that usually follows and avoid relegation. Last year, however, saw them take the unusual step of recruiting in the summer, meaning that those players will see out this full season. If they were to do that again this year, especially now they no longer have to compete with Asan for players, they may well find themselves in a position to do something more.

Reasons to Watch

Sangju Sangmu is always a tricky sell, as even reaching the stadium if you live outside of Sangju is difficult. Given that no players are permanent, and rarely wish to be there, it is also quite hard to build loyalty with the supporters. However, as the remaining military side across both divisions, there is a certain uniqueness to their setup that could pique the interest of some. Not only that but theoretically the side should consist of the country's best players in their peak years, so the potential for exciting football does exist, yet is dependent on the batch of recruits. With the police having now cut funding to Asan, the next few years should see Sangju have a deeper pool of talent to draw from and potentially get stronger in the next couple of seasons.

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