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K League 1 Round 4 Power Rankings

With the first full month of K League coming to a close this weekendFootball Radar's K League Analyst Alex Lee returns to rank all 12 K1 teams and go over what their early season form may mean for the year ahead.

1- Daegu FC

Heightened by exuberant players and fans, Daegu have been the face of K League football.
Manager André and Director Cho Kwang-rae have brought a renaissance to the football club with sold out home games at the new Forest Arena as well as unforgettable nights in AFC Champions League. Lead by the clinical front three of Ceisinha, Edgar, and Kim Dae-won, Daegu were dominant in their win against Jeju in the league, and also managed two draws against Jeonbuk and Ulsan, arguably the best two teams in the country. Having scored in every fixture so far, Daegu have enjoyed a successful start to their 2019 campaign, and the fans will be looking forward to the rest of the season.

2- Sangju Sangmu

With three wins from their opening three games, Sangju are sitting at the top of the table. Consistency was key to their results as manager Kim Tae-hwan utilised the same 4-4-2 diamond formation and is yet to make a single change in the starting lineup. Yoon Bit-garam continues to be the heartbeat of the team, whereas forwards Song Si-woo and Park Yong-ji have already scored four goals between them.
Sangju's seven new recruits are now available for selection and will bolster the current squad with Pohang full-back Kang Sang-woo set to be the biggest addition. Although the wins were against weaker teams in the league, given their brilliant form, we can expect the military team to cause upsets against stronger opponents later in the season.

3 - FC Seoul

Seoul had a good start to the season with two wins and one draw as well as three clean sheets. Not much has changed tactically but it seems there is a better understanding among players as they play with more energy and freedom. As said by manager Choi Yong-soo, the team is still a work in progress, but is nevertheless an improvement from last season. Uzbekistan international Ikromjon Alibaev has had a promising start after taking on the creative role in midfield as the team has become more threatening on the attack. Serbian forward Aleksandar Pešić, who is rumoured to be the highest paid foreign player in K League, is slowly getting to know the team and will have a pivotal role at the club. The return of holding midfielder Osmar from injury will also be a big boost to their season. With his team in form, Choi Yong-soo will be aiming to restore the fear factor from FC Seoul’s glory days of the past.

4 - Ulsan Hyundai

Last year’s FA Cup runners-up had a relatively quiet start to the season. Equipped with a strong squad, many predicted Ulsan to challenge Jeonbuk for the title. Although we are still to see a title-winning performance, early signs of their campaign are encouraging. New signings have swiftly integrated into the team with defensive pairing Dave Bulthuis and Yun Young-sun looking concrete, and ex-Premier Leaguer Kim Bo-kyung being the influential player as anticipated. Ulsan have only managed five points from a possible nine, partly due to their busy ACL schedule. Key players such as Junior and Mix Diskerud were rested, but their replacements were not as effective. January signing Joo Min-kyu, who was unfortunately injured, would have solved this issue as he can play in both positions. Ulsan will remain serious challengers for the title if the players can maintain their fitness, which manager Kim Do-hoon did excellent with last year.

5 - Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

José Morais has had a subdued start to his tenure as Jeonbuk manager, winning just once in the first three league games. Last year’s champions have not been able to fully implement their new signings Moon Seon-min, Choi Young-joon, and Han Seung-gyu, and have been exposed during the busy ACL period. Although Jeonbuk remain title favourites, the sense of being unbeatable has vanished with back-to-back defeats to Buriram in ACL and Gangwon in the league. The team continues to use the same structure and lineup from last season, which could prompt opponents to work out how to set up against them. Morais will be looking to bring in changes as he is yet to figure out his best lineup and their football has been too one dimensional.

6 - Incheon United

The departure of Moon Seon-min and Elías Aguilar meant Incheon had to bring in replacements to replicate their attacking style of football from last season. Signing Iraqi international Jiloan Hamad and Jeonnam winger Heo Young-joon seems to have done the job. Montenegrin international Stefan Mugoša resumes his scoring form from last year, while acting as part of the team’s backbone with Hamad in midfield and Bunoza in defence. Manager Jørn Andersen has not made a change to his lineup with consistency being the theme for success in K League. But this also implies that players, such as Vietnam international Nguyễn Công Phượng, will have to fight for a place in the team.

7 - Pohang Steelers

Many Pohang fans were concerned after their two defeats against Seoul and Sangju, but manager Choi Soon-ho remained calm and said it was due to lack of preparation and team cohesion; both of which will get better as the season progresses. Choi continued to have faith and stuck with his trademark passing football. It later paid off with a convincing 4-1 win against Gyeongnam and showed what the team was capable of doing. Brazilian striker David and captain Kim Seung-dae each scored and assisted, but the difference came from Wanderson’s move from left-winger to left-back. It strangely made him more effective on the attack, while leaving space in the lineup for another winger. Pohang’s current squad does not feel strong enough to mount a title challenge or finish in an ACL qualification spot, but their neat style of football could prove people wrong.

8 - Gyeongnam FC

Gyeongnam faced a test after their best three players (Marcão, Choi Young-jun and Park Ji-soo) left the club. The board’s solution was to sign 16 players for the new season. With six to seven new players in the matchday lineup on average, lack of team cohesion was always going to be a problem in the early stages. Everything seemed fine after their opening day victory against Seongnam, but defeats against Incheon and Pohang showed a hint of insecurity in the team. Fortunes turned against Gyeongnam as injuries piled up, players grew tired from ACL fixtures, and the manager received a three-game touchline ban. Gyeongnam’s season will depend on big signings Jordan Mutch and Luc Castaignos, but they will need time to settle in as they are yet to make a serious impact on the team.

9 - Gangwon FC

After failing to score in their first two games, manager Kim Byung-soo made a bold decision to drop main striker Uroš Đerić, who scored 24 goals last season, while opting for energetic pressing forwards Kim Ji-hyun and Kim Hyun-wook. Evidently it worked as they ran away surprise 1-0 winners against Jeonbuk. At the start of the season, the return of ex-Korean international Han Kook-young and goalkeeper Kim Ho-jun from their respective long term injuries was a huge boost to the team, while new signings Nemanja Bilbija and Takumi Kiyomoto were expected to bolster Gangwon’s attack. On the contrary, all foreign players in the team, including Valentios and Đerić have found it difficult to get into the team due the manager’s tactics and bias. As seen from last season, failing to incorporate foreign players is the reason why Gangwon are far from reaching their target of ACL qualification. With great players at his disposal, Kim Byung-soo needs to find a compromise between his tactics and individual talent.

10 - Seongnam FC

Recently promoted Seongnam FC had a shaky start, suffering two defeats against Gyeongnam and Seoul. However, shown by the narrow goal difference, the team did put in decent performances and were unlucky not to get anything from those games. Using the same 3-4-3 formation from last season's K League 2 campaign, the Magpies were not afraid to attack bigger teams. Their hard work paid off in their 2-1 win against Suwon where Cho Sung-joon scored a winner in added time. Their display expressed teamwork within a good well-rounded team and it was a sigh of relief for the fans. In terms of new signings, ex-Seoul E-Land winger Choi Oh-back has been the most effective player. Despite playing in an unfamiliar right wing-back position, Choi has done exceptionally well linking the defence and attack. If he can keep it up, it could be a promising season for the 27-year-old.

11 - Jeju United

Having scored just once in their opening three games, Jeju are currently 11th in the table with two points. The performances were a deja-vu of their 15-game winless streak last season.  Brazilian forwards Magno and Tiago have been quiet whereas the midfield partnership of Lee Chang-min and major signing Elias Aguilar has struggled with both players having too similar roles. Manager Cho Sung-hwan continues to change formation and lineup in search for a winning formula. The team will also urgently need loan-signing Yun Il-lok to return from injury as they search for goals. Given the strength of their squad, a relegation battle looks unlikely, but the players will need to start performing in order to avoid a disappointing season.

12 - Suwon Samsung Bluewings

New manager Lee Im-saeng’s ambitious gamble of starting youth players and deploying existing players out of position ended up in three defeats and Suwon finding themselves at the bottom of the table. Reports say injuries were the reason behind Lee’s questionable team selections, but it seems strange that 8-9 first team players were injured during preseason. According to Lee, his tactics were built to provide support to veteran forwards Yeom Ki-hoon and Dejan Damjanović, which was a flaw in itself; Yeom and Dejan no longer have the legs to carry Suwon to the top half of the league. Instead, the team should have been built around Bosnian playmaker Elvis Sarić, arguably their best player last season, and new signing Adam Taggart, who scored 11 goals in 18 appearances in Australia before joining Suwon. The team is also exposed defensively with Korean international Hong Chul, an offensive left-back, often being the last man. Desperate changes need to come from both the club and manager as last year’s ACL semi finalists are now seen as the easiest team to play against in K League.

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