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scouting

2020 Season Preview: Gwangju FC


Gwangju return to the top tier after a two-year absence with Park Jin-seop bringing in some experienced heads to ensure they don't repeat the mistakes of 2017. A barnstorming 20-game unbeaten run saw them reach an unassailable position on their route to KLeague 1 last season and keeping hold of key players could see them spring a few surprises.  


Last Season

21-W 10-D 5-L (1st place in KLeague 2)

In truth Gwangju strolled to the title. While they received nudges of pressure from a persistent Busan IPark, who finished six points behind them, the Yellows never looked in danger of relinquishing top spot. A comfortable 2-0 opening day victory at Jamsil, home of Seoul E-Land, set the tone for a dominant first half of the season. Towards the latter stages there were a couple of notable blips including a 7-1 hammering at the hands of Anyang but on the whole it was a comfortable ride as talisman Felipe grabbed the league's golden boot with 19 goals. A forgetful FA Cup campaign was the only blemish, edging past Andong Science University on penalties only to succumb 3-0 to eventual winners Suwon Samsung Bluewings in a tepid performance.


What Happened?

Gwangju did not represent a free-scoring or fluid team despite their domination. The spine of the side remained constant with only the defence suffering enforced changes and tactics rarely altered from game to game. A stout back line conceded just 31 goals with only Asan conceding less than 30 in K2 history. Park Jin-seop's side went a record 20 games unbeaten in the league all the way until late July with great depth to their squad and a knack of grinding out wins when not performing at their best.

After drawing three of their last four including a couple of frustrating stalemates, one key goal was provided by Yeo Reum at Bucheon in May. In the final minute of stoppage time the one-club man struck to give his side a 1-0 win on the road with Gwangju only failing to pick up maximum points in two of their next 10 fixtures. August saw the Yellows worst spell of the season picking up just seven points from seven games after the hammering at the hands of Anyang. Fortunately the points accumulated earlier in the season rendered this merely a blip and five consecutive wins into an unbeaten October sealed the title. 

Notable Moves

IN - Lee Min-gi: A mainstay of the 2017 relegated side under Nam Ki-il and Kim Hak-beom, Lee returned from military service at Sangju Sangmu to take part in Gwangju's winter training camp in Thailand. Lee is one of a host of defenders who have arrived at the Guus Hiddink Stadium over the winter.

IN - Park Jun-hui: Park arrives in Jeollanamdo as one of the raft of talent to leave Ansan Greeners this transfer window. A regular last season, the six foot defender is capable of playing both at right back and in central defensive midfield.

IN - Kim Hyo-gi: A veteran KLeague forward, Kim has actually seen his minutes on the pitch increase since turning the wrong side of 30. His involvement will have to be monitored having picked up some niggling injuries at Gyeongnam, but the striker has an eye for scoring goals in important matches and could be a good foil for Felipe.

OUT - Kim Young-bin: The Gwangju stalwart defenders presence in the dressing room will have been a welcome return for the final weeks of the season having completed his military service at Sangju Sangmu. Having played five consecutive seasons in the top tier and a regular starter last season for Kim Tae-wan's impressive side, Kim was one of few with genuine top flight experience to his name but will instead ply his trade for Gangwon this term.

OUT - Ratinho: While never on the club's books permanently, the central midfielder showed plenty of promise in his short loan spell and gave Gwangju some much-needed drive and bite in the middle of the park. Returning to Goias after only eight games, the Brazilian may not feature in many KLeague 2 teams of the year but looked to have the guile to step up to the top division. His departure leaves a foreign player spot available. 

Key Player


Felipe: Much more than simply a target man, Felipe carried on good late 2018 form into last season. The board have done well to keep hold of him as there must surely have at least been enquiries as to his availability. A focal point for much of Gwangju's attacking movement, Felipe has unexpectedly good movement around the box while inevitably standing out as a headache for defenders to mark. He seems most comfortable with his back to goal, laying off to one of Gwangju's multitude of young attacking talent to go and attack the incoming cross. On occasions last season he also demonstrated a powerful shot from range with his left foot. Suspended for a lengthy period for petulance and kicking a water bottle, Felipe's frustration at the number of fouls committed upon him can boil over. Saying that, the Brazilian wins countless free kicks in dangerous positions for the likes of Yeo Reum and Lee Eu-ddeum to strike from.

Young Player to Watch

Eom Won-sang

The 21-year-old winger enjoyed a breakthrough season for the Yellows clocking up 16 appearances and notching two goals. A favoured personnel with both Chung Jung-yong and Kim Hak-beom in the national team youth squads over the past eight months, Eom could push his way into reckoning for Tokyo 2020 if he has a good start to the season. His best football for Gwangju last term arguably came early on before the disruption of the U-20 World Cup in Poland as he and fellow youngster Lee Hee-gyun troubled full backs. The arrival of Willyan and Doo Hyeon-seok's form limited his opportunities somewhat but when given a chance Eom's direct style and ability to beat a man out wide was taken advantage of. To make an impact in the top tier Eom will have to improve his end product and get his head up a bit more.

Biggest Question

Are they strong enough in central midfield?

With Ratinho's loan finishing and two of Gwangju's three preferred central midfielders being over 30, Park Jin-seop's side appear to me to be a little light in the middle of the park. Coming up against stronger opposition this season, the Yellows run the risk of being overrun especially away from home. The manager has clearly prioritised the defence as an area of his squad that needed improving, but a box to box midfielder with the legs to press the opposition could be of great use. Fortunately for Gwangju, they do possess the versatile Yeo Bong-hun in their armoury along with Lim Min-hyuk, who could really do with fulfilling the potential and promise shown earlier in his career.

[READ: How Gwangju can bridge the gap to KLeague 1]


Reason to Watch

This will be neutral fans last chance to witness football at the Gwangju World Cup Stadium, with the club moving to their new stadium over the road. The expected date for the move keeps changing but the current ground's silver archways are worth a viewing despite the running track hindering the view of the pitch. Gwangju's opening fixtures have been quite kind to Park Jin-seop's men not having to play any of last season's top three in their first six fixtures. Along with the momentum provided by promotion, a win on the first day of the season at home to Seongnam could ignite a good early run.


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