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2020 Season Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

2020 K League 1 Season Preview: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Reigning K League 1 Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors return for a potentially record-breaking 2020 campaign where they will look to claim an unprecedented eighth league title and also a fourth consecutive championship. However, they will also be looking to make in-roads in the AFC Champions League after a disappointing showing last year. After a busy transfer window with notable names moving both in and out of the club, can José Morais' men hit the ground running?

Last Season

22W-13D-3L, 1st

What Happened?

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors ended the 2019 season as champions once more, claiming their seventh league title and also their third in a row, equalling Seongnam FC's record. While praise does have to go to manager José Morais, who took to the helm of the club at the start of last year, the season was far from perfect with Jeonbuk finding themselves in the unusual position of being behind the leaders going into the final day, needing to win and also receive help from elsewhere to seal the silverware. With Ulsan Hyundai effectively imploding in their last match to local rivals Pohang Steelers, Jeonbuk were able to keep up their end of the bargain as they saw off Gangwon FC.

The team also found themselves unable to make inroads in Asia, exiting the competition in the first knockout round to Shanghai SIPG after two legs and a penalty shootout. The match was infamous for Jeonbuk's manager being sent to the stands towards the end of the second leg, with the club's K League MVP nominee Moon Seon-min also seeing red in the final minute. It was a disappointing end to Jeonbuk's participation in continental competition, especially due to the heavy investment from the board to deliver on this front.

Having perhaps chalked 2019 up as a year of transition for the club, manager José Morais will be expected to improve on his team's showings this year. Having been backed heavily by the board over the window, signing key names and allowing most of the 2019 signings he did not favour to move on, he will now be expected to deliver from early on in all competitions.

[READ: Jeonbuk 2019 Season Review]

Notable Moves

Kim Bo-kyung: One of the biggest transfers of the winter window saw Jeonbuk swoop in for their former player and Kashiwa Reysol midfielder Kim Bo-kyung. Kim had been on loan at Ulsan Hyundai throughout 2018, helping the Horangi to the brink of history with the side falling at the final hurdle in their title plight. Kim's performances drew plaudits, however, amounting to the midfielder lifting the league's MVP trophy at the end of the season. By returning to Jeonbuk, he will look to lifting the AFC Champions League once more having previously been a core part of the 2016 iteration of the North Jeolla side.

Takahiro Kunimoto: After two seasons of promise in the K League 1, Takahiro Kunimoto left the now-relegated Gyeongnam FC for Jeonju to see if his talent can shine at the level the champions require. His showing in the AFC Champions League defeat to Yokohama F. Marinos was a silver lining on an abhorrent team performance, indicating he may well be a stand out player this season for the side.

Ricardo Lopes: Jeonbuk's outbound list has far surpassed their inbound with a number of players seeing their contracts expire or their services moved on. The biggest name of the outgoing players, however, was Brazilian winger and fan-favourite Ricardo Lopes for a reported $6 million to Shanghai SIPG. His presence will certainly be missed in Jeonju, with the team opting to replace him with relatively unknown 25-year-old Brazilian winger Murilo from Botafogo FC.

Key Player 

Kim Bo-kyung

Last year's K League 1 MVP Kim Bo-kyung returns to Jeonju in hope of recreating the team's AFC Champions League triumph in which he played a pivotal role. Last season, Kim scored an impressive 13 goals and made nine assists from midfield in an Ulsan Hyundai side that looked destined to prise the K League title from Jeonbuk's firm grip. Kim was much-loved during his 18-month stint in Jeonju, with many fans upset at the decision to sell him to Kashiwa Reysol midway through the 2017 campaign. With his return, there will be hopes he can recreate his form his first stint in North Jeolla, where he played 43 and scored seven across all competitions. During pre-season and early ACL fixtures, José Morais has opted to play Kim out wide, despite him excelling previously in a more central role. It would be unsurprising if he is later moved inwards, however,  as the manager looks to integrate newly acquired winger Murilo into the matchday setup.

Young Player to Watch

Cho Gue-seong

After a stellar season with FC Anyang in K League 2, not to mention AFC U-23 Asian Cup triumph for his country in January, striker Cho Gue-seong has been signed by Jeonbuk in a bid to add attacking options as well as meet the U22 quota now that goalkeeper Song Beom-keun no longer qualifies. Cho made his competitive debut for his new club from the bench in Jeonbuk's Champions League loss to Yokohama F. Marinos, calmly scoring his side's only goal from range after the goalkeeper was caught out of position. After a promising showing in an otherwise dismal defeat, Cho will be hoping for more minutes once the season begins and could look to hone his skills ahead of the Tokyo Olympics next year. His efforts in training have not gone unnoticed either, with veteran striker and captain Lee Dong-gook recently stating in an interview for K League that Cho's "great spirit and activeness" should add a lot to the team this year.

[Read: Lee Dong-gook looks back over his long and illustrious career to date]

Biggest Question 

Is a double doable?

Last year's talk of winning a 'treble' always seemed like it was meant for soundbite purposes, especially given that Jeonbuk are yet to lift two trophies in a single campaign, perhaps coming closest to doing so in 2016. While league success is always expected by the board, if the club are to build on their brand image in Asia they are going to need to do better this season on the continent. Early showings have not been encouraging, however. Having also limped out to second division opposition for four years straight in the FA Cup, even progress on this front would be welcome though admittedly not prioritised. If the club are to further cement their reputation in Korean football, as well as the manager being able to prove he is as capable as his predecessor and shrug off the doubters, retaining the league and claiming another piece of silverware would go some way to achieving it.

[Listen: 2020 K League 1 Season Preview]

Reason to Watch 

Can the new attacking talent freshen things up?

Excluding Moon Seon-min, Kwoun Kyung-won (both who are now at Sangju Sangmu completing their military service) and also centre-back Kim Min-hyeok Jeonbuk's forays into the transfer market throughout 2019 were somewhat sub-par, with big names being signed only to be pushed to the side when they failed to deliver within their first few appearances. Clearly unhappy at what was brought in, manager José Morais has mostly pushed these players out over this window and has started again from the core given to him at the end of 2018. Most notably, the midfield has had a significant makeover with Kim Bo-kyung, Takahiro Kunimoto and Murilo coming in expecting minutes, in addition to new attacking talent Lars Veldwijk and Cho Gue-seong to offer support to the 41-year-old Lee Dong-gook. If these players settle quickly, it could serve to spice things up in an attack that could often look stale sometimes. The concern, however, is how long will it take this midfield to gel and be configured to the manager's liking. Either way, it will certainly be worth watching to see if this talented squad can deliver once more.

[Read: K League 1 Preview]

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