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2020 Season Preview: Pohang Steelers

Pohang Steelers head into the 2020 season with the aim of bettering their back-to-back fourth-place finishes. Under the stewardship of talented young manager Kim Ki-dong, the Steelers made great strides towards the end of last season, having a say in the title race. This time around, though, the highly decorated club will be looking to propel themselves back into contention for major honours. 

Last Season

16W-8D-14L, 4th

What Happened?

Pohang got off to a sluggish start to the 2019 campaign which, ultimately, lead to the departure of manager Choi Soon-ho. Kim Ki-dong was named as caretaker manager before being given the job permanently on account of the Steelers' significant upturn in form. Thanks to some shrewd summer acquisitions, such as striker Stanislav Iljutcenko and attacking midfielder Aleksandar Paločević in particular, the Steelers made a late surge for the top three and only narrowly missed out by finishing level on points with FC Seoul. An ACL berth was just beyond them for the second year in a row but there's no doubt that Pohang made great strides in the second half of the season.

Notable Moves

The most felt departure will, of course, be 2019 K League 1 MVP nominee, Wanderson. The former Daejeon Citizen, Jeju United, and Jeonnam Dragons utility man, who was in his second spell with the Steelers, departed for the Middle East with Al Ittihad Kalba Sports Club after scoring 15 goals and laying on nine assists. Manuel Palacious from FC Anyang has been brought in to fill the void left by Wanderson on the flank, the Colombian took K League 2 by storm last season registering nine goals and four assists in 2019. Palacios' Violets teammate Kim Sang-won has also joined, the full-back was K League 2's joint-leading assists maker with 10 last term.

In midfield, Pohang filled their AFC player quota with the acquisition of Australian Brandon O'Neill who joined from Sydney FC. The 25-year-old featured seven times in A-League this season, scoring once and laying on four assists.

Needs

Pohang have a good squad and don’t need too much. A full season with Iljutcenko and Paločević may just be what Pohang need to get going. They absolutely must get off to a good start. They would have been in ACL last year had it not have been for their poor start to 2019. However, a second striker to play along side Iljutcenko wouldn't go a miss. It was surprising that the Steelers didn't try to bring Kim Seung-dae back to the Steel Yard after a lacklustre six-month spell in Jeonju.

Key Player 

Aleksandar Paločević

Paločević (L) was a revelation for Pohang last term.
Pohang Steelers went for mid-table also-rans to ACL contenders mid-season, partly down to Kim Kidong who was placed in charge following Choi Soonho's departure, but also partly thanks to the Steelers' summer transfer success. In came Serbian midfielder Aleksandar Paločević from Portuguese Primeira Liga side C.D. Nacional. At the time, K League United spoke with Goal Point Performance Analyst and Coach Tiago Estêvão who said:

"He's very good at progressing the ball-forward in midfield: a good ball carrier, good dribbler, and can win fouls. He also likes a shot: this season Paločević was in form from outside the box in particular, but I think in a slightly more dominant team you're very likely to see him arrive in good positions in the box as well."

Pohang fans saw exactly that with the 26-year-old becoming a key figure as the team made a late surge for AFC Champions League qualification.

Young Player to Watch

Song Min-gyu

Song Mingyu (C) celebrates scoring for Pohang against Seongnam last August. 
Even with Lee Soo-bin leaving on loan to Jeonbuk Hyundai, the emergence of Song Min-gyu cannot be understated. Song broke into the first team last term and went on to make 29 appearances, scoring two goals and registering three assists. Song is an attack-minded player who likes to be as direct as possible. He possesses ample pace and is comfortable in possession. In 2019, Song ranked joint third for the number of key passes made among players under 22 with seven, fourth for shots on target with 20, third for the number of dribbles, and was 11th for crosses made with 20. Considering that the 2019 season was his first as a professional, this is all very impressive.

Biggest Question 

After two 4th place finishes in 2018 and 2019, is this Pohang's year reach the top three?

Back-to-back fourth-place finishes represent progress for the Steelers, but this season ought to be where the challenge for honours. Pohang are one of the founder members of K League and have five league titles to their name as well as four FA Cups and three ACL crowns. Pohang are a highly decorated club but it has been seven years since they last challenged for major honours.

Reason to Watch 

Everything is in place, Pohang have the stadium, they have a good squad, and they also have a promising young manager who has shown that he is more than capable of building a team that can play attractive football and bloody the noses of the stronger teams in the division. Recruitment has been smart and the Steelers look ready to make a good go for it in 2020.



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