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2020 K League 1 Mid-season Grades

K League 1 passes the midway point with still a lot to play for. The title race continues to be tight between Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai. Meanwhile army side Sangju Sangmu are causing all sorts of bother in the Champions League spots with Daegu FC and Pohang Steelers. Our writers across the country sit down to grade the progress of all twelve teams in the first half of the season.

Ulsan Hyundai

Despite losing some key players in the off-season, the Horangi top the table at the mid-point. They are currently three points better off than they were at this stage last year, and with Junior in the form of his life, they don't show any signs of slowing down.  The only real blot on their record so far is a loss to Jeonbuk in June, but with Kim Do-hoon's side playing some of the best football the K League has seen in a while, they may not need to beat their Hyundai rivals to lift the title come the end of the season.
- Dan Croydon

Grade: A-

Sangju Sangmu

Sangju are always a difficult team to predict at the start of a season, not least because they consistently have the biggest turnover of players in the league. With automatic relegation a certainty at the end of this season (due to the club's impending relocation), many wondered whether Sangju Sangmu might simply roll over this year.

How wrong they were. Kim Tae-wan's team are just as competitive and well-organised as last season, and they comfortably look like securing a top five spot this year. Two drubbings by Ulsan aside, Sangju have been incredibly hard to beat (a 4-2 loss to Pohang is their only other defeat to date). Outside of their three losses, Sangju have conceded only five goals in twelve games, and the likes of Kang Sang-woo, Moon Seon-min and Oh Se-hun ensure that they are always a threat going forward. Despite the smattering of big names in the squad, this is a team that is overachieving, and deservedly so.
- Tom Marcantonio

Grade: A-

Daegu FC

Despite their precarious start to the campaign because of the sudden departure of former manager André Gaspar and the impact of COVID-19 to city on which the club is based, Daegu FC swiftly got back to the right track with counterattacking football and continue their journey in pursuit of AFC Champions League football next season. Caretaker manager Lee Byunggeun is leading the side well with the additions of new signings including the likes of Dejan Damjanović and Gu Sungyun to the existing squad and create more flexible tactics. However, being knocked out of the Korean FA Cup in last 16 was a bitterly disappointing moment for the Sky Blues. If the club secures a place in the continental football in the league table, this will be the most successful season.
- Jung Muyeol

Grade: A-

Seongnam FC

Although Seongnam FC have struggled greatly in June ~ early July and are still not succeeding in showing 100% of their potential, it is a remarkable success to be currently placed sixth on the league table considering they finished last season as ninth and replaced the manager with a rookie. The Magpies also proceeded to the FA Cup Semi-final and are targeting to achieve the Cup again after 2014. Rookie manager Kim Nam-il, despite some hardships, keeps implementing new tactics and seems to be reaching some kind of an answer, so Seongnam's second half of the season is expected to be even better than the first. B+, which isn't an A but slightly better than a B, looks like an appropriate grade to be awarded to the Magpies.
- Daniel Oh

Grade: B+

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

In a similar vein to last season, Jeonbuk reach the midway point still within reach of the top spot yet have had no reliable goalscorer for the majority of proceedings. The difference this year, however, has been the mishandling of pre-season transfers that saw the side relinquish its pace with the departure of Ricardo Lopes and Moon Seon-min without properly replacing them. Fortunately, forever-third choice winger Han Kyo-won has proven reliable enough to keep his side in it with a potentially some of his best showings in a Jeonbuk shirt along with the trusted feet of Son Jun-ho and Lee Seung-gi in central midfield. With Kim Bo-kyung and Takahiro Kunimoto having now settled since their winter moves, and the impressive summer signings of Modou Barrow and Gustavo, Jeonbuk are once again set to test Ulsan Hyundai's resolve down to the wire.

Grade: B

Pohang Steelers

Pohang have looked solid, under Kim Gi-dong this season. Iljutchenko, Song and Palacios have been a threat all season. However, when it comes to Jeonbuk or Ulsan, they were unable to stand toe to toe with the big boys. Pohang deserves to finish atleast third this season.
- Shibajee Das

Grade: B

Busan IPark

Busan are currently 10 points clear of relegation, better than expected for a youthful side largely lacking in top flight experience. Their midfield of Romulo, Lee Gyu-seong and 19 year old breakout star Kwon Hyeok-kyu have been wonderful to watch creatively and instrumental in frustrating more illustrious opposition, whilst the defence has been much more solid that last season - young Taeguk Warrior Kim Moon-hwan and veteran signing Kang Min-soo deserving credit for their discipline and solid organisation. However, this Busan team is struggling in the final third, with Lee Dong-jun often carrying the threat with the absence of a competent supporting cast, with Kim Jin-kyu injured and threadbare depth up front beyond the tenacious but unprolific target man Lee Jeong-hyeop. There are also questions over the tactical nous of Cho Duk-jae, who appears incapacle of getting the best out of his most technical players, and is struggling to evolve his tactics - particularly in the final third - at K League 1 level.
- Tom Marcantonio & Todd Wilde

Grade: C

Gwangju FC

While Gwangju sit 10th in the K League table, they remain comfortably above the relegation zone and look like they belong in the division following their promotion last season. Talisman Felipe has adapted well with pressure on his shoulders while Eom Won-sang is emerging as one of Korea's brightest prospects on the wing. Notable points taken from Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai show that with some investment Gwangju could push for a top half finish next season. Overall, the Yellows are a solid outfit if not spectacular in their style of play. Another disappointing FA Cup campaign and keeping just one clean sheet in their last twelve has kept them from achieving a better grade. Hopefully Park Jin-seop does not need to rotate his defence so regularly in the second half of the season to achieve more consistency.
- Peter Hampshire

Grade: C

Gangwon FC

Been saying it all season, Gangwon's gonna Gangwon. The team that can easily be the most entertaining in K1 on their day continue to have massive lapses in defense and struggle for consistency. They lead the league in possession and play an attractive brand of football, but failing to bring in defensive reinforcements this summer has cost them points as the defense remains shockingly frail. There's still an outside chance at ACL this season, but should they fall short, it would seem time to pull the plug on Byung-soo Ball.
- Ryan Walters

Grade: C-

FC Seoul

Simply put, it has not been good enough on the whole. Seoul began the season sluggishly, picking up where they left off last year. The opening day defeat to Gangwon was disappointing, especially given the manner in which the game was lost and was quickly turned on its head with two quick-fire Gangwon goals, but two straight wins that followed ought to have been what got Seoul truly up and running. It didn't and they went on a club record six straight losses. A Gyeonggin Derby win and Super Match draw, after being 3-1 down at half time, again made it appear as though Seoul had begun to sort themselves out but three straight losses in the league followed, as well as a 5-1 humiliation to Pohang in the FA Cup and was enough for Choi Yong-soo to resign. Since then, Seoul have improved and went four unbeaten with three straight wins and a draw heading into Round 18. Seoul don't have match winners like they used to, they don't have a foreign star who can conjure something from nothing. But Ki and Osmar are due back soon and giving youth a chance seems to be working for caretaker manager Kim Ho-young.
- Paul Neat

Grade: C-

Incheon United

It's been a pretty dreadful 2020 season for Incheon. A lack of goals and therefore wins has left them bottom of the table with just the slightest hopes of survival. But that small amount of hope is why the grade is an E and not an F.
Tim Barnes

Grade: E

Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Although they started with defeats against Jeonbuk and Ulsan, there were traces which suggested Suwon could still be a force against the others in the K League. However, a forgetful run of form has ensued, where they won just 3 out of 15 games in the league since then. Lee Lim-saeng is history, but what about the future? With only Incheon below them in the table, Suwon are still threatened by the possibility of relegation. This is a team devoid of form and confidence at the moment. Only time will tell whether they can spark a turnaround and climb out of the mire they find themselves in.
- Nived Zenith

Grade: E

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