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2020 Season Review: Gwangju FC

 

Gwangju enjoyed a successful return to top-flight football, recording a top-half finish under the stewardship of Park Jin-sub. This season saw a change in style and a bumpy adaptation to life in K League 1. With the Yellows' boss departing for FC Seoul, what does 2021 have in store for Gwangju? Peter Hampshire looks at who performed well in 2020 and their prospects going forward.

What Went Well

If you had offered Gwangju fans a top-six finish before the start of the season they would have gleefully bitten your hand off. Despite losing all five games post-split, not being involved in Final Round B was beyond anyone’s expectations. A front three, predominantly of Felipe, Willyan and Eom Won-sang, took to K League 1 seamlessly and caused problems even against those competing at the very top. Coming out on the right side of a 10-goal thriller in Daegu ranks as a high point in Gwangju's fans 2020 memories, with notable performances against the top three including a 3-3 draw at home to double winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in September. While Gwangju's defence was leaky this season. Hong Jun-ho and Rustam Ashurmatov stood out, ranking third and ninth respectively for aerial duels won in their own penalty area.

Gwangju's first game at their new stadium ended in a 1-0 defeat to Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

What Didn't Go Well

Moving across the street in July to a more suitably-sized stadium, Gwangju failed in all seven attempts to find a win in their new home. Losing six of their last seven also saw them finish on the same number of points as basement boys Busan IPark, although they were facing tough opposition post-split. Conceding the most in the league, Park Jin-sub continuously tinkered with the Yellows back line with keepers Yun Pyeong-gook and Lee Jin-hyung switching regularly. Park's departure also leaves a chasm of tactical nous to be filled with Gwangju switching from a more pragmatic style to collect the 2019 K League 2 title to a more adventurous, free-flowing game to trust the attacking talent at their disposal. 

                                [READ: FC Seoul appoint Park Jin-sub as manager] 

Young Player of the Year

Gwangju boast quite an experienced line-up with the average age of their playing squad this season being 28. However, 21-year-old Eom Won-sang really stood out on the right wing, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet for boss Park. Eom has shown clear development in terms of final product from a promising 2019 in K2 and it really benefitted Gwangju that they could call upon an U-22 player without any consideration of a weakened line-up. Eom’s sheer pace and drive also saw him share a pitch with Son Heung-min in Korea’s November friendly against Qatar. The youngster notched seven goals and two assists this season, improving his passing accuracy percentage, number of successful dribbles and shots on target percentage from his K2 stats in 2019.

Eom Won-sang and Felipe both starred in Gwangju's 6-4 win at Daegu in August

Team MVP

Without talisman Felipe it’s very conceivable that Gwangju would have slipped into Final Round B and potentially become embroiled in the relegation battle. With 12 goals to his name in 24 appearances, Felipe managed to stay injury free despite constant attention from the league’s toughest defenders. Wingers Eom Won-sang and fellow countryman Willyan also have lots to thank Felipe for in terms of his link-up play, while he gave full back Lee Eu-ddeum and club legend Yeo Reum plenty to aim for from free kicks. Felipe ranked sixth in K League 1 for expected goals and assists this season and first for aerial duels. Incredibly, the Brazilian competed for 344 balls in the air this season, with second-placed Stanislav Iljutcenko totaling 215. 

                                        [LISTEN: Korean Football Round-up 9th Dec]

Most Disappointing Player

Neither of Gwangju’s new signings in the striker department were a success this season with Kim Hyo-gi and Marcos Urena failing to score a solitary K League goal between them. While they understandably found it tough to push Felipe for a starting berth, Urena’s contribution was particularly disappointing considering he is taking up part of the foreign player quota. The Costa Rican international was only granted 220 minutes of league action, mustering just three shots on target in that time.

Park Jin-sub will likely visit Gwangju next season as FC Seoul manager.

FNR

Most Important Decision of the Off-Season

Keeping hold of their star men was already considered a difficult task this winter, but will be tougher following the departure of Park Jin-sub. Talisman striker Felipe is rumoured to be on the radar of K League 1 rivals while Willyan has also been linked with a move away. General Manager since 2015, Ki Young-ok has departed for Busan IPark, heralding a new era for the club off the pitch. Strengthening defensive depth should be the priority for the Yellows after a season of entertaining, yet sometimes frantic football in Jeollanamdo on their way to a sixth-placed finish.

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