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2021 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Season Preview

Season Preview 2021: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Preview

Reigning K League Champions and FA Cup Winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors return for the 2021 campaign as very much the side to beat once more. With plenty of room to improve in Asia though, and a new manager to boot, can they maintain poll position? K League United's Matthew Binns looks at the season ahead.

Last Season

19W-3D-5L, 1st

What Happened?

After a year that saw them pip Ulsan on both domestic fronts at every time of asking, Jeonbuk were able to make amends for a slow start and eventually claim both the K League and the FA Cup, collecting a double trophy haul for the first time in their history. Not only that, but what was their 8th K League title and fourth in a row broke league records.

However, their domestic success was not to be replicated on the continental front, with the club crashing out of the AFC Champions League at the group stages with a game to spare, clocking in arguably one of their worst performances in the competition. While injuries to key personnel gave a passable excuse for their showings in the Qatar 'bubble' in December, it did not excuse Jeonbuk's results in their first two matches at the start of the year where they lost significant ground.

Having written his name into Jeonbuk history, José Morais opted not to renew his contract and leaves with his stock notably higher than when he arrived two years ago. Morais makes way for Kim Sang-sik, the former assistant manager to both Jose and also his predecessor Choi Kang-hee. In fact, Kim has been heavily involved in the backroom staff since 2013 after his retirement from playing. Having played for the Korean National Team in his heyday, Kim also becomes the first former Jeonbuk player to take the helm of the club and can certainly command respect having been involved heavily somewhat in turning them into the force they are today.

Notable Moves

Stanislav Iljutcenko: Stiker Stanislav Inljutcenko grabs the headlines for Jeonbuk's inbounds having finished second in last year’s Golden Boot race, scoring 19 league goals in 26 appearances for Pohang Steelers. With Lee Dong-gook finally hanging up his boots at the end of last season, Iljutcenko will be expected to contribute significantly to the Green Warriors' goal tally while likely rotating with Gustavo for a starting berth.

Lee You-hyeon: The 24-year-old full-back makes the switch across Honam from provincial rivals Jeonnam Dragons having shown plenty of promise at both Gwangyang and for U23 Korean national side that claimed silverware back in January. Lee will be expected to offer depth to a position that Jeonbuk were exposed as having few options in, likely providing cover for Lee Yong who often struggled with midweek games during busy parts of the schedule.

Son Jun-ho: Jeonbuk have once again seen there best player leave for a substantial fee in the winter window and make the switch to the Chinese Super League. Son Jun-ho won the K League 1 MVP trophy last year and attracted the attention of Shandong Taishan, creating a void in defensive midfield. However, with the return of Choi Young-jun from 18 months on loan to Pohang Steelers, there will be adequate cover for the Champions going into the season.

Key Player 

Kim Bo-kyung

While Modou Barrow, Han Kyo-won and Takahiro Kunimoto are likely to spark the midfield into life once more, central midfielder Kim Bo-kyung remains the most reliable and creative outlet for the side and will likely prove key to Jeonbuk's chance in retaining their domestic crowns. The 2019 K League MVP was a dependable presence after making his return to the North Jeolla club at the start of 2020, working well in a midfield trifecta of Son Jun-ho and either Lee Seung-gi or the aforementioned Takahiro Kunimoto. Boasting League, Cup and Champions League winners medals, not to mention plenty of experience in both J.League and the English Premier League, Kim's experience will prove vital in keeping a steady ship as the club enters its new phase of management.

Young Player to Watch

Lee Sung-yoon

With Cho Kyu-sung turning 23 and no longer eligible for the under 22 quota, he has been shipped out to Gimcheon Sangmu for his military service. Jeonbuk’s likely option will therefore be winger Lee Sung-yoon who picked up some experience and a first professional goal last summer during a spell in the side. Lee was fielded on the right by Morais and Kim Sang-sik may well opt for the same, likely starting him instead of Han Kyo-won to meet the rules on younger players. Lee showed flashes of promise in his few appearances but also in need of fine-tuning on some of his decision-making, something that would come from more game time. This could well be the season he is allowed to shine.

Biggest Question 

Can Kim Sang-sik resolve the team’s continental woes?

Kim Sang-sik takes charge of Korea's biggest club with no managerial experience but a wealth of knowledge from being part of the backroom staff in addition to what he will have learnt from his predecessors Choi Kang-hee and José Morais. That said, he is also a new manager and, while he will get more leeway than most given his background, he will be expected to improve Jeonbuk’s performances in Asia, a place where the stage draws a far wider and critical audience.

Last season, Jeonbuk crashed out of Asia's premier club tournament at the group stage for just the second time in their history, much to everyone's surprise. Failure to progress to the knockouts once more would be seen as an embarrassment for the club, particularly given the financial outlay the board maintains in investment.

[LISTEN: K League 1 Season Preview]

Reason to Watch 

Jeonbuk continue to be one of the league’s most formidable sides, and also one of the country's best-run clubs boasting international talent from past, present and future. With a new manager at the helm, this season will see if Jeonbuk's footballing model and sustained success can be maintained through yet another period of transition. Kim Sang-sik takes charge with the best will of the board and the support, not to mention the respect of the playing staff. Can he now forge his own reputation by delivering silverware and stepping out of the shadow of his predecessors?

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