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scouting

Nam Ki-il leads Jeju United's return to the top flight against his former club

K League 1 Round 1: Seongnam FC vs Jeju United. Two sides hoping to cement their status in Korea’s top division clash for an intriguing Game Week 1 opener on Monday afternoon. Jeju United will make their first top flight appearance since 2019 after winning the K League 2 Championship in 2020 and losing only three games all season. Seongnam are aiming to avoid another relegation dog-fight as they play their first game since clinching survival in K League 1 on the final day of last season. KLU columnist Joey Mellows previews this enticing encounter. 

Match: Seongnam FC vs Jeju United (Hana Bank K League 1, Round 1).

Venue: Tancheon Stadium, Seongnam.

Kick off: Monday, March 1st 2021, 16:30 KST


Where to Watch: Fans in the 34 countries with overseas broadcasting rights will be able to follow the match live on television. Full details and list of providers can be found on the K League website here. Alternatively, there is the K League's online OTT platform, K League TV, where live coverage will be available free of charge. Simply sign up here!

For a summary of the first round of K League 1 fixtures, click here.

Last Season

Seongnam narrowly avoided a return to K League 2 last season whilst also having to suffer the ignominy of watching Jeonbuk overtake them for most Championships in K League history. Their second half comeback in the final game of the season sent Busan IPark hurtling through the relegation trap door to K League 2 and secured more top flight football for the Tancheon faithful. The Magpies played an entire season without scoring more than two goals in a game and failed to register in ten of the thirty-one games they played in league and cup. Their final total of 27 goals scored was second lowest in the league and also equal to the number of points they secured in their eventual 10th place finish. 

[READ: 2020 Season Review: Jeju United]

Jeju United played in the second tier for the first time in the club’s history in 2020. They responded by torching teams in K League 2 to the tune of 17 wins in 27 games with 50 goals scored. Top scorer with 9 goals, Gong Min-Hyun, will ironically be facing the team that transferred him to Jeju United at the start of 2020 - Seongnam. For more information on Jeju United do follow K League United columnist Branko Belan on Twitter.    

Team News

Seongnam FC:

Second year manager Kim Nam-il must decide which formation and personnel to include after chopping and changing throughout much of 2020 - including a bizarre 3-3-3-1 lineup shown below. A primary focus will be on who he selects to score more goals in attack. With previous top-scorer Na Sang-ho heading to FC Seoul over the offseason the pressure will be on new foreign forwards, Sergiu Buș and Fejsal Mulic to hit the ground running. Former Korean international stopper Kim Young-kwang will again marshall the defence but central defender Yeon Je-Woon has departed for Gimcheon Sangmu on loan to fulfill his military service, meaning new signing Richard Windbichler will need to fill his sizable shoes. Much hope rests on exciting 20 year-old Hong Si-Hoo fulfilling his potential in an attacking wide role. 

[READ: 2021 Season Preview for Seongnam FC]


Jeju United:

Former Seongnam manager Nam K-il will have a strong squad to choose from for this season opener. The offseason was relatively quiet for the islanders but fans are hopeful of a Top 6 finish if 2020 K League 2 Young Player of the Year Lee Dong-ryul continues scoring in critical moments. The flamboyant Joo Min-kyu scored 8 goals, averaging one every 166 minutes last year, and he should partner top scorer Gong Min-Hyun in an exciting forward line. Can they cut the mustard in K League 1? It will be worth tuning in to find out. 


What To Watch

Can a giant Serbian cause chaos in the K League? 

Of the new players at Kim Nam-il’s disposal, the most immediately identifiable is Fejsal Mulic, a giant Serbian standing tall at 6 foot 8 inches. The center forward scored 9 goals in 19 games for FK Velez Mostar in the Bosnia & Herzegovina top flight last season and is a more technical player than his sizeable frame may suggest - scoring several free kicks and also getting on the end of set pieces, as expected, too. If Seongnam are willing to get wide, hit the byline and get crosses into the box, there could be a series of intriguing mis-matches to enjoy. 


How good are Jeju United really? 

Ensuring safety is usually the goal for newly promoted sides but Jeju United are aiming higher after a dominant season in the second division that saw the islanders finish 2020 unbeaten in their final fifteen matches to clinch the crown by a six point margin over Suwon FC. Jeju United return to the top flight on the heels of their first league title in thirty years and could potentially have the firepower and winning mentality to challenge the top six if all goes well. The recent signing of Gerso Fernandes from Sporting KC in MLS should spur them on but he needs to be quarantined for 14 days and will not feature in this match. 


Final Thoughts

Whilst on paper this does not appear to be a marquee match-up there is arguably no more significant game this gameweek. Are Jeju United good enough to not spend the season looking over their shoulder at the relegation trap-door? Have Seongnam signed enough firepower to survive? Where will their creative input come from? And how close is the gap between these two teams? There is lots to mull over in the build-up to this Korean Independence Movement Day encounter - why not watch live (and for free if outside Korea) by tuning in to K League TV on Monday afternoon at 16.30 Korea time!

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