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After the Split: Three Takeaways

Following Sunday's action, the participants for Final A and Final B have been determined.  Going into the weekend, three clubs had an opportunity to finish out the top six.  When the dust settled, Jeju United and Suwon Samsung Bluewings rounded out the top half, with ACL finalists Pohang Steelers demoted to the relegation round.  What lies ahead at both ends of the table?  There is still all to play for - the title is very much up for grabs, while the other end of the table sees three teams locked on points at the moment, which could have playoff implications in the not too distant future.


Joo Min-kyu Carries Islanders Into Top Half

A brace from Joo Min-kyu, now the leading scorer in K League 1, against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Sunday afternoon secured Jeju United passage into Final A after their championship promotion from a year ago.  It was a tense match that saw the visitors take the lead early in second half injury time through Gustavo, who also scored a pair of goals but the home side would not fade so easily.

With the clock winding down, Lee Chang-keun sent a long goal kick into the Jeonbuk area.  In an attempt to clear his lines, Kim Jin-su handled the ball and was shown a yellow card.  Joo Min-kyu stepped up and converted from the spot to earn the point Nam Ki-il's men so dearly needed, as it confirmed their place in Final A, a remarkable achievement after the club had been relegated to the second division following the 2019 season for the first time in team history.

The next goal is to challenge for the Asian Champions League for next season, and although it seems lofty, it does show that the organization is headed in the right direction, especially after a restructuring of the board of directors prior to last season.  Many will contend that this season's objective has already been met, but the team feels there is still unfinished business to be attended to.

Does Gwangju Have a Lifeline in the Relegation Fight?

Eom Ji-sung celebrates scoring against Suwon FC.
Gwangju scored an impressive 3-1 victory over Suwon FC on the weekend and raised their season point total to thirty-two.  They currently sit five points adrift of three clubs ahead of them, as FC Seoul, Gangwon FC, and Seongnam FC finished the regular season with identical records.  Gwangju won nine matches this season, just like the clubs ahead of them, so they may still be able to pull off a surprise or two but they will have a lot of work to do in order to overturn the deficit.

Considering that Suwon FC could have closed the distance on Daegu FC in third, which would guarantee a spot in Asia next year, Gwangju showed they can still be a problem for the teams in their bracket over the final five matches in 2021.  For that to happen, the likes of Yoon Bo-sang, Eom Won-sang, and Eom Ji-sung will have to be at their best, not only to raise their team's chances but also their own stock if they do move in the off-season should Gwangju fall short and drop down a division.

Title Race Heading to the Wire Again

Ulsan are level on points with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors but are second on goals scored.
Ulsan Hyundai's loss against Seongnam FC pushed Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors into first place in the table heading into Final A.  The two will meet in the playoff round on Saturday November 6th in a match that will likely determine this year's champion.  Ulsan knocked Jeonbuk out of the Asian Champions League with a thrilling extra-time quarterfinal win and have had the edge this season in the league as well, as twice the sides played to a scoreless draw, while the Horangi won a six goal thriller by a 4-2 count back in May.

Ulsan have three wins and two losses in their last five league matches and will face Suwon FC first in the playoff round.  They won two of three matches against them during the regular season, but the loss was a humiliation as they surrendered five goals in what was their worst loss of the season, thanks in large part to a four goal outburst from Lars Veldwijk.  

After falling short in recent seasons, Ulsan will want to lock up their first league crown since 2005, especially after runners-up finishes in consecutive years. 

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