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Who'll win the 2023 K League 1 golden boot?

Is it possible to predict the winner of the K League 1 golden boot based on xG? Probably not but K League United will have a crack at it anyway.
The K League 1 golden boot, or 'deukjeomwang' as it's called in Korean, which translates to 'Goal King', is awarded to the league's top scorer every season. In 38-game K League 1 seasons (2013-Present), the average number of goals scored by the 'Goal King' has been 18.54. The highest is 26, achieved by both Marcão in 2018 with Gyeongnam, and Júnior Negrão with Ulsan in 2020. The lowest was 14 from Júnior Santos of Suwon Bluewings in 2014.

This year, it doesn't look like the winner of the golden boot will crack 20 goals but the race does look like it'll go right down to the wire. But who will be crowned K League 1's goal king this year? Let's take a look at the main contenders.

Tiago Orobó, Daejeon Hana Citizen (16 goals)


Tiago's comeback-starting goal against Suwon Bluewings in Round 35 was his 16th of the campaign and with Joo Min-kyu failing to score for Ulsan on the same day, the Brazilian is now the outright top scorer in K League 1. He's in good form with a goal in his last two outings and three in his last five appearances. His record against Daejeon's remaining opponents this season makes for great reading, too, with five against the three teams -  two against Gangwon, one against Jeju United, and two against FC Seoul. 

Tiago missed out on the K League 2 golden boot, losing out to eventual Daejeon teammate Yu Kang-hyun who scored 19 for Chungnam Asan and so is determined to make sure he wins it this time. Most of his goals have come against teams in the current bottom six. Some have been memorable too, including Daejeon's first back in K League 1, and with 16 he has equalled their top-flight record. Only Kim Dong-chan (20, 2016, K League 2) has scored more goals in a single season for Daejeon.

2023 xG vs. remaining opponents

Gangwon FC: 0.23*, 0.55*, 0.06 (0.84)
Jeju United: 0.00, 0.42*, 0.00 (0.42)
FC Seoul: 0.99, 0.05, 1.00* (2.04)
Total xG: 3.30

*denotes a game the player scored in

Joo Min-kyu, Ulsan Hyundai (15 goals)


Joo Min-kyu has won the golden boot before, of course; winning it in 2021 while with Jeju United. He came close last year as well, ending the campaign level with Jeonbuk's Cho Gue-sung but because Cho had played fewer games, the now FC Mitdjyland striker was given the award. Heading into Round 36 Joo is one goal behind Tiago and his last goal was five league matches ago. Only two of his 16 goals have been scored against Ulsan's remaining opponents, both against Pohang Steelers.

Historically, his overall record against Ulsan's last three opponents is encouraging. Joo has nine against Pohang in 17 appearances, nine against Jeonbuk from 17 appearances, and seven from 16 appearances against Incheon.

2023 xG vs. remaining opponents

Pohang Steelers: 0.81*, 0.69*, 0.09 (1.59)
Incheon United: 0.27, 0.15 (0.42)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors: 0.77, 0.56  (1.33)
Total: 3.34

*denotes a game the player scored in

FNR

Outsiders

Na Sang-ho, FC Seoul (12)


Na Sang-ho's hot start to the season, which saw him score eight goals in his first 12 games, made him one of the early contenders for the golden boot. But he then went eight without a goal and is currently on a run of one goal in 13. It'll be a herculean effort for Na to win the golden boot this year but 12 is his best tally at K League 1 level, second best overall having scored 16 for Gwangju in K League 2 in 2018. He has two goals against Seoul's last three opponents, one against Suwon Bluewings and one against Daejeon.

The team Na has scored against the most is actually Suwon FC but Na wasn't able to get himself on the scoresheet when the two teams met in Round 35. His overall record against Jeju, the Bluewings, and Daejeon reads six goals from 28 games. Na has scored four against the Bluewings from 13 appearances, two against Daejeon from six appearances, but none against Jeju from nine appearances. 

2023 xG vs. remaining opponents

Jeju United: 0.00, 0.43, 0.21 (0.64)
Suwon Bluewings: 0.24*, 0.08, 0.00 (0.32)
Daejeon Hana Citizen: 0.36*, 0.00, 0.04 (0.40)
Total: 1.36

*denotes a game the player scored in


Zeca, Pohang Steelers (12)


Level on 12 goals with Na Sang-ho is Pohang Steelers number nine Zeca. The 26-year-old signed for Pohang over the winter from Mirassol-SP in Brazil following an impressive spell with Daegu FC last season. It took him a while to properly get going in a red and black shirt, finding his first goal in Round 5 but was unable to add to that until Round 16. But, since then, Zeca got eight goals in 17 games pre-split and is two in two in Final A thanks to equalisers against both Incheon and Jeonbuk. But Zeca has only managed one goal against any of Pohang's last three opponents in the league this season, that being against Gwangju in a 4-2 loss. Including his spell with Daegu last year, Zeca has played 12 games in total, scoring three (two vs. Ulsan, one vs. Gwangju).


2023 xG vs. remaining opponents

Ulsan Hyundai: 0.19, 0.44, 0.06 (0.69)
Daegu FC: 0.04, 0.14, 0.02 (0.2)
Gwangju FC: 0.00, 0.48*, 0.14 (0.62)
Total: 1.51

*denotes a game the player scored in

Verdict

Judging from the current form of the main contenders, their records against the teams they'll face in the last three rounds, and their xG value, it looks as though Daejeon Hana Citizen's Tiago Orobo will win the golden boot. Based on xG against Gangwon, Jeju, and Seoul, he could be predicted as scoring three more this term, the same number as Joo Min-kyu which would take the pair to 19 and 18 respectively. 

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