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2024 Season Preview: Can Daejeon Hana Citizen qualify for ACL?

Daejeon Hana Citizen have been busy in the transfer market, looking to build on last year and make make strides in its mission to become a 'global football club'. The mission, then, is clear but can the Purples progress into a top-six side, or even qualify for the ACL?

The 2024 campaign will be Daejeon's second back in the top flight and the fourth with manager Lee Min-sung at the helm. More money has been spent with the aim of reaching the AFC Champions League, whether that be through league positioning or by winning the FA Cup. 

What happened last season?

W12, D15, L11 - 8th

A very respectable eighth-place finish marked a successful return to the top flight for Daejeon, the club's first in eight years. Daejeon won (12) more games than they lost (11) and recorded memorable wins over the likes of Ulsan, Jeonbuk, FC Seoul, and Suwon Bluewings. In fact, the Purples went unbeaten against all four of the aforementioned historical K League powerhouses.

Daejeon were an entertaining team to watch, scoring lots of goals (56, 2nd) but conceding quite a fair few too (58, 11th) to end the year with a negative goal difference. Their counterattacking style left fans on the edge of their seats and the ability to go long and direct often proved effective. There was some talk of ACL qualification or a top-six finish at the very least, but a difficult spell through the summer meant Daejeon ultimately finished in Final B. 

What transfer business has been done over winter?

Daejeon have been one of the busier teams over the winter with a lot of incomings and outgoings. Nine who would have been considered first-team regulars have left, most notably captain Cho Yu-min as well as the club's top scorers last term Tiago Orobó and Masatoshi Ishida. Lee Jin-hyun has gone too but proven K League 1 quality have come through the door. Kim Seung-dae and Hong Jung-un on free transfers are shrewd pieces of business, while Lee Soon-min and Aaron Calver joining from Gwangju show the level of the club's ambition; seldom, if ever, has the club ever signed a current Korean international. Brazilian winger Farley Rosa has signed, too, from Tianjin Jinmen Tiger. The 30-year-old scored 10 and assisted 11 in 59 appearances for the Chinese Super League outfit over a two-season spell.

Major Winter Recruits

Kim Seung-dae, attacking midfielder (Pohang Steelers)
Hong Jung-un, centre back (Daegu FC)
Aaron Calver, centre back (Gwangju FC)
Lee Soon-min, central midfielder (Gwangju FC)
Park Jin-seong, left back (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors)
Kim Jun-beom, central midfielder (Incheon United)
Song Chang-seok, striker (Gimpo FC)
Farley Rosa, winger (Tianjin Jinmen Tiger)

Foreign Player Summary

Leandro Ribeiro, left winger (Brazil)
Anton Kryvotsyuk, centre back (Azerbaijan)
Vladislavs Gutovskis, striker (Latvia)
Aaron Calver, centre back (Australia)
Farley Rosa, winger (Brazil)

Existing squad and key players

Tiago Orobó departing, the club's top scorer with a club record 17 in the top flight, is a blow but the club rate Latvia international Vladislavs Gutkovskis so highly that any sensible offers for an influx Tiago were entertained. 'Gutek', as he's known, tore his knee ligaments shortly after joining the club and has been limited to just three appearances in a Daejeon shirt. But with Kim Seung-dae, Leandro, and Farley Rosa playing off him, Gutek will lead the line.

In terms of the existing players, the skeleton of the team will be made up of Lee Chang-geun, Anton, Ju Se-jong, Kim In-gyun, and Gutek with new recruits adding flesh. The 2024 campaign will be seen as pivotal for the likes of Kim Hyeon-woo, 24, and Lim Duk-geun, 23, who will be looking to become first-team regulars. Neither are particularly young anymore but barely have over 150 career appearances between them. Shin Sang-eun (24) is not a baby anymore and needs to show that he can start games but may need to reinvent himself as a central striker due to the level of competition on the wings.

Team MVP

Kim Seung-dae

Signing a proven quality and with bags of experience in Kim Seung-dae was a real coup for Daejeon. Kim has 270 K League appearances to his name, has three K League winner's medals with two different clubs, two FA Cup wins on his CV, and has pretty much seen and done it all. Even at 32, Kim still has a lot to offer. In fact, last season was his best over the last five in terms of goal contributions with 15 in all competitions thanks to three goals and 12 assists. Daejeon struggled with composure and temperament last year, few players have played at this level. Helping to protect Daejeon's soft underbelly and address their naiveness will be something that a player of Kim Seung-dae's quality and experience can help with.

Young Player to Watch

Yoon Do-young

With Bae Jun-ho leaving mid-season and Jeon Byeong-kwan departing for Jeonbuk, Daejeon are a bit thin on the ground for U22 players. Korea U17 international Yoon Do-young has been called up to the first team and has been part of the pre-season training camps in Hanoi and Kagoshima. He's an attacking midfielder who can play wide or centrally, has great balance, quick feet, is strong on the ball, and has an eye for a pass. His record at youth international level is impressive, too, with 15 caps and eight goals. As with any young talent who comes through the ranks at Daejeon there's a buzz about him. He was already on fans' radars and will be one to keep tabs on this season.

Biggest Question

How will Daejeon recover from the departure of Cho Yu-min?

Cho Yu-min's departure is hugely damaging for Daejeon. With Cho as club captain and the centre piece and at the heart of everything Daejeon do in terms of their build-up, they would have been contenders to qualify for the ACL. Now, even with Hong Jung-un and Aaron Calver through the door, Daejeon don't have a maverick-type, aggressive, forward-running central defender. Or don't they? Lim Dug-keun has the potential to fulfill that role in some way but he's a long way off and has had injury problems. Cho, whose education as a striker and attacking midfielder, and subsequent coaching as a central defender, has made him one of the best centre backs in the country. 

Now, Daejeon might have to change how they play and how they are set up. Lee Min-sung has been working with a back four, shifting away from a back three with wingbacks, with Cho Yu-min as one of the two central defenders. Now, this might have to shift to a back three with Calver, Hong Jung-un, and Anton with Calver and or Anton given more license to carry the ball out from the back.

Reason to Watch & Realistic 2024 target

Daejeon have been pretty bold in talking about their targets. AFC Champions League qualification is the mission and if the Purples can attack like they did last year then there's a chance they can return to continental competition for just the second time in their history. Cho Yu-min's departure creates a big hole in what was already a leaky defence and so how Daejeon address that issue will be worth keeping an eye on. 

There's also, seemingly, going to be a change in tactics. Lee Min-sung told STN Sports as much:

"Last season we played counterattacking football. This season I think we need to take control through build-up and possession so that's what we're practicing. In June, July, and August our results suffered. Not having a lot of power was a problem but stamina was the key. We can pick up more points through playing possession-based football."

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