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2021 Chungnam Asan FC Season Preview

 

Chungnam Asan FC's first season as a citizen club in K League 2 last year did not go quite according to plan, as the Owls occupied the root of the table at year's end.  They struggled at both ends of the pitch, with goals being very hard to come by, owing to a lack of production up front, and they conceded more goals than any other club in the division.  A couple of notable signings have come in through the door in the winter transfer window while the core of the team has mostly remained the same.  Will they be able to turn things around and be a more competitive outfit in 2021?  KLU's Branko Belan has a closer look.


Last Season

5W, 7D, 15L, 10th place

What Happened?

It was already a foregone conclusion that things would not be easy heading into last season for Chungnam Asan after closing out their tenure as a military club.  Several players were brought in on loan from various clubs to make up the bulk of the roster and, unfortunately, the club's two foreign signings, Armin Mujakić and Philip Hellquist didn't really pan out as expected.  The former Austrian youth international scored only four goals in seventeen appearances for the club.  Hellquist spent a good chunk of the season injured but was effective for a stretch when he finally did get into the lineup in the middle of the season.

They went winless in their first eight matches of the season, including a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of league runners-up Suwon FC, who would then be promoted to K League 1 through the playoffs, before they finally recorded their first win of the new era against Gyeongnam FC in early July.  That win was sandwiched by a pair of draws, one of their best runs of the season results-wise, but other than that, not a lot went right for them.  They finished the season winless in five and failed to score a single goal over that stretch, so things will have to be much better with the new season ahead.


Notable Moves

Matheus Alves and Alex Sandro are the two new foreign signings for the club in 2021. Both will be counted on to make a big impact.
Matheus Alves joined the club this window from Police Tero FC in Thailand on a free transfer, where he didn't play much.  The Brazilian is more well known for his time in Malaysia, where he finished second top scorer with Pahang in 2017, posting 18 goals and 10 assists.  The club wanted to retain him for another season, but the sides could not agree to terms, and he then joined Suwon FC in K League 2 the following season, where his production dropped off notably with just two goals in 13 appearances before moving to Chonburi FC in Thailand.  His numbers have tapered off in recent years, so the hope is that he will be able to recover his form and be a factor for the Owls this year.

Another notable incoming face is Alex Sandro, who joined from Juazeiro BA in Brazil.  The 25 year old Brazilian winger had two goals in nine matches, but wasn't much of a fixture for the club as he made the starting eleven just under half the time.  He also comes in as a free transfer, giving Asan the option to save on the salary budget; but Sandro will have to do the brunt of his talking on the pitch.  He will have to work his way into the good graces of Park Dong-hyuk to make that happen, as the manager will surely be looking to his Korean players early in the season to see where they are in terms of their development from the end of last season.

Mujakić and Hellquist are both gone.  A lot was expected of them and they didn't live up to expectations.  Surprisingly, only Ansan Greeners and Bucheon FC 1995 scored fewer goals than Asan last year.  The two foreign signings did score almost half of the team's goals between the two of them, but looking at their performance as a whole (and, in Hellquist's case, the inability to stay healthy) ultimately cost them their spots in the squad.  

Key Player

Lee Jae-gun

Lee Jae-gun (center) will be key to the Owls' success this year.
In a team that underwhelmed for most of last season, one bright spot was Lee Jae-gun.  While still only 23 years old, he will be counted on to spearhead Asan's attack.  Primarily a right winger, he is capable of playing multiple positions up top and will be one to watch for the team this year.  He is under contract through to the end of next season, so he is clearly an important option in the team's plans at least for the next few years.  

In a squad that posted paltry offensive numbers in 2020, he managed four goals and one assist, which is a decent return for a player at his young age.  He scored what turned out to be the winning goal against Gyeongnam FC, the first win in the club's history and he also scored against Daejeon Hana Citizen in the team's last win of the season.  Knowing how things finished up, he will definitely be one of the players in the squad with something to prove once the new season gets underway.


Young Player to Watch

Lee Sang-soo

Lee Sang-soo is originally a product of the Pohang Steelers youth system.  He joined Chungnam Asan last season and made a handful of appearances, both in the league and in the FA Cup.  He played a full ninety minutes in the final two matches of the campaign, against Bucheon and Jeju United, suggesting there could well be a bigger role for him this year due to the departures of Cha Young-hwan and Jang Soon-hyuk, who joined Jeonnam Dragons.  

Choi Kyu-baek is a new face at the club.  He last played in the K League with Jeju United in 2019, and there is a good chance he will serve as a mentor to the young center back.  The two of them may even make up the defensive pairing in the middle of a back four.  All will depend on how the team progresses through the remainder of their winter training.

Biggest Question for 2021

Park Dong-hyuk will be expected to improve on last year's results.
How much can Asan improve on their first season as a citizen club?

Chungnam Asan's first season as a citizen club fell well short of expectations.  The team has some good pieces in place already, but they just couldn't seem to put it together last year.  Park Dong-hyuk remains the team's manager, and he is still the right man for the job.  It will be important for the players to get on board with him as soon as possible if the team is to get off to a better start this season.

Asan have suffered quite a bit in recent years owing to having their automatic promotion taken from them after winning K League 2 in 2018 thanks to the Police Agency refusing to supply any more players to the club.  That was followed by the last group leaving in August 2019, and then there were concerns that a citizen club would not be able to be financed.  Their struggles in their first season were understandable, but with all those things now seemingly out of the way, it would be nice for the team to get back to focusing on their football and coming together as a group.  That will be a determining factor this year.  How quickly they gel and how chemistry develops will have a major impact on their success, or lack thereof, in 2021.

Reason to Watch

It will be interesting to see how the two new foreign signings will do; a lot will be expected of Matheus in particular given his professional experience to this point in his career.  He needs a bounce back year after his struggles recently, but if he can find his old scoring form, then Asan could well manage to be a thorn in the side for more than a few teams in the division.

All indications point to Lee Ki-hyun being the number one goalkeeper again, so that should at least give the Owls a fighting chance in most matches.  Kim In-kyun showed promise last year and should continue to develop well.  Lee Eun-beom spent the second half of last season on loan from Jeju United and has now made a permanent move to the club, so they do have some pieces to build a competitive club - the cupboard is not completely bare.  Considering what they went through last year, the only direction for them to go in is up.

     

 

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