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2021 Pohang Steelers Season Preview

2021 Pohang Steelers Season Preview

After a progressive campaign last year, Pohang Steelers aim to go one step further this time around. Kim Gi-dong's boys finished third last season but have since lost several of their high-profile names in the off-season. With a flurry of new faces coming in, it won't be easy to replicate last season's performance or perhaps take the next step forward. Shibajee Das previews what to expect from the Steelers ahead of an intriguing 2021 K League 1 season. 

Last Season

15W, 5D, 7L; 3rd place

What Happened?

Pohang Steelers earned the tag of 'best of the rest' last season. Kim Gi-dong had a major influence on the entire squad and his positive attitude was key to where the team finished last season. The opening months of the season saw Pohang suffer familiar headache in the form of demoralizing defeats against the top two - Jeonbuk and Ulsan. However, the team bounced back from those disappointing outings with an unbeaten run that lasted for one and a half months.

Further defeats against Jeonbuk, Ulsan and Busan followed before a stunning regular-season victory against Sangju Sangmu. But it is the final round where the team really came of age. The jinx was finally broken as the Steelers hunted down both Jeonbuk and Ulsan in the final weeks of the season. The team also performed well in the FA Cup, going on to reach the semi-final before losing narrowly to Ulsan courtesy of a penalty shootout.

There were several outstanding individual performers for the team last season. Kang Hyeon-mu was inspirational in goal. Aleksandar Palocevic and Manuel Palacios provided the spark whenever needed. Song Min-kyu lit up the league with several memorable displays. Not to forget, Stanislav Iljutchenko firing all season, racking up 19 league goals to finish as the second-highest goal scorer.

Pohang ultimately finished third in the league table, securing a spot in the AFC Champions League playoff round. They were also the highest-scoring team in the league, with 56 strikes to their name. Individual honours soon followed. Kim Gi-dong won Manager of the Year; Song Min-kyu won Young Player of the Year; Kang Sang-woo won Top Assistor, and three players were named to the league's Best XI.         

Notable Moves

In terms of the squad, there have been several major changes. Some of the team's key players and star performers have moved on, allowing several new names to come into the team. Shin Jin-ho has been the most significant signing for the squad. The experienced 32-year-old midfielder swapped one side of the East Coast for another, returning to Pohang having led Ulsan Hyundai to the AFC Champions League title in Qatar.

Another experienced head to move to Pohang has been forward Lim Sang-hyub from Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Samuel Pungi will be an exciting name to look out for. The 19-year-old Angolan born centre back will become the K League's first refugee background player. Aussie Alex Grant will provide further solidity at the back, with the former Perth Glory man capable of playing in both centre-back and left-back. Boris Taschy is mooted to be another new foreign player in the books of the Steelers, with the Ukrainian forward set to provide much needed attacking impetus after the departure of several of the team's attacking weapons from last season.

Samuel Pungi
Pohang have registered their faith in several young players, most notably Samuel Pungi

Several high-profile names have departed in the close season. Top scorer Stanislav Iljutchenko has left to join champions Jeonbuk. Midfield maestro Aleksandar Palocevic has made the move to the capital, to join FC Seoul. Another midfielder Brandon O'Neill moved to new pastures in Thailand, to sign for Buriram United. 

Last season's skipper Choi Young-jun's loan spell from Jeonbuk expired, while winger Nam Joon-jae left to join Gyeongju KHNP. Iconic centre-back Kim Kwang-suk bid goodbye to the Steelers to join Incheon United, whereas another of the key men at the back Ha Chang-rae has joined Gimcheon Sangmu to undergo his military service.     

Key Player 

Shin Jin-ho

Shin Jin-ho
Shin Jin-ho will be crucial to Pohang's prospects this season

Shin Jin-ho will again be seen in the colours of Pohang, five years since his departure. He was a member of Pohang's 2013 title-winning squad. Last season, he conquered Asia with Ulsan Hyundai and was a vital cog in the Horang-i wheel. Now he has opted for a new challenge and teamed up with Kim Gi-dong's troops. With several of the team's experienced heads having moved on, the 32-year-old's leadership qualities will be an invaluable asset to the Steelers this season.  

Young Player to Watch

Song Min-kyu

Song Min-kyu
Can Song Min-kyu kick off from where he left off last season?

2020 was the breakout year for Song Min-kyu. The 21-year-old netted 10 goals and provided six assists last season. He was the team's third-highest goalscorer and bagged the league's Young Player of the Year award. With Stanislav Iljutchenko and Aleksandar Palocevic having moved on, Song will be looking to further improve on his goal contributions this season. This is a young player with huge potential, and if he can mirror last season's performance then it won't be long before several of Europe's top clubs start circling around him.

Biggest Question 

Can Pohang be genuine title contenders this season?

Can Kim Gi-dong guide Pohang to a shot at the title?

In 2019, Pohang had finished a whopping 23 points behind champions Jeonbuk. However, last year they significantly closed the gap and finished 10 points behind the champions. Most notably, Pohang managed to beat both Jeonbuk and arch-rivals Ulsan towards the end of the season. Several big-name players have left, but the man at the helm has signed a new contract extension to stay on. So, it will be interesting to see if Kim Gi-dong can turn Pohang into genuine title contenders this season.
                                               [READ: Under the radar signings this winter]

Reason to Watch 

Kang Sang-woo has been appointed vice-captain and will be instrumental for Pohang 

If you enjoy attacking brand of football, then Pohang Steelers are the team that you should keep tabs on. Pohang was the league's top-scoring team with 56 goals last season. Kim Gi-dong clearly doesn't shy away against any opposition, and he will continue to implement his natural style no matter which team they are up against. With attacking weapons like Manuel Palacios, Song Min-kyu and Shin Jin-ho, coupled with Boris Taschy set to join in, there is no doubt that the team will be exciting to watch throughout the course of the season.

Another notable factor to keep an eye out for is the number of exciting youths in the Steelers squad. Song dazzled and had a significant impact on the team last season, but this season there are also other youngsters waiting in the wings to shine. Kim Gi-dong relishes the opportunity to work with prodigies, and in Lee Seung-mo and Samuel Pungi he has two youngsters who can certainly make a big impression this season. Add to that, exciting new arrivals and there is already a lot of buzz around the Steel Yard. A thrilling season awaits.

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