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2021 Jeonnam Dragons Season Preview

After missing out on the play off places by only one point, Jeonnam will be looking to add strength in depth to their youthful team and go one step further in the 2021 season. Joshua Higgins looks at what happened in 2020 and what the Dragons are doing to improve.

Last Season

8W,  14D,   5L,  6th place

What Happened?

Jeon Kyung-jun's first season in charge of Jeonnam will have been a good opportunity to learn for the relatively inexperienced manager, he set up the Dragons to be a tough team to beat, and with statistics such as only 25 goals conceded (second best in the league) and only five losses (again, second best in the league) he can be happy he succeeded in this regard.

So, if Jeonnam were defensively solid and recorded fewer losses than any of their potential playoff rivals, how did they finish mid table, outside the playoff places? 

Goals, or specifically a lack of them, is the answer. 2020 top scorer was Norwegian Julian Kristoffersen (who has since left the club) with a total of five goals in all competitions. The Dragons played with a distinct lack of threat, highlighted by the fact that the three attackers who got the most minutes scored a combined 11 goals between them. Compare that with Suwon's An Byong-jun's 21 goals, and it makes grim reading for Dragons fans.

Essentially, too many games were beyond the Dragons if they went a goal down, often resulting in a low scoring draw, emphasized by their 14 draws, almost double to league average, and saw games where the opposition needed to only score a single goal to have a good chance of victory.

Jeonnam did pick up notable wins on occasion, such as the 1-0 home win against eventual league winners Jeju United, and the 4-3 thriller away at play off winners Suwon, prompting a late push for a play off place, however those results were too often sandwiched between labored performances and disappointing results. For example the 1-1 consecutive draws at home versus Chungnam Asan and FC Anyang, who at that point in the season couldn't buy a goal between them. 

Despite disappointment at missing out on the play off places, manager Jeon Kyung-jun can certainly take a few positives from the 2020 season, and if he can find some harmony in combining the rock solid defence of last year and bringing some attacking flair to the side, we might just find them pushing for a play off place again this season.

Notable Moves

Striker Julian Kristoffersen has been allowed to leave the club, joining Italian Serie B side Salernitana. Sporadic appearances and a feeling that he didn't quite adjust to life in K League mean he probably won't be missed too much, despite being top scorer.

The biggest loss will be felt in midfield with attacking midfielder Hernades making the move east to playoff rivals Gyeongnam. Definitely a threat when picking the ball up from deep and running directly at players, Jeonnam fans will be hoping that he doesn't make them regret letting him go.

Directly replacing both Hernades and Kristoffersen in the foreigner slot is Nigerian striker Samuel Nnamani who has been plying his trade in the Swedish leagues with AFC Eskilstuna, who currently play in the second division. Averaging over 10 goals a season, which included one season in the Swedish top flight, he might be the difference Jeonnam were missing last season, certainly bringing more pedigree with him than Kristoffersen could offer.

Although proving himself to be a Jeon Kyung-jun stalwart last season, amassing more minutes on the field than any other player in the Jeonnam squad, central defender Kim Ju-won has been allowed to leave the club, so his position will be up for grabs.

Key Player 

Lee Jong-ho

Named Dragons captain this year, with great responsibility comes great goal contributions? Dragons fans will be certainly hoping so.  If the 28 year old (29 next week) can produce the kind of performances he did during the 2014 and 2015 seasons with Jeonnam in K League 1, which earned him a move to Jeonbuk and then Ulsan, the Dragons might well be in contention for promotion. But with only four goals and one assist last season, he needs to seriously improve his output to match his previous figures of averaging 11 goals for two seasons if he's to live up to his potential.

Young Player to Watch

Jeong Ho-jin

Part of the successful U20 World Cup squad that finished as runners up in 2019, and the U19 national squad who also finished runner up in the AFC U19 Championship, 21 year old Jeong Ho-jin is part of a promising crop of young Korean players currently coming through. Last year, in his debut season, he got over 800 first team minutes under his belt and will certainly by hoping to add in a few goal contributions and cement his midfield place this season. 

Biggest Question 

Can they compete with the big boys?

This year depends on a few factors. Although not as congested as K League 1 in terms of fixtures, the players will certainly be feeling the burn with the amount of games they have to play in such a short space of time. So, avoiding injury is a must, especially for players like Lee Jong-ho and Samuel who could be essential to the Dragons success. If the squad can remain fit, maybe they have a chance to match teams such as Gyeongnam and Gimcheon, who arguable have the more talented squads. 

Reason to Watch 

The 2020 season was a warm up for manager Jeon Kyung-jun, and he will be better prepared this year after getting to know his squad's strengths and weaknesses, and the players he can trust, his biggest priority will no doubt be finding a balance between attacking output and clean sheets, hopefully resulting in a much more entertaining team to watch, and a higher ranking than 6th.

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