All 12 K League 1 teams will take to the field this Saturday for the last round of fixtures before the split. The title race may be over with Jeonbuk sealing their fourth K League crown in five years before the international break, but there are still ACL places up for grabs with both Suwon Bluewings and Pohang Steelers looking to catch Ulsan Hyundai in third. The last place in the top half is down to either Jeju United or Gangwon FC, United host relegation-threatened FC Seoul, whilst Gangwon visit third-placed Ulsan. For all that and more, K League United Editor Paul Neat provides a comprehensive guide to K League 1 Round 33.
Saturday 20th October
#JHMvINC: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st) vs Incheon United (12th) 14:00
K League Champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai, wrapped up their fourth major crown in five years with a 2-2 draw away to Ulsan Hyundai last time out. With the league title already sewn up before the split has even began, the first team to do so, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will head into Saturday’s match with a sense of freedom. The same cannot be said, however, for their opponents, Incheon United, who are still fighting for their lives. The Durumi’s win over Daegu prior to the international break made it three games unbeaten for Jørn Andersen’s side. Since the 7-0 thrashing by Gangwon, the Neroazzurre have lost just once since, a run of eight matches. As a result, United are just three points from safety heading into round 33. From the two previous fixtures this term, Incheon are the only team in the league that Choi Kanghee’s men are yet to beat having taken four points from Jeonbuk this term and will feel as though a result against the runaway champions might not be all that farfetched. However, Incheon may have picked up a win over Jeonbuk in March at home before playing out a 3-3 draw in July in Jeonju but United’s last last win in Jeonju dates back to 2015, a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Kim Insung. Incheon have seven wins in Jeonju but only three in the last 10 years.
#SSBvPOH: Suwon Bluewings (5th) vs Pohang Steelers (4th) 14:00
Suwon Bluewings’ second of three games in the space of a week sees Seo Jungwon’s take control of a K League for the first time since dramatic return when ACL hopefuls Pohang Steelers visit Big Bird. With an FA Cup quarter final tie with Jeju United out of the way and a place in the semi-finals, attentions can turn back to the league for Suwon who, after a run of two wins in 10, has seen the Bluewings slip to fifth. But, with just a point between the Bluewings and the Steelers, a home win could but Suwon back in the hunt for the top four. As it is just the top three teams will qualify for the AFC Champions League, should Suwon fail in their attempts to claim a fifth FA Cup, Suwon would only then qualify for the continental football for next season should Ulsan go on to win the competition and Suwon finish fourth. Pohang, meanwhile, although six points behind Ulsan, also harbour hopes of ACL football for next season. Choi Soonho’s men are unbeaten in their last four but haven’t beaten Suwon in over three years, a run spanning 13 games. Seven of the last nine meetings have ended in draws, including the last three.
#JEJvSEO: Jeju United (6th) vs FC Seoul (9th) 14:00
A match which has implications for both sides of the split is Jeju United versus FC Seoul. The hosts remain in the driving seat for the last place in the Championship Round of the split but welcome FC Seoul to Seogwipo on the back of an FA Cup quarter final penalty shootout defeat to Suwon Bluewings in midweek. FC Seoul’s poor run of form has dragged the 2016 Champions into the relegation mire and so, as a result, the hierarchy at Sangam swooped to bring back former boss Choi Yongsoo to help preserve the club’s K League 1 status. For Jeju United, a win over FC Seoul would be enough to ensure the islanders a place in the Championship Round of the split. A draw might not be enough as, should Gangwon beat Ulsan, Gangwon’s superior goals scored tally would be enough to see the Chuncheon-based side leapfrog Jeju and into sixth place. FC Seoul’s defeat to Jeonnam Dragons before the international break ensured the beleaguered side a place in the bottom half of the split for the first time, and in the post playoff era, finish outside of the top six for the first time in over 10 years. Seoul are just five points above Incheon who prop up the table, and three points above Jeonnam who occupy the relegation playoff place. A win for either team could well make or break their respective seasons.
#ULSvGAN: Ulsan Hyundai (3rd) vs Gangwon FC (7th) 14:00
Ulsan Hyundai sit comfortably in third place, six points above east coast rivals Pohang Steelers in fourth, heading into Saturday’s visit of top six-chasing Gangwon FC. Whilst a win on Saturday would set the Horangi up for a positive end to the season, it is the visitors, Gangwon, who will be desperate for the three points. Gangwon are currently two points behind Jeju United in seventh and know that anything less than a victory at the Munsu will condemn the Chunchon-based outfit to a place in the relegation round of the split. And, whilst Gangwon are in relatively little danger of being sucked into the relegation battle just yet, finishing in the bottom half will be seen as a catastrophic failure given the club’s lofty ambitions of playing in the AFC Champions League, not to mention having the league’s second deadliest marksman in Uroš Đerić. Ulsan have one defeat in five, Gangwon on the other hand have just one win in that time. From the two previous meetings this term Ulsan have taken four points from six available having recorded a 3-1 win at home and played out a 3-3 draw in Gangwon.
#DAEvJND: Daegu FC (8th) vs Jeonnam Dragons (11th) 14:00
A huge clash at the bottom end of the table sees Daegu FC host Jeonnam Dragons in what could be classed as a true relegation six-pointer. Just four points separate the two teams heading into Saturday’s match and so a win for the hosts could have Andre Gaspar’s team with mathematical safety in sight. However, a defeat to a resurgent Jeonnam and it might just be enough to drag the 2016 promotion winners into the mire and cast a dark cloud over the Sky Blues’ post-split run-in. Jeonnam’s win over FC Seoul last time out narrowed the gap between Kim Inwan’s men and safety to just a point and so will make the trip to Daegu Stadium for the last time believing that a win will be well within the team’s capabilities. The FA Cup semi finalists have just three defeats in their last nine since Kim Inwan took charge. The hosts, Daegu, have a similar record of four defeats from their last nine thanks to four victories and a draw. Andre’s side looked as though they might have been making a late push for a top-half finish after going four unbeaten, winning three on the trot and then a draw with second placed Gyeongnam. Alas, a 2-1 defeat to Incheon last time out means that the Sky Blues will definitely see out the season in the bottom half of the table. At home Daegu have just three defeats in their last nine but only three victories. Jeonnam, on the hand, have just one away league win in that time and have failed to beat Daegu in their last four attempts.
#GYEvSAN: Gyeongnam FC (2nd) vs Sangju Sangmu (10th) 14:00
The title race may have been over for quite some time but Gyeongnam will still have second place to fight for as provincial neighbours, Ulsan Hyundai, make a late surge. The Reds have a two point cushion over Ulsan and, after a three-game winless run - including a defeat to struggling Jeju United last time out, will be determined to get back to winning ways. Saturday’s visitors, relegation-threatened Sangju Sangmu, will also be gunning for victory after winning just once in their last nine, twice in 19 as another relegation playoff looms large. Just a point separates Sangju and the relegation playoff place and so anything less than a defeat could see the army side slip into 11th and face a potential relegation playoff campaign for the second year in succession. Gyeongnam won the last two fixtures this season, the first being the 3-1 victory on the opening day of the campaign which saw Marcão bag a hat-trick. Sangju have won just four times away to Gyeongnam, the most recent dating back to 2015 - a 3-1 victory in April of that year.
K League United Associate Editor