After the late drama of Round 33, we enter the K League 1 'Final Round' where each half of the table faces off with one other just one more time before the season draws to a close. On Saturday, the bottom half of the table is in action with tricky away fixtures for each of the relegation-threatened sides Gyeongnam FC, Incheon United and Jeju United. Meanwhile, Sunday sees the top half in action as title chasers Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai take on two of the sides in contention for AFC Champions League in Daegu FC and Pohang Steelers respectively. These matches previewed and more in K League United's guide to Round 34.
Saturday 19th October
#SSBvGYE: Suwon Samsung Bluewings (8th) vs Gyeongnam FC (10th) - 14:00
Suwon Samsung Bluewings may well be forgiven for having other things on their mind coming into these final five matches. They find themselves safe from the threat of relegation and, with an FA Cup final next month, their focus would well be elsewhere. One player's focus that will certainly be on teh game is Adam Taggart. The Australian striker returns from international duty in Taiwan, having scored twice whilst away and will have his eyes firmly set on securing the league's golden boot for which he leads the charts with 16. With supposedly "weaker" opposition in the lower half of the table, the Socceroo may well fancy his chances of adding to that tally and staving off the competition. Suwon will be without Waguininho and Choi Sung-geun for this fixture, with the latter being a significant absence due to the defensive cover he helps provide in the defensive midfield role.
Gyeongnam FC currently sit two points clear of the relegation spots and will feel confident knowing that their fate lies in their hands alone. With a game against a Suwon side who have both struggled at home this season and may also be looking ahead to the upcoming FA Cup final, there is a good opportunity for the Reds to capitalise and pick up an early three points in this final straight of matches. Gyeongnam also come into this match off the back of their first win in seven matches after defeating fellow relegation contenders Jeju United but that statistic masks the fuller picture. Prior to Jeju, they faced four top six sides in a row, claiming three draws against Ulsan, Seoul and Jeonbuk from losing positions. Gyeongnam are hitting their stride at the right time of the season and it is this ability to fight back that may well keep their head above the drop. Only Park Tae-hong is suspended for Gyeongnam, meaning manager Kim Jong-boo should maintain his relatively strong side coming into this match.
#SFCvINC: Seongnam FC (9th) vs Incheon United (11th) - 16:00
In their first season back in the K League 1, Seongnam FC enter this final phase of fixtures safe in the knowledge they are effectively safe. Three more points would make it mathematically certain but it seems highly unlikely the Magpies will be in any danger. Seongnam have built their success on their defence, with the lowest number of goals conceded in the bottom half of the split. Furthermore, they are yet to concede to Incheon in their three meetings this season and will be looking to make it four this weekend. They will have to make do without midfielder Lee Eun-beom, however, who misses this tie through suspension.
Despite sitting in 11th, Incheon United have been enjoying an upturn of form at the right time, losing just once in their last six fixtures. They held champions Jeonbuk to a 0-0 draw in the previous round and arguably should have won it if it were not for some questionable finishing. Stefan Mugoša leads the Incheon scoring charts with 13 for the campaign, but what is more impressive is that he scored six of those goals recently in September and he will likely prove key to the side's survival in these upcoming five matches. Unfortunately for Incheon is that defender Kim Dong-min will be suspended for this match but, besides this, they should have close to a full squad to select from.
#SANvJEJ: Sangju Sangmu (7th) vs Jeju United (12th) - 18:00
Despite a last-minute winner in their Round 33 fixture against Gangwon FC, results elsewhere meant that Sangju Sangmu were unable to make the top half of the table in what would have only been their second time in doing so. It has still been a positive year for Kim Tae-wan's squad, however, with the team passing their 2016 top-flight record of 43 points by three. With nothing really to play for, Kim will perhaps have to motivate his players to ensure they repay the loyalty shown by the fans and strive for the biggest finish possible even if they cannot go any higher in the table than they are now.
Sangju will welcome a Jeju United side in perilous danger of the drop. Jeju are a far cry from the side that finished runners up two seasons ago and a loss in their last round to fellow relegation-threatened side Gyeongnam FC only served to compound matters. A booking for Nam Jun-jae in their last match also means that the winger will be suspended for the Islanders this weekend. With just one win in their last thirteen, and five points from safety, Jeju desperately need to start performing and may fancy their chances against a side with nothing left to play for.
Sunday 20th October
#GANvSEO: Gangwon FC (6th) vs FC Seoul (3rd) - 14:00
Gangwon FC enter this final phase in torrid form, having picked up just one point in their last four league matches. Last time out they fell to Sangju Sangmu after squandering a one-goal lead. With both their first and second highest goalscorers injured for the rest of the campaign, however (Kim Ji-hyun and Cho Jae-wan), the scoring mantle has been left to Jung Jo-gook and Lee Young-jae who both only have five each for the campaign. To worsen matters, defender Oh Beom-seok and midfielder Takahiro Nakazato are both suspended for the home side.
FC Seoul claimed another Super Match victory in Round 33 as they saw off rivals Suwon Bluewings with a 2-1 away victory, helping to maintain their grip on the last AFC Champions League qualification spot. It was an important win for the capital club as one point from their three previous games had looked to have put their contention for this place in some doubt. Seoul go into this match with two absentees, striker Park Dong-jin and defender Lee Woong-hee but manager Choi Yong-soo may be able to recall the club's top scorer Aleksandar Pešić after he sat the last match out injured to offset Park's absence.
#JHMvPOH: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (2nd) vs Pohang Steelers (5th) -16:00
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors head into the final rounds in the unusual position of looking up at the summit. It is the first time in five seasons that the North Jeolla side have been in such a position and they now face the difficult task of playing catch up with Ulsan. Worryingly, Jeonbuk have been struggling coming into the league split, picking up just one victory in their last four, and that was against a heavily-rotated Suwon Bluewings side. Their last outing also saw them struggle to find the target, ultimately leaving with a goalless draw. José Morais' side have no suspensions to speak of but there is concern over the fitness of Lee Yong who had been deemed injured for his country to play against North Korea midweek. If absent, Choi Chul-soon would be expected to deputise for Lee.
To worsen matters for Jeonbuk, they face one of the league's in-form sides in Pohang Steelers. The Steelers have been on quite the run, going unbeaten in their last seven and winning six of them. Driven by the reigning player of the month Wanderson, and also the goal scoring exploits of summer signing Stanislav Iljutcenko, it was this form that saw them claim a place in the top six with a dramatic last-gasp win against Ulsan Hyundai in Round 33. Pohang will be without veteran defender Kim Kwan-suk for this game due to yellow card accumulation.
#DAEvULS: Daegu FC (4th) vs Ulsan Hyundai (1st) - 18:00
Daegu FC find themselves in the top half of the league split for the first time in their history and will be hoping to make their way into AFC Champions League contention over these next five fixtures. Daegu claimed three points in Round 33 against Seongnam FC, fighting back from a goal down and scoring the winner in the ninetieth minute to return with a victory. It was Daegu's ninth game in a row unbeaten With a full squad and no suspensions to be concerned with, manager Andre will be hoping for his side to continue this impressive run on Sunday evening.
Daegu's opponents are league leaders Ulsan Hyundai, however, so their task will certainly not be easy. Ulsan have not had the best of records against Daegu this season, having not claimed a victory in their last five meetings (including both legs of last season's FA Cup final). Given their late capitulation in the East Coast Derby last time out, Kim Do-hoon's men cannot really afford to drop any more points if they are going to prise the title from Jeonbuk's grip. Fortunately, Kim has no suspensions in his side and can recall Kim In-sung who was banned for the previous outing.
K League United Associate Editor