This weekend see’s the 2018 K League 1 season reach its penultimate round before drawing to a close next weekend. On Saturday, Incheon United visit the capital to take on FC Seoul for the fourth and final Gyeongin Derby of the campaign, still fighting for their lives. Meanwhile, on Sunday, in the race for second place, Ulsan Hyundai host Jeju United whilst Gyeongnam will be looking to ward off Suwon Bluewings who themselves still harbour ACL ambitions. As do Pohang Steelers who will face their toughest test yet in their quest to qualify for continental football next term with an away trip to already-crowned Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Saturday 24th November
#SANvGAN: Sangju Sangmu (10th) vs Gangwon FC (8th) 14:00
Not wanting to have to go through the relegation playoffs for the second year in a row, Sangju Sangmu host Gangwon FC this Saturday knowing that three points against Gangwon would be enough to keep their heads above water heading into the final round of the campaign. Gangwon are already safe having picked up four points from their last three matches but with MVP contender Uroš Đerić still hot on the golden boot trail, Kim Byungsoo’s side will still be capable of causing problems for the army side. Sangju head into Saturday’s game with just one win in eight and have kept a mere three cleansheets from their last 20 outings. Kim Taehwan’s men are also the joint lowest scorers in the division with just 40 goals from 36 matches.
Gangwon, meanwhile, have managed to limp over the line having picked up just two wins in their last 12 since the 7-0 demolition over Incheon United in mid-August. However, Diego Mauricio is back from suspension after the Brazilian winger picked up his third caution of the campaign during the 1-0 win over Jeonnam at the beginning of November. Head to head this term, Sangju have emerged as the victors on two occasions, a 3-2 triumph in September that was preceded by a comprehensive 3-0 win in May. The last time these two teams met in Chuncheon, the hosts ran out 2-1 winners with the returning Diego Mauricio bagging a brace.
#GyeonginDerby: FC Seoul (9th) vs Incheon United (11th) 14:00
Few games over the course of the weekend hold more importance than the fourth and final Gyeongin Derby of the season. With more than just bragging rights at stake, an all-but safe FC Seoul host an Incheon United sitting in eleventh place and determined to do their utmost to escape that relegation playoff spot. A point for the hosts would be enough to mathematically secure survival, for the Durumi, anything less than a win will ensure of a nervy last game of the season when Jørn Andersen’s side host Jeonnam Dragons next weekend.
Both of the previous meetings at Sangam this season have seen a different manager lead out FC Seoul. Hwang Sunhong was still in charge the first encounter in April where the two sides played out a 1-1 draw, former Caretaker gaffer Lee Eulyong was at the helm for another 1-1 stalemate in September, meaning that Choi Yongsoo will be hoping it is third time lucky for his FC Seoul side come Saturday. Incheon United make the short trip to the capital on the back of two straight victories, a 2-1 win over Sangju Sangmu followed by a dramatic 3-2 victory over Gangwon. A win for Incheon could see the Neroazzurre climb out of the relegation place, should they better Sangju’s result.
#JEJvJHM: Jeonnam Dragons (12th) vs Daegu FC (7th) 16:00
Propping up the K League 1 table and seemingly destined for relegation to K League 2, Jeonnam Dragons host seventh-placed Daegu FC on Saturday afternoon knowing full well that anything shy of three points will condemn them to second tier football for the first time in the their history. At present, Kim Inwan’s side are four points behind Incheon United in eleventh, and five points from absolute safety. Plainly, for Jeonnam to pull off a great escape, the South Jeolla side need to win their remaining two matches and hope that FC Seoul do them a favour by winning both of theirs, too. Heading into Saturday’s huge match, the Dragons have lost four on the spin in the league, five in all competitions, and have just one win in nine.
Saturday’s visitors to Dragon Dungeon, Daegu FC, secured top flight football for 2019 thanks to a win and two draws from their last three and sit atop of the split table, one point ahead of Gangwon. These two sides met in the FA Cup just a few weeks ago with the Sky Blues coming out on top in a 2-1 victory. In the league, two draws - one in Daegu and one in Gwangyang, preceded a 2-1 Daegu home win in October. Overall in the the K1 this term, Daegu have made the second highest number of shots, 508, and the are the fourth highest in terms of hitting the target with 213. Jeonnam, on the other hand, are sixth overall for shots with 424 but ninth for the amount that have hit the target, 173.
Sunday 25th November
#GYEvSSB: Gyeongnam FC (2nd) vs Suwon Bluewings (5th) 14:00
Even with a place in the 2019 AFC Champions League in the bag, Gyeongnam may still have their sights set on finishing as K League 1 runners up, particularly with Brazilian sensation Marcão two games away from winning the golden boot. Just a point separates Kim Jongboo’s side and FA Cup Finalists Ulsan Hyundai in third, though, and so there will be no room for complacency if the South Gyeongsang Province outfit are serious about finishing as K League 1 runners up for the first time in the Club’s history.
Recent ACL semi-finalists Suwon Bluewings face an uphill battle to qualify for the competition next year, however. The Bluewings sit three points behind Pohang Steelers in fourth but can boast of a better goals-scored tally with 52 compared to the Steelers’ 42. In order for the Bluewings, or indeed Pohang, to qualify for the Champions League next term, nothing less than a fourth place finish as well as an Ulsan Hyundai FA Cup win would do it. Suwon, though, have had a good record against the Reds this term having picked up two home wins and a draw down in Changwon in July.
#ULSvJEJ: Ulsan Hyundai (3rd) vs Jeju United (6th) 14:00
FA Cup Finalists Ulsan Hyundai will be looking to keep up their pursuit of second place when Jeju United visit the Munsu Stadium this Sunday. The Horangi could still finish as runners up and could leapfrog Gyeongnam should Kim Dohoon’s side better the Reds’ result but will need to bounce back from failing to win their last two. Furthermore, Ulsan will host Jeju having shipped six goals from those last two matches after suffering a 3-1 defeat to Jeonbuk before drawing 3-3 with Suwon Bluewings in rounds 35 and 36 respectively.
Cho Sunghwan’s Jeju United side will make the short flight over having drawn a blank in each of their last two outings. With two games to go, Jeju have an extremely slim chance of making it into fourth but would have to win both their remaining games and hope that both Suwon and Pohang lose theirs. The head-to-head record between Ulsan and Jeju this year is all square with one win each and a draw. For the most recent meeting, Ulsan were the victors following a 3-2 win at the Munsu in September. Interestingly, Ulsan have made the most forward passes in the entire division with an average of 229 per game. Jeju are fourth overall with an average of 206 per game.
#POHvJHM: Pohang Steelers (4th) vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (1st)
Should fourth spot be the last gateway into the AFC Champions League for next year then the team who have given themselves the best chance of qualifying is Choi Soonho’s Pohang Steelers. The Steelers have just two defeats in their last eight with five victories and 1 draw host a Jeonbuk side whom they have already beaten twice before. In fact, 50% of Jeonbuk’s defeats in the league this season have been on account of Pohang Steelers. Choi Soonho’s side are the only team to have beaten Jeonbuk home and away. In fact, Jeonbuk’s last league defeat was against Pohang in the seven-goal thriller back in August when the Steelers emerged as victors with a 5-2 win, thanks to a Lee Seokhyun hat-trick and goal of the season contender from Lee Keunho. A third Pohang win over the Champions would all-but guarantee fourth spot.
For Jeonbuk, Choi Kanghee will take charge of his final away game as manager of a club he has had a 12-year association with. In his second spell as Jeonbuk gaffer, Choi lost just 20 of his 113 away matches. Keeping that tally at just 20 would ensure that the Green Warriors beat their goals-scored tally from last season (73) and set a new record.