The long cold Korean winter is coming to a close and it’s time to come out of hibernation and start looking at the new K League Classic Season. Last season saw drama both on and off the field, and we’re certainly hoping for more of the former and less of the latter in 2017. All of the big names are back Asian Champions League Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai, Reigning Champions FC Seoul, FA Cup Holders Suwon Bluewings as well as recently promoted sides Daegu and Gangwon. So far during the pre-season some sides have opted for sweeping changes whilst most have gone for a solid strengthening approach.
Our prediction is based to both last season, pre-season changes and (maybe biased) personal opinions. Honestly we’re hoping to be proved wrong as some of our guesses are safe. Moving on here is our prediction for the 2017 K League Classic;
K League Classic 2017 Table Prediction
Starting at the bottom we see a long hard return to the K League Classic for Daegu, with Gwangju and Sangju Sangmu also maybe struggling this year. Jeonnam Dragons, Incheon United and Gangwon could be involved in either the championship or relegation races, on paper Gangwon do look the best of the rest. Moving into the top half Pohang Steelers, Jeju United and Ulsan Hyundai with be in the mix and should cause the big 3 problems. Finally our top 3 are Suwon Bluewings, FC Seoul and finally Jeonbuk Hyundai.
As already mentioned this is a slightly safe prediction, and it might be completed wrong before April. But the sides in the top and bottom halves look probable.
Next we’ll explain our thoughts in a little more detail;
Previews for each of the 2017 K League Classic Sides
Here are brief previews for each of the 2017 K League Classic sides highlighting some positives and negatives for the upcoming season;
It’s been a roller-coaster 6 months or so for Asian Champions League Winners Jeonbuk Hyundai, point deductions, finishing last season runners-up and most recently a ban from the Champions League (appeal pending). But now the dust is starting to settle we can look at the upcoming season and without the midweek travels around Eastern Asia they look favorites to win a 3rd title in 4 years. They won’t walk the title however.
Last seasons title winners and Champions League Semi-Finalists FC Seoul well certainly be in the title picture once again this season. Their current squad looks strong as they have been able to hold on to must of their key players. The issue maybe squad depth with yet another champions league campaign to factor in. Park Chu-Young could be key, if he can finally find that 90mins of fitness Seoul could be dangerous.
Suwon Bluewings last season were awful in the league and without key goals from Johnathan they’d might have joined city neighbors Suwon FC in the Challenge. However they found form in the FA Cup and won an exciting final over rivals FC Seoul, gaining a place in the Champions League. On paper they are a top 3 side, the only issue could be their defensive form.
Ulsan Hyundai won a last minute place in the Champions League (playoff round) thanks to the misfortune of Jeonbuk, who has already mentioned have been banned this season. They were solid all of last season and could be been in title picture but for a lack of goals. That lack of goals could still be an issue heading into the new season, but rumored new signings might fill that gap.
Jeju United had one of their best seasons to date in 2016 finishing an impressive 4th and gaining a rare spot in the Champions League. They’ve already added to their squad and on paper at least look strong. The issue once again will be their away from and with the added travel time due to the champions league points will certainly be dropped because of their busy schedule. 5th place and at least a top half finish seems like the likely outcome.
2016 was a year to learn from for Pohang Steelers, a poor Champions League Campaign coupled with equally disappointing league and cup form. They finished the season safe but they looked disjointed. However a few good new players have come in and therefore we see an improved season for Pohang. A mid-table finish yes, but at least an improvement over 2016.
Gangwon have finally returned to the K League Classic following 3 season down in the Challenge. They beat Seongnam in the relegation playoff for their place in the top tier. They more than any other side have made some impressive signings including last seasons golden-boot winner Jung Jo-Gook from Gwangju. The only issue during the pre-season has been their 2017 ticket prices, some of the highest in the league.
Incheon United looked at points last season one of the favorites to go down, but thankfully (biased view) they found some late season form and survived the drop. During the off-season they’ll replaced all 4 of their foreign players, but have keep the core domestic players. The newer looking Incheon could be great or awful, so we’re playing it safe and keeping them midtable.
Jeonnam Dragons finished an impressive 5th last season, they were strong at the back and had options going forward. They tried towards the end of the season due to a small squad, however they do seem to have keep the core players during the off-season. But have they added much? Not really and although their still is a month to go, we see them in a mid-table battle with the likes of Incheon and Gangwon.
Sangju Sangmu (the Korean Army Side) had their best season ever last season, finishing in the top half. However just like every season half their players finish military service and a new group come in. Therefore it’s hard to say what Sangju Sangmu will be like this coming season, if they’re like the team that finished 2016 the answer it no great. We see them in the bottom half, with relegation a danger.
Gwangju once again proved us and everybody else wrong and finished the season safely in mid-table, mainly thanks to Jung Jo-Gook’s 20 goals. But Jung has moved over to Gangwon and therefore so have half of Gwangju’s goals. No one in their squad scored more than 4 goals last season, so unless they make some solid signings it’s going to be a long hard season for Gwangju.
Daegu finished last seasons K League Challenge season strongly and have finally returned to the Classic. However despite the positives from last season since then not much has changed, players have gone but few first teams have come in. They also still have the issue of playing in a 66,000 seater stadium, with just seems empty most weeks. Therefore at the moment we don’t see them surviving for past this season.
Key Links for the 2017 K League Season
Here are a few links for the upcoming K League Season;
- kleague.com – Official Website in English
- kleagueunited.com – Expat Fans Site
- kleaguefootball.com – K League Blog
- kleaguekilt – K League Blog
- K League Football News – on Twitter
- Soccerway.com – K League Classic Page
- More Coming Soon…