K League 1 clubs to kick off 2021 season this weekend
The 2021 K League 1 season kicks off on Saturday, with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors looking to defend their title against Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai FC.
Jeonbuk and Ulsan, who finished first and second last season, will look to continue their rivalry at the top of the table. Jeonbuk ended last season with their record eighth K League 1 win, taking the FA Cup title as well to cap off a strong year.
Ulsan, on the other hand, ended both the K League 1 and the FA Cup as runner-up, but then went on to win the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, failing domestically but becoming champions of Asia. Despite being in such close contention, Ulsan hasn't won the K League 1 title since 2005, and the club will be desperate to build on its AFC success this year.
The Pohang Steelers and Daegu FC, who finished 2020 in third and fifth place respectively, remain strong contenders heading into this season. The Steelers have finished within the top four for the last three years, but haven't topped the table since 2013. They reached the semifinals at the FA Cup last year, losing to Ulsan on penalties.
Daegu rejoined the K League 1 in 2017 after three years in the second-tier K League 2, going on to win the FA Cup in 2018. After finishing the last two years in fifth place, the resurgent club will be hoping to move up the table this year.
And there is some room to move, as 2020 fourth-place finishers Sangju Sangmu have been relegated to the K League 2 under a league rule that requires any team that changes its home city to drop out of the top tier. The club, now known as Gimcheon Sangmu, has moved to Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang.
Rounding off the top half of the 2020 table are Gwangju FC, which enjoyed the best finish in the club's history in 2020 after being promoted in 2019. After ten years of very mixed results, Gwangju will be looking to prove it has what it takes to be a top-tier team.
From the bottom half of the 2020 table, Gangwon FC, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, FC Seoul, Seongnam FC and Incheon United all avoided relegation. All five clubs have spent the last few years languishing in the bottom half of the table, although Seongnam, FC Seoul and the Bluewings have been forces to reckon with in the K League in the past.
Busan iPark were relegated back to the K League 2 last year, while Jeju United and Suwon FC were promoted to the K League 1.
Jeonbuk and FC Seoul will open the 2021 season, kicking off at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla. Daegu will take on Suwon FC at DGB Arena in Daegu at 4:30 p.m. on the same day. On Sunday the Steelers will take on Incheon in Pohang at 2 p.m. and the Bluewings will face Gwangju in Suwon at 4:30 p.m.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]