Jeonbuk chase fifth straight title as K League enters final week
With just one more week of K League action left, six clubs will play their final matches of the season this weekend. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors look set to become the first team in Korea's two most popular leagues — the K League and KBO — to ever win a title for five consecutive years.
Jeonbuk currently tops the standings with a two-point lead over Ulsan Hyundai and, if they beat Jeju United on Sunday, Jeonbuk will win their fifth K League regular season title regardless of Ulsan’s result.
Jeonbuk reclaimed their lead in the standings after a 2-0 win over Daegu on Sunday while Ulsan only added a point with a 0-0 draw against the Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Jeonbuk have 73 points, Ulsan trail with 71 points, Daegu FC are in third with 55 points and Jeju follow with 54 points.
Ulsan's match against Daegu will be played simultaneously at the Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan. If Jeonbuk draw against Jeju and Ulsan beat Daegu, the two clubs will be tied at the top with 74 points, but Jeonbuk still have the advantage because they have 69 goals while Ulsan has only 62. Ulsan will only be able to overcome that deficit with an unlikely 8-0 win, assuming the Jeonbuk game ends 0-0.
Jeonbuk have the most wins in the top league, having won eight championship titles in the last 12 seasons — including last year.
The final week of the last two seasons looked a lot like this year. Last year, Jeonbuk topped the table with 57 points and runner-up Ulsan had 54 points. Ulsan beat Gwangju 3-0, but Jeonbuk also took a 2-0 win against Daegu to clinch the trophy for the fourth consecutive time.
Jeonbuk also had two runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2016. The club won the FA Cup four times, including last year, and also won the AFC Champions League title twice, in 2009 and 2016.
Despite being a strong club, Jeonbuk are facing a difficult match on Sunday as they have not been able to beat Jeju this season. All three games so far have ended in draws: The first two games ended in 1-1 draws and the last time the two clubs faced each other on Oct. 23, the match ended 2-2.
Not only that, but Jeju will also be fighting hard on Sunday to finish the season within the top three and have a chance to earn a ticket to next year’s AFC Champions League. The second and third clubs in the K League compete to earn a spot at the Champions League and Jeju is just one point behind No. 3 Daegu.
Ulsan will have to put their home advantage to use on Sunday as Daegu will try to keep their third position in the standings. Despite being a lower-ranked team, Daegu have the upper hand in their head-to-head record against Ulsan. Daegu took a 2-1 win in March, then Ulsan won 2-1 in August. In their most recent match in September, Daegu took a 2-1 win.
In the latter half of the K League 1 season, Gwangju FC were fixed at the bottom after taking a 1-0 loss against Seongnam FC on Saturday.
In the K League, the bottom club from the K League 1 is automatically relegated. The second-to-last team competes in a playoff each year with one of the runners-up from the K League 2. If the K League 2 club wins, they are promoted and the K League 1 club is relegated.
Gwangju will be relegated to the second division next season, while Gangwon FC will have to face Daejeon Hana Citizens in a promotion-relegation playoff. Daejeon will face Gangwon first at home on Wednesday, then Gangwon will face Daejeon at home on Dec. 12.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]