It’s been a busy winter for K League sides but the stuff that matters kicks off on February 27.
A limited number of fans will be welcomed at Jeonju World Cup Stadium when reigning champs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors take on FC Seoul to start the season.
The number of games was finalised earlier this month, and after 33 rounds the teams will be split into groups of six, depending where they finish on the ladder, for the five-round finals.
Daegu FC earned a comfortable fifth place last season but notable departures could prove a problem in keeping up with the top teams. Competing in three competitions this season after successfully qualifying for the ACL, fans will be sweating on talisman Brazilian Edgar da Silva to return from an Achilles injury in April to help bring the goals.
Gangwon FC have had a busy transfer season, most notably bringing in Masatoshi Ishida, who will hopefully solve their goal scoring problems. Despite topping the league in possession and passing last season, they struggled to find the back of the net.
Not only did Gwangju survive their first season back in the top flight, but they will be full of confidence after a top-six finish. There are four incoming players in the side for 2021, but fans will be hoping Felipe stays at the club. The Brazilian was the side’s top scorer last season and will only get better with more time in K League 1.
Used to a relegation battle, Incheon United had their very own Great Escape last season after a troubling start to the year. These guys are hoping the form they ended the season with will take the pressure off at the pointy end. Prolific striker Stefan Mugoša has extended his contract and partnered with new signing Guilherme Negueba could prove to make all the difference.
Keep an eye on Jeju United. Spending just one season in K League 2, they’ve bounced back to the top flight after an impressive 15-game winning streak to end their season last year. Despite not having the strongest team on paper, this side proved they knew how to play well together.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
The undisputed kings of the league with a record eight titles, and have been almost untouchable as champions for the last four seasons. The Warriors are heavy favourites to take out a straight-fifth title this year.
One of the most exciting teams to watch last season, with their 56 goals the most of any team in the competition. Midfielder Shin Jin-ho has returned to the Steelers along with Lim Sang-hyub this season and will provide even more attacking experience.
Fans may struggle to recognise this team when they hit the pitch after 12 new signings were brought in during the offseason. Seongnam’s problems last season were scoring, after failing to register more than two goals a game all season.
These guys are hoping we talk about what happens on the pitch rather than the sex dolls that watched them play last season. Seoul had the second-worst defensive record last season, and signing Hong Joon-ho hasn’t rendered much confidence that will change. Up front though, Serbian Aleksandar Paločević could bring some much-needed attacking prowess.
Suwon Samsung Bluewings
The Bluewings have had a tough time lately, placing eighth in the last two seasons despite being favourites to push for an ACL spot. Fans will be hoping rumours about ex-Barcelona junior Park Seung-ho joining their ranks are true to help with midfielder creativity for 2021.
New boys on the block. Despite winning promotion to the top flight, five of their best performing players from last season have since departed the club. Turning top experience, coach Kim Do-kyun has brought in K League veterans Murilo and Lee Yeong-jae to bolster their attack.
‘Always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ seems to be Ulsan Hyundai’s story for the past two seasons in the domestic league, but they did lift the AFC Champions League trophy in 2020. Despite the continental success, they’ve brought in a new manager in former 2014 World Cup coach for Korea, Hong Myung-bo.
Terry Antonis – Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Antonis has yet to nail down a regular spot just yet, but after two seasons in South Korea things are looking up for the Socceroo going in to 2021.
Jason Davidson – Ulsan Hyundai FC
Davidson joined the side in 2019 but has yet to establish a regular spot, only making seven appearances in his two years with the side. He’s up against strong competition for minutes though — Ulsan Hyundai were the 2020 AFC Champions League winners and have been runners up to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in both of Davidson’s seasons in South Korea.
Harrison Delbridge – Incheon United FC
A regular for Melbourne City last season, Delbridge joined Incheon United at the start of the year. The defender has his work cut out for him at his new club, which only escaped relegation of the 2020 season with a last gasp effort in their final two games.
Alex Grant – Pohang Steelers
Despite three years left on his contract with Perth Glory, Grant has again ventured overseas. He’ll be adding solidarity at the back in a team that is down for its attacking ferocity.