The Korea Herald

ssg
피터빈트

K League's two giants moving in opposite directions early in new season

By Yonhap

Published : April 3, 2023 - 09:36

    • Link copied

This photo shows Jung Seung-hyun of Ulsan Hyundai FC (center) celebrating a goal against Jeju United during a K League 1 match at Jeju World Cup Stadium in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Sunday (K League 1) This photo shows Jung Seung-hyun of Ulsan Hyundai FC (center) celebrating a goal against Jeju United during a K League 1 match at Jeju World Cup Stadium in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, on Sunday (K League 1)

The two best teams in South Korean football over the past four years are traveling in opposite directions in the early going of the 2023 season, with one club having won the first five matches of the season and the other having managed just one victory in the same stretch.

Ulsan Hyundai FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have reigned supreme in the K League 1 since 2019. Jeonbuk won titles in 2019, 2020 and 2021, with Ulsan finishing in second place in all three of those seasons. Ulsan finally claimed their crown in 2022, while Jeonbuk ended as runners-up.

Ulsan are off to a rousing start in their title defense this year, becoming the first team to win the first five matches of the season since the K League introduced the promotion-relegation system in 2012.

They defeated Jeju United 3-1 on Sunday to improve to 15 points, four clear of Daejeon Hana Citizen FC and Pohang Steelers. Ulsan have scored 11 goals, tied with Daejeon for most in the league, and have conceded a league-low three goals.

Forward Joo Min-kyu, in his second tour of duty with Ulsan, extended his scoring streak to three matches with a goal Sunday. While playing for Jeju, Joo won the scoring title with 22 goals in 2021 and ranked second with 17 last year.

Jeonbuk could certainly use some offense. While posting one win, one draw and three losses out of the gate, Jeonbuk have scored five times while giving up seven. They are in eighth place with four points.

This is a far cry for a team that has consistently ranked among the league leaders in goals in recent years.

Jeonbuk lost just seven times in 38 matches all of last season and six matches out of 38 the year before that.

Jeonbuk head coach Kim Sang-sik finds himself in the hot seat already. During Sunday's 2-1 loss to Pohang at home, Jeonju World Cup Stadium, angry Jeonbuk fans held up signs calling for Kim's resignation. And afterward, dozens of fans surrounded Jeonbuk's team bus in protest -- an increasingly popular way among irate K League supporters to vent their frustration -- and kept players and coaches from leaving the stadium for more than two hours.

As Jeonbuk's early season woes continued, Daejeon and Pohang have positioned themselves as worthy challengers to Ulsan's throne.

Daejeon, after getting promoted from the K League 2 for this season, have more than held their own against the big boys, jumping out to an undefeated record of three wins and two draws.

Pohang, who finished in third place in 2020 and 2022, have an identical record as Daejeon.

Three clubs are looking for their first win of the season after five matches. Jeju United and Suwon Samsung Bluewings each have two draws and three losses. Gangwon FC have three draws and two losses, after playing Suwon to a 1-1 draw Sunday. (Yonhap)