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2023 Preview: Can Jeonnam Dragons Climb Out of The Dungeon?

The only way is up for Jeonnam Dragons after finishing bottom of the table last season. The task at hand for manager Lee Kang-kwan for the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 2 campaign will be to get the Dragons breathing fire again, out of the dungeon, and back into the playoff picture.

What happened last season?

Jeonnam Dragons had something of an eventful year in 2022. They competed in the AFC Champions League group stage after winning the FA Cup the year before. The Dragons gave a decent account of themselves too but finished the league season rock bottom of the table after going on a 20-match winless run.

After what was at the time Jeon Kyung-jun's team were sent home early from the ACL things began to go downhill even further. The 20-match winless run began on 21st May in Round 17 and lasted until 14th September when the Dragons put seven past Ansan Greeners in Round 39. The shock victory came away from home, though, meaning that the Dragon Dungeon faithful had to wait even longer to see their team win on their own patch - 8th October in Round 43 against Seoul E-Land. 

Jeonnam in ACL action with Melbourne City of Australia
Trying to balance the AFC Champions League with the bread and butter of the league proved to be too much for Jeonnam and it was a season to forget. You would be tempted to say the only way is up from here as 11th in K League 2 would have been as low as it could get. That would be true in 2023 if the division didn't have two more teams in Cheonan City and Chungbuk Cheongju.

On the bright side, Jeonnam didn't have the worst defensive record in the division last year as Ansan Greeners (67), Gimpo FC (65), and Gyeongnam FC (61) all shipped more goals than the Dragons (58).

What transfer business has been done over winter?

Jeonnam have made some sensible signings over the winter with experienced players coming in. In comes goalkeeper Choi Bong-jin to compete with Kim Da-sol for the number one slot, Kang Min-soo from Incheon United will add experience at the back while Asnawi Mangkualam from Ansan Greeners also arrives to add some attacking impetus from wingback, not just to boost their Instagram follower count. Brazilian attacking midfielder Valdivia also arrives as does promising forward Ha Nam from Gyeongnam among one or two others. The Dragons have also signed experienced striker Lee Yong-jae from Incheon United who, reportedly, was encouraged by Kang Min-soo to make the switch.

There have been quite a few notable departures as well, as might be expected for a team with a new manager that finished bottom of the league the year before. Jonathan Balotelli has gone, as too Choi Ho-jeong, Park Hee-seong, and Kim Young-wook. 


Existing squad and key players

Leonard Pllana is someone Jeonnam fans will be hoping can build on last year as, despite the team finishing bottom of the table, managed to get a decent goal - six and one assist as well as two goals in the ACL.

In midfield, there's skipper Lee Hoo-gwon and the vastly experienced Lee Seok-hyun who, not too long ago, was one of Pohang Steelers' best players. Kim Han-gil has returned from military service and will be looking to truly get his career back on track. He's been tried as a winger and full back and got a run of games for Gimcheon last year, making 34 appearances.

Manager Lee Kang-kwan has been in charge since June 2022 but has only overseen two wins from 23 matches with 12 draws and nine losses. It's probably still too soon to say what is style of play is but the team's weaknesses was its lack of cutting-edge up front. 

Realistic 2023 target

An improvement on last year won't be too hard so long as the Dragons aren't languishing at the bottom end of the table. But, with the experience and quality they do possess in the squad, there's enough there to mount a push for the playoffs. Finishing second or third might be too much of a stretch, but fourth or fifth is definitely achievable. 

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