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2023 Preview: Can Kim Sang-sik's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Reclaim the K League 1 Title?



Jeonbuk has invested heavily in the squad this season, bringing in plenty of new faces. As they prepare for the challenge of reclaiming the K League 1 title after failing to win the league for the first time since 2016. 

What happened last season?

Jeonbuk started last year horribly in 2022, only gaining five points out of a possible 18 in the first six games. The dropped points from inconsistent spells throughout the season cost Jeonbuk the title.
The club failed in the transfer market. Making zero signings in the summer, failing to replace Kunimoto who had his contract terminated after a drink-driving incident, and Iljutcenko who was sold to FC Seoul, leaving Gustavo as the only first-team striker until Cho Gue-sung returned from military service two months later.
Hong Jeong-ho's injury problems were a significant blow to the team. The 2021 K League 1 MVP missed 26 games in all competitions last year and left Jeonbuk having to primarily use experienced defender Yun Young-sun as the left-sided centre-back.
It was not all bad for the Green Warriors last year. The club went on an impressive Champions League run, their best performance in the competition since they won it back in 2016. After three games of extra time in a week, Jeonbuk heart-wrenchingly lost on penalties to Urawa Red Diamonds in the semi-final. There was a noticeable improvement in the team when Cho Gue-sung returned from Gimcheon as Jeonbuk won the rest of their K League games, bar a crushing 2-1 defeat in the dying moments against Ulsan Hyundai. The only silverware the club would get was in the FA Cup. They beat FC Seoul 5-3 on aggregate in the final. 

Squad changes:



Jeonbuk has been highly active in the transfer market this window, making several quality signings but also losing some important players.

[READ: What's new in K League in 2023?]

Notable Departures:
  • Song Bum-keun - Shonan Bellmare
  • Lee Bum-soo - Bucheon FC 1995
  • Kim Bo-kyung - Suwon Samsung Bluewings
  • Modou Barrow - Al Ahli
Notable Arrivals:
  • André Luis - Cuiabá Esporte Clube
  • Jun Amano - Yokohama F Marinos (loan)
  • Lee Dong-jun - Hertha Berlin
  • Rafa Silva - Cruzeiro
  • Kim Geon-woong - Suwon FC
  • Lee Soo-bin - Pohang Steelers
  • Jeong Min-ki - FC Anyang
  • Jeong Tae-wook - Daegu FC

An area that needed an addition was centre-back. There are few defenders in the K League better than Jeong Tae-wook. The giant defender will add a lot of quality to Jeonbuk's backline, an area of the pitch that lacked sufficient squad depth last season.

Another key signing is Jun Amano, who won the K League last season with Ulsan. He is a perfect replacement for Kim Bo-kyung in the attacking midfield and gives Jeonbuk a left-footed option on set pieces.

The team also lost some key players, Modou Barrow, who arguably was the club's best player and goalkeeper Song Bum-keun. Jeong Min-ki replaces Song in goal, and multiple wingers have been signed that can help replace Barrow. The most notable one being Lee Dong-jun.

Kim Geon-woong adds versatility to the squad with his ability to play both defensive-midfielder and centre-back. Lee Soo-bin also adds depth to the defensive-midfield area. Fans will be familiar with him, as he was on loan at Jeonbuk during the 2020 season.

Two forward signings have been made from the Brazillian leagues. André Luis who has prior experience in K League with Daejeon Hana Citizen in 2020. And Rafa Silva who spent four years in Japan and China. He scored the winner in the champions league final for Urawa Reds against Al Hilal in 2017.

Jeonbuk is having a generational change at the club. A lot more youth and balance are being brought into the side. This was the main reason the club let 33-year-old attacking midfielder Kim Bo-kyung leave for Suwon. The club has drastically improved the youth academy in recent times. Also, there are more younger promising players coming into the team.

Tactics:


Throughout pre-season in Spain, the team lined up in a 4-2-3-1, a formation that Jeonbuk did use quite a bit last year. Maybe we will finally witness a move away from the 4-1-4-1. The players that Jeonbuk have brought in definitely suit the 4-2-3-1 system. 

Lee Soo-bin played as a DM in Pohang's 4-2-3-1. Jun Amano also played as the attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 at Ulsan. He is much better suited to a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-1-4-1.

Park Jin-seob has moved back to the midfield during the pre-season games but has also played as a centre-back. Paik Seung-ho has been moved to an attacking midfielder in some pre-season games but staying in the centre midfield in others.

The depth of versatility in the current squad means other teams will face a great deal of unpredictability when facing Jeonbuk. And with the 5 substitute ruling, Jeonbuk can bring an immense amount of quality attacking players off the bench if need be.

High expectations:

A lot is expected of last year's golden boot winner Cho Gue-sung. Many were surprised to learn that Korea's number-nine decided to stay on with Jeonbuk until this summer. The 25-year-old star striker will be looking to impress for a move to Europe.

[READ: Why Rising Star Cho Gue-sung is of European interest]


With all the new quality being brought in alongside an already talented existing squad, Jeonbuk are the favourites to go and win the K League 1 title. A lot of pressure will be on Kim Sang-sik to succeed with this squad. Fans will be hoping to see a more attacking and aggressive team in 2023, not the slow and overly defensive side we saw last season.
 

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