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2023 Preview: Can Newly-promoted Daejeon Hana Citizen Finish in K League 1 Final A?

It took Daejeon Hana Citizen seven years to escape K League 2 and in 2023 they'll be doing their utmost to avoid an instant return. But it won't just be about survival as with big backing from Hana Financial Group, Daejeon will be banking on having a good season with a place in the top six being he target.

What happened last season?

Daejeon Hana Citizen finally won promotion back to K League 1 via the playoffs following a 6-1 aggregate win over Gimcheon Sangmu. Promotion came at the third time of asking in the Hana era but it had taken Daejeon seven seasons after suffering relegation in 2015.

The 2022 K League 2 campaign was a slog, it was 40 games for the 11 teams and involved a lot of midweek matches. Other than the infallible Gwangju, most teams suffered dips in form and blips. Daejeon did well to overcome an early season COVID crisis and build momentum before finding things difficult again in June and again in August. However, they finished the season strongly and on a run of nine unbeaten with six wins heading into the playoffs.

Under manager Lee Min-sung, the Purples finished second and as the league's top scorers with 70 goals, two more than champions Gwangju FC. Masatoshi Ishida ended the season as the team's top scorer - as he also did in 2021 - with 10 but eight of his goals came in the first three months of the season. The Japanese went on a four-month barren spell before scoring a brace in a 3-0 win over Gyeongnam in September then one in a 2-2 draw with Gwangju a week later. The former Ansan Greeners, Suwon FC, and Gangwon FC man still hasn't found a permanent position he can call his own having been used as a nine, 10, and eight among others.

Willyan, a summer acquisition from Gyeongnam who has since left and joined FC Seoul, ended the season with eight for Daejeon having already scored five for Gyeongnam. He and Ju Se-jong were the two headline signings of the summer and gave Daejeon the boost that they needed and made telling contributions.

Daejeon's dash for promotion was also helped by standout performers such as Lee Jin-hyun with four goals and seven assists and Leandro with nine goals and five assist as well as the defensive work and leadership of Cho Yu-min, Seo Young-jae, and Kim Min-duk.

What transfer business has been done over winter?

Despite finishing the 2022 season as K League 2 top scorers Daejeon have gone out and brought in even more firepower. In fact, the second division's top two scorers Yu Kang-hyun and Tiago Orobo have both signed from Chungnam Asan and Gyeongnam respectively. Yu finished the season on 19 goals, Tiago 18 (19 including the playoffs).

Ju Se-jong has been brought in on a permanent deal and the club has also signed experienced right wingback Oh Jae-suk from Incheon United. Right back was an area that Daejeon had been trying to address for the last year or so and had to try and hammer some square pegs into round holes during the 2022 season with Kim Min-duk and Lee Hyun-sik deployed there in the absence of the injured Lee Jong-hyeon. Centre back Kim Hyeon-woo has also come in from Dinamo Zagreb. Kim was on loan at Ulsan last year but played just once in the ACL. 

But, Daejeon aren't expected to bring in too many more players. In the 2022 K League Technical Report, a member of Daejeon's scouting department said in an interview that most of their recruitment before last season was players who the club felt could play at K League 1 level so that when promotion was eventually won, they had a team that had already gelled and was ready to go a cohesive unit. 

There have been some outgoings, though, such as Willyan Barbosa departing to FC Seoul on loan after only arriving in the summer amid suggestion or a rift with the manager. Centre back Kim Jae-woo joined Gimcheon Sangmu for military service, Kwon Han-jin joined Incheon in part exchange for Oh Jae-suk, and Kim Seung-seop joined Jeju while Won Ki-jong made a permanent switch to Gyeongnam after impressing on loan.

Manager Lee Min-sung also signed a new contract, believed to be a two-year deal. 

Existing squad and key players

As Daejeon's recruitment team built most of the squad last winter or the one before, the nucleus is already very strong. The spine of the team is K League 1-ready, in particular the goalkeeper Lee Chang-geun, centre backs Cho Yu-min and Kim Min-duk, midfielders Lee Jin-hyun, Kim Young-wook and Lee Hyun-sik, second striker Masatoshi Ishida, while the likes of Ju Se-jong was added in the summer of last year. Others with K League 1 potential were signed, too, like Leandro and Kim In-gyun.

Manager Lee Min-sung will be looking to Ju Se-jong and Lee Jin-hyun to pull the strings from midfield, Leandro chip in with goals and assists, while Cho Yu-min will skipper the side from centre back. 


Style of play, strengths and weaknesses

Daejeon have a good squad and players will good ability on the ball and so will look to entertain. They played on the counterattack a fair bit last season and, given that they are a newly promoted side, will be expected to do the same this season. They can leave themselves exposed at the back which is something that the manager will have tried to address over the winter. They possess great pace and have players who are extremely direct, Leandro and Kim In-gyun in particular. 

Formation-wise, Daejeon are likely to be set up in a back three wither with a five in midfield and two up top or four across them middle, one striker and two wide forwards. But, with three recognised number nines at his disposal in Gong Min-hyun, Tiago, and Yu Kang-hyun, Lee Min-sung may look to play two strikers.

Realistic 2023 target

Manager said he wants to have a crack at Final A and, frankly, why not? Daejeon have a big budget and a strong squad and are capable of finishing anywhere between eighth and fifth. The club's director of football figure Huh Jung-mu said in an interview towards the end of last year that Daejeon are targeting ACL football within two years. 

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