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2023 Preview: Can This Young Gyeongnam FC Squad Make It Into The Playoffs Again?

Gyeongnam FC head into the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 2 campaign looking to pick up where they left off last year. Gyeongnam made it to the playoffs and recorded their second-best finish to a K League 2 season since the year they won the league in 2017. But with some notable departures, and following a quiet transfer window, can Seol Ki-hyeon's Roses be a thorn in the side of the other playoff hopefuls in the division?

What happened last season?

Gyeongnam FC had a decent 2022 campaign, reaching the playoffs and missing out on a place in the final because of K League's home advantage rule. After clinching fifth place - the final playoff berth - Seol Ki-hyeon's men overcame Bucheon FC 1995 by a score of 3-2 in a thrilling encounter with Tiago Orobo bagging the winner in the 95th minute. This booked the Roses a place in the promotion final with Anyang but a 0-0 draw with the Violets meant that it was they who went through to face Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the promotion-relegation final.

Gyeongnam were left playing catchup following a sluggish start to the campaign. After the 2-0 win over Seoul Jungnang in the FA Cup in early March, the Roses went on a run of seven matches without a win with five losses. They found form again with three wins from five in the league but struggled for consistency in the summer months but, given how tightly packed the season schedule was, this is perfectly understandable.

Another mitigating factor would be the losses of two key attacking players, first Willyan to Daejeon Hana Citizen in June and then Hernandes to Incheon United in July. The two had scored 21 goals between them for Gyeongnam the season before, just over half of the team's goals. 


What transfer business has been done over winter?

Brazilian striker Gleyson has joined from XV de Piracicaba in the Campeonato Paulista Série A2, the second tier of the São Paulo state professional football championship. The 26-year-old's goal record doesn't make for great reading, though, having scored three career goals from 38 total appearances - his last was in 2021 in Brazil Serie D. He's joined by Won Ki-jong who has made a permanent switch from Daejeon and Kwon Ki-pyo joins from Pohang Steelers. Defensive midfielder Song Hong-min arrives from Bucheon as does winger Cho Sang-jun from Seongnam. Gyeongnam's recruitment, then, has been a little disappointing.

Some big names have left, such as Yun Ju-tae and Hwang Il-soo. Both arrived with big reputations given the clubs they played for previously, FC Seoul and Ulsan Hyundai respectively, but both struggled with injuries and hadn't contributed an awful lot. Kim Kyeong-min, meanwhile, decided to hang up his boots at the age of 35. He did so while being the K League 2 all-time top scorer.

Existing squad and key players

Midfielder Lee Gwang-jin made the most appearances for Gyeongnam last year with 31, scoring two and assisting seven - the most in the team. Mo Jae-hyeon is an exciting forward player who managed six goals and six assists last season - the second-best goal-contribution return of his career. Castro, the 27-year-old attacking midfielder, joined in the summer and made 14 appearances but scored just once.

With money tight and players leaving, Seol Ki-hyeon turned to youth instead last year, giving first-team football to the likes of defender Lee Jun-jae (32 appearances), Seo Jae-won (13 appearances), Lee Min-ki (37 appearances), Park Jae-hwan (30 appearances), and Park Min-seo (15 appearances). There are stronger squads in K League 2 but there is still a bit of time left in this transfer window for more players to be brought in.

Style of play, strengths and weaknesses

Gyeongnam are dangerous from wide areas with some exciting wingers on the books and have energy in abundance. They are lacking experience, though, and will need the older statesmen in the squad to guide some of the younger players. Meanwhile, 61 goals conceded was the third-most in the division and so fixing the leaky defence is something that Seol Ki-hyeon will have to address. He became something of a tinkerman last year and seldom, if ever, kept the same XI from one match to the next. This will explain the team's lack of consistency.

Realistic 2023 target

Gyeongnam should be aiming for the playoffs but how they do will depend on how their new signings can adapt. Four of their five top scorers have left the club and so Seol Ki-hyeon will be praying that the club's scouting department did their homework on Gleyson and that his other forward players can fill the void left by Tiago in particular.  

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