Preview: FC Seoul vs. Incheon United - Can Incheon Hit the Ground Running?
Opening day usually brings a lot of optimism for all fans. For those supporting a team coming off a poor season, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. For those who fared better in the previous year, it’s the chance to do it all again. For the first time in a long time, Incheon fans are among the latter. Having finished fourth in the league last year, there’s a lot of optimism around the club. There’s also a lot of expectation. On the first day of the 2023 season, the team travels to local rivals Seoul and hopes are high.
Last year was a watershed year for Incheon, who finally made the Championship Round of K League after years of staving off the threat of relegation. Their fourth-place finish, coupled with ACL qualification, made 2022 the best year for Incheon in a decade. The key this year will be building on that success.
Seoul, on the other hand, are coming off a third straight year finishing in the bottom six. Although the boys from the capital were never really in any danger of going down, fans of the former champions expect better from a team with a lot of experience and established international stars. Seoul will surely be looking for more success this year, and will want to get an early win to ease any concerns.
An opening-day local derby adds a lot of intrigue to the new season, as both expectations and tensions will be high and a large crowd is expected. This season will be the first since 2019 where there are no COVID-related restrictions, which hopefully means bigger attendances and more excitement. Incheon sold around 1500 tickets for the short trip to the capital in the first 24-hours of them being on sale, which suggests demand is high.
At the Incheon “Season Opening Ceremony” held last weekend, manager Jo Sung-hwan again spoke of his hope for gates of 10,000 at home games. Last season, Incheon only hit five numbers once – but it was a feat that led to the club fulfilling a long-standing promise for free airfares for fans wishing to attend the Jeju game the following fixture. If Incheon can start the season with a few wins, the hope is that the crowds will come.
For years, the product on the field didn’t inspire high attendances, but with things falling into places on the pitch, it would be nice for the club see that translate into better crowds.
Over the winter break, there has been a lot of transfer activity at Incheon. Midfield playmaker Elias Aguilar has moved to China after five years in K League, and defenders Kim Gwang-seok, Kang Min-su and Kim Chang-su have all left the club. Meanwhile, Ji Eon-hak, Moon Ji-hwan and Jung Dong-yoon have returned to Incheon after completing their military service at Gimcheon Sangmu.
Incheon have also added some big-name signings in the form of former Ulsan and Pohang midfielder Shin Jin-ho, ex-Jeju United forward Gerso Fernandes and former Belgium U21 and Tottenham Hotspur youth player Paul-Jose M'Poku. On paper, the squad looks stronger than last year, but fitting all of these new players into the team and getting them all to click take a while.
Seoul, meanwhile, have added some talent to their squad, too. They welcomed Korea national team forward Hwang Ui-jo on loan from Nottingham Forest, Lim Sang-hyub from Pohang Steelers and Willyan Barbosa from K League 1 new boys Daejeon Hana Citizen. Seoul haven’t made the top six since 2019, and this year they’ll look to finally make that step back up to the top half of the table after three relatively poor seasons.
[LISTEN: #KLUpod | 2023 K League 1 Season Preview]
Incheon Team News
For most games last year, Incheon lined up with a 3-4-3 formation and boss Jo Sung-hwan is likely to continue that this year. Incheon have featured new signings Shin Jin-ho, Gerso and M'Poku in their preseason games, in addition to Hernandes, who has recovered from an injury he sustained the last time these teams met. All four should be involved this weekend. Incheon’s goalkeeper is expected to be Kim Dong-heon, who will wear the #1 shirt for Incheon this year. Given the defensive departures, expect the back three for Incheon captain Oh Ban-seok, flanked by Harrison Delbridge and Kim Dong-min.
Who to Watch
The key man for Incheon this weekend will be the debuting Shin Jin-ho. The former Seoul joined Incheon on a free transfer at the end of his contract at Pohang. He will play in central midfield along Lee Myeong-ju – someone who was apparently a big factor in Jin-ho’s decision to move north, as the two are said to share a close bond. Last year, Jin-ho was a selected in the K League 1 Best XI and has been a prominent player for Pohang over the years. Incheon fans hope he will slot straight into the hole left by the departure of Elias Aguilar over the winter.
[READ: Incheon United Season Preview]
Head to Head
Incheon are unbeaten in the last five meetings with Seoul, winning two and drawing three. The last time the teams met was August last year in Incheon, when the Blue-Black registered a 2-0 win against their rivals, with goals from Hernandes and Kim Do-hyeok.
Overall, Incheon have played Seoul 61 times in the league. Incheon have managed just 16 wins, with only four coming away from home. Conversely, Seoul have 27 wins, of which 18 were at home. A total of 18 games were draws. Incheon have scored 61 goals to Seoul’s 89 in those meetings.
Where to Watch
Fan inside Korea can watch games on Coupang Play. Fans overseas can watch this game for free on K League TV.