Daejeon could be on course for their best top flight season in 20 years
Daejeon Hana Citizen are already on course to have a better season than their last two campaigns in the top flight and potentially their best in two decades. After four games played in the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 campaign, the newly-promoted Purples remain unbeaten with two wins and two draws for a total of eight points to sit third in the table. Daejeon haven't had a start as good as that since 2011.
This is Daejeon's first K League 1 campaign since 2015 and only third in the last 10 years having first suffered relegation in 2013. Eight points and eight goals is far better than what the Purples were able to achieve after four rounds in 2013 and 2015 - their last seasons in Korea's top division. Compare this to 2013 and it's double the points and number of wins as back then Daejeon had managed just four goals from one victory, one draw, and two losses to sit ninth. In 2015, Daejeon were bottom of the table after four straight losses and just one goal scored.
This, then, is Daejeon's best start to a top-flight season since 2011 when they managed three wins and a draw to accumulate 10 points. That year, Citizen went on to draw their next two games 0-0 to make it 12 points from 18 available meaning that Daejeon would have to get at least four points from their next two games to match that. However, what followed in 2011 was a run of 12 matches without victory.
Clearly, this is a different Daejeon Citizen than in 2013 or 2015. The backing from Hana Financial Group means that Daejeon are no longer the league's whipping boys and no longer is the city government having to reluctantly scrape together what change it has found down the back of the sofa to run the club.
The squad that Lee Min-sung has at his disposal is probably the best Daejeon fans have ever seen. Coach Lee has used 20 players so far this season and only four have played every minute of every game - Lee Chang-geun, Kim Min-duk, Cho Yu-min, and Anton Kryvotsyuk. Eight have featured in every game, though, namely Seo Young-jae, Tiago Orobó, Lee Jin-hyun, and Oh Jae-seuk, but who have been the Purples' top performers?
Goalkeeper Lee Chang-geun is as steady as you're likely to see and could play his way back into Korean national team contention if he continues his good form. Lee sits third in K League 1 so far this season for goals prevented with 1.78, according to Wyscout. The former Jeju custodian is joint-top for saves with 16, meaning despite Daejeon's good start to the season, he is being kept busy - evident in the fact that Daejeon sit joint-second for shots faced with 20.
Centre back Cho Yu-min is no longer the captain of the team but his influence on it and his importance to it cannot be understated. He still plays like a leader, he still plays with the same level of aggression and intensity as he did last season. He's a dominant centre back who has good technique on the ball and good vision. He also has a good footballing brain which has helped him complete 28 interceptions, enough to be ranked eighth in this regard among centre backs and 13th overall, and joint-seventh as a centre back for passes to the final third (26). He does what's expected of him as a centre half too - getting in the way of shots and ranks third in K League 1 in this regard, and winning aerial duels with a 64% success rate (5th).
Already with three assists and a goal this season, Lee Jin-hyun is in scintillating form. In truth, he's picked up where he left off in 2022 when he scored six and assisted five throughout the campaign, including three goals in his last three matches. This year, Lee produced the assist for Leandro's goal that made it 2-0 in the win over Gangwon in Round 1, laid on two assists in the 3-3 draw with Incheon before finding his first goal of the campaign in the 3-1 win over Suwon Bluewings - a delightful curler into the top corner from outside the box. Lee also has three 'second assists,' in other words the pass before the assist, the most in the league.
In Tiago Orobó, Daejeon have an outlet. He's a player who can drop deep and get on the ball to help link play up and he can be that number nine, target man-style striker as has been evident in the goals that he's scored so far. The Brazilian has two goals, the first came against Gangwon in Round 1 to open the scoring and the second the following week in the 3-3 draw with Incheon United. He also has an assist as it was Tiago who rolled the ball into the path of Kim In-gyun for the late equaliser in the Round 2 draw at Incheon. Tiago is joint-second in K League 1 for shots dispatched with 13 and headed shots with four as well as outright second for shots from outside the area with seven. His physical presence, as evident in the number of headed shots, is also seen in the number of aerial duels he has been involved in - 45, the fifth most. He's won 42% of them which is seventh as a striker and 18th overall.
In truth, there have been solid showings from a lot more than just the names mentioned. New signing Anton Kryvotsyuk has slotted into Daejeon's back three with ease alongside Cho Yu-min and an excellent Kim Min-duk. Ju Se-jong was in fine form too before he went off injured in the 3-3 draw with Incheon while Kim In-gyun's impact off the bench has been a valuable weapon for Lee Min-sung to utilise.
The task at hand for Lee and his team is to continue this good form after the international break and respond when results start to go against them. Overall, it's the Purples' third-best start to a K League 1 season after 2003 and 2000 when they earned nine points from three wins and one loss in both. In 2005, Citizen went unbeaten with one win and three draws in what was the club's only other unbeaten start.
But to equal the club's best-ever top-flight finish the Purples need to finish higher than sixth (2003 & 2007) and earn more than 1.568 points per game (2003) when, in a 44-team league, Daejeon earned 18 wins to rack up 65 points.