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Familiar faces expected back on top as new pro football season nears kickoff

All Headlines 06:00 March 07, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- It is increasingly sounding like a broken record: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will enter the new K League Classic football season as the title favorite.

Jeonbuk have won the past two championships in the top-flight South Korean league, and it will likely be much the same story in 2016. If anything, Jeonbuk may have an even better chance to capture the title than the past two years, after making a slew of offseason moves to add depth to an already stacked squad.

Their star-studded list of new faces features former K League Classic MVP Kim Shin-wook, who left league rival Ulsan Hyundai FC after seven seasons, one-time Premier Leaguer Kim Bo-kyung, and ex-Australia international Erik Paatalu.

Jeonbuk will begin their title defense at 2 p.m. Saturday by hosting the reigning FA Cup winner FC Seoul at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province.

The Suwon Samsung Bluewings, the runner-up to Jeonbuk in 2015, will visit Seongnam FC, also at 2 p.m. Saturday, to open their season. One other match Saturday will pit the Pohang Steelers versus Gwangju FC at Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, starting at 4 p.m.

The rest of the league -- Jeonnam Dragons vs. Suwon FC, Jeju United vs. Incheon United, and Sangju Sangmu FC vs. Ulsan Hyundai -- will start their season on Sunday.

This will be the fifth season of the split system in which the 12 teams will be divided into two tiers after their first 33 matches. They will then play five more matches within their groups.

There are no playoffs, and the club with the best record after all 38 matches will be declared the champion.

The 12th-ranked club will be relegated to the second-tier K League Challenge for 2017. The 11th-ranked team will take on the winner of a promotion playoff in the K League Challenge. The winner of that showdown will play in the K League Classic next year, and the loser will be in the K League Challenge.

Last season Busan IPark and Daejeon Citizen FC were demoted, while Suwon FC and Sangju Sangmu FC earned a promotion to the top competition.

While Jeonbuk will try to become the first club since 2001-2003 Seongnam to win three straight titles, FC Seoul will try to end the reign with an offense that could rival Jeonbuk's.

FC Seoul welcomed back their former MVP-winning striker Dejan Damjanovic, who spent the past two seasons in China following a six-year stint in the South Korean capital. He and Brazilian forward Adriano, second in scoring last season with 15, should form the league's most lethal duo up front.

Two new entrants to the league, Suwon FC and Sangju Sangmu, will try to remain in the first division after this season, despite losing some key pieces over the winter.

For the first time in the league's 33-year history, goals scored will be the first tiebreaker in the standings, ahead of goal difference.

The K League adopted the change to encourage more offense. In 2014, teams scored an average of 2.22 goals per match (507 goals in 228 games), the first time the figure dipped below 2.5 goals per match since 2010. Last year, there was only a slight uptick to 2.39 goals per match (546 goals in 228 games).

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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