By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 25 (Yonhap) -- The top South Korean football league will kick off its stretch drive Saturday, with a match between rival clubs battling for survival.
After 22 matches through last weekend, the 12 clubs in the K League 1 have been split into two tiers: the top six in Final A and the rest in Final B. Clubs will now play five matches within their own groups to close out the 2020 season.
The first match in the split stage will pit Suwon Samsung Bluewings against FC Seoul in Final B at 2 p.m. Saturday in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of the capital. The rest of the league will play on Sunday.
Teams in Final A are guaranteed to finish no lower than sixth in the final table. The 12th-place team at the end of Final B play will be relegated to the K League 2 next year. Incheon United are currently in the relegation spot with 18 points, but they're only seven points behind the seventh-ranked FC Seoul. No team in Final B is safe.
Saturday's match will feature two proud franchises that have fallen on hard times this year. Both Suwon and FC Seoul have gone through multiple coaching changes in 2020. FC Seoul's interim head coach Kim Ho-young abruptly stepped down Thursday, only nine matches after he replaced former boss Choi Yong-soo. He'd wanted his interim tag removed before the final round but FC Seoul were instead looking at other candidates, much to the chagrin of Kim.
Suwon saw their head coach Lee Lim-saeng step down in July, and interim boss Joo Seung-jin gave way to new full-time coach Park Kun-ha at the start of September. Suwon sit just three points above Incheon in 11th place.
Both FC Seoul and Suwon have never been relegated since the promotion-relegation system came into place in 2013. This is also the first meeting between these two clubs -- whose rivalry gave birth to the term "Super Derby" -- as entrants in Final B.
On Sunday, the league-leading Ulsan Hyundai FC will take on Daegu FC. Ulsan have 50 points at the top, just two ahead of the three-time defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Jeonbuk will face Sangju Sangmu on Sunday.
In 2019, Ulsan entered the final round leading Jeonbuk by one point, but Jeonbuk rallied on the final day of the season to capture the champion's trophy.
Daegu held Ulsan to a 1-1 draw in their previous meeting on Sept. 12, while Sangju blanked Jeonbuk 1-0 on July 5.
Also on Sunday, the third-ranked Pohang Steelers will face Gwangju FC, who squeezed into the top six by beating Seongnam FC 2-0 last weekend.
In Final B, it will be Seongnam FC versus Incheon United and Busan IPark against Gangwon FC on Sunday.
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