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Top 2 clubs pulling away once again in K League

All News 10:32 August 01, 2022

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 1 (Yonhap) -- For the fourth consecutive season, the South Korean football title will likely come down to the two alpha dogs: Ulsan Hyundai FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Both clubs notched victories over the weekend in the K League 1, while three teams right below them in the tables all lost to fall even further behind in the race.

Lee Chung-yong of Ulsan Hyundai FC dribbles the ball against Gangwon FC during the clubs' K League 1 match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on July 30, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Ulsan stumbled a bit coming out of an international break in June, allowing Jeonbuk to close the gap. But Ulsan still hold a five-point lead at the top, 50-45, following their 2-1 victory over Gangwon FC on Saturday.

That same day, Jeonbuk blanked Jeju United 1-0, extending their undefeated streak to eight matches with six wins and two draws.

K League fans have seen this script play out before. Jeonbuk are the five-time defending champions, and their titles in 2019, 2020 and 2021 all came at the expense of Ulsan, who won the K League record for most runner-up finishes with 10.

Ulsan and Jeonbuk will square off for the third time this season on Sunday.

Rim Chang-woo of Gangwon FC (L) and Valeri Qazaishvili of Ulsan Hyundai FC battle for the ball during their clubs' K League 1 match at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on July 30, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, Pohang Steelers have been trying to keep up with the big boys but dropped to FC Seoul 2-1 on Saturday to remain at 37 points. Pohang are the only team to have beaten both Ulsan and Jeonbuk this year but losing to FC Seoul for the second time in 2022 put them 13 points back of Ulsan. In theory or mathematically, it's not an insurmountable deficit, but making up that much ground over the final 15 matches of the season is clearly an uphill battle with little room for hiccups.

The early-season shine on Jeju United, aided by consecutive victories over Jeonbuk, has mostly worn off, as they have posted just one win in their past seven. They once sat in second place but have since fallen to fourth place, 16 points behind Ulsan.

Players for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (in green) and Jeju United are in action during their K League 1 match at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 200 kilometers south of Seoul, on July 30, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Incheon United have eked out a single victory over their last half-dozen games, and the low point came on Saturday in a 3-1 loss to Seongnam FC, the league's worst team this year. With 33 points, Incheon are still in fifth place, higher than most pundits predicted they would be this deep into the season. Losing Stefan Mugosa, the K League's top goal scorer, to the Japanese club Vissel Kobe in late June has proven to be an even bigger blow to Incheon than initially feared. They managed four goals in five matches last month.

Heo Yong-jun of Pohang Steelers (L) is challenged by Kim Jin-ya of FC Seoul during the clubs' K League 1 match at Pohang Steel Yard in Pohang, 380 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on July 30, 2022, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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