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2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 Round 38 Preview

league 2023.11.30   I   hits 401

In the final round of the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 season, three teams find themselves in with a chance of a top-three finish, and similarly, three sides are still able to be automatically relegated. Thus, there's plenty to sink your teeth into in a matchweek that could well deliver plenty of twists and turns. On both Saturday and Sunday, all games kick off at 2pm.

Match of the Round

Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs. Gangwon FC - Sat. 2nd December

In a match that carries stakes that speak for themselves, Suwon Samsung Bluewings host Gangwon FC. Both teams are at risk of automatic relegation - and, conversely, in with a chance of a 10th-place finish - heading into Saturday, with one point all that’s currently separating them. Similarly, the two sides have identical form, gaining their seven post-split points in exactly the same order. Last time out the Bluewings were 1-0 away victors in the final Super Match of the year against FC Seoul, putting them level on points with Suwon FC, and guaranteeing their fate would be sealed in Round 38.

As for Gangwon, they ran out 2-0 winners against Suwon FC last weekend, moving them up to 10th, ending a run of five home games without a victory, and ensuring the Bears have back-to-back league wins for the first time since April. Nevertheless, given Suwon Samsung Bluewings also boast consecutive victories, Gangwon will still go into the weekend in a precarious position. After all, if Yoon Jong-hwan’s men lose, and Suwon FC get even a single point against Jeju, the Bears will end the season bottom of the table.

This year, Suwon Samsung Bluewings have had the advantage in this fixture, winning the last two meetings. However, the season’s first meeting - and only at the Suwon World Cup Stadium - ended 1-1, making Gangwon unbeaten in their last three league trips to the Big Bird.

Team of the Round

Incheon United (vs. Daegu FC, Sun. 3rd December)

Still unbeaten since the split with two wins and two draws, fifth-place Incheon United are still technically in with a chance of either a top-three or top-four finish. At 56 points, they’re just two away from third-place Gwangju FC’s current total of 58, and the Durumi have the advantage of being the most in-form side in Final A alongside Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Last time out in the league, Incheon were comfortable 3-1 victors over champions Ulsan Hyundai, registering 15 shots and an xG of 2.3 in a generally proactive display. Another strong, confident performance could pay dividends this weekend, as Jo Sung-hwan's men look for continental qualification two years in a row.

Up next for Incheon is a trip to Daegu FC. The Sky Blues have found life difficult post-split, and thus are left with nothing to play for on the final day following a run of three losses and one draw over the course of their previous four games. Nevertheless, this year has still been an improvement for Daegu, who consistently remained clear of danger, and at one stage found themselves competing for a spot in the top four. This season, there have been two draws and one Incheon win when these sides have met, though it’s worth considering the Durumi are unbeaten in their last seven against the Sky Blues.

Player of the Round

Song Min-kyu, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (vs. Ulsan Hyundai, Sun. 3rd December)

In Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ 2-0 win over Gwangju, it was Song Min-kyu who proved to be his team’s man of the match with one goal and one assist. The 24-year-old forward gave something of an all-round performance aside from his goal contributions too, completing four interceptions, seven recoveries in the opposition half, and winning 12 of the 21 duels he competed in. As a wider point, Jeonbuk are one point away from Gwangju in third, and would guarantee at least a top-four finish (and ACL2 qualification) with a win this weekend.

Up next for the Green Warriors is Ulsan Hyundai. The champions are in mixed form, with two wins and two losses in their last four league games, but will likely find themselves motivated on Sunday against a familiar foe. In midweek, the Horangi beat BG Pathum United 3-1 to maintain a second-place spot in their AFC Champions League group, a result bound to give confidence as we head towards the season’s end.

Elsewhere in Round 38

In a match between Final B’s two best-placed sides, Daejeon Hana Citizen welcome FC Seoul. Following their first victory since the split, Saturday’s hosts have officially reached the 50-point mark, and will now look to finish the year strong with another three points at the weekend. Seoul, on the other hand, come into proceedings hoping to make amends for their 1-0 Super Match loss against Suwon Samsung Bluewings, which was their first defeat in Final B action. So far this year, Daejeon have two wins in this fixture, with the other meeting ending in a 0-0 draw.

When Suwon FC take on Jeju United, they do so with a chance of automatic relegation. This comes after three consecutive defeats for Kim Do-kyun’s men and the increased form of their bottom three rivals. Still, Suwon do retain relative control over their fate, given all that is needed for them to secure a playoff spot is one point. It may help, then, that Jeju are now winless in three, with their home loss to Daejeon at the weekend putting an end to the Islanders' short-lived league unbeaten run of two draws and a victory. The last two times these teams have met, however, Jeju United have won 3-0 and 5-0 respectively. For Suwon FC to be relegated, they would need to lose this weekend, and Suwon Samsung Bluewings would have to win.

Winless in their last three games with two losses and one draw, Gwangju FC host Pohang Steelers knowing only a win can guarantee them third place, and a spot in the AFC Champions League Elite. The Griffins have held onto their aforementioned position in the table since the end of Round 28, but risk finishing as low as fifth should results go against them this weekend. Pohang, meanwhile, managed their first win in Final A action last time out against Daegu, where a late Lee Ho-jae penalty was the difference-maker in helping the Steelers guarantee themselves second place. There is an even 1-1-1 record in this fixture over the course of the year, though neither side has won as the away team.

K League 1 Table

K League 1 Round 38 Fixtures

Saturday 2nd December

#DHFCvSEO: Daejeon Hana Citizen (8th) vs. FC Seoul (7th) - 14:00
#SUWvJEJ: Suwon FC (11th) vs. Jeju United (9th) - 14:00
#SSBvGAN: Suwon Samsung Bluewings (12th) vs. Gangwon FC (10th) - 14:00

Sunday 3rd December

#ULSvJEO: Ulsan Hyundai (1st) vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (4th) - 14:00
#GWAvPOH: Gwangju FC (3rd) vs. Pohang Steelers (2nd) - 14:00
#DAEvINC: Daegu FC (6th) vs. Incheon United (5th) - 14:00

Where to Watch

Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs. Gangwon FC on Saturday and Ulsan Hyundai vs. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Sunday are the two matches picked for English commentary.

Follow both matches and the rest of the Round 38 action on TV.KLeague.com.