The K League 1 is a long road with 38 games per team. This season kicked off on February 25th. Time flies. Four months have passed, and we’ve reached a turning point.
The 2023 K League 1 is a different story. Defending champions Ulsan Hyundai, who won their first title in 17 years last year, are cruising to their first back-to-back titles in franchise history. The title of “absolute number one” was once reserved for Jeonbuk Hyundai. Rival Ulsan has taken over the baton. After 19 rounds, Ulsan has 15 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses with 47 points. The difference between them and the second-place Pohang Steelers (34 points) is a whopping 13 points. If Ulsan maintains its current momentum, the title race will likely end in a whimper. Ulsan is also looking to break the 90-point mark for the first time in K League 1 history. The last team to win the title with the most points in the 12-team format was Jeonbuk in 2018. Jeonbuk set the tone early with 86 points (26 wins, 8 draws, and 4 losses). The difference between them and second-place Gyeongnam FC (65 points) was a whopping 21 points.
There’s a reason for Ulsan’s dominance. Before the season started, it was expected that Ulsan and Jeonbuk would be a two-horse race. It was expected that Jeonbuk would be a force to be reckoned with as they looked to regain the top spot. However, as Jeonbuk lost its power, the opposing horse disappeared. Ulsan is on a three-game winning streak again after repeating the ‘six straight wins → one draw and one loss’ trend.
In second place, it’s a dogfight. Pohang and FC Seoul (32 points) are in a back-and-forth battle for second place, and there is a lot of excitement right below them. Only seven points separate Pohang and eighth-place Jeonbuk (27), with Jeju United (29) and Gwangju FC (28) in between. Daejeon Hana Citizens and Daegu FC have the same 27 points as Jeonbuk. In terms of points, Daejeon, Daegu, and Jeonbuk are tied for first place.
After 33 rounds, the K League 1 will be split into Final A (1st-6th) and B (7th-12th) for five more rounds. Final A is the stage for jubilation. The winner gets to fight for Asian Champions League (ACL) tickets. The battle for second place has already been ignited, as well as a six-way tiebreaker.
Final B, on the other hand, is all about survival. The bottom 12 will be directly relegated, while the 10th and 11th places will be decided in a relegation playoff (PO) against K League 2 teams. For 11th-place Gangwon FC (13 points) and last-place Suwon Samsung (9 points), the situation is bleak. While it’s never too early to make predictions, 안전놀이터 there is a strong possibility that either Gangwon or Suwon will be directly relegated at this point. Both teams have changed managers during the season. However, there are question marks. Ninth-place Incheon United (20 points) and 10th-place Suwon FC (19 points) are also on thin ice. Incheon has been labeled a “top-four power” but hasn’t found a way out of its slump. Suwon FC is also stuck in an uneven run of form.
The individual title wars are also hot. In the scoring department, there is a ‘family battle’ going on. Ulsan’s Ssangpo In-jong-kyu and Bako are at the top with double-digit goals (10). They are followed by Na Sang-ho (8 goals-Seoul), Thiago (Daejeon), and Ras (7+ goals-Suwon FC). In assists, Leandro (Daejeon) and Baek Sung-dong (Pohang) are tied for the top spot with seven assists each, while Doo Hyun-seok (6 assists-Gwangju), Lee Jin-hyun (Daejeon), Ras, and Zeca (5 assists-Pohang) are also challenging for the title.