2024 Season Preview: Can Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Hold it Together?

2024 Season Preview: Can Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Hold it Together?
2024 Season Preview: Can Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Hold it Together?

Like last season, Jeonbuk lost one of their best players on a free with Paik Seung-ho. However, they did manage to sign what many would view to be the best domestic replacement they could have acquired in Lee Yeong-jae in a cash + trade deal with Suwon FC that sees Korean youth international Kang Sang-yoon go the other way on a season-long loan.

Tiago has been brought in to replace Gustavo in the team. As the 2023 K League 1 Golden Boot runner-up, he may be the solution to Jeonbuk's problem of finding a consistent goalscorer. Hernandes is another significant foreign signing who has already impressed Jeonbuk fans by scoring a well-taken goal on his debut.

Lee Jae-ik brings Jeonbuk a much-desired left-footed and technically good option at centre-back. The 24-year-old should provide strong competition for places at the back.

Kim Tae-hwan joins on a two-year deal following his contract expiration at Ulsan HD. His physical style should suit well to Dan Petrescu's tactics. Jeonbuk has needed another veteran. Gaining a player of this level of quality and experience on a free transfer may prove to be quite the coup.

Kwon Chang-hoon is another player joining from a rival team. A more controversial signing than Kim Tae-hwan. He joins on a low wage but with an easy route for him to return to Europe should he receive an offer.

Key Players

Song Min-kyu & Lee Yeong-jae

Song Min-kyu struggled at first upon his arrival at Jeonbuk in 2021. In the two seasons since then, he has shown glimpses of being a high-quality player and has always been important for Jeonbuk, but he has struggled to consistently perform at that level all season round. However, in his new role in the middle as a shadow striker, he is being best utilised and is pivotal in Jeonbuk's attack. He can drop back into open spaces, hold onto the ball, drive forward, and create opportunities for others, while also keeping an eye out for goal-scoring opportunities for himself. Song Min-kyu is also important defensively due to his pressing and ability to drop back and support the midfield. With Lee Yeong-jae in the midfield behind him, who will be vital for Jeonbuk's buildup and will function in a way that completes many tasks in the midfield and may prove to be a vital component due to his capability there due to being in a double-pivot that still builds up often from the back, Song Min-kyu could thrive since Lee Yeong-jae is the player to connect the buildup. Jeonbuk has been crying out for a player like Lee Yeong-jae, who suits the role Petrescu asks of him better than Paik Seung-ho did. Both players will be key this season.

Young Player to Watch

Lee Kyu-dong

The U22 question for Jeonbuk this season is an intriguing one. A good problem Petrescu has to deal with is that there looks to be much competition for places for the U22 quota players. In pre-season, Petrescu opted to use Lee Kyu-dong often. He even featured in the ACL Round of 16 vs Pohang despite no U22 quota in that competition, which also happened to be his debut in the A team. Usually deployed as a striker when in the B team, Lee also can play on the wing but seems best suited to being the shadow striker. He looks set to rack up plenty of minutes in the A team this season and is definitely one to track the progress of after an impressive pre-season for the 20-year-old.

In 2022, Jeonbuk failed to capitalise on Ulsan's inconsistency, which cost them the title. Last year, results were all over the place. Jeonbuk must keep it together and avoid erratic form to give themselves the best chance to win the title and achieve continental success. The generational change the squad underwent is over now. There are many young and newer players. Last season, Hong Jeong-ho struggled with the immense pressure of captaining this new generation. Kim Jin-su is the new captain, and all the veteran players and leaders in the dressing room will play a crucial role in ensuring the team remains in a healthy state. Furthermore, Jeonbuk must reinforce the winning culture and mentality of the past in this group of players to achieve short and long-term success. Failure to do so could cost them the title again.

Reason to Watch

Manager Dan Petrescu's tactics may be seen as a bit defensive at times. However, Jeonbuk possesses excellent attacking quality this year and has shown that already in ACL. The football is more enjoyable to watch than it was under Kim Sang-sik. The passing patterns, the style of play, and the tactics are all beginning to gel. With players like Hernandes, Tiago, Ahn Hyeon-beom, and Song Min-kyu, Jeonbuk could be one of the most exciting K League teams to watch this season.