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How Things Have Changed Part 3: The Defense

On Saturday, before Suwon and Seongnam battled to a draw, FC Seoul sat in second place.  Considering their early season form, regardless of how much quality is in the league, that is quite an accomplishment.  How did they get there?

First, Seoul always begin to play well at the end of May.  Second, I think Choi has decided to play a steady line-up based on the form of the players rather than constant rotation.  Third, I think choosing to go with a 3-5-2/5-3-2 rather than playing with four in the back has helped as well.  Finally, I do think the state of the league has been such that Seoul have been lucky to not to be wallowing in the bottom six.  How much though is debatable of course.

Today, I am going to focus on the first point and the second.  However, I am going to only look at the goal keepers and defenders since including midfield and forwards would make this post run even longer.

The End of May Run

Why are Seoul such notorious late starters?  I think this is something that Choi has to figure out before the start of 2016.  Last year, their poor form in the first ten games cost them any chance they had of competing for the league title.  Likewise, in 2013, they were never really in competition for the top spot after ten games because of their poor run of results as well.

Credit really should be given to Choi for getting his teams out of the rut year after year and not allowing the players to quit, but one day this might come back to bite him in the ass.  It really should not take two months for your players to start doing well.  That being said, I am quite happy they have begun to play better, so I am not going to bitch and moan too much.  I am fairly certain that most of the other teams in the league would be glad to trade places with Seoul right now.


Winning Eleven

In the first seven games, nineteen players got at least one start as Choi Soo-yong rotated his lineups because of AFC games.  I cannot say for sure if this is why Seoul started so badly.  I think a lot of it was having to play so many games so early, but Jeonbuk and Suwon had to play the same schedule, so that is a poor excuse.

After losing to Suwon, Choi started eighteen different players in the next four games.  In those four games, they won two, but the team still struggled on both defense and offense.  Seoul was not losing, but they still were not playing very well.

However, in the last four games after their elimination by Gamba Osaka, Seoul have stuck with the pretty much the same line up.   Choi has only started only fourteen players even though they have had to play four games in eleven games.  He has not started Molina, Everton, and Kim Hyun-sung and Yun Il-lok, after the Ulsan game, has been relegated to the bench.

Has shortening his rotation helped?  I believe so.  Let's focus on some of the players who have been put on the bench and their replacements.

Not been the best of times.
First, let's look at the goal keeping situation.  Since the Suwon game, Kim Yong-dae has not played, albeit an appearance against Gamba Osaka that Seoul lost 3-2.  At first, I was not completely convinced by Seoul's goalie Yu Sang-hun.  Against Seongnam, he had a nightmare with his distribution.

However, he has improved in this area, although there are still some dreadful kicks.  Most importantly, I do think he has helped add confidence to a shaky back line.  In the last eight games, they have only conceded four where as in the first seven games, they gave up twelve goals.

For whatever reason- age, ennui, an allergy to grass- Kim Yong-dae has not had it.  In the five games he played, he conceded 10 goals.  Five of those came against Suwon though, which skews the statistics slightly, but still he was not making people think of Manuel Neuer when he was between the sticks.

Therefore, looking at the form of the team it is evident that they have been better with Yu Sang-hun in the net than Kim Yong-dae.  In the eight games that Yu Sang-hun has played, Seoul has only conceded four times.  Kim Yong-dae has been a great keeper for them over the years, but maybe it is time for him to move on and for Seoul to stick with Yu Sang-hun.

They really miss Kim Ju-young (www.zimbio.com)
Next onto the defense, which is an area where Seoul has really struggled.  Once again, in the first seven games, they gave up twelve goal but in the last eight.  Now, they have tightened up and have only allowed four goals.  I think much of this is down to poor finishing by other teams, but I will address that later.

For now, let's see what has made the team improve.  Kim Jin-kyu started six of the first seven games, but since his injury in Gwangju, has not played.  Kim Nam-chun came into the starting lineup, but Lee Woong-hee and him did not click and formed a very shaky defensive partnership.  Osmar yo-yo'd back and forth between being a CB and a DM.

In the end though, I think what has helped the defense is starting Kim Dong-woo and moving Park Yong-woo from DM to CB.  Against Ulsan, Park Yong-woo started as the DM, but he slotted back into defense and Osmar pushed up, even though he was listed as a CB in the starting line-up.  Since making this switch, Seoul have played better defensively and getting results.

As I have mentioned prior, I still not convinced by Lee Woong-hee.  I have seen him get beaten by pace far too often and I find his distribution as a CB to be suspect.  Against Seongnam, he was pressed and gave the ball away that nearly led to a goal.  It is mistakes like that better teams would capitalize on.

However, with a back three of Lee Woong-hee, Park Yong-woo, and Kim Dong-woo, they have been solid enough statistically.  I think the later two have been very solid and the former has a wealth of experience, so I think this is the trio to go with right now.  Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what happens when Kim Jin-kyu comes back from his injury.  Who will Choi play and who will he sit?

                                                          (from www.zimbio.com)

The one area that Choi has rotated has been with his wing-backs.  There are three players he chooses between, Cha Du-ri, Kim Chi-woo, and Ko Kwang-min.  These two positions are very critical since they offer Seoul width in their current 3-5-2 formation.

Cha Du-ri and Kim Chi-woo have been cornerstones on this team for the last three years.  Ko Kwang-min did not start the year well but since then, has started to really come on.  Last year, I thought he was brilliant last year and against Daejeon, he had some moments of class last Wednesday.  However, even though he is playing well and started the last two games over Cha Du-ri, I still think Cha is Seoul's most important player.

I think the Suwon game best represents this.  Cha Du-ri and Ko Kwang-min started as the fullbacks, but Cha Du-ri went out with an injury.  Seoul were already being dominated by Suwon, but were lucky to be tied at 1-1 but after Cha's injury, they slotted Go Yo-han in as right back and were subsequently eviscerated.  Suwon's second goal is a clear example of this.

Neither Go Yo-han or Ko Kwang-min are as good defensively as Cha Du-ri or Kim Chi-woo.   Kim Chi-woo has surprised me.  I did not think he would slot well as a converted left winger, but he has been solid defensively and great going forward.  Several of FC Seoul's goals are a result of his balls across the box and outside of the momentary defensive lapse, he has been solid in defensive duties.

In my Transfer Talk piece, I neglected to focus on this area, but I think that Seoul should go out and get another wing back/full back.  I think they made a mistake allowing Choi Hyo-jin go to Jeonnam.  I will cross my fingers about the health of Cha Du-ri and Kim Chi-woo because if either goes down, Seoul will struggle even more offensively than they have.

Since losing to Suwon, Seoul has played four in the back twice and three in three in the back six times.  After being eliminated by Gamba Osaka in the AFC Champion's League, they have settled on playing a 3-5-2 formation.  

I am, generally, not a fan of this formation for a variety of reasons.  However, in Seoul's case, I think it suits them.  It offers them safety in the back, even though they continually get caught out by the long ball at least once a game.  Also, I think the best thing is that it allows for Choi to play two up front, but that is for another post.

To sum up, I think as Choi has been ruthless in dropping the incumbent Kim Yong-dae (last year they rotated at the end), Seoul's form has improved.  I think moving Park Yong-woo from a DM to a CB and shifting Osmar forwards as a DM rather than shuttling him back and forth has helped.  In the Ulsan game, I thought Park Yong-woo was quite strong in the first half with his positioning and defending.   Whether that remains, again, only time will tell.  For now, I think one can say that the defense has definitively improved.

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