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Writers Chat: Jeonnam v FC Seoul Preview

He Asks, I Answer:

John Emanuelson: Last time Seoul and Jeonnam played, Seoul won 3-0.  I feel as though they were a bit fortunate to come away with the win.  What did you think about the result? 

Ryan Walters: While I'd definitely have to agree that Seoul was a bit fortunate and the Dragons didn't deserve a 3-goal loss, I don't think the end result should've changed. Yes Jeonnam had a bad call go against them early to allow the first goal, but they should've been able to fight back a bit. Instead the defense pulled its occasional disappearing act and allowed FCS to control pretty much every aspect of the game. I'm also not at all convinced Noh Sang-rae knows how to manage a team with a deficit. Once down the Dragons seem to revert to the "lob it into the offensive zone and pray" technique which predictably doesn't work. On the plus side the Dragons have significantly improved their chances heading into this weekend with a healthy Lee Jong-ho and an in form Mislav Oršić. Had those players been there and playing like they are now, perhaps things would've gone differently.

JE: Jeonnam have some really outstanding players.  Oršić, Lee Jong-ho, and Choi Hyo-jin immediately come to mind.  However, I would say, looking at Jeonnam’s season, they have been consistently inconsistent.  Why haven’t they done better?

RW: I usually shy away from blaming the manager in football, but... well... if the shoe fits. Noh Sang-rae is absolutely obsessed with an offensive strategy that just doesn't work for this team. I wrote in more detail about it in my recap of their home loss to Gwangju, but the gist of it is that his offensive strategy doesn't allow players technical skills to shine. You're absolutely on point to bring up Lee Jong-ho, Oršić, and Choi Hyo-jin as stand out players, and they're the ones that are handcuffed by Noh's system of lob-and-pray. While Choi can make some brilliant runs to help the offense and has a solid shot from distance, he very rarely gets a chance to do so because Jeonnam so often squanders possession in the offensive half with a flailing cross to no one simply for the sake of crossing the ball.

I used to blame the players, but after watching more of the season it's quite clear that's what they're being instructed to do. With Stevo as an integral part of the offensive I'm ok with this being one tool in toolbox, but it shouldn't be the only strategy. By lobbing it past the midfielders Noh is taking away Oršić and  Lee Jong-ho's truly fantastic dribbling abilities when running at defenders. The strategy also pretty much eliminates the need to defend the center of the field outside of the penalty box for opposition. Defenses can then simply key in on Stevo in the box and know that they have nearly every aspect of the Dragons offense covered.

However, on occasion, the Dragons are allowed to play a more direct, possession-centric game and it's a thing of beauty. When the midfielders are more involved in the game it not only slows things down enough for off the ball movement to matter more, but it also takes pressure off of the defense. Jeonnam does alright with possession most games, but it's often from the defense passing it around in their own zone, which invites a lot of potential problems. In the games they've won, they've done extremely well in the midfield battle, which I think they can win more often if they're allowed to create their own chances down the middle.

JE: Last time I asked about super villain goalkeeper Kim Byung-ji and his super mullet.  He seems to have had some issues keeping this year.  Do you think he should still play?  If not, then who? 

RW: It makes me something of a villain with a good number of Jeonnam supporters, but I think the legend should probably take a seat. While he does well to get to a good number of balls, he can't hang onto anything and offers up some juicy rebounds. I don't have the stats in front of me, but I can think of at least three goals this year that came directly off of rebounds he should've had. There's also the matter of not having kept a clean sheet since May 9th against cellar dwelling Daejeon. In fact, the Dragons have only kept three clean sheets since April and they were all against bottom of the table teams: Incheon (9th), Busan (11th), and Daejeon (12th).

It's a tricky situation replacing Kim Byung-ji though. Kim Min-sik is his backup and aside from putting in a truly terrible performance against Pohang, he's had zero minutes of game time. No FA Cup games, no halftime dog and pony show performances, nothing. I find it hard to believe this is what he left Jeonbuk Motors for. So, even though he's 29 and entering the prime years for a keeper, he hasn't seen game action at all this season. In an ideal world the Dragons will avoid the Relegation Round and can simply focus on developing younger talent (including Min-sik) when the league splits.

JE: How have Jeonnam played at home this year?

RW: Quite well. They've managed a 4-3-1 record and even though the Daejeon scoreless draw felt like defeat, the sole loss came a few weeks back to the suddenly hot Gwangju FC. They're also better than league average in all of the important categories when it comes to per game home stats:
DragonsLeague Average
Goals scored1.381.24
Goals conceded0.881.04
% Defeats12%29%
% Wins50%41%
The differences aren't staggering, but if they can keep it up over the duration of the season it should help see them finish in the Championship Round.

JE: For Seoul to win, what do you think they need to do? 

RW: Same thing they did last time, take the lead early. If they can put one on the board early the Dragons will spend the rest of the match in a mad scramble to earn it back and completely disregard any game plan they had coming into it. Should FC Seoul not manage an early goal, they can still find some joy by peppering Kim Byung-ji with shots or off of set pieces.

Predicted Lineup: Even though they just played Wednesday, I don't see much of a squad rotation happening. The big guns were out for Seongnam and they'll have to be out again if Jeonnam's to have a chance against FC Seoul. I'd love to see Choi Hyo-jin back in the lineup, but I'll have to get more info on why he's out before I can put him in there. Looking for a 4-3-2-1 lineup with Stevo as the usual lone striker.

Predicted Score: While I don't have faith in the Dragons to keep a clean sheet, they might just eek out a win. I'll be wrong, but let's make it an exciting contest and say it'll finish 3-2 in favor of the Dragons.

I Ask, He Answers

RW: The last time we chatted, just over a month ago, Seoul sat in 10th place. They're now in 3rd. Do they have a realistic shot at challenging for the title?

JE: Yes, I think they do have a realistic shot at challenging.  There are still a lot of games to be played (32 I believe), so even though Jeonbuk are nine points ahead, if Seoul continues with their form they have a great chance of catching them.  Of course, I believe that this all hinges on how well Seoul does against Suwon at the end of the month.

If they lose, then I do not think they will catch Jeonbuk and the title race will come down to either Jeonbuk or Suwon.  I think the Super Match on the 28th is critical for Seoul’s mental state.  They need a result after the April massacre.

RW: You previously said you weren't sure if FCS will qualify for next year’s ACL. Has your opinion changed due to their recent surge?

JE: Yes, since the Jeonnam game, Seoul has won four of six.  I said I thought they would finish in the top six, but I did not expect them to surge up the table this quickly.  I thought that might happen around midsummer or early fall.

Seoul did not beat Busan at home, which they will surely lament, but Pohang lost at home to Incheon, so it could be a lot worse.  Gwangju drew against Daejeon, the league’s worst team.  Gwangju has been great this year, but they need to win those kinds of games on the road if they want to finish in the top three.

This weekend’s match against Jeonnam will be crucial for both teams.  Seoul are leading them by three points, so a win would be huge, but a draw is credible.  However, if Seoul lose this game, then they are right back in the thick of it and all of the good results prior mean nothing.

I still think there are a lot of issues offensively for Seoul to work out.  Against Busan, they were quite boring at times.  They failed to create anything of note, often times knocking the ball over the top to nobody.  Park Chu-young is starting to play very well, Jung Jo-gook plays some nice one touch football, and Molina still has his moments, but outside of that, I cannot think of anyone else who is great going forward.

RW: Former Western Sydney Wanderers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima midfielder Yojiro Takahagi was just signed by your guys. What do you know about him and is he the midfielder you envisioned the team signing in your Transfer Talk piece?

JE: Honestly, I don’t really know much about him.  However, based on what I have read and seen, he looks like a great signing.  In 2012, he was in the J-League best 11, so obviously he has a lot of quality.

Looking at his stats, he is good for around 5 or 6 goals a year.  Watching highlight videos of him on Facebook (obviously not the best source of information), he seems to be the player that they have been missing.  He can take free kicks, gets into great positions to score, and has a good eye for picking out players.

Also, and I am excited to see this, he seems to have a bit of flair about him.  He has nice footwork and his sumo celebration with WSW was pretty awesome.  The only question I have is why did WSW let him leave.

Still, I am really excited about his arrival.  I feel that this is a statement of intent.  The last two years have seen Seoul’s best players leave- Dejan, Ha Dae-sung, Kim Ju-young, Choi Hyo-jin (he didn’t play much, but I put that down to Choi Soo-yong), and Escudero (some people might argue against his inclusion, but he had his moments).  It is nice to see someone with some quality come to the team.  Hopefully it works out.

RW: Of the four losses FCS has on the season, three have been on the road. Do you think the relatively long journey down to Gwangyang will factor into this match?

JE: Unfortunately, yes, I think travel will be a factor.  That is a really long trip, even if it is on an air-conditioned coach.  I also think the Busan game will be in the back of their mind as well.

Obviously Seoul has played better at home this season.  However, the three losses on the road were in the beginning of the season when Seoul was still trying to find their form.  They have played away from home much better of late.

RW: FC Seoul hasn't lost a league game since the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Suwon all the way back on April 18th. What do the Dragons have to do to have a chance in this one? 

JE: I think if they can keep Seoul from scoring early, then they have a good chance to either win or get a point.  If I were coaching Jeonnam, I would tell the team to stay compact, keep their shape, and hit Seoul on the break.  If Jeonnam can frustrate Seoul and cause Seoul to pass sideways, backwards, and launch long balls over the top to no one, then they can definitely beat Seoul.

I would set the team up with speed on the wings and run at the CBs if Seoul plays in a 3-5-2, which is what they most likely will do.  It is too bad that Lee Woong-hee picked up his second yellow last night, because he is really susceptible to speed.

Predicted Lineup:
In the last five games, Seoul has had three in the back and I see no reason why that will not continue. Choi Soo-yong has played the same lineup since the Incheon game and I think he will stick with the same team.  Cha Du-ri was not on the bench against Busan, so I am not sure if he has a knock or something.  If Choi chooses to rotate, then he will do it on the wings and maybe Yun Ju-tae might get a start, which probably means Go Yo-han makes it to the bench.

Predicted Score:
I think Seoul will be outplayed again, but will do enough to get a point on the road.  The final score will be 1-1.

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