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Writers Chat: FC Seoul vs Jeonnam Dragons Preview

In each team's last match before the Championship and Relegation Round split two teams on opposite sides of the line and heading in opposite directions face off. FC Seoul contributor John Emanuelson and Jeonnam contributor Ryan Walters discuss each team's ups and downs this season, their chances in FA Cup, and what's going to happen this Sunday.

He Asks, I Answer

John Emanuelson: Looking at the table, Jeonnam are in 8th with 42 points.  Above them are Incheon, sitting at 45, and Jeju with 43 points.  Even if Jeonnam beat Seoul on Sunday, do you think it is possible for them to finish in the top six still?

Ryan Walters: No chance. Even though it's possible to tie Incheon on points, they have a +3 goal difference to Jeonnam's -2, so a lot would have to go right.

JE: After beating Jeju 3-1 at the end of July, Jeonnam were in third and looked a lock to go through.  I thought they might even have a slim chance of catching Jeonbuk for the title.  Since then they haven't won a game in nine tries.  What the hell happened?  

RW: The offense fell off the face of the Earth. During the entire month of August they scored two goals and have only managed six total through their last nine games. The biggest concern is the lack of goals being scored from the run of play. They've picked it up a bit lately, but at one point they had one goal from the run of play in six matches. For a team with the attacking talents of Oršić, Ristić, Lee Jong-ho, and Ahn Yong-woo, that's simply inexcusable. I mean... Oršić and Ristić are both in the top 10 in goals in the league, so it's clearly not a lack of talent. In my opinion the responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of manager Noh Sang-rae for not adapting after the league caught up to the Dragons strategy.

JE: Does the manager Noh Sang-rae survive the ax this off season?  

RW: My gut reaction is "I hope not." However, if he manages to bring home the FA Cup trophy it would be the team's first hardware since 2007 and that'd make it a bit more difficult to sack him. In my eyes that would be the only thing that can save him at this point. The talent was there for this team to win this year and he just mismanaged it time and time again. Whether it's consistently questionable substitution choices (like taking Oršić off too early too often), reluctance to alter strategy, or an inability to adapt to new situations, he's truly fallen flat in too many categories. In their current two month long slide the Dragons have looked listless and utterly lacking passion, which comes from the top down. I don't get the impression that this is a team that wants to fight for their manager. Though I think he meant it as a general rule for his career, Stevica Ristić saying in a recent interview "as a player I learn more things from players than the head coach" doesn't exactly speak volumes for Mr. Noh.

JE: Jeonnam's FA Cup opponent will be Incheon.  They have to make the trip to play in Sangui Arena Park.  How do you rate their chances against Incheon?

RW: As far as motivations go, I really can't think of a better matchup than the team that took your place in the Championship Round. Icheon's 2-0 win in Gwangyang was a rare home defeat for Jeonnam and stings all the more when looking back on it as the moment the slide really began. The Dragons were arguably the better team on the night, but came away with nothing. Fast forward to now and for better or worse Jeonnam's free of the burden of fighting for position in the league. Sure it'd be nice to keep collecting points, but relegation is impossible and there's nothing left to gain in the league, so 100% of their focus should be on the FA Cup. Incheon doesn't have it so easy and will have to put some of their focus on the league. Even if they don't, they'll be facing much tougher opponents between now and October 14th, so that's in the Dragons advantage as well. Incheon is one of only three teams the Dragons have beat on the road in league play this year and this FA Cup semi-final is the perfect opportunity for payback. I honestly think they can get it done on the road.

JE: Do you think Jeonnam will be able to sign or extend Oršić's loan?  

RW: Unfortunately I don't. I think the K-League's a great fit for him and he may well look to stay here, but I'm thinking it'll be one of the bigger clubs that picks him up. In that same Ristić interview, Stevo quoted Oršić as saying “I have no good feelings, because every time the stadium is almost empty” in reference to Gwangyang Stadium. I think a team like Suwon, Jeonbuk, or FC Seoul would have a good chance to swoop in and offer a decent transfer fee and solid home crowds to lure him back to the league he already knows quite well, but I'd be quite surprised if Jeonnam retains him.

JE: As of now, who would you say Jeonnam's MVP is?  How about their biggest disappointment?  

RW: The MVP would have to be Oršić. The team has gone as he's gone. A rough May was followed up by him being inserted in the starting lineup more and that's when they surged up the table looking nearly flawless through June and July. Then, inevitably, he fell back to Earth and the team simply couldn't pick up the slack. Even with a few weeks of being human, he's unquestionably a difference maker that can not only control the pace of the game, but is capable of putting the team on his back and carrying them to a win. He's still young and makes young mistakes, but nearly every facet of his game is on an upward trajectory from an already high starting point. Reads the game well, great pace, terrific on the ball, deadly shot both from the field and set pieces, and he tracks back better than any offensive player I've seen in the league.

Though the blame could be shared with pretty much every center back on the team, I'll single out Lim Jong-eun as the disappointment of the season. For someone who's logged 2064 minutes so far this season, you'd expect a bit more confidence on the ball, better positioning, and some sense of how to cleanly tackle an attacker. He's constantly out of position and pushes too far up the field too often leaving the Dragons susceptible to the counter attack. Again, this could be any of the CBs on the team, but his woeful communication on set pieces has led to numerous back breaking goals this season.

JE: Is Kim Byung-ji a magnificent bastard or what?

RW: I've said it since I arrived in Gwangyang, that mullet has magical powers. Curious to see if it'll help him roll back the clock one more time for 2016, but we're likely witnessing the end of a truly legendary career.

Prediction: 2-1 Seoul

I Ask, He Answers

Ryan Walters: One of the only good things the Dragons have in common with FCS this year is that they're both still in the FA Cup. It's absolutely the only thing Jeonnam have going for them, but Seoul could still get into ACL by finishing 3rd in the league. Which route do you think is more viable for your guys?

John Emanuelson: At this point, I would argue that winning the FA Cup is the most viable route to get into the ACL for Seoul.  Right now, Seoul are only two points behind Pohang, but I cannot see Seoul overhauling the Steelers again this year.  Pohang's last league loss was on July 8th to Jeju and since then, they have went 11 games without defeat.  I would say it is the complete opposite of their collapse last year.

As I mentioned in my piece called $h*tember, Seoul's record against the top sides has been dismal this year.  Against the four teams above them, they have only collected 11 out of 36 points available.  The only reason they are in the top six is because they are the epitome of a flat track bully.  That is why I can't see them finishing 3rd this year.  Pohang won't collapse like they did last year and Seoul very rarely wins against the top teams this year.

RW: Will this season be deemed a failure if Seoul misses out on 2016 Champions League?

JE: Yeah, it has to be.  Any season that Seoul does not qualify for the ACL has to be deemed a failure since they are one of the big money chaebol clubs who has the advantage of playing in the nation's biggest city.

RW: Third place in the league and a potential ACL birth is a mere three points away for FC Seoul. How important is this Sunday's matchup to keep pace with the others in Championship Round?

JE: As I always say, it is critical/crucial/imperative/etc. that they win.  This isn't a six pointer, but if Seoul wants to keep pace with Pohang then they need to take all three points at home against Jeonnam.  I can't imagine Pohang losing to Busan this weekend.

This is a good opportunity for Seoul to overtake Seongnam as well.  Seongnam and Incheon face off against one another this weekend.  Incheon will play for at least a point since Jeju would have to beat Jeonbuk by at least three goals to catch them.  I think that game will end in a 1-1 draw.  If Seoul win and Seongnam do not, then Seoul will have sole ownership of 4th place.

RW: Goals seem to be in a "feast or famine" style with Seoul right now. What's caused such a yo-yo effect in the final third?

JE: I think it is probably a combination factors.  If Seoul score early, they usually play with confidence and will go for more goals.  If Seoul struggles to score, then they play much more tentatively and become afraid to take risks.  They just pass the ball around sideways a lot, players look for it to come to their feet rather than make runs, and then eventually Cha Du-ri lofts a cross into the box for the defense to head out.  Lather-rinse-repeat ad nausuem.

Furthermore, I feel as though there is a disconnect between the three areas in the team- defenders, midfielders, and the forwards.  This has been an ongoing problem for the whole year.  I am sure the coaching staff has tried to fix it and for whatever reason, cannot come up with a solution.

I also think it is down to Choi's tactics.  Often times, they come out and play cautiously and don't go for it until the final 10 minutes of each half.  However, that has not been the case as of late.  They swarmed Suwon and had a great result.  They came out strong against Seongnam and the result went against them, so I am sure he is perplexed as to what to do.

I don't think it helps that Choi is absolutely wedded to a 3-5-2 formation.  Players such as Yun Il-lok and Escudero should not play centrally.  They are wingers, but he insists on shoehorning them as strikers so he can play with three defenders.

Finally, Seoul has lacked a consistent goal threat since Dejan left.  Park Chu-young has had a good year and I think he will be better next year, but he isn't as clinical as Dejan.  Also, it doesn't help that he has been carrying a knee injury.  Adriano has been brilliant since he has been acquired, but he should be sitting at 16 goals rather than 13.  He missed great chances against Jeonbuk, Seongnam, and Gwangju last week.  I feel as though Dejan would have put all three of those away.

RW: Adriano's obviously doing quite well, but how has Yojiro Takahagi settled in? Will those two play large roles heading into the Championship Round?

JE: Takahagi has been a bit of enigma I suppose.  He scored a brilliant goal against Busan, but outside of that, hasn't really contributed a lot.  I think it is more difficult judging midfielders than forwards however.

My friend thinks that Takahagi is soft, doesn't like to challenge for balls in the air, and that Koh Myong-jin was better in the center than Takahagi.  I think there is an element of truth to that, but I also think he is pressing too hard.  I am sure lasting only six months at Western Sydney weighs heavily in the back of his mind.  On the plus side, he looked better in the second half against Gwangju and I think the guy has character, so I hope it works out.

As far as the championship round, I think both will be critical.  Seoul, for better or worse, has hitched its wagon to Adriano.  Even though I bitched about him missing chances earlier, he has been a revelation since signing.  Everything that has been good about Seoul recently is because of Adriano.

Takahagi on the other hand, is symptomatic of the midfield.  I feel as though the midfield, along with him, should be better than it is, but neither has been phenomenal this year.  I don't know why either.

RW: Jeonnam has been struggling mightily to score since late July, how does Seoul ensure it stays that way?

JE: I think that Seoul has to make sure they are not overrun on the wings.  They need to do a good job marking Orsic, Lee Jong-ho, and Ahn Yong-woo.  If they can keep those players contained and force Jeonnam to lob crosses into the box for Ristic, then I think Seoul can keep a clean sheet.  I would like to see Choi change his formation and play fullbacks and wingers rather than just wing-backs so as to not be overrun on the wings by the aforementioned three.

RW: With Championship Round already in the bag is there any concern in the FCS camp that there will be a bit of let off heading into this game with a weaker opponent at home?

JE: Last year, maybe there was, but this year I think not.  As I mentioned before, Seoul has become the quintessential flat track bully this year.  I can't imagine Choi allowing for a let off this week. Seoul was shockingly poor for the first 25 minutes against Gwangju last Monday.  I am sure that Choi will want them to come out better against Jeonnam Sunday.

Prediction: Seoul 2-1 Jeonnam

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