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Writer's Chat: FC Seoul vs. Suwon Samsung Bluewings

Match Preview: Suwon Bluewings vs FC Seoul (Saturday 7th November 2015)

This weekend, Suwon travel to Seoul to play in one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season. The 'Supermatch' between these two sides draws more fans than any other game, and even though Seoul have wrapped up the final Champion's League spot, Seoul World Cup Stadium is likely to be packed for this weekend's match. Suwon still need points and Seoul want bragging rights.  The last time Suwon hosted Seoul, they were on the receiving end of a three-nil hammering, can they do better this time out?

John's questions for Steve

John: Normally, this is one of the biggest games of the year for these two teams.  With only three points separating them, this was setting up quite nicely as a critical contest.  However, Seoul won the FA Cup last week and Suwon has almost no chance to catch Jeonbuk.  With ACL qualification guaranteed for Seoul and pretty much Suwon as well, is there a feeling that there is nothing left to play for this week? 

Steve: There isn't much to play for in terms of the league table, although Suwon will obviously want to confirm their place in next season's Champions' League. One win from their final three games should be enough due to their superior goal difference over Seongnam, but Suwon still have to face Pohang and Jeonbuk so those three points might be harder to come by than people think, especially given Suwon's recent form. The game is of course a derby match so both sides will want to win this match and give their fans bragging rights over the winter.  

John: Last time these two teams met, Seoul pulled quite a shock.  I was not expecting Seoul to win nor even play well.  What happened to Suwon on that day? 

Steve: Yeah, Suwon were on good form at that time with the derby match being a bit of an aberration. The three goals that Suwon conceded were very soft. For the first goal, Yeon Je-Min should know that if you pull somebody back like that in the area it will always result in a penalty, better to try and make a sliding tackle in my opinion. For the second goal, Adriano was given a free header; he is the league's second top scorer so needs to actually be marked properly on corners. The third goal was a complete lack of concentration and failure to attack what was a poor cross-field ball, allowing Cha Du-Ri to swoop in and score. Suwon had a few good chances but poor defending really let them down. 

John: With only bragging rights at stake, how do you see this game playing out?  Do you think it will be wide-open, end-to-end or a dull, tactical stalemate? 

Steve: We've seen some big score lines in this fixture so far this season so this could be the same. Both teams will be going for the win so I think it could be a good match.

John: Since the split, I think it is fair to say that things have not gone very well for Suwon.  They lost at home to Jeju and drew against Seongnam, allowing for Pohang to overtake them for second place.  Is it a case of Pohang finding their form or Suwon’s tailing off?

Steve: In Suwon's case, it’s more that they have struggled a bit all season against the better teams. Four of their last five wins have come against bottom half teams (and the other win was against Jeju United). Pohang have six wins out of six including wins against Jeonbuk and Seongnam. It is a pity for them that their good run has come so late in the season otherwise they could have mounted a decent title challenge. 

John: In the past you have mentioned how the team has missed Jong Tae-se and how Iliyan has struggled to replace him.  Lex Nande said that Jeonbuk striker Urko Vera was sent home recently.  Both Vera and Iliyan played in leagues that many would argue posses more “quality”.  Why do you think so many foreigner players, especially ones who have played in more prestigious leagues, struggle adapting to the K-League? 

Steve: The level of the K-League is a little bit higher than people imagine it to be so it isn't that much lower than the level that these guys are coming from. If you look at Drogba in the MLS, he is doing well there because the season before he was still playing at least a bit-part role for the EPL champions. Both Mitsanski and Vera have come in from their country's second tier, which is a level that the top K-League clubs could probably compete in. The big thing about Korean football is that it is so different from European football that it is difficult to adjust. Even at an amateur level it took me about six months to fully get used to the Korean way of playing football. Now I know people will say football is football but if you are making certain types of movements as a striker and the midfielders are expecting different movements then you are not going to get on the end of a lot of balls. Even more than that is the difficulty in adapting to Korean footballing culture. Whether a player can adapt or not depends on their personality, which is hard to know unless you actually meet the player themselves.

You can't predict whether they have a personality that fits with Korean culture by studying their goals-per-game ratio.

John: With the season closing, where does Suwon need to strengthen? 

Steve: Unless they can get Mitsanski firing on all cylinders, they need to bring in a top class striker. Apart from that, holding on to Kwon Chang-Hoon is the main priority.

John: How would you rate this season?

Steve: At the start of the season I had Suwon down for second place so until two weeks ago it was panning out as expected (they could still finish second as they are only a point behind Pohang). Until they lost Jeong Tae-Se they were in with a chance of the title. Suwon's cup performances have been disappointing though so the season feels worse than it actually was. 

John: What do you think the final score will be?

Steve: Given that Suwon have beaten Seoul 5-1 and lost 3-0 I don't think anyone could call this game.

Steve's questions for John
Steve: Seoul are on a good run of form, can it continue until the end of the season?

It can of course, but with a spot in the Champion’s League wrapped up and no chance of winning first, I can’t see the run continuing.  I think that Seoul will field a strong line-up this weekend since it is the Super Match and their last home game, but after that I expect that Choi Yong-soo will want to answer questions about some of the players next seasons.  For instance, it would not surprise me if Kim Hyun-sung, Park Hee-seong, SimJe-Hyeok, Lee Seok-hyun, and Kim Min-hyeok played a lot the next two matches.  I also expect that he will want to look at veterans such as Jung Jo-gook, Kim Jin-kyu, and maybe even the keeper KimYong-dae.  If he does that, I do not expect Seoul to win against Jeju or Pohang.

Steve: Adriano's arrival seemed to make the difference for Seoul in the second half of the season. If they had bought him at the start of the campaign, could Seoul have gone on to win the league?

Damn, that is a good question.  It is difficult to say because his presence has made a huge difference, especially since he is the only Seoul player who is a consistent threat to score.  I definitely think they would have been a lot better, struggled less, and maybe even given Jeonbuk, Pohang, and Suwon a run for their money at the top.

However, I do not think Seoul would have gone on to win the league.  They were such a mess in the beginning this year.  Maybe it was the loss of Kim Ju-young, but the defense was terrible in the beginning.  For long periods of the year, September included, Seoul was quite dire to watch.  Seoul have sorted themselves out finally, but as with Pohang, it was all too late. 

In 2013, Seoul had a bit of bad luck in the beginning.  In 2014, with the departure of Ha Dae-sung, Dejan, and Adi’s retirement, I could see why they started so poorly.  I don’t see why they were dire yet again this year.  Choi will have to sort that out in the off-season because the poor starts keep killing Seoul’s chances in the league. 

Steve: It is rumoured that Ha Dae-Sung and Dejan Damjanovic could be returning in the summer. Would this be a good transfer for Seoul or do they need to strengthen themselves elsewhere and which players do you think will move on in the summer?

If I had heard this at the end of last year, I would be ecstatic.  I thought the reason that Seoul let these players go was to become younger, so I find it hard that they would want to bring them both back.  What is the old saying about going home?

As much as I love Dejan and think he is a legend, I am not sure that this would work out now that he is 34 years old.  The team is different now and I do not know how well his Adriano’s playing styles would mesh.  Then again, he did score 18 goals (16 in 30 CSL games; 2 in 9 ACL games), so it is not like he is washed up yet.  Even though I have my doubts, I would be quite happy to see Dejan back in a Seoul uniform anyways.

Ha Dae-sung returning makes a bit more sense for the team I think.  He is only 30 years old and I do not think his move to China has worked out as well as he hoped.  Seoul’s midfield has been lacking something since he has left, so I could see this happening, especially if they let Molina leave at the end of his contract. 

Striker and midfield are two areas where Seoul absolutely needs to strengthen.  Outside of Adriano, Seoul has struggled to score goals these last two years as they have lacked a player who could finish consistently.  The midfield has been a mess all year, as there seems to be a lack of cutting edge with players choosing to move the ball sideways, backwards, and short.  Whether that is because of the lack of movement of the forwards or the lack of vision from the midfield, I can’t really say.  However, both of these areas are in need of strengthening.

Likewise, Seoul needs one more CB of quality if Choi wants to persist with his three-back system.  Lee Woong-hee has improved immensely as the year has gone on and I no longer worry about his mistakes, but I am not 100% convinced by Kim Dong-woo or Kim Nam-chun.  If Osmar leaves to China, then they will definitely need to strengthen in this area since him and Park Yong-woo often take turns playing CB or DM. 

Finally, players I see moving on this season are the older ones who haven’t played much but could somewhere else.  Those players are Kim Yong-dae (36), Kim Chi-woo (31), Jung Jo-gook (31), and Kim Jin-kyu (30).  Maybe they will not all move on, but I think at least two, maybe three, will go. 

I think Seoul needs to get younger and faster, especially if they want to play a counter-attacking style.  Here is the average age of the teams in the top five with players who played at least 10 league games.

         Team                        Average Age                  Players with 10+ Games

Seoul is the second oldest team in the top five, but unlike Jeonbuk, who are the oldest, they are not challenging for honors.  

Steve: With the FA Cup in the bag, will Choi Yong-Soo experiment in his final few matches?

As I mentioned above, I expect to see a lot of changes in the last two matches.  I think he will name a strong team with most of the starters who played in last week’s match against Incheon.  Then again, it wouldn’t’ surprise me if some of the older players such as Kim Yong-dae, Kim Jin-kyu, and Jong Jo-gook get a start.  However, I think he will want to finish strongly in front of a large crowd at home and send the supporters away happy, so I do not expect this to happen.

On the road however, I expect a lot of young players to get a run out. I think Choi will be interested to see what they can offer, and with the final Champion’s League spot sewn up, this is as good a time as any to experiment. 

Steve: Any predictions for this weekend's game? 

With both Cha Du-ri and Adriano suspended via yellow cards, I think this match will be more like the one in June that finished 0-0.  Suwon desperately need a point and Seoul want to save face, so I expect a low scoring affair.  I think both teams will go for it at certain parts of the game- Suwon in the second half, Seoul in the final 10 minutes of each half- but I think there will be an emphasis on minimizing mistakes as well. 

That being said, I am really looking forward to the match.  With so little to play for, it will be nice to have a day out in the sun and not feel stressed about the result.  I hope the game is a good one.  

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