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The Playoffs: Suwon FC vs Busan IPark (Preview)

The day has come. The first leg of the promotion-relegation playoff. To be honest, I feel nervous, hopeful, and dreadful all at once. Nervous for such a big match, hopeful that Busan can pull it off and escape, and dreadful of the seemingly inescapable pull of the Challenge and Busan's horrible season. Will Suwon FC get promoted and give us the very first K League Classic inter-city derby? Will four-time league, one-time Asian, and founding member Busan get relegated? Will Busan become the first K League Classic club in K League history to win a promotion-relegation playoff tie and stay up?

Busan Team News

All right, let's get the facts done with and out of the way. Despite being sent off in the final match of the season, Brazilian forward Weslley IS available for selection. The K League explaining that his suspension only applies to league matches. Midfielder/forward Hong Dong-hyun, who scored the goal against Ulsan, should also be available to Choi Young-joon despite suffering an injury last weekend. Lee Jeong-hyeob however, is not fit and will definitely miss out. Defender Yoo Ji-no also was injured in the Jeonnam match, and I am not sure of his status. He did not make the 18-man squad for the Ulsan game, and if there are questions about his fitness I doubt he'll be used.

The big question for me is the status of Joo Se-jong. Joo was a major player for Busan under both Yoon Sung-hyo and Denis, but has not found favor under Choi Young-joon. He started the two matches against Gwangju and Daejeon, but was subsequently benched for the next three (although did sub in for all three). I remain unsure of whether Choi just doesn't fancy Joo in his 4-3-3 formation or whether the new boss is trying to manage Joo leading up to the playoffs. Joo has started 32 games this campaign and played almost 3000 minutes (both 2nd in the team behind Lee Gyeong-ryeol). Joo also has scored 3 goals and provided 6 assists (T2nd and 1st for the team respectively).

I don't think that Choi Young-joon's team selection will differ much from what we've seen the past few weeks. He clearly prefers a 4-3-3 formation. Lee Bum-young seems his preferred keeper. Given Yoo Ji-no's likely fitness issues, Park Joon-gang will likely start at right back again. Captain Lee Gyeong-ryeol and Kim Jong-hyuk will likely partner in central defense, although we could see Challenge experienced player in Noh Haeng-seok. Yoo Ji-hoon should start on the left side of defense. Lee Gyu-seong seems to have found favor lately, and should start in midfield. I can't see how Joo Se-jong can't start in this massive game, but I could be wrong. Lee Chung-woong, despite being a centerback by trade, seems to have found a spot as a holding midfielder. Weslley will probably continue as the left winger even though his form has not been good lately. Hong Dong-hyun, if fully fit, should continue in his semi-false 9 role. Choi Kwang-hee will probably get the nod at right wing ahead of a more attacking option like Han Ji-ho.

Suwon FC Team News

I can't claim to know a whole lot about the "other" Suwon team. But I can say that before the playoffs started I did tip them (albeit in a very cautious way) to be the one that did make it out of the three Challenge sides. The only significant player news I know of for Suwon FC is that Spanish midfielder Sisi will be available for the Gyeonggi club with his one-match suspension over. Otherwise I believe coach Cho Deok-je will be able to select from a full squad.

Suwon FC should be full of confidence, having survived the goal rush in the 'mini supermatch' with Seoul E-Land, and then seeing off Daegu FC in Daegu. I said it before, but I'll say it again, Suwon reminds of Gwangju last season. A team full of confidence and in good form. Brazilian forward Japa is the Suwon dangerman having notched 21 goals and 7 assists during the league campaign. Midfielder Kim Jong-woo leads the team with 9 assists.

Keys For Busan

A win would always be the best result, but given the two teams' run of form I'll say a draw (preferably a scored draw) would be perfectly acceptable. Busan, in theory, has a upper hand with the second-leg being at home, but in the past that 'advantage' was completely useless as the two Classic teams got blown away (4-1, 3-1) in the first leg. For me, that's the biggest thing: keep the scoreline close! Obviously it's not good if Suwon wins the first leg, but as long as it's only by a goal then I'd like to think that Busan has a decent chance of getting a result in the second leg.

However, if they lose 2-0 or 3-1 or something to that effect, I give them very little chance. Busan has not scored more than 3 goals in a game once this season, and the last time they scored two goals in a game was almost 3 months ago (coincidentally against Suwon Samsung). Keep the score down and turn it into an ugly slog-fest is probably their best chance.

And this is where my armchair tactician side comes out. To me, if Busan wants to win the tie (and that's what's important) Busan can't let this become a 'game'. I know neutrals and football-lovers won't like this, but Choi Young-joon needs to channel his inner Mourinho and turns this into a very ugly game. Two banks of four, defending deep and compact, organized, physical, cynical. Grab a goal on the break or from a set piece and go home.

Choi Young-joon needs to find his inner Mourinho
Unfortunately, Choi seems to be the complete opposite of Mourinho. Soft-spoken, good nature, in favor of honest, open play. So I don't think we'll see what I think Busan needs to do. I think the game will probably follow a relatively similar path to most Busan games. Busan will have a good period where they'll create some chances, and then will fade and Suwon will dominate for a period. The question will be whether Busan manages to take the few chances that come their way.

Prediction: Suwon FC 2 - 1 Busan


  1. If the fix isn't in then Busan will have a hard time against Suwon who seem to be scoring for fun these days. Think they are averaging over 2 goals a game in their last 10 matches including 4 and 3 against E-Land in 2 matches. 5 against Sangju and 3 against a very stuffy Gyeongnam defence. Japa will be key.

    Busan's form is awful and in all honesty from what I've seen of them they don't offer very much. If it's a fair contest and the refs aren't currently room-saloning it on the I'Park expense account then I really can't see Busan winning this one. It could be quite a sore one on Wednesday. 3-0 or more isn't out of the question.

    1. I've scarcely seen two teams in such opposite form. Not only is Suwon playing better, but their confidence must be surging after winning two playoff games already. Meanwhile, Busan hasn't won since we were all wearing shorts. Have to imagine their confidence is already shattered.

      Given all the shit being heaped on Gyeongnam right now, hopefully the fix will be avoided and the better team will win.

    2. Indeed, it's why I have the sense of dread. There's very little reason to see Busan winning this one or the tie on a whole. The offense is non-existent and the defense is leaky at best. A miracle is needed.


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