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Koreans Abroad First Half Review

(image via skysports.com)
By @KoreaFootAbroad

Now that all matches in 2015 are done, time to take a step back and review what's been an interesting fall.  I'll also peek into January transfer thoughts though I don't expect many moves this window.  I have to admit to demotivating a bit and will have to catch up on kids in a later update.

England

Ki Sung Yueng (Swansea) -- After such a strong '14-15 season, this one has been a bit of a disappointment for him and even more so for Swansea who are barely above relegation spots.  Ki's up and down season mirrors Swansea's performances almost perfectly, with a strong start, a weak middle and a re-invigorated finish.  Fortunately for Ki, it seems Swansea trusts Ki as they kept him playing through his rough patch.  His role has varied over the season, from the deepest in a DM pair, to the more advanced of the pair, and on the left of a midfield diamond.  While last season he may have been stronger in a two DM pairing, this season he's really grown into the diamond, learning when to advance and better utilizing the different spaces of the role.

Outside of consistency which has been a bit lacking this season, Ki needs to chip in with more than his single goal this season.  Perhaps in another club, he wouldn't need to score but Swansea need goals and Ki is one of their best players to get it for them.  And Ki needs to meet this challenge.

Second half preview: It's no accident that Poyet is one of the names rumored for the permanent Swansea manager job who brought out the best in each other.  Swansea look to be building around Ki and as a result, I don't see him moving anywhere in the January window, especially after a lukewarm fall.  Ki isn't going to move to be a squad player and the uncertainty in the big clubs have to make a move unappealing.  As such, the second half for Ki will be about getting back to his prior season form while trying to rise above the struggles of relegation fight and managerial changes.


Son Heung Min (Tottenham) -- Son was able to leave his poor start behind in Leverkusen and after a big money move to Tottenham, got his season going with some clutch goals and strong performances that have already earned him plenty of fans in North London and the best part was knowing that some of Son's greatest performances hadn't been seen yet.

Unfortunately, everything ground to a halt with a painful case of plantar fasciitis.  He was out for several weeks and despite looking good here and there, was limited to a secondary role with Tottenham playing really well without his absence, particularly from Lamela who has taken charge of Son's role with tons of goals.  On the bright side, it may have been for the best as Son looked a bit rusty on his return and a bit passive, looking to pass (albeit doing so better than before) rather than shoot.  And there was a great hint to the second half with another winning goal to finish off 2015.

In terms of his role, he's predominantly been a wide attacker but he's played all across the front four in Pochettino's 4-2-3-1.

Second half preview: Son will look to carry on momentum from that goal and reestablish himself in the starting XI and starting earning back his fee.  Certainly Son ran into some roadblocks but it's not been a bad start to his Tottenham career and things still look bright for him.


Lee Chung Yong (Crystal Palace) -- After a decent start to his pre-season, Chungy was setback by a couple injuries and his problematic health and the good performances of other wide players ahead of him resulted in a very difficult several months for him as he often didn't make the squad and his appearances were often limited to a bench role.  A bright spot for him was a last second brilliant goal in the second to last weekend.  While that goal looked to have paved a path to starting XI over the fixture congestion of the holidays, Chungy had to leave for the birth of his first child.  Certainly an understandable decision but frustrating for his fans to see another starting opportunity go away.

Second half preview: Chungy had expressed quite a bit of frustration about his lack of starts, talking about how difficult it was to show his quality in short sub appearances.  But with Bolasie and Wickham out with injury, Crystal Palace will still need him and he will get a few more chances to impress though more likely still from the bench.  By mid-January, we'll see if Chungy will want a move away.  FA rules will make an English move difficult outside of a loan to say a Championship side so he may have to plug away and try to earn minutes in training.


Yun Suk Young (QPR) -- Like last season, an unfortunately timed injury resulted in YSY missing the first month of the season and losing his spot to the fill-in player, as QPR brought in Konchesky on loan.  Things got so dire in terms of LB that they tried him at LM to try to salvage something out of the player.  And now again YSY finds himself out of the squad with very little action.

Second half preview: His contract is almost up so he'll have to decide how he wants to move on his career.  He could go out on loan to somewhere else in the Championship, but as we saw with Kim Bo Kyung, it is not a great place to rebuild a career as few European clubs scout the Championship and he won't be able to get a new work permit next season.  He could look to stay at QPR and hope for a chance with injury but given that he can't even make the squad, that's not ideal.  We'll have to see if there's some European clubs who still have interest based on his handful of Premier League appearances who will want to take a risk on a low/no-fee young player with promise but stagnated development.  He may just stick out the six months and try to earn trials in the summer in Europe with a great chance of ending up like Kim Bo Kyung.


Germany

Koo Ja Cheol (Augsburg) -- A third trip to Augsburg appeared at the last second as Koo was already on his way to Korea for international duty.  He rushed back on the next flight to Germany and everyone won on the deal, as Mainz got back his fee for an unwanted player, Koo extracted himself from a bench role to a starting one, and Augsburg benefited from one of Koo's strongest half-seasons.    Koo immediately improved what had been a struggling Augsburg midfield, helping to provide the glue between defense and attack, along with his continuously battling approach which was a perfect fit for Weinzierl's style.  Koo's positional flexibility has helped as well, playing as a second striker, CAM, CM and RM at various times, and often multiple positions over the course of a match.  He's also chipped in with three goals.  While the Augsburg season has been as much frustration (in relegation spots for much of season) as much as joy (winning their way to knockout stages in Europa League), Koo's performances have been a bright spot and his best showing since his first loan at Augsburg back in 2012.

Second half preview: With Koo looking very comfortable, he'll have to keep pushing ahead as Augsburg still aren't out of the relegation fight and Liverpool looms in the Europa League.  But Koo seems finally to have found a system that gets the best out of his talents and turned what had been a weakness, namely being jack of all trades and master of none, into a strength, with flexibility and tenacity allowing Koo to fill in any weakness in Augsburg's side.


Hong Jeong Ho (Augsburg) -- It started off so strongly for HJH who scored vs Bayern in preseason cup and seemed to take the next step forward in his development.  Particularly stronger in the air, more confident in his passing, and reducing (though not eliminating) his mental lapses, HJH had turned himself into a starter.  But then HJH started to lag, and the demands of Europa League and a balky back started to compound his weak performances.  And then he twisted his ankle severely which looked to have concluded the first half of the season if not longer.  But HJH was fortunate to avoid serious injury and within a few weeks, returned and made his return count coming on as a sub and with a goal, helping spark Augsurg's comeback win to secure knockout stages in EL, and then scored again the next week to help push Augsburg back up the table.

Second half preview: Health and consistency has always been the big questions for HJH, with the latter being a problem both over the course of the season and even individual matches.  If HJH can play the way he is able and has done at the bookends of the first half, he has the ability to be a good CH with above average speed and aerial skills, good passing, even if not a particularly great battler.  He has to show that he can and certainly Augsburg need him to step up.


Ji Dong Won (Augsburg) -- He showed a lot more confidence in his play but his scoring touch continued to escape him and as a result played primarily as a LW in Augsburg's 4-1-4-1, though with occasional appearances as second striker, CAM and even CF.  His industry and intelligence helped offset the lack of natural pace to play out wide, and he's been a productive player and even scored some nice goals.  But there was still plenty of rome for improvement, with some scoring instinct missing, and a lack of aggression and desire to take some risks and assert himself both positionally and with the ball.

Second half preview: With less minutes to go around in the second half, Ji will have to make his minutes count more as he's looking like the first choice on the bench rather than a starter, even before any transfers.  He's doing a good enough job but he can provide more and Augsburg needs more or will leave him on the bench.


Kim Jin Su (Hoffenheim) -- HIs season started off terribly, with some awful defending and inability to make up for it with his offensive contributions.  It was a continuation of his form from last season and Hoffenheim's struggles only made things worse as confusion ruled and eventually resulted in Gisdol being sacked all while KJS was stuck on the bench.  Huub Stevens was brought in and he brought some much needed stability.  KJS was one of the biggest beneficiaries, starting and immediately playing better defense and continuously improving over the remainder of the season, again showing the skills that had won him so much praise at his Hoffenheim start.

Second half preview: He'll have all the opportunities to continue his development.  The big question will be if he can still be defensively stable as he starts to add more offense back into his game.  The balance had gotten out of whack under Gisdol's suicidal offensive approach, but Hoffenheim still needs goals to get off the bottom of the table.  KJS' pace could be a vital source of offense but he can't leave his defensive responsibilities behind as he did at the start of the season.


Park Joo Ho (Dortmund) -- PJH's last minute transfer to Dortmund seemed to be ideal.  Dortmund had plenty of minutes to distribute, Tuchel had really brought out the best in PJH's game, and BVB looked to be back to being a top Bundesliga team.  And he started off well with a winning goal in Europa League.  But then things really went south as PJH looked more than a few steps slow on defense and totally passive in offense.

Second half preview: With an alternate fullback in Durm getting healthy, competition for PJH's backup fullback role becomes increasingly at risk.  PJH was aware of this nature of the role when he signed on given his increasing age and being in bonus time thanks to the Asian Games.  That said, it is very disappointing for him not to show the levels he's shown in previous seasons.  He's still got something to offer and Dortmund will need it, but he has to use winter training to get back to the levels that he can be.


Ryu Seung Woo (Leverkusen) -- Five times times on the bench and no minutes means that his Leverkusen career looks about over.  Joining a CL side with tons of high-caliber competition but without reserves was a bad decision and it's unclear how he was still on the side at the end of the window, but it was a very disappointing fall for RSW.

Second half preview: The question will be if he gets loaned out or sold to another Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2 side, or if he decides to negotiate an exit back to Korea.  The fact that he's with the U23 Asian Championship is pretty telling as he looks like he's ready to call an end to his European career.


Portugal

Suk Hyun Jun (Vitoria Setubal) -- As you've noticed, I don't spend too much time watching Suk but it's been impossible to miss his incredible first half of the season, with so many goals scored.  He's been an incredible force and Vitoria's faith in him has been repaid several times over.

Second half preview: The biggest question will be where he ends up rather than if he leaves.  With his incredible goal total, he'll have a tough decision between a top Portuguese club where he better knows the language and the league but may have more competition for spots or going to Germany or Spain where he will have the challenge of adjustment and possibly less stability.

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