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FC Seoul vs. Incheon United: Preview and Prediction

(from SPOTV)
After a week off because of the international break, the K-League Classic is back in action.  This weekend is the return of the Gyeongin Derby.   FC Seoul hosts Incheon United at 16:00 on Saturday at World Cup Stadium and based on past history, Seoul should win this game.  However, as the cliche goes, the game must be played.

FC Seoul's Opposition
Considering how poor Incheon have been in the league, Seoul's manager Choi Yong-soo's record is not that great.  More on that below, but here is Incheon's record for the last five years:

GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts. (avg.)
31 (1.03)
40 (1.33)
32 (1.07)
46 (1.05)
40 (0.91)
67 (1.52)
48 (1.26)
46 (1.21)
50 (1.31)
33 (0.87)
46 (1.21)
40 (1.05)
35 (0.92)
32 (0.84)
51 (1.34)

193 (1.03)
204 (1.09)
241 (1.28)

Their best finish was in 2013.  In finishing seventh, they managed to qualify for the championship round and averaged more than a goal a game.  Since then, Incheon have been woeful offensively, averaging less than a goal a game over the last two years.  In 2015 they were tied with Pohang for the best defense in the league however.  Incheon rarely scored during games, but were difficult to score on as well.  This defensive stoutness enabled them to make the FA Cup final also.

I would say an eighth place finish and an FA Cup final appearance constitutes a successful season for perennial bottom finishers Incheon United.  Theoretically, they had a strong defensive base to build on and only need to add some players to their attack  to complement their striker Kevin.  So far, it seems that they have failed in that task and instead, have lost some key players.  These losses have affected both the offense and defense of Incheon.

Center back Kim Jin-hwan went to Gwangju, but I would say that was not a devastating loss since he only featured in 20 games for them.  Cho Soo-chul's departure is a bit more significant in my opinion.  He did not fill the stat sheet with goals or even assists, but he did feature in 27 games and was one of their core midfielders.  Letting speedy winger Kim In-sung depart to Ulsan will probably be viewed with regret later on.  As their second leading scorer, albeit with five goals, he was one of the few players last year that gave Incheon any attacking impetus.  His speed made Incheon's long-ball/route one style and Kevin's subsequent knock-downs somewhat effective and they have, at least in the first two games, failed to replace that.

However, the two biggest blows this summer were the departure of goalie Yoo Hyun and DM Kim Won-sik.  I have not been very high on Yoo Hyun so far, but he was a competent keeper last year and it is evident that Incheon miss him, especially based on the first game.  Kim Won-sik has been a revelation for Seoul as their sweeper.  He has not put a foot wrong so far and has more than adequately marshaled the defense.  He is a big reason why Seoul's record reads three goals conceded in five games played.

Matej Jonjic, justifiably so, got many of the plaudits last year.  He led the joint best defense in the K-League and was a rock for Incheon.  However, I think based on the first two games we can see the the defense misses Kim Won-sik.  Incheon were awful against Jeju, particularly on set pieces.

Kim Won-sik's replacement, Kim Gyeong-min does not have much experience.  He only played once for Sangju last year.  Maybe he will come good and maybe Incheon's big foreign signings, Vietnamese midfielder Luong Xuan Truong and Macedonian striker Krste Velkoski, will as well.  So far, neither of these two have featured in Incheon's first two games.

Early Relegation Candidates

Based on the statistics from their first two games, Incheon would seem like they will be in a relegation fight.  Granted, it is only two games, but both have been losses and they have only scored once while conceding five times.  Considering they were the joint top defense last year, I expected them to be a bit better than they have been so far.

In their first game against Jeju, maybe the rain was a factor.  Both sides had nearly similar amounts of possession, but what stands out for me is the number of shots.  Jeju had 16 shots, with 5 on target, while Incheon had 20 with seven on target.  Obviously, each side was probably instructed to challenge the handling of the keeper and shoot on site.  I would say that the rain played a major role in Jeju's left-back Jeong Woon's free-kick goal, which put Jeju in the lead for good.

Perhaps Incheon's keeper Kim Gyo-bin should have made the stop, but I can see why he had difficulty.  I would argue that this demonstrates why Incheon miss Yoo Hyun right now because even though Kim Gyo-bin is 28, he has had little top flight experience having played for Daegu just three times in 2012.  Last year he played once for Gyeongnam in the K-League Challenge.  Again, it was a difficult stop, but a better keeper or even one with some experience, probably saves that for Incheon.

However, Jonjic cannot fault a lack of experience in his case.  He played 37 games last year and was the K-League United's Defender of the Year as well as being in the Best Eleven, so much more is expected of him and he is probably going to be faulted for Jeju's first goal.  It was from a deep free-kick that was lofted into the box and Lee Gwang-seon was able to head it in.  Here is an image:

(from SPOTV)
Jonjic is circled in blue.  Notice how Jonjic lets Lee get on the wrong side of him.  Was Jonjic out-muscled?  Was there a defensive mix-up?  Does Lee have Micheal Jordan hops that allows for him to leap into the air as if he were a salmon?  Whatever the answer, it is not a great start for the K-League's defender of the year)

Two minutes later, and Jeju should have been up by two goals.  Here is an image:

(from SPOTV)
Brazilian Marcelo Toscano (I think) really should have put that in the back of the net since he was so wide open.  I think questions will be asked of the defense however, as there were three players in the area but none near him.  Incheon were quite lucky to not concede and through Kevin's good work, were able to win a penalty and get back into the game.

Jeju really should have made 2-1 in the 76th minute.  Again, Jonjic was out muscled and/or out jumped by a Jeju player.  Either the Jeju forwards are big, have amazing verticals, and/or Jonic had an off-game. Here is an image below:

(from SPOTV)
That being said, the cross that came into the box for the Jeju forward to head was way to open.  Look at the amount of space that Bae Jae-woo (I think) has to cross the ball into the box.  Surely, someone on Incheon's team should have come out to shut him down.  Jonjic was at fault in his positioning or was physically inferior in his challenge, but the defense gave way too much space for the player to cross.  Here is an image of the cross.  The black line shows the amount of space between players.

(from SPOTV)
Finally, Jeju's third goal was a well-worked free-kick that caught the defense napping.  Still there were five men near the ball, which means someone probably should have cut the pass out.  Bad luck or great skill?  It is hard to say.  Here is an image of Incheon's defending:

(from SPOTV)
All three goals were conceded from set pieces and I think, in my opinion, Incheon miss their old keeper.  After watching the highlights of this game, I will be less critical of Yoo Hyun in the future.  I think Incheon's back-line lacked the confidence or belief at times in this game and the results showed.

Incheon were a bit better against Pohang.  They lost two-nil, but I would say they defended better this game.  Crosses into the box still seem to be a problem, but I think that is down to Incheon's keepers.  Manager Kim Do-hoon replaced Kim Gyo-bin with 20 year old Lee Tae-hee.  I am sure that Pohang's manager Choi Jin-cheul instructed his players to test the keeper and Pohang tried to score through these three or four times in the first half.  Still, I think this image shows the difficulty that Incheon have had defending set pieces.  No goal occurred, but the Pohang player was still able to get a header on target

(from SPOTV)
.I would not fault Lee Tae-hee for Pohang's free-kick goal nor even the shit-show that was their second one.  Watching the highlights, I do not think Incheon played all that poorly, but they did not play very well either.  I would summarize the events with the following phrase: nothing of note really happened.

Seoul's Formation and Line-up

Seoul have won four of their first five games, scoring 18 goals and only conceding three.  I cannot see why Choi Yong-soo would alter his starting eleven unless he is worried about the upcoming match versus Shandong on Tuesday.  However, Choi has not went with a different starting 11 this season and I see no reason why he will rotate on Saturday.

What to Expect

I always get this part wrong.  Here are my errors in bullet form:

  • Predicted draws against Buriram United (6-0) and Sanfrecce Hiroshima (4-1) were both huge wins.
  •  Against Jeonbuk I expected the men in neon-green to come out in a 4-2-3-1 and try to match Seoul offensively.  Instead, they set up in a 5-3-2 to match Seoul's formation, allow no space, and slow down Seoul's attack and Seoul loss 1-0.
  • Expected a Seoul to struggle to victory over Shandong Luneng (4-1) are recommended they attack through set pieces and crosses.  Instead, Seoul kept the ball on the ground and played scintillating football, especially their midfield.
  • I thought Sangju Sangmu (4-0) would play with two banks of four while utilizing the speed of Lim Sang-hyub, the passing of Lee Seung-ki, and Park Gi-dong's height.  Instead, Sangju lined up in a 3-4-3 and all three of those players started out the bench.  

Therefore, based on past results, I find it difficult to say how things will play out.  On their current form, Seoul should win this game easily.  Incheon were set up last year to not concede goals rather than win games and I do not see much of a difference this year.  In the first game, they lined up in a 5-3-2 against Jeju and in the second, switched to a 5-2-3 against Pohang.  I think Incheon will park the bus and hope to score via a counter or set piece.

Bearing that in mind, I would say the key is for Seoul to score early.  If they score in the first 20 minutes like they did against Sangju, it will open up the game and victory will be a near certainty.  The longer the game is deadlocked or if Seoul go down a goal, the more difficult it will be to get a result as I am sure Incheon's confidence will grow.

That is why I think Seoul will come out of the gate strongly again, just like they did against Jeonbuk and Sangju.  I think Seoul will intensely press the Incheon players when they are without the ball for the first twenty minutes and hope to get a goal.  As always, the midfield will be the key because if there is movement and vision, Seoul should be unstoppable.  Adriano is in great form right now and Dejan's reinvention as a play maker has added an element to Seoul's attack that has been non-existent for the last two years.

The only thing that worries me is that Incheon are due for a good performance.  Maybe this is the week they get their defense in order and are able to blank Seoul.  The international break came at the wrong time for Seoul because they had momentum.

If breaking through the Incheon defense becomes a problem, I hope that Choi Yong-soo decides to alter his formation and go with a back four rather than a back five.  Maybe he will recognize that this is the type of game that Yun Il-lok will thrive in rather than Park Chu-young.

(from SPOTV (FC Seoul 2-0 Incheon))

As I mentioned in the beginning, Choi Yong-soo's record against Incheon is not as good considering how weak of a team Incheon have been in the past.  Here are his stats versus Incheon in the league:

GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts (avg.)
6 (43%)
5 (36%)
3 (21%)
26 (1.86)
17 (1.21)
23 (1.64)

However, in the past two years, he has done quite well in Gyeongin Derbies.  Including the two FA Cup games in 2014 and 2015, he has won six, drawn once, and loss once.  That last loss though came in May of 2014 and since then, Choi has won six of seven games and outscored Incheon 18 to 6.

I expect this trend to continue.  I predict that it will be difficult for Seoul to get a goal, but once they do it will force Incheon to come forward a bit.  If Seoul score early enough, I expect them to put two or three past whoever it is, Kim Gyo-bin or Lee Tae-hee, manning the sticks.

Prediction:  FC Seoul 3-1 Incheon United

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