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Preview: Suwon Bluewings vs. Sangju Sangmu

(Photo courtesy of bluewings.co.kr)

After a long of week of pretty much uncompetitive international football in Korea the K League roars back into life again this weekend with some great match-ups. The game between Seongnam and Pohang, in particular, appears to promise goals and some attacking action, but 2nd to that, I would guess that this game could be the most competitive and interesting for any neutral to watch. Both teams defence's appear weak whilst Sangju have already proved that their front 3 are a handful, with their 2-0 dispatching of Ulsan on the opening weekend of the season. Meanwhile, Suwon broke their league goal scoring duck in the last round of fixtures and will be confident going into this game.
I will attempt to keep this preview short as I have become rather jaded with Suwon at the begining of this season and my articles have reflected this. We all know that Suwon are going to struggle going forward this season and the last thing you need is me repeating that every week.

Nevertheless, the showing for at least the first 60 minutes against Jeonnam has given me renewed hope and this might just be the perfect time to face this Sangju team. 

Sangju Sangmu 

Over the first 2 games of the season Sangju Sangmu have shown us two very different sides to their game. Against Ulsan they showed a quickness and directness that we don't often see in the K League and it was refreshing. On that day, especially in the 2nd half, they looked to play the ball forward as soon as they won it and the front 3 of Bae Il-hwan, Kim Do-yeop and Park Gi-dong troubled Ulsan's back line regularly throughout the 90 minutes. It was very impressive how a team that has been tipped to battle against relegation could completely dominate that Ulsan team who are being touted as one of the favourites to claim an ACL spot come the end of the season. The 4-3-3 formation worked perfectly with Sangju Sangmu stretching the play to both wings and keeping a strong spine in the process. In truth, the result was never really in doubt once the first goal went in and Sangju Sangmu should have scored more. 

However, their next outing, at Seoul World Cup Stadium, wasn't quite the same high standard that they had set for themselves during that Ulsan game. That day Sangju altered their tactics and opted to play a more defensive 3-5-2 formation, possibly hoping to emulate Jeonbuk's victory over Seoul the previous week. This surrender before a ball had even been kicked probably gave away any chance that Sangju had of collecting any points from the game, as they just invited pressure from a dominant Seoul team almost immediately from kick off. The dropping of the strong and towering centre forward Park Gi-dong was another sign that maybe Sangju were quite prepared to settle for a 0-0 before the game had even kicked off. Now I am not saying that Sangju shouldn't have altered their tactics a little heading to the most dominant attack currently in Korea. Of course they should have, and they would have been well within their rights to have tried to stifle Seoul and then steal the 3 points on the break. However, this could have been done within their 4-3-3 formation and with the same personel that had played previously in the Ulsan game. It was a strange choice from Cho Jin-ho and it is a mistake that he will need to learn from. 

Moreover, the defensive performance against Seoul must have kept Jin-ho up all week because at times it was simply shambolic. Their was a lack of communication between the back 5 (including the goalkeeper) throughout the game and a distinct lack of leadership. Added to that was the lack of protection afforded by the Sangju midfield. Time after time the Seoul midfield was afforded time and space to pass and move and Seoul cut through the Sangju defence like a hot knife through butter. One particular attack in the 14th minute was emblamatic of Sangju's defending. A simple ball played down the line found it's way to Dejan in acres of space and with the full back not willing to put him under any pressure. With only one Seoul player in support, that being Adriano, you would imagine that the 5 Sangju defenders would be able to manage the situation. But in a blind panic every defender either ran towards their own goal line or stood and watched the ball. Not one of them decided to track the lone red and black shirt that had curtailed his run and held his ground at the edge of the area. Dejan expertly cut the ball back and Adriano rattled his shot off the under side of the bar. It was a warning sign for Sangju, but it wasn't heeded. 

At this stage of the season it is difficult to tell which Sangju side will turn up at Big Bird on saturday, but I will be hoping that the same fragile defence lines up and tries to park the bus again.

Team News

Things are looking up for Suwon as their promising young striker, Kim Gun-hee has shaken off the injury that has kept him out of the last 3 games. The youngster started the reserve team loss to Ansan on Wednesday afternoon and bagged his first goal in a Suwon shirt from the penalty spot. It is unlikely that he will be at full fitness, but you would imagine that he will go straight back in to the starting line-up as Suwon have struggled in attack without him.

In midfield I think that manager Seo Jung-won will stick with the lineup from the last game against Jeonnam. Until, the final 15 minutes of that game Suwon appeared to be comfortable and in control. However, besides from the 2 goals in the 1st half, Suwon rarely troubled the Jeonnam defence. The 2 soft goals that Jeonnam conceded that day rather papered over Suwon's tepid display against a very weak Jeonnam team.

I think the key concern at the moment is the manager's inability to adapt to the situation that Suwon are currently in. We have played 5 games so far this season and Seo Jung-won has chosen to play a 4-1-4-1 formation in all but one half of football. Now, with the attacking talent that Suwon posses in midfield, you might be able to forgive him for doing this. However, the games against Shanghai, Seongnam and Jeonnam showed that Suwon have major problems in defence. And the choice to only play one holding midfielder has only increased the pressure on a static and weak defence. Once the ball is played beyond the attacking midfield of Suwon and the defence is exposed they show a distinct lack of desire to go and win the ball. During the Seongnam game, Tiago was regularly allowed space to run with the ball without any pressure from the Suwon backline. The same defending was on show again at home to Jeonnam for their opening goal. Mislav Orsic was able to collect the ball, turn, look up, advance 10 or so yards and lash home from 30 yards. All the while, not a single Suwon defender attempted to close him down. The defence is too static and is only concerned with guarding a single small area around their box. It's safe defending and it displays a distinct lack of confidence.

Therefore, I feel that is time that Seo Jung-won went back to his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation that was so successful last season. The addition of one extra holding midfielder would add a little more defensive steel to the team and would also free up the more attack minded midfielders to move further up the pitch. The problem with this though, is that Suwon really only have one natural holding midfielder in Park Hyun-bom. The solution though might be to ask Ko Cha-won to play the holding role. Cha-won is a busy little player that always works tirelessly for the team. He may not be strong and a natural defender but he will run all day and has great passing ability which could be handy for setting up quick counter attacks.

I also feel that now is the time for Santos to come out of the team. The little Brazilian has had a dreadful start to the season and is completely out of form. He scored a well taken goal in the last league game, but other than that he has been invisible in most games and hasn't contributed much at all. Dropping Santos would allow Kim Jong-woo to come into the team. The former Suwon FC player has had very little game time since returning from across the city and he is still someone I am very much excited to see play. I would like to see him given a chance to play in the number 10 role and with Kwon Chang-hoon moved out to the right of midfield.

Having said all this, I imagine that Seo-Jung-won will keep his changes to a minimum with Kim Gun-hee returning up front to be the only change. But here is the team that I would personally like to see play:


If the team is what I predict with a 4-1-4-1 formation being preferred by the manager then I think this game will be quite a high scoring one. As I have previously mentioned, Sangju have a dangerous front three that have the potential to be devestating if they are allowed to play in the manner that they did against Ulsan. If Sangju attack in a direct fashion and play through the midfield quickly then the Suwon defence will be in trouble. Suwon have struggled to defend against direct running and play this season and I imagine things won't have changed before saturday afternoon.

On the flip side, Sangju also demonstrated their own defensive frailties in their destruction at Seoul World Cup Stadium last time out. That was a diabolical defensive performance and I imagine that Suwon will try to spread the play and deliver the ball from wide areas. I think that both Chang-hoon and Ki-hun could profit a lot in the wide areas and quick, incisive passing could allow the Suwon midfield to get in behind a soft and slow Sangju defence.

As of late, I have been very pesimistic about Suwon's chances. But with Gun-hee coming back into the lineup I feel that we can (and should be aiming to) score a comfortable victory in this game. I think we will concede a goal but we will score more than Sangju.

Score Prediction 

Suwon Bluewings 3- 1 Sangju Sangmu

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