[Recent News][6]

Classic
Challenge
FC Seoul
K-League Classic
Jeonbuk
K League Challenge
Jeonnam
Daejeon
AFC
Suwon
Busan
Daejeon Citizen
Seoul E-Land
Citizen
FA Cup
Incheon
Abroad
Transfers
Preview
Korean National Football Team
K League Classic
Gaming
Jeju
Gyeongnam
Ulsan
Football Manager
Daegu
Interview
Pohang Steelers
Suwon Bluewings
Seongnam FC
Suwon FC
Ansan
Anyang
FM2017
Gangwon
FIFA
Gwangju
Bucheon
Bucheon 1995
Featured
Sangju
Asan
FIFA16
Cup
Chungju
Goyang
World Cup
Club World Cup
K League All Star Game
K3
Russia 2020
TNTFC
playoffs

The Championship Checklist: Seven Steps to Win the K-League

(from mutnauq7.wordpress.com)
After a long winter of intensive study, I have made a scientifically formulated checklist to help any club in the K-League win the championship.  If a team is able to check yes for all seven items, then I absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, guarantee they will be champions.  If they get six or seven, they should be quite competitive.  If they win four, they will probably be within striking distance of an AFC Champions League spot.  Here is the checklist:


1.  Have a good start

In the last five years of the league, to have any chance, a team had to be within no less than five to six points of the league leader after ten games.  FC Seoul were the farthest behind after ten games to win the league, but their deficit was only four points.  Ulsan almost overcame a 13 point deficit in 2013 to win the league, but through a series of bad luck did not.

Just like the cherry blossoms in the spring and the leader of North Korea promising to destroy the peninsula, Seoul is a team that have traditionally started poorly.  In the last five years, the one season they had a decent start is when they won it all.  Seoul have started poorly the other four years and suffered because of it, never finishing above third place.

2.  Win 60% of your games or average at least two points a game all season

In the last five years, three out of the five teams that have gone on to the championship have won 60% of their league games.  Last year's champ, Jeonbuk won 58% of their games, which is still pretty close to the mark.  In 2013, the runners-up that year, Ulsan won 58% of their games like Jeonbuk in 2015, but finished in second.  Instead, Pohang won the title but they have lowest winning percentage of any champion, making them an exception to the rule.

Likewise, three out of the five champions have averaged at least two points a game for the whole season.  Seoul, at 2.18 points per game are the highest and Jeonbuk in 2015, at 1.92 points per game, are the lowest.  In my opinion, Jeonbuk had no real competition in the league last year to push them, which is why they averaged less than two points a game.  I think the fact they lost almost a quarter of their games, the most by any title winner in the last five years, is a testament to that.

K-League Champions: 2011 to 2015
Year
Team
P
W
L
D
GF
GA
Pts.
Avg. Pts
2011
Jeonbuk
30
18 (60%)
9 (30%)
3 (10%)
67 (2.23)
32 (1.07)
63 (70%)
2.1
2012
FC Seoul
44
29 (66%)
9 (20%)
6 (14%)
76 (1.72)
42 (0.95)
96 (73%)
2.18
2013
Pohang
38
21 (55%)
11 (29%)
6 (16%)
63 (1.66)
38 (1.0)
74 (65%)
1.95
2014
Jeonbuk
38
24 (63%)
9 (24%)
5 (13%)
60 (1.58)
22 (0.58)
81 (71%)
2.13
2015
Jeonbuk
38
22 (58%)
7 (18%)
9 (24%)
57 (1.5)
39 (1.03)
73 (64%)
1.92

3.  Have an attack that is the top three in scoring goals and average at least 1.5 goals per game for the season.

In three of the five years, the champion has had the best attack.  Jeonbuk in 2011, Pohang in 2013, and Jeonbuk in 2014 all led the league in the amount of goals scored and average goals per game.  In the other two years, FC Seoul in 2012 and Jeonbuk in 2015, the league winners might have been second best, but they were still quite close to the league leaders in the amount of goals scored and average per game.

The best goals for average of any team in one season is Jeonbuk in 2011 at 2.23 and the lowest goals for average of a league winner is Jeonbuk in 2015 at 1.5 goals per season.  However, this correlates quite well to show how defensive the league has become over the last five years.  Here is a table:

K-League Classic League Table 2011-2015
Year
Played
Wins
Draws
Losses
Goals
Avg.
2011
480
175 (36.45%)
130 (27.08%)
175 (36.45%)
655
1.36
2012
704
259 (37%)
186 (26%)
259 (37%)
869
1.23
2013
532
190 (35.71%)
152 (28.57%)
190 (35.71%)
677
1.27
2014
456
156 (34%)
144 (32%)
156 (34%)
506
1.1
2015
456
162 (35.5%)
132 (28.9%)
162 (35.5%)
546
1.2
Total
2628
942 (36%)
744 (28%)
942 (36%)
3253
1.24

Here are some reasons why I think scoring has dipped so much these last four years.

A) League parity: for almost half of the season last year nine teams were grouped quite close together in the race to finish in the top six, so many clubs felt like this was a good year to take their shot.

B) Coaching tends to be conservative, especially when games take on significance.  Since more teams had a shot at finising in the top six, more games took on significance.  Therefore, because so much is on the line when teams play one another, I would say that teams adopt a conservative approach and hope to capitalize on another team's mistake.  For example, in Diego Torres' biography of Jose Mourinho, he lists seven rules that Mourinho follows when trying to win big games, but I am sure this could apply to other coaches in the K-League as well:
  1. The game is won by the team that commits the fewest errors.
  2. Football favors whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.
  3. Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it is better to encourage their mistakes.
  4. Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.
  5. Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
  6. Whoever has the ball has fear.
  7. Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.
C)  Playing defensively works.  There are many detractors, including myself often because it is deemed "boring", but what the hell do we know.  Often times, a team of grafters only needs one or two players with the ability to express themselves individually to win.  Here are a couple of examples in my opinion:
  1. Costa Rica's run to the quarterfinals in the 2014 World Cup.  Other than Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, I cannot think of any names on their squad I was familiar with prior to the World Cup (by virtue of excelling in the tournament, Keylor Navas was able to sign with Real Madrid, but I before that he was not one of the most well-known goal keepers in the world). 
  2. Seongnam's fifth place finish in the league last year seemed predicated on this approach.  Hwang Eui-jo scored the goals, Kim Do-heon created the opportunities (8 assists), and Nam Jun-jae was the speedy winger that helped open up play for these two.  
4.  Average more than 1.5 points against clubs at the top of the table (1st-6th). 

For average points, if zero is the worst and three is the best, then a team needs to at least be at least average (1.5) against the teams at the top of the table (top six teams).  In three of the five years, the league winner has averaged above 1.6 points per game.  Only Pohang came in below that threshold, but at 1.58 points per game, were still above the mean.

How the League Winner Did Against Teams at the Top of the Table
Year
Mgr.
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
2011
Choi Kang-hee
19 (1.9)
15 (1.5)
16 (53%)
1.6
2012
Choi Yong-soo
41 (1.46)
30 (1.07)
53 (63%)
1.89
2013
Hwang Sun-hong
34 (1.42)
28 (1.17)
38 (53%)
1.58
2014
Choi Kang-hee
24 (1.2)
16 (0.8)
36 (60%)
1.8
2015
Choi Kang-hee
26 (1.3)
18 (0.9)
34 (57%)
1.7

5.  Clean up on teams in the bottom of the table (7th-12th).

Against teams at the bottom of the table, a club needs to win at least 70% of their games.  Only one team, Jeonbuk in 2015, failed to reach this mark but as I have mentioned before, I believe the paucity of the league allowed for them to coast to the title.  In a different year, I think Jeonbuk would have been justly punished for not taking advantage of their opportunities.

Also, besides having the highest losing percentage of any league champion (24%), Jeonbuk in 2015 also had the highest losing percentage against clubs at the bottom of the league.  Maybe that has to do with the parity of the league rather than its aforementioned paucity.  Teams are much more similar and they also play each other more frequently now, so getting a result against a big club might not be as unexpected these days as it would be from 2011 to 2013.

Besides winning 70% of their games, a team needs to average more than two points a game against teams at the bottom of the table.  I would go so far as to say a club needs to average  2.5 points a game against the 7th through 12th teams to win the title.  Otherwise, they will have to make up that margin against teams at the top of the table, which is obviously more difficult since they tend to be "better".

In some ways, I would say a loss or draw against a team at the bottom of the table is far more devastating than ones at against teams at the top of the table.  Since the margins to the title can be quite finite, a team must make the most of their chances, especially against inferior competition, perceived or otherwise.

How the League Winner Did Against Teams at the Bottom of the Table

Year
Mgr.
P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
Pts. (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
2011
Choi Kang-hee
20
14 (70%)
5 (25%)
1 (5%)
47 (78%)
2.35
2012
Choi Yong-soo
16
14 (88%)
1 (6%)
1 (6%)
43 (90%)
2.69
2013
Hwang Sun-hong
14
11 (79%)
3 (21%)
0
36 (86%)
2.57
2014
Choi Kang-hee
18
14 (77.7%)
3 (16.6%)
1 (5.5%)
45 (83%)
2.5
2015
Choi Kang-hee
18
12 (66.6%)
3 (16.6%)
3 (16.6%)
39 (72%)
2.17

6.  Have the league's leading scorer or a striker who is among the top three.  

As the cliche goes, goals win games.  Therefore, with the exception of Pohang's title in 2013, every team that has won the title has had a scorer in the top three.  Here is a chart of the top three scorers and the place their team finished.

Top 3 Leading Scorers in K-League: 2011 to 2015

Year
Player
Goals
Team
Rank
2011
Dejan
23
FC Seoul
3rd
Lee Dong-gook
16
Jeonbuk
1st
Kim Jung-woo
15
Sangju Sangmu
14th
2012
Dejan
31
FC Seoul
1st
Lee Dong-gook
26
Jeonbuk
2nd
Kim Eun-jung
16
Gangwon FC
14th
2013
Kim Shin-wook
19
Ulsan Hyundai
2nd
Dejan
19
FC Seoul
4th
Pedro Junior
17
Jeju United
9th
Kevin Oris
14
Jeonbuk
3rd
2014
Santos
14
Suwon Samsung
2nd
Lee Dong-gook
13
Jeonbuk
1st
Lim Sang-hyup
11
Busan I'Park
8th
2015
Kim Shin-wook
18
Ulsan Hyundai
7th
Adriano
15
FC Seoul
4th
Hwang Eui-jo
15
Seongnam FC
5th
Lee Dong-gook
13
Jeonbuk
1st

In 2013, Pohang's leading scorer was Cho Chan-ho with nine goals.  This was truly a team effort since they were tied for the lead league with Ulsan.  Ulsan had the league's leading scorer, Kim Shin-wook (19 goals) and as I have said, by all accounts probably should have won the league.  Pohang, on the other hand, had no one above ten goals.  Here is a list of their leading scorers:

Name
Goals
Cho Chan-ho
9
Ko Mu-yeol, Park Seung-ho
8
Lee Myeong-ju
7
No Byung-jun, Hwang Jin-su
6
Bae Chun-seok
4
Kim Won-il, Kim Seung-dae
3
Shin Young-jun, Shin Jin-ho
2

Besides Pohang in 2013, every title winner has had a player score at least ten goals for them.  There is a reason why strikers cost so much money and often, are overpaid/overvalued.  To win a game, at least one goal must be scored.  I would say this is why Seongnam were in the top six in last year and Incheon United were not.  Seongnam had Hwang Eui-jo score 15 goals for them while Incheon's leading scorer was Kevin with 6 goals.  It is also why Seongnam is expected to challenge for the title while Incheon will fight not to be relegated.  

7.  Luck

Finally, a little bit of luck goes a long way.  This means no long term injuries, especially to any critical members of the team.  Also, shots that hit the crossbar become goals instead, opponents that have flapping goal keepers that misplay crosses and corners, the referee misses a call or gives a team some Fergie Time, etc.  None of these can be factored in to the equation, but obviously play a large role in who wins the championship.

I think FC Seoul in 2013 are an example of the role that misfortune can play on a team's opportunities.  Here are some examples:

  • In the first game, a late goal by Pohang (8:58 mark) ties the score.  The clearance should have been better, but I would still say unlucky.  
  • In the second game, a Kim Yong-dae boner (5:00 mark).  In his defense it did take a weird spin after he blocked it.  Terrible keeping, but any other time, maybe it just goes to the side and not under his body.
  • In the fourth game, Bosancic scores a wonder goal (0:32 mark-watch the run and then the lob).
  • In the fifth game, Seoul are scintillating in the first half, but give up two goals to Ulsan in the second.
  • In the sixth game, Seoul cannot defend a one goal lead against ten man Suwon and end up drawing (it felt like another loss).   

I would argue that the first game, the late goal by Pohang, and the loss to Incheon in the second game led to a certain mental fragility in Seoul.  Mistakes took on increased significance, players believed the fates were against them, any failure no matter how small became magnified, etc.  Of course, this is speculation on my part since mental fragility and luck are not quantifiable, but I think it does play a part in the psyche of the team and how well the team plays throughout the season.

Conversely, I think Pohang's title in 2013 is an example of great fortune.  They started out quite well by winning 28 out of 30 points.  Pohang averaged 1.58 points per game against teams in the top seven, which was alright, but really cleaned up on the bottom seven teams (2.57 points per game).

Still, it was not enough to stay ahead of Ulsan.  Pohang did not have a recognized goal scorer, but instead utilized an ad hoc committee to share the burden, whereas Kim Shin-wook was leading helping them to storm to a five point lead with two weeks left in the season.

In the 37th week, needing a draw or win to pretty much wrap up the title, Ulsan were unable to protect a goal lead and lost 2-1 to Busan on a Fagner goal in the 89th minute.   However, if Pohang got a point or three against Seoul, then this result would not have mattered.  Instead, Pohang handled their business and won 3-1, leading to what would feel like a sports movie cliche- number one versus number two for the title.

That game, in again another movie cliche, came down to the final kick.  A Pohang free kick into the box was not cleared and in the ensuing melee of failed headers and kicks, Kim Won-il managed to knock the ball into the net.  Some would argue that Ulsan choked and did not take advantage of their opportunities, which I agree, but I would also say that luck played a factor as well.  If the ball had bounced differently for Fagner or Kim Won-il, maybe neither scores, and Ulsan are able to capitalize on their momentum to challenge Jeonbuk as a dynasty rather than spending quite a bit and underachieving over the last two years.

It really is like that Al Pacino speech in Any Given Sunday.  That is all I have to say other than, damn, I really excited for the season to kick off and watch my team FC Seoul tick off the seven items on this checklist in their march to the championship.




No comments:

Post a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search

Featured