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Writer's Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Jeonnam Dragons

With both teams coming off disappointing Round 1 performances, both the Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Jeonnam Dragons will look to change their early season fortunes when they face off this Sunday. Bluewings contributor Scott Whitelock and Jeonnam contributor Ryan Walters discuss the luster fading from the Bluewings, ACL, and predictions for Sunday.

Ryan Asks, Scott Answers

Ryan Walters: Even with the Bluewings making their regular appearance in ACL this year, things feel a bit different. They missed chance after chance to catch Jeonbuk last year and sit at the bottom of their ACL group with two points. It seems the wind got knocked out of their sails with Jong Tae-se's departure last year and they haven't been able to recover. Is that a fair assessment? 

Scott Whitelock: I would say that that isn't too far off the mark. It wasn't necessarily Tae-se's departure that ended Suwon's legitimate title challenge last season, it was more so the inability to replace him. On the surface, Jeonbuk ran away with the league last season, however, they did eventually only finish 6 points above Suwon. That was mainly because of missed opportunities, particularly when playing at home. There were some games where we absolutely battered the opposition's defence (Jeju and Seongnam sticks in my head) but we just couldn't find a way to put the ball between the posts. Kaio barely got a kick until the last handful of games and Seo Jung-won even experimented with playing a false number nine, either in the form of Seo Jung-jin or Yeom-Ki hun. And in the end Suwon's season fizzled out like the damp bonfire it was.

Any dying embers that may have remained through the winter have well and truly been extinguished after last weekends dismal showing at Seongnam. No offence to any Seongnam supporters, but Seongnam are not a team that a club of Suwon's stature should fear, but I will be having sleepless nights for a month before the return fixture at Big Bird. In the 2nd half the Suwon defence made Seongnam look like the Brazil team of the 1970s, while the strike combination of Cho Dong-geon and Kim Jong-min managed a measly one shot between them.

The mood is dark at the moment and Jeonnam are finding themselves at the perfect moment to travel to Big Bird.

RW: Has there been an attitude shift within the fanbase? Are they at risk of losing the football loving hearts of Suwon to their newly promoted crosstown rivals, Suwon FC?

SW: This is deffinitely a 'yes' and 'no' answer. Has there been an attitude shift; of course! But there is next to no chance of Suwon losing their fans to Suwon FC.

Attendances have slowly been falling in Suwon since the start of last summer, as more casual fans realised that Suwon may no longer be able to compete at the top end of the table, that is true. But for the 10,000 or so die-hard regulars at Big Bird it is still business as usual. The one thing that I love the most about being a Suwon Bluewings fan is that (besides from the ridiculous name) it is a proper football club with proper fans. It is the same 10,000 faces every weekend that come purely to watch football, drink a beer and support their team to the very end. There are no fireworks every time we score a goal, no cheerleaders flapping around their pom-poms and certainly no aging female with inflatable batons sections. It's football how it should be, just plain football and the real Suwon support like it that way. They aren't going anywhere. And I think Suwon relieves a lot of hate because of that, which is something that we love. Nobody likes us, but we don't care.

However, the attitude has certainly shifted. For the first time in a long time, not even the most ambitious of Bluewings fans expects the team to muster any sort of title challenge and the first murmurings of discontent where audible in the stand this past Saturday. Personally, I think that's great to see. The team produced a disgraceful 2nd half performance and were quite rightly jeered at the end of the game. But all that will be forgotten come Sunday and the drum and trumpets will be ready to go again. As long as the team puts in a good performance the crowd will stay with them, regardless of the result.

RW: The Bluewings will be taking the field just five days after playing in Australia and having to make that nearly 14 hour flight home. Additionally, this will be their third match in eight days. How much will fatigue factor in vs Jeonnam? Do you see manager Seo Jung-won rotating in some new faces?

SW: Quite frankly, I think Seo Jung-won had a stroke this week. His team selection for the midweek ACL game was one of the oddest I have seen in 20 years of following football. A huge chunk of the first team was left at home while players I had never even heard of were sent along with the squad. Injuries to Kwon Chang-hoon and Kim Gun-hee meant that they couldn't travel to Australia but Ko Cha-won, Yang Sang-min, Hong-chul, Park Hyun-bum, Santos and Cho Dong-geon were all left at home. It was baffling that 6 first team players were left at home to rest while the reserve team was left to play a 'must not lose' game. My only thought is that Jung-won thinks that Jeonnam are the strongest team in the K League and that Suwon have a minimal chance of qualifying out of their ACL group anyway.

As such, I would expect a well rested and rejuvenated team to face Jeonnam at the weekend and there is also news today that Kwon Chang-hoon has shrugged off his injury and could be back in the starting line-up. I am still finding it difficult to find an update of Kim Gun-hee's injury problem and that could be a big problem as Hygor is still nowhere near full fitness and the other 2 aforementioned strike options couldn't hit a barn door if they were standing 10 feet away.

RW: You recently wrote about Suwon being based around "collective responsibility" and focusing on their control of the game. Do you think they'll be able to maintain that control against Jeonnam's attack-heavy lineup? Who's the key for Suwon owning possession? 

SW: I think the centre of midfield is going to be key, and not particularly Jeonnam's front trio. I respect Jeonnam's attack immensely and in Orsic and Ristic you have 2 of the finest foreign imports in Korea. Add Cho Suk-jae to that and you look very threatening indeed. But, having watched all the Suwon vs Jeonnam games last season, I would say that the centre of Jeonamm's midfield is too weak and lacks quality on the ball. Last season, in particular they really struggled whenever they reached the final third simply because the final ball was either played to a Suwon defender or was so far off the mark that it would roll out of play.

Perhaps, Jeonnam may have added more quality here with the signing of Vedran Jugovic and the battle between himself and Park Hyun-bum will be fascinating. Hyun-bum has had a great start to the season and is the only player who hasn't played a bad game yet. As the only defensive midfielder he has a lot of work to do in order to allow Chang-hoon and Santos to advance forward and play freely but he gets around the pitch with ease and can win the ball back. He has a great array of passing and can be dangerous if given time and space to operate in. Overall, I think maybe Suwon's midfield will be too strong for Jeonnam and could monopolize the possession of the ball, as they did against Seongnam at the weekend. But possession doesn't win football games and if we present any easy scoring opportunities to the Jeonnam attack then it will realistically be game over. Perhaps Suwon could nick one goal, but needing to score two or three goals to win is a task too difficult for this Bluewings team.

RW: The Bluewings have only managed one goal in their previous four matches through all competitions, do you see them breaking their duck this Sunday? If so, who scores their first of the season?

SW: If Kim Gun-hee isn't fit, then I really don't know how Suwon can score. This Suwon team is built around playing a striker than can hold the ball and inter-play with the more talented midfielders around him, a fact that was acknowledged by Seo Jung-won in his press conference before the Melbourne game. But Cho Dong-geon proved at the weekend that he is not up to this task with his less than impressive performance. His 1st touch was consistently bad and he was too easily hustled off the ball by the Seongnam backline. More often than not, when the ball was played to him from midfield it just came straight back to the halfway line. When he was replaced in the 2nd half by Kim Jong-min it was more of the same, with the midfield being asked to do everything, a task that they couldn't live up to. To be fair to Jong-min, he did manage to have a shot on target which is much more than can be said of Dong-geon.

At the beginning of the season not many Suwon supporters were even aware of Gun-hee but he is now one of the most vital names on the team sheet. He has been invaluable to the team in his 2 starts this campaign and he is unbelievably vital to the team. If he does play, then I can see us breaking that duck because in the 2 games he has been a part of we have looked like a strong and capable team. If anybody will score at the weekend I would imagine that Gun-hee would play a part in the goal with either Chang-hoon or Ki-hun converting the chance.

I actually think this game will be a boring 0-0 draw though. Both teams showed a lack of imagination and cohesiveness in attack in their K League openers and I think that hangover might just spill over into this game as well.

Prediction: Suwon Bluewings 0-0 Jeonnam Dragons

Scott Asks, Ryan Answers

Scott Whitelock: Jeonnam opened up their Kleague season with a lackluster display against Suwon FC last weekend. What were the main deficiencies that day and what do Jeonnam have to improve on if they hope to take 3 points away from Big Bird?

Ryan Walters: The biggest deficiency on the day was a lack of any tactical game plan from manager Noh Sang-rae who conceded the home match with about 20 minutes left. The Dragons came out in what looked like a 3-4-3, but was reported as a 4-2-3-1, and I'm not sure the midfield knew which formation they were supposed to be playing. An absolutely static midfield couldn't maintain possession against a Suwon FC side that seemed a bit confused what to do with so much time on the ball. Newcomer Vedran Jugović was missing in action for nearly his entire 63 minute shift before being subbed off for Ahn Yong-woo, and that's where the intelligent substitutions stopped. In a 0-0 game at home, Noh subbed off target forward Ristić and replaced him with defender Hong Jin-ki. If that weren't enough of a white flag, he subbed off 2015 standout Mislav Oršić 10 minutes later for defender Lee Ji-min, guaranteeing the Dragons would sit back with their SIX defenders on the field and settle for a scoreless point at home against a team playing their first Classic match. It could be argued that starting the season with a point was more important than going for the win... but Suwon FC is the type of team the Dragons have to beat at home if they're going to have any chance of finishing top six this year, and their own manager completely handcuffed them from even having a chance at that. Then again, had Stevo just shot the ball anywhere but directly at the goalkeeper on his breakaway, then Jeonnam would've won.

SW: I highlighted the midfield battle between Park Hyun-bum and Vedran Jugović as being the key to this game. What qualities can Jugović bring to a Jeonnam midfield that was lacking in creativity last season?

RW: When at his best Jugović is a chance creator extraordinaire. When I did my original profile on him back in January, I was hoping his chance creation tendencies would lead the Dragons into a 4-4-2 diamond with him as the CAM tip up front. This is mainly based on the fact that he's said he's most comfortable in the center of the pitch and from what I've heard from people with more knowledge of his previous club, HNK Rijeka. However, it's quite clear to me at this point that Noh Sang-rae will likely be playing him on the right wing, opposite his fellow Croatian Oršić. He'll likely still be able to create chances from here, but they'll mainly be crosses from the outside instead of short, incisive passes from the middle. Regardless of where he's trying to create from, the biggest difference he offers from last year's attacking lineup is that he's looking to pass first and shoot second. Both Lee Jong-ho and Ahn Yong-woo were shoot first, shoot second, think third, shoot fourth, pass fifth kind of players in 2015's 4-3-3 formation.

SW: Cho Suk-jae had a superb season in the KLeague Challenge last season scoring 19 goals. Should Suwon be wary of him and what can he offer to the Jeonnam forward line?

RW: Well, he'd have to see the field first before Suwon has anything to be afraid of. His absence from last week's 0-0 draw is perhaps the most baffling of Noh Sang-rae's horrid substitution choices. Cho coming on seemed a natural choice in a tie game, especially when removing Stevo and Oršić... but I'm not the one paid to make those decisions. Having only watched a few YouTube clips and talked to some of our Challenge guys here at KLU, I'm quite high on Cho. He appears to be an out-and-out poacher and I absolutely love having a guy like on the team. Goalkeepers in Classic are often good, but not great, and leave a ton of rebounds for guys like Cho to clean up. Again, I'd love to see the Dragons shift to a 4-4-2 with Stevo and Cho up top with Cho playing as more of a CF just behind Stevo to clean up any messes. Hopefully we see him get at least 30 minutes this weekend.

SW: With 7 positions and 18 points separating the 2 teams at the end of last season the differences between the 2 teams were huge. However, with Suwon's lack of transfer activity and Jeonnam's increased potential upfront there could be a possibility for Jeonnam to finish above Suwon Bluewings this season. What do Jeonnam need to do if they are to achieve this ambition?

RW: In a word: no. I was weary of the manager by the end of last season and am now confident the Dragons can't finish much higher than 8th or 9th with him at the helm. Questionable substitutions like the ones he made last weekend plagued the team last year and cost them valuable points. For someone who was a prolific scorer in his days as a player, it's amazingly frustrating how quickly he'll attempt to settle for a single point and play 8-10 players behind the ball. Unfortunately taking off Stevo and Oršić late in a tied or close game is nothing new, and shows either a lack of confidence in his players or a lack of tenacity to win. His tendencies to go overly defensive late in games invites opposition pressure for far too long, and the Jeonnam back line eventually breaks. Beyond that, the team often looks confused as to what their assignments should be and where they need to be on the field. Put more simply, the level of talent on this team doesn't matter if the man at the top continually undermines that talent and misuses it. If the ownership decides to go bold and fire Noh mid-season, then perhaps the Dragons can turn it on and finish top six, but I have zero confidence in his ability to get the best out of this team.

Prediction: Suwon Bluewings 0-0 Jeonnam Dragons

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