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Choi Kang-hee's Roster Roulette (aka When is Squad Rotation Necessary?) - Part 2

Six games further into the season, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors manager Choi Kang-hee is still shuffling his team (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
Six games further into the season, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors manager Choi Kang-hee is still shuffling his team
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)
In part one, I looked at each of the first six Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors line-ups deployed this season across all competitions. Six games later, over a short period of three weeks, I return to see how the Choi Kang-hee has managed this busy schedule by looking at how he has rotated his squad and the results he has obtained.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the point of this article series. I, along with a number of others, have began to question the manager's line-up decisions in light of some rather underwhelming performances. With the first six games being spread over two months, partly due to an international break, Jeonbuk's manager Choi Kang-hee still managed to make 4.8 changes per game, the highest of any K-League team playing in the ACL during that period. Given that captain and goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae had played 100% of the minutes available, this means the manager had been choosing to switch half of his outfield between each match.

It is also worth reminding ourselves of the obvious drawbacks with this kind of statistic. It overlooks changes brought about by injuries and suspensions, as well as a changes in formation shape. In addition, the players may not be up to the task performance-wise (e.g. Pohang) so there may be little correlation between the results obtained and players rotated. Seeing as these changes should be minor with these four teams though (especially FC Seoul) as they are/were all deemed to be title contenders to some extent, then outlying results should start being averaged out over time.

Finally, one last point is what I have deemed the "double-entry". This is when a team rotates heavily for a midweek game, and then rotates by a similar number to their main squad for the weekend. Pohang's midweek game away to FC Sydney is a perfect example of this.

Therefore, I ask you to decide for yourself how much weight you put in the comparable statistics. However, you can still at least see this series as a short summary focusing on each line-up and formation of Jeonbuk's games, with a view to judging Choi Kang-hee's effectiveness at managing his large, attacking based squad, something which I am still unsure he is doing effectively.

Jeonbuk's 2016 Form

At present, Jeonbuk have gone unbeaten in the league and find themselves in second place. After five group games in the ACL, they are top of group E, only requiring a draw against Jiangsu Suning to ensure they progress.

These results mask some pretty damning facts however. After twelve games in all competitions, Jeonbuk are yet to win away in the K-League, whilst they have only won one away game in the ACL. They have also yet to come back to draw or win from first going a goal behind (see their two losses in the ACL). Furthermore, three of their four draws this campaign have seen them fall from winning positions, with the other being a goalless draw against Ulsan.

Finally, Jeonbuk are yet to win by more than a single goal in the K-League this year, although you could argue they were also not convincing champions last season, achieving this feat only six times in the league last year.

Performance-wise, they have continued their many of uninspiring displays from late 2015 into this season, being criticised for some times resorting to archaic long ball tactics when trying to include one of their marquee signings Kim Shin-wook. They have threatened to show their potential against the likes of Binh Duong (H), Seongnam (H) and FC Tokyo (A), as well as a tactical performance to nullify FC Seoul, but these moments have felt few and far between, especially against less-favoured opposition.

Line-Ups

In terms of starting elevens, the manager is still yet to play the same team twice in 2016.

Below are the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Line-ups for the last six games, continuing on from their 2-1 victory over Jeju which was the last entry in the first part of this series.

Becamex Binh Duong vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (April 6th, Go Dau Stadium)

Becamex Binh Duong vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (AFC Champions League 2016, Apr 6th, Go Dau Stadium)
Becamex Binh Duong vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (AFC Champions League 2016, Apr 6th, Go Dau Stadium)
Final score: Becamex Binh Duong 3-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

On the back of an underwhelming victory against Jeju United FC, Choi Kang-hee proceeded to make eight changes to his side, most likely basing his decision on the five hour flight time during the midweek, despite the next league game being on the following Sunday giving his players ample to recover.

Binh Duong inflicted a humiliating defeat on the K-League champions. Having take the lead early on through a penalty after an unfortunate handball incident, Jeonbuk pegged the home team back with two goals in quick succession from Lee Jong-ho and Han Kyo-won. Binh Duong then equalised before half-time.

The second half saw two red cards for defenders Kim Chang-soo and Kim Hyung-il, with the latter's red card resulting in an 85th minute penalty to Binh Duong. The home team duly scored, bringing into question Jeonbuk's chances of qualifying from ACL Group E.

This game also notably saw the last appearance of Erik Paartalu. One of Jeonbuk's major acquisitions in the winter, the Australian defensive midfielder has been harshly left out of match day squads ever since, being made the partial scapegoat for Jeonbuk's Vietnam failure.

Players In: Choi Jae-soo, Kim Hyung-il, Kim Chang-soo, Jang Yun-ho, Erik Paartalu, Lee Jong-ho, Han Kyo-won, Kim Shin-wook
Players Out: Park Won-jae, Lim Jong-eun, Choi Chul-soon, Lee Ho, Lee Jae-sung, Luiz Henrique, Ko moo-yeol, Lee Dong-gook

Full recap here.

Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (April 10th, Pohang Steel Yard)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Pohang Steelers (K-League R4, Apr 10th, Pohang Steel Yard)
Pohang Steelers vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (K-League R4, Apr 10th, Pohang Steel Yard)
Final score: Pohang Steelers 1-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

This game saw the manager make seven changes in a bid to revert back to his strongest squad. It also saw the welcome return of Kim Bo-kyung from his lengthy lay-off.

Jeonbuk once again failed to truly dominate the match, eventually taking the lead through a powerful Lee Dong-gook volley that looked set to take all three points. Pohang replied in the final minutes however, pulling level and sharing the spoils.

The game also saw Kim Chang-soo earn yet another red for a disgraceful high tackle, meaning he would miss the following two league games in addition to his ACL ban.

Players In: Lim Jong-eun, Choi Chul-soon Kim Bo-kyung, Ko Moo-yeol, Lee Jae-sung, Ricardo Lopes, Lee Dong-gook
Players Out: Kim Hyung-il, Choi Jae-soo, Erik Paartalu, Leonardo, Lee Jong-ho, Han Kyo-won, Kim Shin-wook

Highlights can be viewed here.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Incheon United (April 13th, Jeonju World Cup Stadium)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs. Incheon United (K-League R5, Apr 13th, Jeonju World Cup Stadium)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs. Incheon United (K-League R5, Apr 13th, Jeonju World Cup Stadium)
Final score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-1 Incheon United

The game against bottom side Incheon saw perhaps Jeonbuk's least inspiring performance in the league this season. With both teams creating very little, and the hosts resorting to mindless long balls in a bid to assist Kim Shin-wook, it took a wonder-goal from lee Dong-gook to finally break the deadlock. The celebrations were not to last for long as Jeonbuk once again through away their lead in the last minute to a well-taken equaliser.

Players In: Choi Jae-soo, Leonardo, Kim Shin-wook
Players Out: Kim Chang-soo (Suspended), Jang Yun-ho, Ricardo Lopes

Full recap here.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Seongnam FC (April 16th, Jeonju World Cup Stadium)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Seongnam FC (K-League R6, Apr 16th, Jeonju World Cup Stadium)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Seongnam FC (K-League R6, Apr 16th, Jeonju World Cup Stadium)
Final score: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-2 Seongnam FC

The game against Seongnam showed a lot of promise. Build-up had focused on Jeonbuk's apparent willingness to spent lots of money yet employ route-one tactics. The game itself however finally saw some exciting and dominant play, with Kim Bo-kyung slowly finding his best form.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first half, the second half saw Seongnam claw level twice before midfielder Kim Bo-kyung finished in the 85th minute after a wonderful assist from Leonardo.

Players In: Lee Ju-yong, Jang Yun-ho, Ricardo Lopes, Luiz Henrique,
Players Out: Choi Jae-soo, Leonardo, Ko Moo-yeol, Kim Shin-wook

Full recap here.

FC Tokyo vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (April 20th, Ajinomoto Stadium)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs FC Tokyo (AFC Champions League 2016, Apr 20th, Ajinomoto Stadium)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs FC Tokyo (AFC Champions League 2016, Apr 20th, Ajinomoto Stadium)
Final score: FC Tokyo 0-3 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

In a shocking twist, the manager opted only to make two changes to his squad, most notably bringing in the effective Leonardo in the hope he would repeat his goal-creating antics.

The game saw Jeonbuk's most professional and disciplined display, restricting their hosts to zero shots on target through reliable defending, whilst also countering with pace to place three shots beyond the Tokyo keeper.

It most likely is coincidence, but by playing a similar squad to that which played well against Seongnam, making only logical changes, actually paid off.

Players In: Choi Jae-soo, Leonardo
Players Out: Lee Ju-yong, Luiz Henrique

Full recap here.

Sangju Sangmu vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (April 24th, Sangju Civic Stadium)

Sangju Sangmu vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (K-League R7, Apr 24th, Sangju Civic Stadium)
Sangju Sangmu vs Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (K-League R7, Apr 24th, Sangju Civic Stadium)
Final score: Sangju Sangmu 2-2 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Following on from the highly-praised performance in Tokyo, Jeonbuk made five changes to their line-up despite having a week with no games following. The manager obviously thought that, despite Sangju's impressive perofmance against Pohang a week earlier, Jeonbuk should have more than enough to see off the new;y promoted side.

After the pairing of Ko Moo-yeol and Han Kyo-won resulted in a third goal during the dying minutes against FC Tokyo, the two were asked to start here with almost immediate returns. Kim Chang-soo also returned from his suspension whilst an injured Kim Shin-wook meant that Lee Jong-ho found himself as the striker rotated in.

Han Kyo-won put Jeonbuk ahead on two minutes, before Sangju went on to equalise. Another Han Kyo-won strike just before the break looked as if it could give the champions a psychological edge. After a string of missed chances from Jeonbuk in the second-half, Sangju equalised, finishing the game with an unanticipated point.

Players In: Kim Chang-soo, Luiz Henrique, Ko Moo-yeol, Han Kyo-won, Lee Jong-ho
Players Out: Choi Jae-soo, Jang Yun-ho, Ricardo Lopes, Leonardo, Lee Dong-gook

Highlights can be viewed here.

How Do Other Teams Compare?

As I did in part one, I will now compare Jeonbuk's rate of change with that of the other three K-League teams in the ACL who therefore have similar schedules. The results can be seen below.

This table illustrates squad rotation across all 2016 competitions from February 9th to April 24th.
This table illustrates squad rotation across all 2016 competitions from February 9th to April 24th.
The table shows a slight increase in the average changes to line-ups between each game for last season's top four clubs. This was to be expected with six games spread over three weeks. Even FC Seoul have had to rotate, with their average increasing the most of the four clubs, from 0.8 to 2.18.

What is more notable perhaps is how much squad depth has been called on by each club to play these fixtures. Suwon Bluewings have called upon 27 different players for their first twelve competitive games. This is up five from 22 at the start of April. Pohang have had 23 different starters, with an additional three making appearances from the sub bench. This is up four from this article's previous instalment.

Jeonbuk have used the the third least number of players (24) yet still maintain the highest rate of rotation (4.82). Their main rivals for the title though, FC Seoul, are still opting to stick to a core group of players, only rotating to rest key personnel prior to games deemed more important than others.

You could argue from these numbers that Jeonbuk and Suwon Bluewings operate a similar level of rotation. However, the statistics cover the full picture. It's worth noting not all of Suwon's players selected in the league this season have been eligible for the ACL, making rotation inevitable. Furthermore, both Suwon and Pohang have had Australian teams in their groups, meaning that they have had to balance league commitments with twelve hour flights midweek. Finally, with such sweeping rotations, these players are then most brought back in/removed for the next game, effectively making each large change a "double-entry" and dragging the average up.

Jeonbuk on the other hand have thus far fielded players eligible for all competitions and have had much shorter distances to travel in their ACL group (although the five hour flight for the Vietnam game did see Choi Kang-hee make eight changes, his highest of the season).

Below I have plotted the number of changes for each team per match. I have done it individually so the team's fixtures can be seen, as well as one altogether if you wish to draw your own comparisons and conclusions.

onbuk Hyundai Motors Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)

Suwon Bluewings Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)
Suwon Bluewings Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)

Pohang Steelers Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)
Pohang Steelers Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)

FC Seoul Line-Up Changes per Game (Across all 2016 Competitions)

Changes to Starting Line-ups per Game for K-League Clubs Competing in the ACL.
Changes to Starting Line-ups per Game for K-League Clubs Competing in the ACL.

Concluding Remarks

Overall, my opinion on Choi Kang-hee's rotation policy still has not changed. With Jeonbuk proving so inconsistent, especially with their performances on the road, I do not see the need to rotate as much as the manager is doing so at present.

You can see from the graph and the more recent line-ups however that a more consistent line-up is forming. I would like to think it was more that coincidence that arguably two of Jeonbuk's best performances this year (against Seongnam and FC Tokyo) came when the lowest changes occurred.

With the return from injury of Kim Bo-kyung, we have seen a settled midfield partnership slowly form between him and Lee Jae-sung. This is in addition to a more consistent back four, partly brought about by the suspension of Kim Chang-soo and Kim Hyung-il.

I will rest this series for a while, especially with Pohang now out of the ACL Champions League, and also with Suwon's fate in the competition being out of their hands. Jeonbuk also have a tricky final tie which they must draw to reach the knockouts. If they do not, we may finally see a more consistent Jeonbuk line-up as there will be no excuse to hide behind. Therefore, part three may resume later in the year once the title race starts taking a more definitive shape.

Please leave any comments you have below. It took a while to collate and present this data (even if the statistic can be deemed meaningless) so I would greatly appreciate your feedback, especially in regards to Jeonbuk's team selections.

3 comments

  1. Good article, I forgot that Shown and Pohang played in Australia. Makes sense for them to rotate. Choi Yong-soo chopped and changed a lot last year, but that was because Seoul struggled to score goals. I think going with a consistent 11 is what has made a difference. Same is true with basketball- the best rotation is traditionally with 8 to 9 guys.

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    Replies
    1. I agree somewhat. To me, the rotation would be more justified if we had a set starting eleven to rotate from. Admittedly, It does seems there is a "stronger" team slowly forming (usually the "home" team until Incheon at home and Tokyo away), with the main players subject to change being the wingers. Based on recent form, I think our best two are Leonardo and Lopes/Han Kyo-won.

      All this overlooks the fact though that away from home, against "less favourable" opposition, the team sent out sometimes seem to have been compiled via a lottery system, or just chosen to placate all the other new signings.

      I think the defence is slowly becoming set (mainly thanks to the suspensions of Kim Chang-soo and Kim Hyung-il, the latter I feel the manager won't let us see for a while). With Lee Jae-sung and Kim Bo-kyung both fit, the team is slowly finding some shape. I just hope it's not too late given the run Seoul are on.

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