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Gwangju FC vs. FC Seoul: Preview and Prediction

(Jung Jo-gook and Dejan celebrate back in the good old day- from youtube.com via Yonhap News Agency)
For many, this upcoming Wednesday will be a chance to celebrate democracy by choosing a candidate that best represents their wishes and have a day off from work to enjoy the wonderful spring weather.  To honor this noble practice, the K-League has offered up a slate of games to watch after the citizens have pulled the lever, pushed a button, or do whatever it is they need to do to choose their leaders.  Unfortunately, for others such as myself, we will remained chained to a desk at the behest of our employer, overrun and under appreciated by the disgruntled masses that we serve on a weekly basis.  Alas, that is life, so onto the preview.
(from wikipedia.org)
Gwangju FC

When I started writing for this blog, the first match I wrote a preview for was this fixture.  Seoul were traveling down to Gwangju, albeit in much different circumstances (Seoul have started much better this year), to face a team that not much was expected of before the start of the year.  Instead, Gwangju surprised people and got off to a decent start before leveling off and propping up the relegation end of the table.  Because of this good start, and the concomitant horror shows of the Busan and Daejeon seasons last year, Gwangju avoided relegation and survived their first season in the K-League Classic.  

In the off-season, their best player Kim Ho-nam left for Jeju United and many of the new players that Gwangju FC signed were not of the quality that would blow up Twitter.  Outside of Jung Jo-gook (more on him later) and Kim Min-hyeok I am not really all that familiar with any of their signings and the only reason I know those two players is because they have both featured for Seoul.  This is why I would say that many have Gwangju, including myself, tipped for relegation this year.  

Gwangju started the season well.  They earned a point on the road against Pohang (3-3) in a wild game and beat Jeju (1-0) at home to pick up their first win.  Gwangju should have had a second win, but unfortunately disaster struck, and they lost Suwon FC (1-2) as they allowed two goals in the last eight minutes.  Last Saturday, they lost again to Ulsan (0-2), but this time at home.

Currently, they sit in ninth place right now with four points.  They are tied with Sangju Sangmu on points but ahead of them in the table having scored one more goal, so one could say that they are where they should be.  Right now, only six points separate three through eleven, but I expect that to change as the season progresses.  I think the Suwon Bluewings and Jeju United are better than their seventh and eighth rankings indicate and will move up the table accordingly.  I think Suwon FC are decent side who have recruited well and I think Cho Deok-je is a decent coach, so they will beat the drop and finish in ninth.

Therefore, I think it will be a four team race between Gwangju FC, Sangju, Jeonnam, and Incheon to see who is relegated and who goes to the playoff.  That being said, I cannot see Jeonnam being as poor as they have been (more on that) and I think Incheon will get it together somehow, which means that Gwangju FC will end up in the playoff and Sangju Sangmu will be relegated.

(from the national.ae)

FC Seoul

As I mentioned above, the first preview I wrote for this blog was against Gwangju.  However, Seoul were in a much different spot then.  They had just come off a 5-1 loss to Suwon and struggling to score and defend.  In their first ten games, Seoul had won twice and loss nineteen (I think) times, scoring six goals while conceding 95 goals.  They were also fairly woeful in their ACL campaign as well.

Now, however, Seoul are doing much better.  They have won three of four, scoring nine goals and conceding three.  In the ACL, they are absolutely scintillating, having won three of four to lead the group and scoring fourteen goals while conceding only two.

Before the year started, I wrote about the need for Seoul to start well, especially in the first ten games.  The biggest deficit any team has overcome to win the title was 4 points, which Seoul did in 2012.  Ulsan were 13 points behind Pohang in 2013 and almost overcame that deficit, but were unlucky.  Since Choi Yong-soo took over as the manager midway through 2011, Seoul has started terribly in three out of four years he has been at the helm.  The one year they had a decent start is when they went on to win the title.  It is still early, only four games in to the season, but so far Seoul have not fallen victim to a poor start and then having to expend so much energy climbing out of the hole.

Also, I made a checklist that any potential champion has to check off in their pursuit to win the league.  Right now, I would say Seoul are meeting most of the criteria on the list, but again, it is too early to say if they will be champions.  However, item number seven on the list was luck, and that is never too early to have as Sunday's result against Jeonnam showed.

Ryan Walters has written a solid recap of the game, so I will link that along with GIF of Kim Chi-woo's dive.  I agree with him that it was a blatant dive and that Choi Hyo-jin should not have stuck his leg out.  That being said, I am still surprised that the ref gave Seoul a penalty since usually the home team would get the benefit of the doubt in that game.   Nonetheless, as the cliche goes, champions make their own luck and the one example that pops up in my head is Manchester United and another is the Pires dive against Portsmouth.

If the cliche is true, then Seoul will be champions because they were quite lucky to get three points out of this game.  Seoul did not play poorly and statistically, were better than Jeonnam.  They had more possession and shots in the game, but for whatever reason, could not put Jeonnam to the sword.  Seoul let them hang around and Jeonnam punished Seoul in the 75th minute.  If not for a dodgy penalty call at the end of the game, this would be a lamentation about two loss points.

I think the fact that Seoul have had to play three games in nine days is probably what affected their performance.  They started out well with their pressing, as they have done all season long, but it only amounted to some half chances- a weak shot at the goalie by Dejan, a great free kick, etc.  Jeonnam did look dangerous on the counter, especially Jugovic in the 10th minute, but not all that likely to score as Seoul had most of the possession.

Seoul finally broke the deadlock in the 51st minute.  Adriano did well to kill Dejan's lofted high pass on his first touch, bring it down, wait for the attack to open up, and find Lee Seok-hyun for the goal.  As I have mentioned prior, I have been really impressed with Adriano's vision this season and it was nice to see him celebrate because he often shows little emotion when scoring.

Jeonnam managed to draw even in the 75th minute on a wonderfully executed counter-attack.  Jugovic played a short pass to Stevo, who played it back to Jugovic, and he sent a wonderful ball over the top for Bae Chun-suk to finish.  Here is an image below.

(from SPOTV via youtube.com)
I numbered the Seoul players and alphabetized the Jeonnam players.  Stevo (A) is holding off Kim Won-sik (2), who ran forward to try and intercept the ball but failed.  Stevo is playing ball back to Jugovic (B) who is being tracked by Park Yong-woo (4).  Osmar (3) was following the goal scorer Bae Chun-suk's (D) run and Kim Dong-woo (1) is sort of in no-man's land, not sure if he should go towards Stevo or not.  I highlighted Orsic (C) because I think he Park Yong-woo (4) was unsure if he should follow Jugovic or Orsic.  I think the defensive confusion will show up in the next image below.

(from SPOTV via youtube.com)
Originally, Osmar (3) was tracking Bae Chun-suk's (D) run, but because Stevo (A)laid off the ball out wide to Jugovic (B), Osmar instead went towards Jugovic.  Kim Won-sik (2) is sort of nowhere near the action and Park Yong-woo (4) is running toward Jugovic like Osmar.  Jugovic, recognizing Seoul's disorder, sends the perfect ball over the top for Bae Chun-suk to run onto.

(from SPOTV via youtube.com)
From there, it is all too easy as Bae (D) is easily able to outpace  Kim Dong-woo (1) because he does not have the speed to cut the pass out or catch him.  Just as Kim Won-sik was taken out of the play by Stevo's pass back to Jugovic, Osmar is as well.  The question to ask is whether or not Osmar remained with Bae and let Park Yong-woo try and deal with Jugovic.  By no means am I blaming Osmar for the goal.  It was a collective failure of the team as a whole.

That being said, Seoul were not helped by the manager's choices either.  After taking the lead, Choi decided to sub off the goal scorer Lee Seok-hyun in the 69th minute for Kim Won-sik.  He pushed Ju Se-jong into Lee's spot and Park Yong-woo moved up to play as the DM.  I think Choi should have left Kim Won-sik on the bench and brought Shin Jin-ho in for Lee Seok-hyun instead.  By pushing Ju forward, I think it hurt Seoul's structure a bit and now having to chase the game, Choi opted to bring Shin Jin-ho on for Park Yong-woo in the 79th minute anyways.

Speaking of the manager's choices, in the Writer's Chat I predicted that Dejan, Takahagi, and Go Yo-han would sit the bench and starting in their places would be Park Chu-young, Lee Seok-hyun, and Kim Chi-woo.  Lee Seok-hyun and Kim Chi-woo did start, but they took the places of Shin Jin-ho and Ko Kwang-min while Park Chu-young remained on the bench.  Also, Park Yong-woo got his second straight league start, this time for Kim Won-sik.

The reason I speculated that Choi would rest Dejan and Takahagi is because of the amount of minutes they have played so far and for footballers old, so I expected that Choi would rest those two since Dejan played 87 minutes on Tuesday and Takahagi played the full 90+ minutes.  I worry that those two are going to get burned out if they continue at this pace, especially Dejan.  Park Chu-young scored two goals against Incheon the weekend before and this would have been the perfect fixture for him to start.  The reason I thought Takahagi would sit is because Shin Jin-ho was subbed off in Tuesday's game and he leaves for the military at the end of April, so I figured that Choi would try and get as much out of him before he leaves.

Really though, when it comes down to it, you are damned if you do and you are damned if you don't.  If Choi Yong-soo does rotate, like his counterpart Choi Kang-hee, the team lack cohesion and consistency as Matt Binns has pointed out.  They struggle to score goals and underachieve, which makes them susceptible to losing games that they should not.  However, if Choi does not rotate enough, he risks player injury and burn-out (re: any Arsenal season in the last 11 years).

(from KLeagueunited.com)

What to Expect

At this point, I would attempt to speculate what will happen, but nothing jumps out at me.  Looking at the statistics for their games against Pohang, Jeju, Suwon FC, and Ulsan no trends stand out.  Possession ranges from a low of 44% (Pohang) to a high of 55% (Jeju) and there is no great disparity in shots or shots on targets.  On the road, they have had less shots on goal and target, but at home they have outshot their opponets in both games.

Their striker, Jung Jo-gook is a man who is in great form right now.  He scored in three of the four games for Gwangju and is leading the league with four goals.  I would say that not many expected him to be perform at such a high level and that his career was winding down.  Of course, it is early in the season, and as defenses begin to key on him challenging others to beat them, I am sure he will slow down.

Nonetheless, he has played quite well.  In the Pohang game, he was all over the place, shooting from distance, and showed off some great footwork on the dribble.  In the Jeju game, he scored on a route one goal as the ball was headed from the center line to  Song Seung-min into Jung Jo-gook's path for him to hit first time past Jeju's keeper Kim Ho-jun.  Against Suwon FC, he scored off a rebound sort of, but it was still at the edge of the box.  Last week versus Ulsan, that was the first game he failed to score in.

I would like to say that if Jung Jo-gook is shut down, then Seoul will stroll, but I am not sure if that will be the case.  I think pressing strongly and denying Jung service is the best route, but the other forwards are not just there to fill out the starting eleven.  That being said, Seoul are the better team and should win this game easily, but that is what I thought of their last opponent.

Defensively, it is hard to say if Gwangju are terrible.  Watching the Pohang and Jeju games, it seemed like the keeper Choi Bong-jin is their weakness.  He seems susceptible to being beaten by long shots, but a lot of hat is probably on the defense and midfield as well as the goalie.  Nonetheless, he was beaten twice by Pohang on shots outside the box and once by Ulsan, so that could be a weakness.

Also, their defense tends to merge on the ball, so if Seoul can find space, it can be exploited.  Here is an example.

(from SPOTV via yotuube.com)
Suwon FC, after stripping the ball from Ju Hyun-woo, passed it forward to Kim Geun-hwan.  In turn, Hong Joon-ho (1), Kim Byung-oh (2), and Hwang Jae-hun (3) are taken out of the play.  In their haste, two other Gwangju defenders (4 and 5) rush over to close off the ball and Ogunjimi's (square) shot.  Unfortunately, one of them is not marking Lee Seung-hyun (circle) and he gets an easy tap in to help Suwon FC to their first win.

(from SPOTV via youtube.com)
In the image above, there are two defenders marking Kovacec and three have dropped deep.  I have marked them 1, 2, and 3.  I have circled the goal scorer Lee Jeong-hyup.  In my opinion, the three defenders are too deep and there is too much space for Lee when he receives the ball.

(from SPOTV via youtube.com)
In this image, Lee Chan-dong steps up to Lee Jeong-hyup to try and get the ball, but completely misses, allowing for Lee to get an opening and hit quite a goal.   Great shot, but the defending probably could have been better.  This is one avenue that Seoul could try and exploit, by making the CBs move a lot and pulling them out of position.

Formation and Lineup

Having played three games in nine days (Incheon, Shandong Luneng, and Jeonnam), this will be Seoul's fourth twelve or thirteen days.  I think rotating the squad will be of the highest order.  I forgot to put Yoo Hyun in, but I am sure he will be the starting goalie.


Choi Yong-soo has quite a good record against Gwangju.  He has won four and drawn two, with Seoul scoring 14 goals (2.33) and conceding only 7 (1.17).  If Seoul want to win the league, then they need to win games against opposition like this.  After Sunday's scare, I think Seoul will be more focused.  

Final Score: Gwangju FC 1-2 FC Seoul


  1. Agreed both about Seoul getting lucky and creating their own luck to get all three points Sunday. I'm not quite sure if the defense was truly on their game, or if Adriano was just having an off day, but there were very few moments with him on the ball. Hell, maybe Jeonnam even did some things Gwangju and others could pick up on.

  2. That was how Adriano was last year- not great during the game, but he would have a moment or two. I think Jeonnam's defense was alright, but I also think the Seoul is fatigued. Since the 2nd, they have played a game every three or four days.


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