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Writer's Chat: Busan IPark vs Seoul E-Land

I sat down with Steve Waddell to talk about today's match between Busan IPark and Seoul E-Land. We chat about the prospects of Seoul E-Land, Joo Min-kyu and goals, Busan's poor support, and more!

Jae asks, Steve answers

Jae: A positive start for E-Land as they currently sit in 2nd place after three matches. How would you assess the team this far?

Steve: Overall it's been a pretty positive start in terms of results and seven points out of nine is a reasonable haul. The performances at time probably haven't been spectacular but the team seems able to grind out results now which is something they probably didn't do last year. Winning games while probably not being at your absolute best might well be a good sign for how the season will go. We're far from the finished article but plenty of positive signs and things seem to be going in the right direction

Jae: Martin Rennie remains the only non-Korean coach in the K League (Classic or Challenge). Do you see any differences in how he approaches games (tactically, preparation, player selection, etc) compared to Korean coaches?

Steve: Every coach is different obviously so it's not easy to tell how much the non-Korean factor weighs in. One thing that's obvious about Rennie is he seems to have quite a positive approach to things. He seems to encourage the players to try different things, to take more risks and to be more confident in themselves. From some of the stories I've heard of Korean coaches getting on players backs over the years that seems to be a different approach. I think sometimes Korean players are stifled because of their fear of making mistakes. Often they seem more scared to lose than they are hungry to win. Of course, it's not easy to change the way players approach the game when they've been brought up in a system for years so there's a limit to how much any coach can do I think.

Jae: E-Land put forth plenty of big goals when they were launched a year ago, any sign they'll reach them or will the club turn into "just another Korean club"?

Steve: It's probably too early to call but I'd say things look to be heading towards the latter at the moment. I think a lot of the big goals and plans haven't quite come off and maybe the reality has hit home a bit to the guys at E-Land. Maybe if they had managed to get promotion last season they would have built some more momentum off the field but I think a second season in the Challenge has taken some of the wind out of their sails in that regard. From what I understand the budget has been cut for this year (as have most teams I believe) and that's a bit of a worry if E-Land are already maybe wavering in their support. The club does a lot of good things though in communicating to fans - their social media stuff is pretty impressive - and there's lots of positives but for whatever reason they don't really seem to have captured the imagination of the broader audience. I don't think the name helps in a lot of respects that was probably the biggest blunder so far in associating themselves too much with the E-Land name. Especially since they really don't seem to use any of the E-Land empire to help promote the football club that much. It would be interesting to see what kind of interest they would generate in the top division but I think something needs to change if they are serious about their goals. 

Jae: One of the big stories last season was Joo Min-kyu's goal scoring feats. Was it just a one-off burst or does it seem like he has what it takes to become a consistent scorer?

Steve: Joo-mes was probably the surprise package of the entire K-League last season and there was nobody praising him more than me but I think it's fair to say that he hasn't really hit the same heights recently. Definitely other teams have got wise to him and started guarding him more closely so that had a big impact on his game but he also seems to have lost a bit of sharpness. Certainly in the first three games of this season he hasn't looked too much of a threat but he does contribute in other ways. I think with Tarabai in the team Joo tends to take on the role of a second striker dropping a bit deeper and linking up the play a bit more so its probably natural that he will score a few less. There's a bit of debate among the fans as to whether he's been bulking up at the gym or the local samgyupsal restaurant as well but I'm the last one to talk about that so I will refrain from comment!

Jae: Thoughts/predictions for the game?

Steve: I'm not really sure quite what to expect from Busan but I suppose that they will be a bigger challenge than the three teams we've faced so far. E-Land haven't conceded a goal yet this season and Glory looks to be on top form so I don't see Busan scoring too many. You always fancy E-Land to score with that front three but I'm not sure if they quite have it in the tank to go to Busan and win after a pretty tough match against Bucheon. It'll be interesting to see if Martin Rennie thinks about freshening things up as so far he's used the same starting eleven in every game (and more or less the same subs too). Overall, I'll probably plump for 1-1.   

 Steve asks, Jae answers

Steve: It was all change for Busan over the close season after dropping down to the Challenge. The big names have all more less gone and a whole raft of new signings came in. How is the team shaping up and how does the new-look Busan compare to last season?

Jae: Unfortunately the team doesn't "look" that different from last year (under Choi) to this. The attack is still sputtering, the midfield isn't capable of controlling matches, and the defense is shaky. The only significant difference is a tactical one that sees Busan attempt to press higher up the pitch than they did last season. 

Choi seems to want to play a prettier, short-passing, pressing game, but I'm not sure Busan has the players to do it. How the team ultimately pans out will likely be down to whether the players can step up or how quickly and effectively Choi can alter his tactics to better suit the players he's got.

Steve: You opened up with a fairly comprehensive defeat to Ansan but have won two games since. Was the opening day just a blip and have you found your feet now?

Jae: Today's game against Seoul E-Land will probably be the best answer for this question. Due respect to Gangwon and Goyang, but neither are high quality opposition (even by Challenge standards). A win against E-Land will be a decent shout that the team is recovering from last season's nightmare and that confidence is on the up. A loss would probably show that a lot of work is still needed if the team really thinks they can bounce straight back.

Taking today's game out of the equation though, unfortunately I don't think Busan has found their feet yet. I just think the wins (two 1-0 wins) over Gangwon and Goyang had more to do with the opposition than Busan's quality.

Steve: Busan have always been famous for being pretty poorly supported in terms of numbers. Why is that in your view and how have the fans reacted to relegation?

Jae: I can't be sure of course, but I suspect the team's steady decline under the ownership of HDC is the main culprit (moving from the Gudeok probably also didn't help). As most know, Koreans like winners. Is it a surprise Jeonbuk got a big attendance boost over the past few seasons when they started winning titles again, or that Suwon's has dropped as they've slid into upper table mediocrity? Back to the question, Busan has struggled and the games haven't been particularly interesting to watch. Even the power of famous cheerleader Park Gi-ryang hasn't gotten too many butts into the stands. The simple answer is that Busan needs to get back to the Classic and start challenging for ACL and titles again if they want to revive the city's interest in football. 

The initial reaction to the relegation was incredibly negative as one can imagine. Fans blocked the team bus from leaving the stadium and demanded that Chung Mong-gyu (the club's owner/president) and Byun Myung-gi (club general manager) face them. Both eventually had to write letters of apology to the fans that were posted on the club's Facebook page. Since then, the anger has dissipated significantly. I think some of the signings like Ko Kyung-min and Stojanovic placated a lot of fans and gave hope that the team really would bounce straight back.

Steve: What can E-Land expect in terms of tactics and lineup? Where are the main threats going to come from?

Jae: Tactically Choi Young-joon has been switching back and forth between a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 and a 3-5-2/3-4-1-2. Former Ulsan Hyundai Mipo keeper Goo Sang-min has displaced Lee Chang-geun in goal the last two games. Given Goo has two clean sheets to his name, logic would suggest he keep his place. Choi's preferred defense has Lee Won-young and Cha Younghwan in central defense with Samuel on the left (either as a left back in a four-man line or as the left outside centerback in a three-man line). Kim Dae-ho slots in at either right back or right wingback. Lee Chung-woong and Lee Gyu-seong usually are in central midfield with either Lee Yeong-jae or Daigo completely the midfield three. If Choi plays a 3-5-2 type formation, Yoo Ji-hoon has been the left wingback of choice. Attack is the area Choi does not seem to have any preferred player. Ko Kyung-min is the most consistent choice (but he didn't start last weekend) and he usually plays on the left side of attack. Popp has started the last two matches on the right. I thought Stojanovic was decent last weekend, and I'd fancy him to start again, but we could see Hong Dong-hyun start as well.
Both Ko Kyung-min and Stojanovic have shown they can score in Challenge, but neither have really gotten started yet this season. Lee Yeong-jae is capable of producing a goal from midfield. Lee Won-young is a threat on set pieces as he's very good in the air.

Possible 4-1-4-1 XI: Goo Sang-min; Kim Dae-ho, Lee Won-young, Cha Young-hwan, Samuel; Lee Chung-woong; Popp, Lee Gyu-seong, Lee Yeong-jae, Ko Kyung-min; Stojanovic

Possible 3-4-3 XI: Goo Sang-min; Cha Young-hwan, Lee Won-young, Samuel; Kim Dae-ho, Lee Chung-woong, Lee Gyu-seong; Yoo Ji-hoon; Popp, Stojanovic, Ko Kyung-min

Steve: What's your prediction for the game?

Jae: It looks like weather may not be great for this one, so I think it'll probably be a fairly ugly game. E-Land has been tight on defense, but seems a little flat in attack lately. Busan has played better, but goals have been in short supply. I'll agree with your score predication and go 1-1.

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