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Writer's Chat: Jeju United vs Suwon Bluewings

Jeju and Suwon meet at Jeju Word Cup Stadium on Sunday night in what promises to be an open and attacking encounter. Our Jeju United contributor Duncan Elder and our Suwon Bluewings contributor Scott Whitelock discuss the potential for on the pitch fireworks and both team's shaky starts to the season.

First, Scott asks and Duncan answers:

Scott: Jeju started the season well with a comfortable home win against Incheon but have now last back to back games against Gwangju and Jeonbuk. How would you assess Jeju's start to the season?

Duncan: It’s obviously fairly disappointing to have lost two of the first three games, the game against Gwangju especially so as Jeju would have looked at that as a great chance to build on the momentum of the Incheon victory.

In the Jeonbuk game we were never favourites so it’s not worth reading too much into that I don’t think.

We’re still only three games in and a win against Suwon would completely change the start from a disappointing one to a good one. Luckily I think this is certainly a possibility due to Suwon’s own disappointing start.

Scott: Jeju put in a good performance against the K-League Champions last weekend registering more shots in the game than their opponents and also maintaining the majority of the ball. How did Jeju lose the game and what must the team improve on if they are to convert good performances into maximum points?

Duncan: We started slowly and when Jeonbuk needed their goals at the start they had the better chances. We did do well to come back into it though and towards the end we were unlucky not to score hitting the woodwork twice in the final few minutes. The team against Jeonbuk had a few key changes compared to previous weeks, especially with Lee Chang-min coming into midfield which allowed Song Jin-hyung to play in his favoured position of AM.

Going forwards we need to find a way to get the most out of the existing players and the new signings as we have only really seen what they can do in short bursts. I don’t really think we have settled on a best starting 11 yet.

Scott: At the beginning of the season you highlighted Song Jin-hyung and Kim Hyun as Jeju's greatest assets. How has their form been so far this season and are these still the players that Suwon will need to watch closely?

Duncan: Song Jin-hyung played out of position in the first two games which meant he has been unable to exert as much of an attacking influence on the game as last season. Kim Hyun is certainly just one for the future. He made his first start of the season against Jeonbuk and played fairly well, the jury is still out on whether he can add a bit more of a goal threat to his general play.

Scott: The last time these two teams met in Jeju, Suwon ran out 4-2 winners on a wet and wild Sunday night. Do you think neutral viewers could be treated to the same action on this coming Sunday?

Duncan: Six goals will be hard to beat but both teams still seem to like to play attacking football so I have no doubts it will be an entertaining game. We could also see Lee Keun-ho make his debut at home which will no doubt excite the Jeju fans and hopefully provide the slight bit of quality in attack we seem to be missing.

Scott: What is your prediction for the game and where do you think the key battles will take place?

Duncan: I’m predicting a 2-1 Jeju win here. There were a lot of positives to take from the Jeonbuk game and Jeju are usually stronger at home so I think they will go out and attack. They will likely also sense a bit of weakness in the Suwon squad that can be taken advantage of. Of course no chance of a Jeju clean sheet so as long as we score more goals we’ll be fine.

Key battles will likely be in the midfield, both teams like to play a passing game so whoever can control the game here will likely come out on top. Also interesting will be to see if either teams underperforming strikers can have any kind of impact on the game.

Now, Duncan asks and Scott answers:

Duncan: Suwon got their first win of the season against Sangju last weekend, but overall I think it has been a poor start for them. Did Suwon make any tactical/personnel changes against Sangju that caused the victory or was it simply just due to them being a weaker team?

Scott: Quite surprisingly Seo Jung-won made zero changes from the team that had collapsed so tamely in their previous league outing against Jeonnam. He kept faith with the same personnel and the same tactics that he has throughout the start of this new season. Sangju put up a great fight and put Suwon under some spells of pressure in the 2nd half, but in truth, they just weren't quite good enough.

However, the Sangju manager got his tactics spot on, on the day. Suwon push their midfield very high up the pitch leave only one holding midfielder to shield the defence so if any team can play quickly through midfield they can expose the Suwon defence pretty easily. Sangju utilised their strong front man effectively and were able to trouble the Suwon defence on a few occasions in the 2nd half. It wasn't pretty from Sangju, but it was very effective.

However, Wednesday night's game against Melbourne Victory saw a drastically improved performance from Suwon. They were solid in defence, creative in attack, strong in the challenge and showed a desire to win that hadn't been seen at Big Bird for a while. It was almost the perfect performance, with only the teams finishing letting them down.

That night Seo Jung-won made 5 changes to the starting 11, with Shin Se-gye, Kwak Hee-ju, Baek Ji-hoon, Lee Sang-ho and Kim Gun-hee coming into the team. The additions of Shin Se-gye and the veteran of Kwak Hee-ju in defence worked very well. Shin Se-gye is a more defensive minded full back and Kwak Jee-hu is one of the few physical Korean centre backs in the K League, and muscle is certainly something that we needed against a strong Melbourne attack. Kim Gun-hee had a solid first game back from injury, once again linking play very well and had one great chance to score a goal, which he unfortunately dragged inches wide.

Kwon Chang-hoon had a great game and was a constant thorn in the side of the Melbourne defence. He linked up well with Gun-hee and Yeom Ki-hun for Suwon's goal and timed his run as well as any seasoned striker. He was assured on the ball and more ambitious in his play than he had previously been this season. He even attempted an audacious overhead kick in the 1st half which was only inches away from finding the net.

But special praise goes to Baek Ji-hoon, who produced an absolute master class in the defensive midfield role. As I have mentioned in previous articles, Suwon have struggled to defend well whilst playing in their 4-1-4-1 formation, and as well as Park Hyun-bom has played he has not been able to control the defensive areas of midfield quite as effectively as he should have been doing. That is not something that could be said of Ji-hoon on Wednesday night. Every time Melbourne attempted to mount one of their few attacks in the game Baek Ji-hoon was there to break it up, recycle possession and move the ball up field. He was the linchpin of midfield and everything good that Suwon produced going forward was a product of his hard work.  Ji-hoon's heyday at Suwon came a long time before I moved to Korea but my friends told me that that performance was akin to the displays he would produce when he was a feature of the Korean national team. It was a pleasure to watch and I hope he can continue to produce that kind of form going into the rest of the season.

Duncan: Suwon have struggled up front last year after Jong Tae Se left. Have either of the new striker signings or youngster Kim Gun Hee shown signs they have what it takes to finally replace him?

Scott: Basically, we have one striker at Suwon. And that one striker is a 22 year old, straight out of University, who has only played 3 games of professional football. Honestly, you couldn't really make that stuff up. It is amazing how quickly he has established himself as such a valuable member of one of the biggest football clubs in Korea. Not only is he an amazing prospect, he is already producing football of a good standard and he is now my tip to be the best young player in the K League this year. He is strong, he has 2 fantastic feet, he is a very smart and intelligent player who is always aware of exactly where his team mates are and he is a willing runner, which is very important to have in the K League. However, for all his virtues, we have to remember that he is only 22 and he is also yet to score a goal. But, if he is fit, there is no doubting that he is our first choice striker, and I back him to go on and produce big things in the future.

Very briefly, I would like to mention Suwon's other striking options. Cho Dong-geon is perhaps the worst striker I have seen represent a team that I love since I once saw Dave Regis miss from 1 yard out whilst wearing a Barnsley FC shirt (for any non-English football fans reading this, that was a very very long time ago). He has a truly terrible first touch, has no tactical awareness whatsoever and will probably be the slowest player on the pitch every time he plays. Another option we have is Kim Jong-min. Now I don't want to be too harsh on him, because I haven't seen him in action much, but only scoring 7 goals in 4 years of football in Japan probably tells us all we need to know. Finally, there is Hygor. Now, what can I say about this diabolical signing. He was signed from the 2nd tier of Sao Paolo state football in Brazil and was billed as our marquee winter signing. So far, he has managed less than 20 minutes of game time and has only been included in a match day squad once. I don't imagine he will get much game time this season and he will have the greatest paid vacation of his life.

In summary, I will be saying a prayer every day in hope that Kim Gun-hee goes the rest of the season injury free.

Duncan: Has there been any noticeable affects in the city due to Suwon FC's promotion? For example increase rivalries, lower attendances etc.

Scott: Not at all. And I doubt that would change until Suwon FC are finishing above Suwon Bluewings in the league on a regular basis.

Suwon FC had a very big attendance for their 1st home game of the season when the tickets were free, but their was a huge drop off for their game against Gwangju and the stadium was almost empty.

Suwon Bluewings have an established fan base and they have a history that Suwon FC will never have. Koreans are creatures of habit and I don't see anything changing anytime soon.

Duncan: Despite their stuttering start to the season Suwon are obviously a very good team, do they have any particular weaknesses Jeju could try to exploit to get a result at the weekend? Or do they have any strong points that Jeju should try to watch out for?

Scott: Our strong point is our midfield. I still believe that when every player is playing to their potential, our midfield is the strongest in the league and they can be beautifully devastating when they are on form. Jeju will need to be wary of allowing to Yeom Ki-hun to create assists and will also need to watch out for runs in behind the defence from Kwon Chang-hoon. But, I think the most important player that they will maybe need to create a separate game plan for is Baek Ji-hoon. As I mentioned above, he was absolutely masterful with and without the ball mid-week. He allowed the team to tick and they produced their best performance of the season to date. If he is allowed to have a comfortable game and control the middle third of the pitch in the way he did against Melbourne then Jeju could be in for a long day at the office.

Suwon's weakness is most definitely their slow and indecisive defence. Jeju should look to play long passes to their front men and ask at least one of their front men to play in front of the Suwon backline. Picking up attackers when they drop off the centre backs has been a particular area of concern so far this season and it was our downfall against Seongnam and Jeonnam. However, the defence looked much more settled on Wednesday night and I am hoping that Hee-ju can overcome the knock that he picked up late on on Wednesday night as I would like to see him start again on Sunday.

Duncan: What is you prediction for the game?

Scott: If you had asked me this before the ACL game midweek I would have said that I would expect us to draw. However, after the great performance midweek, the return of Kim Gun-hee and the return to form of Baek Ji-hoon and Kwon Chang-hoon I am confident that Suwon can travel to Jeju and return with all 3 points.
Injuries permitting, I would like to see Seo Jung-won field the same 11 that started against Melbourne Victory, and I feel if they can mirror that performance then they will win the game comfortably.

Jeju 1 - 3 Suwon Bluewings

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