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Writers Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs FC Seoul

Saturday the 30th of April sees the first super match of the Kleague season with Suwon Bluewings facing their bitter rivals FC Seoul at Suwon World Cup Stadium. And with 16 goals scored in the games between the two teams last season, Suwon playing much improved football as of late and Seoul plundering goals left, right and centre this season, the game is set up nicely for what most people are predicting as a thriller. K League United's Scott and John sat down for a chat about what they expect from the game.
Scott asks, John answers:

Scott: On paper, Seoul's form at the moment is exceptional with 6 league wins in a row. However, as you have recently admitted Seoul have been rather lucky on a number of occasions, most recently securing a 91st minute winner against Ulsan. How would you assess Seoul's recent performances and are the really as dominating as the K League table might suggest?

John: I think it is hard to say whether or not Seoul are dominant or have just been lucky.  On the one hand, they have been great at home, especially in their game against Suwon FC.  I expected Suwon FC to get a point, but they were absolutely dominated by Seoul and could have lost by more than three goals.

On the other hand, they have not been as strong on the road.  Considering the amount of games they have played recently,  I thought they were alright last week against Ulsan.  Sure, they were lucky to score at the end and there were a lot of errors defensively and with their keeper, but they did not lose heart and found a way to win.  If they were playing a better team, this might not have happened, but Seoul cannot do anything about the quality of the opposition.  The game that stands out is the one they played in Gwangju April 13th.  In that game, they went up 2-0, conceded late in the first half, and had to hang on to get all three points.  I feel like that was a game that Seoul deserved, at best, a draw in.

I think the big reason why Seoul have a five point lead in the table has a lot to do with the quality, or lack thereof, in the K-League itself.  Watching the highlights, there seem to be a lot more keeping errors and defensive miscues than in the years prior.  Likewise, teams keep drawing rather than winning.  For example, Jeonbuk have drawn four games, Seongnam have drawn three games, and Seoul's next opponent have drawn five games.  While not losing is good, teams need to eventually win, and no one else besides Seoul is doing that consistently right now.  Of course, as I mentioned in my recap of the Ulsan game, the quality of opposition in the K-League has been at the lower end of the table and Seoul's upcoming games against Suwon Samsung, Pohang, and Seongnam will be a true test of how good the team really is.

Scott: In recent weeks many Seoul fans have been suggesting that Choi Yong-soo should rotate his squad, something that he is yet to do this season. After a rather tired looking display against a poor Ulsan side, do you think now is the time for him to rotate his squad?

John: When it comes to rotation, I feel as though a manager is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.  For example, Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee has been rotation policy has been called into question since it has led to flaccid displays by a team that many expected to win the league with ease.  However, going outside of the K-League, a manager such as Arsene Wenger is criticized for not rotating enough since key players always go down with an injury (from what I have read these are usually involving soft tissue that comes from overexertion) of some sort.  Rotating is really a fine balancing act- rotate too much and your players never develop an understanding on how to play together, but if you fail to rest your players, then injuries inevitably incur.

In the games against Jeonnam and Gwangju, I thought that Choi should have rotated his squad more.  He should have given Dejan and Takahagi more rest and played Park Chu-young more.  Besides those two games, I cannot really quibble with Choi's selection policy.  Here is a break down, via soccerway.com, of the total minutes that the primary members of the team have played.  I did not include Shin Jin-ho since he has left or Yoo Hyun and Yu Sang-hun because they are goalies and not outfield players.

K-League (%)
ACL (%)
Total (%)
630 (100%)
450 (100%)
1080 (100%)
Ko Kwang-min
540 (86%)
450 (100%)
990 (92%)
539 (86%)
450 (100%)
989 (92%)
Ju Se-jong
607 (96%)
333 (74%)
940 (87%)
Kim Won-sik
489 (78%)
450 (100%)
939 (87%)
515 (82%)
422 (94%)
937 (87%)
514 (82%)
413 (92%)
927 (86%)
Go Yo-han
473 (75%)
450 (100%)
923 (85%)
Kim Dong-woo
450 (71%)
449 (99%)
899 (83%)
Park Yong-woo
439 (70%)
124 (28%)
563 (52%)
Park Chu-young
223 (35%)
66 (15%)
289 (27%)
Kim Chi-woo
247 (39%)
24 (5%)
271 (25%)
Lee Seok-hyun
158 (25%)
97 (22%)
255 (24%)
Yun Ju-tae
31 (5%)
5 (1%)
36 (3%)

Only three players have featured over 90% of the total minutes, so I think that shows that Choi is trying to be contentious of not overplaying his guys.  I would have expected Park Chu-young to play more, but he is coming off a serious knee injury, so I think Choi is trying to bring him back slowly and so far so good.  My only criticism of Choi's management so far is the lack of playing time that Yun Ju-tae has received.  I thought he should have seen the field in either the Jeonnam or Gwangju games and should get the occasional start.

As far as rotating this game, I do not think he should.  Seoul has had a week off after playing every three or four days these last three weeks, so hopefully fatigue will be less of a problem.  This is an important game and Choi should not try and be too clever.  He should just stick with has worked so far and go with his main players, but maybe give Lee Seok-hyun a start and move Ju Se-jong back into the DM position.
Scott: Quite obviously Adriano has been the main man this season scoring 10 goals in all competitions. How does he score the majority of his goals and what can Suwon do to limit his supply?

John: I would say all of his goals are inside or around the outer edges of the box.  I have never seen Adriano score from outside the box nor have I seen him attempt that many from outside the box for that matter.  I am not sure what the term to describe him, but maybe "fox in the box" is most.  applicable.

Looking on youtube, I have made some GIFS of his goals with FC Seoul last year and all of the ones he has scored this, with the exception of the two PKs against Jeonnam and Gwangju.

- Last year, here are his winning goals against Jeonnam, Seongnam, and Incheon in the FA Cup final.  - In the ACL, here are the four goals against Buriram (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), his hat trick against Sanfrecce Hiroshima (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), and the brace he scored against Shandong Luneng (1st and 2nd).
-In the K-League this year, here is one that was stopped against Jeonbuk and called offside against Jeonnam, but  here are the goals he has scored in open play against Sangju, Incheon, and Suwon FC.
- Finally, he is not known for his aerial prowess, but he is capable of scoring headers such as  the one here.

Adriano is fast and that gives defenders problems, but I believe the GIFs show how his greatest asset is his innate ability to sense where the ball will be and react quicker than the defender.  He has a tendency to drift thru games appearing to do little and then all of a sudden the ball is in the back of the net.  In the first game of the season, Jeonbuk marked him, Ju Se-jong, and Dejan tightly, but they played a three back formation.  If Suwon does not want to do that, I think marking one of the latter two would cut off his supply. 

Scott: FC Seoul usually operate in a 3-5-2 formation with their wing-backs pushed very high up the pitch. This certainly allows lots of time and space in the wide areas for the opposing team when they attack. Do you think this is a wise move against players of Yeom Ki-hun and Kwon Chang-hoon's caliber and should the manager alter his tactics for this type of game?

John: Wise, maybe not, but Choi Yong-soo loves his three back system so I won't even suggest he alter his system.  It has worked for the most part this year, so why change now.  Last April, Suwon sliced up Seoul when they played a 4-2-3-1 system.  In the other three games, Seoul set up in a 3-5-2 formation and labored to a bore draw and two wins, so again I can't see Choi changing it up.  Really, when it comes down to it, Seoul have had a lot of success playing in that formation, so they should stick with it until problems arrise. 

Hopefully Seoul's defenders will not give Yeom Ki-hun space or time on the ball to pick out a cross and someone in the midfield will track Kwon Chang-hoon's late runs into the box. 

Scott: What is your prediction for the game and if Seoul are to win the game, what do you think will be the key to their success?

Seoul will have to be turned on defensively and the keeper will have to do a much better job with balls into the box.  As I mentioned above, when defending Seoul cannot give Yeom Ki-hun too much time on the ball and let him pick out a cross or it will be a long day.  However, when their defender have been aggressive and gone after an opposing player, they have been picked up apart by some one-touch football (ex: Jeonnam, Gwangju), so they have to be aware of that as well.  Finally, the defense needs to track Kwon Chang-hoon's runs into the box since it is he, rather than whatever Suwon striker gets the start, who will score. 

On the attack, Seoul should continue to do what they have done well.  Press the Suwon players, especially the full backs aggressively.  From there, try and turn any interception into a scoring opportunity by playing the ball to Dejan or Adriano quickly.  If they can do that, then hopefully Seoul will score a few.

As far as predictions go, every time I try and guess how the Super Match will finish, I have been wrong.  I would like to predict that Seoul's streak will continue, but all good things must come to an end and Seoul always have difficulties playing away in Suwon, so while I hope for a win I think Seoul will be lucky to come away with a draw.

Final Score:
Suwon 2-2 FC Seoul

John asks, Scott answers:

John: Recently, in your Writer's Chat about the Gamba Osaka game, you lamented about the defense's inability to concentrate for a full 90 minutes.  I think this was demonstrated against Incheon (96th minute) and Gwangju FC (88th minute).  What do you think is the cause and how can it be fixed?

Scott:Yes, Suwon quite simply cannot defend in the final 10 minutes of games this season. Infact, Suwon have lost winning positions by conceding in the final 10 minutes on 4 separate occasions so far this season. Those goals conceded have cost them a total of 8 points overall. If Suwon had been able to hold onto those winning positions they would now be in 2nd place in the table with a total of 16 points, and only 2 points behind first placed Seoul. That is staggering for a team that had been tipped by most people to finish outside of the Champions League qualification places this season. If Suwon could tighten up at the back in the final 10 minutes then we could be looking at a potential title challenging team.

Alas, Suwon aren't tight at the back. Well, actually, that is unfair to the defence as, on a whole, they are performing well as of late. Suwon look solid in most games, for the best part of 80 minutes. But as soon as the full time whistle is on the horizon the midfield and defence automatically go into panic mode. The midfield drops back so far that usually there is only a couple of yards separating the defence and the midfield. And the defence make extremely questionable decisions, like attempting to make a short, one-two pass and walk the ball up the field in the 88th minute. Now, I love that most Korean teams try to play attractive football, but there is a time and a place for passing football, and that time or place is not 20 yards from your own goal line with only 2 minutes of the game remaining. At times, Suwon are very naive with the way that they try to play football with only minutes left in the game. And I think that is an accusation that can be leveled at the majority of Korean teams. They are very reluctant to just play the ball long and into channels so they can run the clock down. They are even worse at just slowing the game down and taking their time over free-kicks, throw-ins and goal kicks. Last week, in the game against Gwangju, there were a number of opportunities that Suwon could have taken to take sometime off the clock, but instead they opted for quick free-kicks and short passes along the backline. That kind of play just heaps the pressure on the defence and it's really suicidal.

If they are to quit their habit of conceding in the final 10 minutes of games, then Suwon really need to work much harder on their gamesmanship. 

John: Kwon Chang-hoon has four goals in six games and a few of them (ex: against Pohang) would end up on any highlights package?  With his talent, how likely will Suwon be able to convince him to stay and who would replace him?  If he goes, will the team suffer even more than they have since Jong Tae-se's departure last summer?

Scott: Losing Jong Tae-se was the ultimate disappointment of last season and his departure is what did for Suwon's title challenge. However, if Tae-se' departure was disappointing, Kwon Chang-hoon's touted departure would be devastating. That is how important Chang-hoon is to this Suwon team.

At the moment, even though he operates from midfield, he is our best attacking option and the only natural-born finisher that Suwon have. Whereas Tae-se was replaceable (but the higher ups just didn't want to replace him) Chang-hoon is indispensable to the way that Suwon play. Kim Gun-hee has come in to play the Tae-se role and is playing very well, doing exactly what Tae-se was renowned for, linking play and supplying the more talented midfielders around him with chances. Whilst Gun-hee is not scoring goals, he is creating space for Chang-hoon and Santos and those 2 players are important to how Suwon operate.

Santos, by his own admission, is not having the beat of seasons, despite scoring 4 goals in all competitions. That is why it is fundamental that Suwon keep hold of Chang-hoon until the end of the season atleast.

The young midfielder is under contract until 2018 and so Suwon is in a strong bargaining position and I think it would take a very high bid from any European team to steal him away just yet. As I understand it, the transfer links with the Bundesliga have cooled a little as of late, as scouts may have realised that Chang-hoon won't come cheap. In truth, as talented as he is, I don't think he is quite ready for a European league and moving this early in his career could damage it. He would be better staying with Suwon for the next 2 years, and if his form continues, then he will get the big move which he most probably craves. 

John: Besides Jong Tae-se and Kaio, another notable departure was their keeper Jung Sung-ryong, who left to play with Kawasaki Frontale.  What do you think of his replacement No Dong-geon?

Scott: This is a tricky one, because by K League standards, No Dong-geon is a good goalkeeper. However, we all know that the standard of goalkeeping in Korea is particularly low.

No Dong-geon is a very unpredictable goalkeeper. When he is good, he is really great. But when he is bad, he is going to definitely cost Suwon a goal or two. The best example of this would be the recent games against Incheon and Gamba Osaka.

In the Incheon game, he had a very shaky game, continuously playing the ball to Incheon players or scuffing the ball into touch. However, Suwon put on a great team display and really limited Incheon to half-chances and long range efforts, resulting in Dong-geon not really having anything substantial to save in the whole 90 minutes. However, on the 91st minute, he came to attempt to claim a corner that he had no real chance of catching. He hopelessly threw his hands at the ball and palmed it straight down to an Incheon player who happily stroked the ball home into an unguarded net. It was a horrific error which cost Suwon all 3 of the points that they richly deserved.

However, 3 days later, Dong-geon pulled off a goalkeeping masterclass in Osaka. With the scores level at 0-0, Gamba were awarded the most dubious penalty any football fan is ever likely to see. Takashi Usami, the current Japan international player, stepped up to take the penalty which Dong-geon saved well. But the referee wasn't happy and adjudged that Suwon players had entered the penalty area before the penalty was struck. Usami stepped up again, but again Dong-geon got down low to stop the penalty. He pulled off another couple of stops later in the game to keep Suwon's lead at 2-0 and it was a tremendous display by the goalkeeper.

And I think that encapsulates No Dong-geon. You are never quite sure what you will get from him, but either way, it's going to make for good entertainment.

John: You have mentioned that in the K-League Suwon have deployed 4-1-4-1 formation, but in the ACL games, they play a 4-2-3-1.  Which formation would you like to see Seo Jung-won utilize and why?

Scott: Suwon will 100% lineup in a 4-1-4-1 formation. I would stake my mortgage, dog and (imaginary) wife on that.

I've been very happy with Suwon's recent performance's. They have been full of attacking verve and purpose, and the formation is key to that. It allows all our key attacking threats to move up the pitch and when the ball is played to either wing, it allows for an overload of players in the centre of the pitch. And that is how Suwon have scored most of their goals.

Seoul have proven this season that they have the most fire power in the K League and Suwon simply don't have the right players in their squad to stifle the likes of Adriano. I can guarantee that Suwon will not produce the same type of performance that Jeonbuk did on the opening game of the season to defeat Seoul. We will instead, fight fire with fire, because attack is the only form of defence that this Suwon team knows.

It's going to make for an unbelievable watch for the neutral. But I get the feeling that supporters of both teams will not find it to be a very pleasurable watch.

John: This is a damn good question, so i'm just going to ask you - what is your prediction for the game and if Suwon are to win the game, what do you think will be the key to their success?
Scott: I may be the only person in Korea to think this, but I really do think that Suwon can win this game. The main reason being, I think that Choi Yong-soo is a stubborn old man that won't alter a formation that has brought him success so far this season. And if he does go for his tried and trusted 3-5-2 formation with the wing-backs pushed far up the pitch, it may be the worst tactical decision he has ever made. I was lucky enough to catch the Ulsan vs FC Seoul game last week, and Seoul made a very average Ulsan team look much better than they actually are. The one thing that caught my eye though was just how much time and space was afforded to Ulsan's wide players because the Seoul wing-back's almost operate as extra midfielders. Time and time again, Koba was gifted the freedom of the pitch to roam and probe and collect high balls. Even when he (often) miscontrolled the ball, no Seoul defender was anywhere near to make a tackle. My taste buds started to salivate when I thought about an un-marked Yeom Ki-hun given time and space to supply balls for Kwon Chang-hoon and Santos. And if Yong-soo does send his team out in this set-up then he might aswell be sending lambs out to slaughter, because a better player than Koba would have really punished FC Seoul last week.

Also, I think whoever plays in the holding midfield role on Saturday will have to have a superb game as they will be responsible for picking up Dejan when he peels off the defence. Although Adriano has been taking all the goal scoring plaudits for Seoul this season, I actually think that Dejan has been a more important player for them. He is a rather unique striker in K League as he can run in behind, play against the defence and also peel off and link play. I can't think of many other strikers in Korea who can actually do that and that makes him extremely difficult to defend against. Thus, Suwon's holding midfielder has to be alert and try to pick him up wherever possible. In recent weeks Seo Jung-won has prefered Oh Jang-eun in this position, when he has been fit and available. But I would like to see Baek Ji-hoon recalled to the starting 11. He will offer more physicality and pace in the centre of the park, and even though his passing ability is not as good as Jang-eun it is good enough for him to get the ball and advance it forward to Chang-hoon and co.

If Suwon can win the midfield battle and they are foolishly given time in wide areas then I really do think they can beat this Seoul team. Seoul haven't been firing on all cylinders yet this season and Suwon are playing great football for 80 minutes, at least. The biggest crowd of the season will be at Big Bird to roar Suwon on and I think there is a genuine belief, in Suwon, that this team can beat their old foe.

Final Score: Suwon Bluewings 3 - 2 FC Seoul

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