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AFC Preview: Urawa Reds vs. FC Seoul


After Saturday's great win over Seongnam FC, there is little time for FC Seoul to rest.  The team probably caught a flight to Japan on Sunday or Monday to get there ahead of time and prepare for their game against the Urawa Reds on Wednesday.  I am a bit surprised about their opponent, but I will write about that later.

FC Seoul

For the team, the month of May has been a rather bipolar affair, with the team playing terribly one game and great the next.  Rather than write about that again, I will just include the links for those who are curious.  
  • preview for the Pohang game, but it has a brief recap of Seoul's loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima and my shock at the Pohang Steelers drawing with the Urawa Reds.  
  • A recap of Seoul's loss to Pohang where I speculate that the team either a) really misses Shin Jin-ho or b) teams have learned to play against Seoul.
  • Another preview, but for the Seongnam game and also, I recap Seoul's FA Cup win over Daegu.  
  • Another recap, but this time about Seoul's win over Seongnam (they still have keeper issues). 
  • A history of how Seoul have done in the AFC Champion's League (ACL) over the last five years (with video!).  
However, if you do not want to read a bunch of things about Seoul, I will provide a brief summary.  They lost on the road in a meaningless game to Sanfrecce Hiroshima (2-1), were shocked at home by the weakest Pohang team in the last five plus years (2-1), eked out an a.e.t. victory over a team one division lower than them (4-2), and played pretty well on the road against the league's second place team and won (3-2).  In other words, who knows which team will show up to play on Wednesday night. 

Currently, FC Seoul are in first place in after 10 games in the K-League Classic, but the second place team Jeonbuk Motors have a game in hand.  Seoul are tied with Jeju United for the most goals scored with 21 (2.1 per game), but are fourth in the league for fewest goals conceded (1.1 per game).  However, the three teams above them have conceded one goal less, so being fourth in the league actually shows they have been quite good defensively.  Here is how Seoul have performed in the K-League this season (stats via www.kleague.com, table by me).  

Possession
Result

Shooting
Result

Opponents
Result
Season
52%

Season (avg.)
14.8

Possession
48%
Home
55%

On goal (avg.)
8

Range
36-55%
Away
50%

Away (avg.)
12.83

Shots (avg.)
10.11
Range
45-64%

On goal (A) (avg.)
6.67

On goal (avg.)

5

Finally, Seoul have done quite well in the ACL.  They finished at the top of their group, leading all teams in the group stage with 17 goals scored (2.83 per game) while only conceding five (0.83 per game).  Adriano is the top scorer with 10 goals and if Seoul can do well, he looks set to break Muriqui's record of 13, set in 2013 when he played for Guangzhou Evergrande.  Here is how they did in their group games (stats via www.soccerway.com, table by me).  

Possession
Result

Shooting
Result

Opponents
Result
Season
53%

Season (avg.)
7.17

Possession
47%
Home
56%

On goal (avg.)
2.67

Range
38-54%
Away
51%

Away (avg.)
2.67

Shots (avg.)
5.17
Range
46-62%

On goal (A) (avg.)
1.33

On Goal (avg.)
2

For the game against Buriram United when Seoul won 6-0, soccerway.com have Seoul only shooting three times with none on target.  I do not think that is right, but I will go with it anyways, so that is why the amount of shots and ones on goal are so low.  I think the statistic should be higher, but that is just my opinion.  

(A blurry picture of Saitama Stadium 2002, home of the Urawa Reds, from youtube.com)
Urawa Reds

Since I do not follow the J1-League very closely, I really do not know much about Seoul's upcoming opponent.  However, I will look at how Urawa have done in the J1-League this year first.  After eleven games they are second in the league one point behind Kawasaki Frontale with a game in hand.  Urawa are tied for second in goals at 18 (1.64 per game), but have conceded the fewest goals (0.55 per game) in the J1-League.  Using www.soccerway.com, here are the statistics for them in the J1-League.  Unfortunately, there were only stats for 9 of the 11 games, so they will be somewhat skewed.

Possession
Result

Shooting
Result
Season
63%

Season (avg.)
11.11
Range
50-76%

On goal (avg.)
7.17

Now, I will look at how Urawa have done in the ACL this year.  They finished second in their group, as initially expected, but could have won the group as Guangzhou Evergrande collapsed in spectacular fashion.  Instead, they did not, much to my surprise (more on that later).

In the group stages, they were much less prolific at scoring than FC Seoul.  They only scored six goals (1 per game), but they also only conceded four goals throughout qualifying (0.67 per game) and three of those were from the penalty spot.  Here is how they did in their group games (stats via www.soccerway.com, table by me).

Possession
Result
Shooting
Result
Opponents
Result
Season
56%
Season (avg.)
11.17
Possession
44%
Home
56%
On goal (avg.)
5.67
Range
39-50%
Away
56%
Away (avg.)
10
Shots (avg.)
8.67
Range
50-61%
On goal (A) (avg.)
6
On Goal (avg.)
4

Based on the statistics, I think it is safe to say that Urawa fetishize possession.  They love to dominate the ball and have not been lower than 50% in any game.   Considering how much they have the ball, the team does not shoot a lot, but that could be a case of their strategy being one of trying to get the most optimal shot possible.  To shoot outside the box frequently is a low percentage strategy for scoring goals, so a team oriented towards possession would probably eschew this strategy.

Concomitantly, having the ball so much probably affords them a sense of security defensively.  Their opponents average less than 10 shots a game and only four of those are on goal, which probably explains why Urawa have only conceded three goals in qualifying.  Much like the Pep Guardiola Barcelona teams, they play defense by refusing to let the other team have the ball.
(Molina scores against Kaishima Antlers, from youtube.com)
ACL 2015

Last year, both Urawa and FC Seoul were dreadful in their groups.  While Urawa did not get out of their group, Seoul struggled, but somehow fortune smiled on them and they made into the round of 16.  From there, Seoul were destroyed by Gamba Osaka on aggregate, 6-3, but that score flattered them as Gamba Osaka thoroughly dominated Seoul in both legs.
(Jackson Martinez, who will cost so much and will be watching the ACL from home tonight- en.yibada.com)

ACL Surprises 

I think this year's ACL, or at least the East Asian Zone, has been interesting.  Teams expected to make it to the later stages of the knockout round such as Guangzhou Evergrande, Jiangsu Sunning, Gamba Osaka, and maybe even Sanfrecce Hiroshima are sitting at home.  The fact that Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Sunning spent so lavishly in the transfer window makes their exit even more shocking since often money equates success in football.

A few weeks ago, after the fourth round of games, I decided to try and predict who would go through and what the seeding for the round of 16 would be.  I did alright in the fifth round of games, guessing the correct result in six of the eight contests.  I did slightly worse in the sixth round of games, guessing the correct result in five of eight contests, but some of my predictions (Binh Duong drawing with FC Tokyo and Urawa winning against Pohang) destroyed my bracket.

Besides Jiangu Sunning being eliminated (I had them in the QF), I expected FC Seoul and Sydney FC to meet up and Shandong Luneng to play against Urawa Reds.  I predicted that FC Seoul and Urawa Reds would both be victors in their round of 16 match-ups on the way to the quarter finals.

However, Urawa could not beat a Pohang B team at home even though they dominated possession.  For their inability to get it done at home, Urawa are rewarded with a game against one of the ACL's best teams.  It seems really unfair to both Urawa (second in the J1-League) and FC Seoul (1st in the K-League), who are quality teams that probably deserve to go to the quarter finals.

Instead, one will be knocked out and two really weak Australian teams could end up advancing even further than they should.  Sydney FC finished 7th in the A-League and Melbourne Victory advanced because of some ridiculous rule, so that is why I do not think much of their squads.  However, some might disagree with me.

Prediction

At the risk of sounding stating the obvious, but this is a vital game for both sides.  Neither team can afford to make too many mistakes and end up digging themselves too deep a hole to get out of.  If Seoul win by more than a goal, they are in great shape.  If they lose by more than a goal, I do not fancy their chances of getting by Urawa.

Last year, in the round of 16, FC Seoul lost to Gamba Osaka at home 3-1.  Afterwards, they were never in contention to win the second game.  Therefore, Seoul need to try and do their best to nick a goal and defend resolutely while Urawa Red has to get something out of this game, even if it is just a 1-1 draw, to put pressure on Seoul in the return leg on the 25th of May.

Unfortunately both Seoul's and Choi Yong-soo's history against Japanese teams in the ACL is not great.  Here is how Seoul have done since 2009.

P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
16
7 (44%)
2 (12%)
7 (44%)
25 (1.56)
26 (1.63)

In sum, Seoul are as likely to lose as they are to win and just as likely to concede as they are to score.  Next, lets look at Choi Yong-soo's record.

P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
13
5 (38%)
2 (16%)
6 (46%)
20 (1.54)
20 (1.54)

Things are even more bleak during Choi's reign.  The team are more likely to lose than win when a Choi coached team shows up.  So, what can Seoul do?

I am really not sure.  Of the four goals conceded, only one has come from open play. I guess the first thing they can do is put the keeper under pressure.  Shoot and maybe their keeper Shusaku Nishikawa will make a mistake.  Next, Seoul should shift the ball around quickly and maybe something good will come of it like at Seongnam last weekend.  Also, the defense might be susceptible to dribblers.  Of course, Seoul should look to get out on the break as quickly as possible.  Finally, Seoul should try and get men into the box and put pressure on the defenders since they are prone to fouling their opponent.

On defense, Seoul need to keep their shape and watch out for Shinzo Koroki.  With eight goals to his name this year (6 in the league, 2 in the ACL), he is their danger man.  If anyone is likely to score, it is him.  Last year, I mentioned that Seoul needed to keep an eye on Takashi Usami and for whatever reason, the team failed to heed my warning as he went off in the first leg, scoring twice.  If the defenders are not cognizant of his movement and allow him too much space, Kororki will punish Seoul and it could be another round of 16 exit, which would be a damn shame considering how well Seoul played in the group stage.

Truth be told, even though they are strong on paper, especially defensively, I really think Seoul should come out the winner over two legs.  We have the ACL's leading scorer, Adriano and outside of Jeonbuk, who seem to be his kryptonite, no other team has stopped him.  As good as Urawa have been defensively, I do not think they have played any strong teams other than Guangazhou Evergrande in the ACL.

In the J1 League, they have shown a capability for putting the ball into the back of the net, breaking the multiple goal mark in six of their games.  However, they have really struggled to put the ball into the back of the net in the ACL.  I do not expect this to change on Wednesday night.

For once, Seoul will probably have much less of the ball than their opponent, but I think Choi Yong-soo will be happy to concede possession and will set up to play on the break.  Rather than coming out in a high block and pressing aggressively from the start of the game, in my opinion Seoul will set up in a low block and invite pressure while looking to exploit Adriano's speed to take advantage of any Urawa errors.

There probably will not be many errors, but nobody ever plays a perfect game, so I expect Seoul to get a goal.  Unfortunately, defending for 90 minutes is exhausting, so I expect Urawa to get a goal as well.

Final Score: Urawa Reds 1-1 FC Seoul


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