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Preview and Prediction: FC Seoul vs. Pohang Steelers


(Is Choi Yong-soo in agony or ecstacy?  From The AFC Hub)
In what seems like ages, I finally get to watch an FC Seoul home game.  Their opponent, Pohang Steelers, are a traditional powerhouse that have fallen on hard times as of late.  This is the team that their manager Choi Yong-soo has struggled against the most, so now is probably the most opportune time for him and Seoul to get a result.

Choi Yong-soo: A Bleak History 

Here is Choi Yong-soo's record in knockout competitions against Pohang.

P
W
D
L
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
4
1
3*$
1
6 (1.5)
7 (1.75)
* In 2014, Seoul and Pohang played two legs in AFC Champions League (ACL).  Both games finished 0-0, but Seoul won on penalties.
$ In 2014, Seoul and Pohang played an FA Cup.  The game finished 2-2, but Seoul won on penalties.

Even though two of his wins were via PKs, that is a good record in knockout competitions.  Lucky, but still pretty damn good.  When we look at how he has done in the league against Pohang, that is when things start to turn dark.  Here is Choi Yong-soo's record against Pohang in the K-League.

P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts. (avg.)
18
5 (28%)
5 (28%)
8 (44%)
17 (0.94)
25 (1.39)
20 (1.11)


Jesus, that is awful.  It is mesmerizing in its woefulness.  Seoul average less than a goal a game and collect just over a point a game.  They are as likely to lose as they are to win or draw.  I am quite sure that in his sleep Choi sees figures clad in red and black hoops running over him in a victory celebration for the umpteenth time.  For whatever reason, Choi has not had much success against Pohang in the league recently.

I remember the last time I saw Seoul beat Pohang in person.  It was league game at home on a wonderful autumn day in 2012.  Seoul won that game 3-2 as, after going down a goal, they responded with three.  My wife came to the game, we took a picture, and it is still on the fridge.  Every time I go to get a drink or a condiment, I see the picture and I reminded of how it was a great day out.

I remember the last draw at home as well.  It was the season opener in 2013.  Dejan scored a header and Seoul conceded right away.  Escudero put Seoul up by a goal in the second half but Pohang hit a shot outside the box with less than 10 minutes left to equalize.  Still, even though Seoul did not win, I really enjoyed the game.  Little did I know that would be the last time I left a Seoul-Pohang contest not feeling unhappy.

Since then, I have seen Seoul lose 1-0 as Kim Seung-dae scored (2014) and 3-1 (2015) at home.  Even on the road, Seoul usually struggle to get a result against Pohang.  Last year, they lost all three league games to the Steelers.  Their record in the league since winning that game in 2012 is two wins, four draws, and seven losses.

However, this year's Pohang team is a different entity.  Before listing the changes, let's look at their previous history.

(Back in happy days- league winners in 2013.  From Iran Taahmisheh)


Pohang Steelers: A Brief History

In my opinion, they have been the second best team in the last five years.  Here is how they have finished in the league from 2011 to 2015.

Year
Rank
P
W
D
L
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts (avg.)
2011
2nd
30
17
8
5
59 (1.97)
33 (1.1)
59 (1.97)
2012
3rd
44
23
8
13
72 (1.64)
47 (1.07)
77 (1.75)
2013
1st
38
21
11
6
63 (1.66)
38 (1)
74 (1.95)
2014
4th#
38
16
10
12
50 (1.32)
39 (1.03)
58 (1.53)
2015
3rd
38
18
12
8
49 (1.29)
32 (0.97)
66 (1.74)

 # Did not qualify for the AFC Champions League.

In the last five years, they won the K-League once and qualified for the ACL every year but once.  That year, in 2014, the team fell apart in their last 12 games, only winning once, drawing five times, and losing six times.  If their form had not went to shit so drastically, they probably would have qualified for the ACL that year as well.  Nonetheless, I believe that their success is noteworthy for two reasons.  

First, they have never had a bulk scorer.  In the last five years, the player who has scored the most goals for them in a season is Motta in 2011 with 13 goals.  In 2013 (Cho Chan-ho) and 2015 (Son Joon-ho), the team's leading scorer only had 9 goals and in 2014 Kim Seung-dae finished with 10.  Generally, for a team to win they need to have a player in the top three for goals scored, but Pohang have not had that.  That is why I would say their title win in 2013 stands out.  

Second, money spent usually equates success in the K-League.  Jeonbuk, Suwon, and Seoul typically tend to be big spenders and in turn, have been successful.  Yet, from what I have read, their sponsor POSCO are not doing as well financially and  Pohang have not been top spenders.  Still, they have excelled and even overachieved.  Here is a look at their spending last in 2015.  

  The Money League

        League Table (Pre-split)                                                               Money League
Rank
Team
Points
Rank
Team
Wages (approx.)
(KRW in billions)
1
Jeonbuk
68
1
Jeonbuk
9.17
2
Suwon
60
2
Ulsan
6.93
3
Pohang
56
3
Suwon
6.77
4
Seongnam
54
4
FC Seoul
6.06
5
FC Seoul
54
5
Pohang
4.21
6
Jeju Utd.
46
6
Jeju Utd.
4.19
7
Incheon
45
6
Jeonnam
4.19
8
Jeonnam
42
8
Seongnam
3.8
9
Ulsan
40
9
Busan
2.72
10
Gwangju
35
10
Incheon
2.39
11
Busan
24
11
Gwangju
1.95
12
Daejeon
13
12
Daejeon
1.79
Table from Jae Hyeok-lee's article Money, Money, Money! (Update 2.0)

Pohang were in 3rd before the split last year and finished in 3rd at the end of the year, but fifth in spending.  As I have said before, money usually equates success and Jeonbuk demonstrate this by outspending the competition by far more and winning the league.  Pohang on the other hand, were the fifth biggest spenders, but overachieved and finished in 3rd.  Jeju United and Jeonnam had similar budgets as well, and either finished where they were expected to or underachieved.

(Coach Hwang Sun-hong when he played for Korea, from youtube.com)
Pohang Steelers: 2016

Last year's winter was not kind to Pohang.  Their long time coach and legend Hwang Sun-hong stepped down at the end of the season to presumably walk the earth like Kane in Kung-fu.  When it came to match-ups against teams in the top of the table, Hwang had the best record.  Hwang has been replaced by Choi Jin-cheul, who previously coached Korea's U-17 national team.  A drop-off was expected, but it has not been all Choi's fault.  Much of the blame can also be placed at what happened in a brutal transfer window.

The 49 goals that the Pohang scored last year were a true team effort.  Fourteen individuals scored at least one goal in the league for Pohang, but there were only seven players who scored 3 or more goals.  Of those seven, five have departed and their leading scorer suffered a horrific injury and is out for the season.  Here is a listing of the players, their goals last year, and their status:
  • Son Joon-ho scored 9 goals, but tore his ACL in mid-April and will not return this season
  • Kim Seung-dae scored 8 goals and transferred to Yanbian Funde FC, a team in the Chinese Super League.
  • Ko Mu-yeol scored 6 goals and moved to Jeonbuk.
  • Tiago scored 4 goals and transferred to Seongnam.  He is tied with Adriano for the league lead in goals scored, helping Seongnam to sit in 3rd place right now.
  • Shin Jin-ho scored 3 goals and, along with Cho Chan-ho, transferred to FC Seoul.  He has since departed to Sangju Sangmu to serve out his military commitment.
  • Park Sung-ho scored 3 goals and transferred to Ulsan.  
Those five players were responsible for 49% of the team's output last year.  Add in the loss of Son Joon-ho and that figure increases to 67%.  In other words, the team lost 2/3 of their players who were responsible for last year's third place finish, which is a crippling blow that few could recover from.  

Replacing them were Yang Dong-hyun (Ulsan) and Cho Su-chul (Incheon).  Yang has probably been one of their better players for them this year, scoring 3 or their 8 league goals.  Cho Su-chul, on the other hand, has yet to feature for the team outside of playing 9 minutes against Hanoi T&T (is he injured?).  

Their season started with a bit of promise.  Opening on the road against ACL champions Guangzhou Evergrande, Pohang earned a credible draw and beat the Urawa Reds at home.  They drew at home against Gwanju and loss to Sydney, but beat Incheon the next week.  Since then, Pohang have drawn two games and lost five and I think this explains why the team sits in 9th place in the league, but dead last in the Power Rankings, currently.  They are out of the ACL and not likely to finish in the top six, let alone challenge for an ACL spot or the championship.  

By the Numbers

Here are the season results for Pohang.  I compiled this from kleague.com

Possession
Result
Shooting
Result
Opponents
Result
Season
50%
Season (avg.)
9.13
Poss. (avg.)
50%
Home
49%
On goal (avg.)
5.5
Shots (avg.)
11.63
Away
51%
Away (avg.)
12
On goal (avg.)
5.38
Range
44-57%
On goal (A) (avg.)
6.5

Here are the season results for FC Seoul.  I compiled this from kleague.com

Possession
Result

Shooting
Result

Opponents
Result
Season
51%

Season (avg.)
14.25

Poss. (avg.)
49%
Home
52%

On goal (avg.)
7.75

Shots (avg.)
8.88
Away
50%

Home (avg.)
17

On goal (avg.)
3.88
Range
45-56%

On goal (H) (avg.)
10.33



(With this PK, Adriano has 10 goals in the ACL.  He is 3 away from tying Muriqi for the most goals in a tournament.  Hopefully playing a full 90 in a meaningless game won't come back to bite Seoul in the ass.  From The AFC HUB.)
FC Seoul

After eight games, Seoul sit atop the table in first place.  They have scored the most, conceded the fewest, and have been the most consistent team in the K-League this year.  Some might argue that they have been the beneficiary of easy scheduling and luck, which has a bit of truth, but I would still argue that they have been the best team in the league so far.  Seoul have also dominated their group in the ACL and until Wednesday night, had not lost a game and are deserving of their status as one of the top teams in that competition.

Unfortunately, this last week has not been too kind to Seoul.  They drew against Suwon Bluewings on the road, which is not a bad result all things considered, but it came about in rather contentious circumstances.  From my perspective (the Seoul perspective), referee Kim Sang-woo favored Suwon in most calls and I do not think either fan base was particularly pleased at how he called the game.

Both teams came away disappointed from the game, feeling as though they should have won it.  I know that I think Seoul, based on the number of chances, many of quality, should have.  Even though Suwon defended well, the Seoul players rushed many of their shots, sending them over the bar or straight at the keeper and had to be bailed out by the brilliance of Adriano.

(Yoo Hyun is unable to prevent Yoo Hyuntastrophy.  From THE AFC HUB.)
On Wednesday, Seoul traveled to Japan to play a meaningless game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.  Seoul lost 2-1 as Hiroshima scored twice in the first half before Seoul almost stole a point at the end.  Hiroshima's first goal was another Yoo Hyuntastrophy as Seoul's keeper was beaten at the near post when Takuma Asano redirected Kohei Shimizu's free-kick.  Whoever was doing the marking was probably at fault as well, but the comical nature of the goal and the fact that he got a hand on it makes it look as though it is another Yoo clanger.

After his debacle against Ulsan two weeks ago, when he was pulled at the end of the first half, this latest contest could not do much to restore his confidence.  Signed in the off season and expected to be Seoul's number one keeper, I cannot see him dislodging Yu Sang-hun any time soon.  I feel bad for him because I am sure he has the pallor and demeanor of a dead man walking.

The second goal was not Yoo's fault as Yusuke Minagawa got on the end of another Shimizu cross to score a bullet header into the top of the net.  From watching the highlights, it looked as though Hiroshima could have scored a couple of more goal as Seoul's second string defense was cut to ribbons.  After this display, Kim Dong-woo, Kim Won-sik, and Osmar will have no worries that their spots are in danger.  However, it is unfair to criticize Seoul's back line in this game too much since they have not featured nor played that formation at all this year.

Seoul got a goal back at the end of the game as Yun Ju-tae was fouled and Adriano duly dispatched the PK.  From there, it seemed like Seoul secured an unlikely draw as they equalized, but the goal was disallowed because the linesman deemed a Seoul player offside.  From watching the replay, Seoul got screwed by the referees again since whomever equalized was onside and Adriano had his shirt tugged as he went to knock in the rebound.  Oh well, the group is over and I wish Hiroshima well in their J1 League campaign.

Some questions persist though.  Why did Adriano play the full 90 minutes?  From what Miroslav Tramita said, it was because he is chasing the goal scoring record.  Fair enough, but hopefully this does not come back to bite Seoul in the ass later on.  Choi should have sat him or pulled him after the first 45/60 minutes.

Also, what has Yun Ju-tae done to get in Choi's dog house?  Did he miss curfew, have inappropriate contact with one of Choi's loved ones, not pour a drink with two hands?  Why can't Yun see the pitch this year, especially in a meaningless game?

Formation and Lineup Prediction

Guessing the formation is easy, since Choi Yong-soo almost never deviates from beloved 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation.  Predicting who will play on the other hand, will be a bit trickier.  Everyone, with the exception of record chasing Adriano and Park Yong-woo (2nd half sub), stayed in Seoul and should feature.  Here is who I think will start.



Of course, Dejan might not start.  He came off after the first 45 minutes in the Super Match, so he might have picked up a knock, but I have not seen anything on Twitter indicating it was serious, so I expect to see him on the field on Sunday.  It would not surprise me at all if Adriano started, but I think Choi will bring him on if he needs speed to unlock Pohang's back three/five.  Finally, Lee Seok-hyun, who I prefer to Park Yong-woo, ran a full 90 on Wednesday night so I expect him to sit and Park Yong-woo to fill the DM spot that he has manned for Seoul's last two league games.

(Sun Joon-ho: Pohang have struggled even more since his injury.  From kleagueunited.com)
Prediction

Very rarely do I get these right, so before guessing the result, I will try and explain why I think the game will go the way that it will.  As I have mention above, Pohang used to be a K-League powerhouse that played attractive football.  They had one of the better midfields in the league and always killed Seoul.  Last year, they also had the best defense.

This year, circumstances have not been so kind to Pohang.  They lost the bulk of their team from last year's third place finish and their best player is out for the season.  Their defense seems much more shaky as well and if it was not for the heroics of keeper Shin Hwa-yong, Pohang would probably have conceded more than nine goals so far.

However, looking at the results of the season via soccerway.com and kleague.com, it seems to be that Pohang have an ability to grind out results against good teams.  They have drawn against Guangzhou Evergrande, Urawa Reds, and the Suwon Bluewings on the road.  They have gotten a draw at home against Jeonbuk and beat Jeju United at home.  Nonetheless, I have watched some of the highlights on YouTube of their games and I can say that in sum, Pohang are not a very good team.

They seem to struggle to create chances to shoot and the defense is shaky as well.  Much of this is probably down to the loss of Son Joon-ho, but even before he went down, Pohang had the stink of a poor team.  The manager has tried to do something about this by switching formations.

Against Sangju, the team played in their traditional 4-2-3-1 formation (kleague.com) that Hwang Sun-hong liked to use.  In that game, they had 57% of the ball and had 10 shots on goal, but only 2 were on target.  Sangju ripped them apart on the counter, creating 16 shots with 9 on target, and if their keeper Shin had not saved a penalty, the score would have been worse than 2-0.  In their next game, they lined up in a 4-4-2 formation (soccerway.com) against Guangzhou Evergrande and switched to a 4-1-4-1 (kleague.com) versus Jeonnam two weeks ago.  Here were the results.

Team
Pohang
Guangzhou

Pohang
Jeonnam
Possession
46%
54%

45%
55%
Shots/On goal
4/4
11/4

2/1
9/4

In both of those games, Pohang had less of the ball and were out shot by their opponent.  They were especially poor against an awful Jeonnam side as defender Kim Dong-hyun received a red card and Orsic scored a wonder goal.  Since none of those formations with a back four created a lot of opportunities or results, and with losses in all three games, Choi has switched to a 3-4-3/5-4-1 (kleague.com/soccerway.com) formation to stop the rot.   Again, here were the results.

Team
Pohang
Jeju United

Pohang
Urawa Reds
Possession
45%
55%

39%
61%
Shots/On goal
6/5
16/6

3/2
4/4

Statistically, it is about the same.  They had a less possession, but created a few more attempts than the two games prior.  Based on the results, this has worked as Pohang beat Jeju last weekend and got an unexpected draw on the road against the Urawa Reds. However, I think much of this was down to luck and on another day they would have lost.

Jeju United, like most K-League teams, are neither good nor terrible.  They  get up and down the field, shoot a lot, but nothing much seems to come of it.  In their game against Pohang, Jeju outshot the Steelers, but Shin Hwa-yong was not required to make any wonder saves.  Still, they dominated the game and it seems cruel for Jeju to lose.

I really expected the Urawa Reds to kick the shit out of Pohang.  For Urawa, it was a chance to win their group and avoid playing FC Seoul.  Instead, they drew to a second tier Steelers side who fielded their B team.  Watching the highlights, I am not sure why Pohang won a PK though.  It appears as though Pohang defender Kim Won-il has Daisuke Nasu in a headlock and is going to knee him to the face Double Dragon style.  Instead, he kicks his own player Park Jun-hee in the face.  What was the ref calling?  I would really like to know.

So, after a rather lengthy explanation of how dire, lucky, and unlucky Pohang have been, it is time to make a prediction.  Before doing so, here are the averages of Pohang and their last four opponents. 

Pohang
Opponents
Poss. (avg.)
45%
55%
Shots (avg.)/On Goal (avg.)
3.75/3
10/4

Based on this, I cannot see Seoul losing this game.  Even with Pohang's propensity to grind out results against good clubs, Seoul have too much talent and they are playing at home.  Seoul have been nothing short of dominant at Sangnam Stadium this year and this trend should continue.  This game will not the be cakewalks that Sangju, Incheon, and Suwon FC were, but I think Seoul will win by at least two goals, especially if they score early.

Final Score: FC Seoul 3-1 Pohang Steelers

1 comment

  1. Just found out that Osmar has 3 yellows, he won't be playing this game. Wrong again.

    ReplyDelete

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