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Writers Chat: FC Seoul vs Jeonnam Dragons Preview

FC Seoul returns to action after a dramatic home win in the AFC Champions League to host a Jeonnam side that simply cannot close out games. Will the tables turn this weekend and see another POSCO team pull off an upset at Seoul World Cup Stadium? FC Seoul columnist John Emanuelson and Jeonnam columnist Ryan Walters discuss differing strategies for each team, ACL hangover, and how Noh Sang-rae still has a job. 

John Asks, Ryan Answers

John Emanuelson: Jeonnam have already lost six games this year and four of them were in gut wrenching fashion (to Seoul in the 93rd min, Gwangju in the 83rd min, Sangju in the 96th min, and Jeonbuk in the 92nd min).  Does this show the team is still fighting for the manager or is it an inability to close out games?

Ryan Walters: A team allowing goals that late with that much regularity usually points to one of two things: fatigue or lack of focus. Since the Dragons are only playing in two competitions (and only one game in the FA Cup thus far), it's certainly not fatigue. So it's down to a lack of focus, which makes complete sense. This is a team without direction and often allowing goals simply by defenders having no idea where they're supposed to be nor what their assignments are. These are easily avoidable miscues that come from the top down, and one of the biggest frustrations in watching a Noh Sang-rae managed team. While it's been great to see him stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation, there's precious little consistency beyond that. The last four league matches have seen four different defensive lineups, making it nearly impossible to create a consistent and reliable communication on the back line. The result has been a confusion in zonal vs man marking and bewilderment on how to play out of the back. More importantly, the result has been four late game collapses that've cost the Dragons 4 points; a tally that would bring them to 11 on the season, or potentially just one win away from the top 6. And if we really want to play the "what if" game, it should be 6 points when considering they were leading 3-1 in the 83rd vs Sangju and should've won... but I digress.

JE: Jeonnam are 11th in total passes per game (379), 10th in average pass completion (71.6%), and last in pass completion in the attacking third (55.2%).  For a team with talent in the midfield such as Oršić and Jugović, why are Jeonnam struggling to pass the ball effectively?

RW: Again, one of the main reasons for failure comes back to Noh Sang-rae. When the offensive strategy is to continually boot it as far up the field as you can and pray, it's going to result in a ton of incomplete passes and a turnover in possession. Even when in the attacking third, the strategy is often to get it out wide and heave it into the middle regardless of who's there. However, in spite of all of that Oršić and Jugović have managed to put a few things together (often among themselves) by slowing the play down and bringing the ball into the middle. When they're not able to create on their own, the poor pass completion has often been a result of appalling first touches from their teammates. I can't count the number of times I've seen Ahn Yong-woo's cement foot belt the ball directly to the opposition, or Stevo's first touch go out of bounds. For a team married to playing the 4-2-3-1 they just don't have the hold up target man to justify the system and the results are showing in the statistics.

JE: Jeonnam average a little over ten shots a game, but only a little over four are on target. Is the lack of midfield service responsible for the low number of shots on goal or is it something else?

RW: Midfield service is partially to blame, but even if Jeonnam had the brilliance of Yeom Ki-hun lobbing balls into the box, it wouldn't prevent the lack of quality finishing. The simple fact of the matter is that the offense is built around Stevo and he just hasn't had a strong start. He's managed to get himself into threatening positions and gets his shot off well enough, but they often miss the target and when he is on frame it's blasted as hard as he can kick it... directly at the keeper. Beyond that, the Dragons suffer from what's really a league-wide problem: the 40 yard "I'ma have a go" nonsense. Partially because Jeonnam do struggle to score and partially because too many midfielders think they can hit in a worldy to get on the highlight reels, there are way too many rushed shots from way too far out that never really have a chance of even hitting the target. Instead of slowing the pace down and playing to Jugović's strengths in the center of the pitch, the team rushes shots from anywhere and everywhere and once again the results show in the statistics.

JE: Back when Seoul traveled to Jeonnam, they were lucky enough to win a penalty from Kim Chi-woo's blatant dive.  How do you rate Seoul's performance that day and should they execute the same game plan or change things up for Sunday's game?

RW: I took a bit of flack for it in my recap and on Twitter, but I think there was enough "contact" from Choi Hyo-jin to justify that call. Still an amazingly blatant dive, but Choi shouldn't have given the ref that much to think about. As for Seoul's strategy this weekend, I think it should be different and I think it will be different. When Seoul visited Gwangyang back in April they seemed content with a single point and a road draw. They weren't overly aggressive offensively and didn't find their way onto the scoreboard until the 51st minute when Lee Seok-hyun broke the deadlock. If they come out guns blazing to start the game this weekend and put an early one past the Dragons, that'll pretty much do it. Jeonnam has been better on the road than at home this year, but conceding early to a strong team like Seoul on the road would likely break the modest morale the Dragons will bring into the game. Add in the fact that 24% of Seoul's league goals have come in the 45th-60th minute and you have a recipe for a relatively early 2-0 lead for the home side to coast to three points.

JE: Final score?

RW: FC Seoul 3-1 Jeonnam Dragons with some garbage goals late from each team to make it look more dramatic than it really was.

Ryan Asks, John Answers

Ryan Walters: Seoul's coming off of an amazingly dramatic mid-week ACL win, any chance of a euphoria hangover affecting them this Sunday?

John Emanuelson: Wednesday was an amazing game, but as a spectator it was taxing to watch, so I am sure the effects were doubled for the players.  I think there will be somewhat of a hangover, but hopefully Choi Yong-soo will be able to have them focused for Sunday's game.  Really, that is his most important task as the manager and this year, besides the Pohang game and the first half of the FA Cup match against Daegu, he has done a really good job.  Therefore, I think Seoul will be ready for Sunday's match.

RW: Jeonbuk hasn't lost a game in any competition since April and are now level with Seoul on points. Common logic would suggest there will be a lot of squad rotation this weekend after ACL, but with the defending champs now so close to 1st, Seoul can't really afford to drop points at home. How strong of a lineup do you think we'll see Sunday and how much more important is this game now that Jeonbuk are on the doorstep?

JE: I think Choi will put out a very strong line up since Seoul want to stay ahead of Jeonbuk.  Most of the players who featured on Wednesday will play on Sunday, but I could see him rotate a bit in defense.  Kim Dong-woo and/or Kim Won-sik might sit, which means a start for Kim Nam-chun and/or Park Yong-woo.  In the midfield, I would like to see Yun Il-lok get another run out, but Choi might opt for Lee Seok-hyun instead.  Up front, I think Dejan and Park Chu-young will start and Adriano will come off the bench, but it would not surprise me if he started as well.  Seoul should win this game, but it is important that they do not take Jeonnam too lightly.

RW: FC Seoul have scored at least one goal in every one of their home games and that's likely to continue this weekend. So it's the old cliche of not stopping them, but simply hoping to contain them. The other POSCO team, Pohang, managed to put that strategy to great use and pulled off a shocking 3-1 win in Seoul earlier this month. Are there lessons the Dragons can take from that game on how to break down Seoul's defense or was it simply an anomalous result in a long season? 

JE: It is too early to say if this was an anomalous result, but I think the biggest lesson from that game is to not be passive or timid against Seoul.  From the opening kick-off, Pohang came right at Seoul. Instead of kicking it backwards like most teams do, Pohang sent a long ball into Seoul's half and it almost worked.  I felt like it was a message and it was smart because it did not allow Seoul to establish their press.  Also, the ref cannot call everything, so I think being physical works well against Seoul players.  In sum, just out working Seoul is what Jeonnam will have to do- win all the 50-50 balls, give no ground, etc.

However, I think on another day, Seoul would have at least gotten a draw against Pohang.  They had 20 shots and nine of those were on goal.  Playing a bend-but-don't-break defense will not always guarantee a result.

RW: Score prediction?

JE: I think that Seoul will struggle and that this is a prime opportunity for Jeonnam to get a result. Unfortunately, Jeonnam also seems to have the stink of failure about them and the Dragons cannot seem to close out games (FC Seoul 1-2, Gwangju 1-2, Sangju 3-4, Jeonbuk 1-2).  In the end, I think this inability will cost them again.  It will be close, but Seoul win 2-1 in the end.

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