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Writer's Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs Jeonbuk

Sunday see's the first meeting of the season between Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk and with both teams in good form it could be a good one for supporters and neutrals alike. With Suwon winning 3-0 in midweek and Jeonbuk securing their passage to the knockout phase of the ACL, both teams will be in high spirits and raring to go for what is usually a keenly contested game. Here, our very own Matthew Binns and Scott Whitelock discuss everything Jeonbuk and Suwon related.
First up, Scott asks and Matthew answers:

Scott: After a pre-season of promise and big signings, Jeonbuk have made a pretty poor start to the season. What has been the main cause of this?

Matthew: At a glance, it looks as if Jeonbuk have done quite well. They currently sit three points off of the top and are the only side to remain unbeaten. That said, they are yet to win away in the league and their performances have often been inconsistent and underwhelming. Jeonbuk were overwhelming favourites to win the league yet have so far failed to live up to that billing.

I have made it well known recently how much I dislike the amount of squad rotation by the manager. Averaging 4.8 changes per game, I feel it has disrupted the team and not allowed for players to build on victories and go on a winning run. Because of this, Jeonbuk have not won two K-League matches in a row this season.

It goes further than this however, with Choi Kang-hee choosing arguably weaker or rarely-selected players for away games. Given that this game is up in Suwon, and there was an ACL game midweek, it would not be difficult to also imagine a weaker selection for Sunday, although I would hope that the manager would treat a game against Suwon Bluewings with the respect it deserves.

There has also been some criticism of the style we play. Sometimes Jeonbuk play with short passes and quick counter attacks (see FC Tokyo away) then they will go away from home in the league, rotate their squad, and hoof it into the box in hope the the Wookie will find himself of the end of it. He often does not.

Scott: The manager is yet to find his best 11 and alters the team quite frequently. Do you think this is more down to players inability to stamp their mark on the team or is it a pre-determined tactic by the manager?
Matthew: I think it is definitely the latter. You need look no further than the recent game against FC Tokyo where Jeonbuk won 3-0, before making five changes for the Sangju Sangmu game on the following Sunday. Perhaps the manager is concerned about fitness, and with now 37 year-old Lee Dong-gook still being one of the few reliable goalscorers I guess there is reason to, but most of the decisions seem to be just to placate new signings, especially early on. The inclusion of Kim Shin-wook every other game prior to his injury felt as if it was only to keep his "marquee" signing happy as it definitely was not because of performance.

The team is being rotated less frequently recently though. Hopefully these early changes have been a partial experiment in finding the best eleven, but I still think the manager ideally wants to be able to operate two teams. With an important away leg midweek to Melbourne Victory (Sorry Scott, I know it’s still sore!) there will most likely be sweeping changes for the two league games either side of the fixture (Gwangju and Jeonnam) in order to focus on progression to the quarter finals.

Scott: Last season Leonardo took the Kleague by storm with his pace and direct running. However, this season he hasn't seen a lot of game time and has made most of his appearances from the bench. What do you think are the reasons behind this and what do Jeonbuk miss when he isn't on the pitch?

Matthew: Due to the number of signings, Leonardo has often had to make way for Lopes, Han Kyo-won, Ko Moo-Yeol or even Lee Jong-ho. However, he has nearly always featured from the sub-bench. Why he is not played more often though, given his talent, is mind-boggling. Again, I see it as the manager either resting him or trying to keep other players happy (or, on some occasions, both).

Perhaps Jeonbuk signed too many players for these positions. I understand the concept of having two players for every position, and we may still see the benefits of this in the latter half of the season when other teams are tiring, but with most of these talents being able to play on either wing, and the defence desperately in need of bolstering since Kim Kee-hee’s departure, I think attacking wingers should not have been the manager’s priority.

Scott: Kim Shin-wook was the marquee signing of pre-season but is yet to show any real quality in a green shirt. Why do you think this is?

Matthew: He is unfortunately a square peg in a round hole. I am led to believe it is the manager who has control of the transfers at the club, or at least a significant say, yet they tended to buy attacking, creative players who are much better with shorter passing play. Then they bought Kim Shin-wook who, so far at least, has shown a poor touch, poor control and a lack of pace. He works well as a player causing problems in the box, and has mostly played better when not alone up front, creating space and chances for Lee Dong-gook. However, when he is forced to play as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, he becomes unstuck (see Jiangsu or Ulsan away).

While part of me is disappointed in his efforts, he could have been seen to show a lack of ambition if he stayed at Ulsan, especially with Jeonbuk offering the chance of multiple titles. However, I am more disappointed with the manager who clearly had a say in this signing given that the player fits in well with his conservative streak when it comes to away tactics. He does not fit the preferred system, or with the other players style, and the manager unceremoniously wedging him in is further damaging the striker’s reputation as well as hampering Jeonbuk’s title bid.

Scott: Jeonbuk are yet to win away from home in the Kleague this year. What do you think they will need to do to remedy this against Suwon?

Matthew: Playing the best team would help. It sounds simple but it is something the manager has failed to do time and time again away from home. Having played a strong starting line-up midweek (minus the suspended Kim Bo-kyung and Ricardo Lopes) as well as the Saturday prior, it would safe to assume he may change again.

That said, he has been playing a regular defence of recent, as well as Lee Jae-sung and Kim Bo-kyung in the centre. We will most likely see a return for Lopes with the other wing being fought out between Han Kyo-won, Leonardo (who both started Wednesday) or Ko Moo-yeol. Lee Jong-ho could even see some game time, although after his terrible miss against Sangju ten days ago, I am surprised Choi’s ruthless streak has not seem him exiled for it. I guess Kim Shin-wook has been injured so Lee’s place on the bench is safe (for now).

In terms of specific tactics, Suwon have a good passing game at the moment. Jeonbuk would be wise to implement measures to break up this kind of play. This will most likely fall down to Jang Yun-ho in defensive midfield, seeing as the manager has bizarrely appeared to have stopped selecting the more experienced and suitable Erik Paartalu for the match day squad since the away game to Becamex Binh Duong.

Predicted Score: 1-1

Now, Matthew asks and Scott answers:

Matthew: Having played important games against FC Seoul and Shanghai SIPG within the last week, do you see any changes to the line-up ahead of this fixture, either to deal with fatigue or a particular Jeonbuk threat?

Scott: I don't think fatigue will be an issue after Seo Jung-won's team selection for Suwon's midweek ACL game. The manager decided to play a the B team against Shanghai, which at the time had me wondering if he had had a stroke fielding so many reserve team players when Suwon were in a must win situation. With hindsight it was a superb decision by the manager and he proved why he gets paid to manage a football team, whereas I just pay for the privilege to sit in the stands and criticise everything that happens infront of me. Seo Jung-won expertly decided to rest Kwon Chang-hoon, Yeom Ki-hun and Santos and instead had them warming the bench as an insurance policy just incase he needed them. With Suwon needing results elsewhere to go in their favour he was also able to monitor that situation and as it panned out, with Melbourne taking a two goal lead, Suwon never had any chance of progressing in the competition and the 3 star players could take a well deserved rest. Also, the B team played very well and secured a 3-0 win.

So with a full weeks rest for our key players fatigue definitely should not be an issue at all. 

Matthew: As a Suwon supporter, how did you rate their performance in the recent Super Match against FC Seoul? Did they deserve more than the 1-1 draw?

Scott: I think both Suwon and FC Seoul played very well and a draw was rightly earned by both teams. It probably wasn't a great game for neutrals to watch, but there was a lot to admire from both teams. I've heard a lot of complaining from FC Seoul supporters saying that the referee was terrible and he cost Seoul a win, but, in truth, he didn't do much to alter the result of the game. He was very inconsistent with both teams, blowing for fouls that shouldn't have been and also letting blatant fouls go. But the majority of these were minor calls mostly in the middle third of the pitch. I must admit, he 100% misjudged Kwak Hee-ju's rugby tackle on Adriano, but again, it wasn't a match altering decision as that was in the final minutes of the game. I think that the Suwon defence had more of a say on the outcome of the game than the referee did.

Obviously, the most pleasing aspect from a Suwon point of view was the almost flawless defensive performance. We all know what Seoul are capable of, and have been doing on a weekly basis. Yet for 90 minutes, the Suwon defence barely let Seoul anywhere near their goal. Infact, I can't recall Seoul really having any goalscoring opportunities at all and the goal they did score arose from a mix-up between the Suwon centre-backs and goalkeeper. The back 4 played beautifully and for the first time this season were in sync throughout the game. A special mention has to go to Lee Jung-soo who was flawless in the way that he dealt with Adriano. He never let the small Brazilian get away from him, was comfortable in possession and dealt with any high balls with no nonsense. It was great to see from a defender who started the season terribly but appears to be growing into his role at Suwon. Also, Yang Sang-min had a superb game and he was vitally important as Yeom Ki-hun, playing in front of him on the left side, had a very poor game by his standards. On a number of occasions Sang-min covered well at the back post to clear Seoul crosses. He was also much more aggressive than usual, something which was welcome to see. One particular tackle he made was so crunching that I could hear it over the din that was coming from the North Stand.

The downside was that none of Suwon's big attacking players really took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was a game that needed a moment of brilliant individual skill to win it, and that wasn't forthcoming from any of the Suwon players. Lee Sang-ho was very ineffective on the right of midfield, Yeom Ki-hun was regularly mobbed by 3 Seoul players whenever he touched the ball, Santos sort of drifted in and out of the game and Kwon Chang-hoon, for all his hustle and bustle, couldn't really fashion any opportunities either. Our attacking play was a little flat, a little slow and very predictable. But, everyone has a bad day at the office and the Seoul defence was also very solid and marshaled Kim Gun-hee to perfection.

It was definitely a victory for both defences and I don't think anyone could justly say that a draw wasn't the correct result.

Matthew: Suwon Bluewings are yet to keep a clean sheet in the K League this season, with their continental defensive form proving not much better. What do you see as being the most common cause for these goals conceded?

Scott: As i've mentioned before, Suwon love to pass the ball no matter where they are on the pitch, and no matter what time the clock is showing. And that, in a nutshell, is why we can't keep a clean sheet to save our lives. I can't count on 7 hands the number of times we have put ourselves under pressure because of stupid passes played blindly into midfield or suicidal crossfield passes across the backline. Watching us play, at times, this season has aged me by 10 years.

For the most part, Suwon are able to manage games very well because the midfield is very talented and can keep the ball for long period of time. In the early stages of the season we were keeping the ball but not really doing much in terms of creating chances. Inevitably, when the stale attacks broke down we were left exposed and the defence were really struggling. However, these days, Suwon are playing much better and with much more attacking purpose. Because of this, the defence is less exposed and has much less of a workload in comparison the first few games of the season.

The form of Lee Jung-soo has also been key to the defensive revival. He has played well recently, and when he plays well the entire defence seems to respond. He has a very calming influence on the team and it is something that is needed as he usually partners the more erratic Koo Ja-ryoung. Ja-ryoung has a lot of potential and is the one centre-back at Suwon that possesses any kind of pace, but some of the decisions he makes are baffling. Suwon have dropped a lot of points by conceding in the last 10 minutes of games, and a lot of that is because of Ja-ryoung panicking and playing the ball into danger.

We may not have kept a clean sheet in the league yet, but the defence is performing much better and are moving in the right direction.

Matthew: Despite winning 3-0, Suwon fell foul of the head-to-head rule and were knocked out of the ACL. While it's no doubt upsetting to the fanbase, will having one less competition have any impact on where you now think they will finish in the league?

Scott: First of all, let me say this, the AFC are a bunch of cheating pigs. Okay, now that's out of my system i'll try to look at this a little more objectively.

As you mentioned, Suwon were unceremoniously booted of the ACL on Wednesday night, despite having an exact same record as Melbourne Victory but actually being 3 goals better off than them on goal difference. In any sane league system that would see Suwon finish ahead of their Australian rivals. But no, the ACL is anything but sane and by virtue that Melbourne fluked their way to an away goal in their head-to-head with Suwon, they qualified for the knockout stages. Personally, I think that's a terrible rule. The away goals rule is a controversial one even when used over a straight two-legged, winner takes all game. But the group stage is completely different to this situation, with 6 games being played there is a better chance to build up a significant goal difference. Surely, this is better to promote attacking football (the reason that away goals were introduced in the first place) than to allow teams like Melbourne to defend for 90 minutes in hand picked games and then hopefully nick something on the counter attack, just as Melbourne did in their away encounter against Suwon.

Suwon may not have won as many games as they would have liked, but bar one performance in Australia (where a squad of kids and reserve team players played) they have been competitive and played attacking football in every game that they contested in the ACL this year. I don't think the same can be said of Melbourne and the ACL is much poorer for their attendance in the knockout stages. It will be interesting to see how Jeonbuk try to combat their robust style of play and i'm hoping for a cricket score after both legs have concluded.

Anyhow, enough of my whining. As for Suwon's season ahead, Suwon must claim 3rd spot in the league. Our minimum aspiration in the K League should always be 3rd place and qualification for the Champions League. At the moment, our biggest rival for this is obviously Seongnam who have made a blistering start to the season, and Suwon are already a fair way behind them in terms of points collected. However, Suwon's position in the table is a false one and is not a true reflection of their performance thus far. It's only a matter of time before Suwon start picking up the wins their performances deserve, and maybe Seongnam start dropping points. I don't think Seongnam have the squad to be able to keep up their current form, but I do think that Suwon and Seongnam will battle it out for that 3rd place spot up to the dying games of the season.

Matthew: Finally, what do you predict for the forthcoming match?

Scott: I said this before the FC Seoul game, and i'll say it again now; I really think Suwon can win this one.

As i've said about a million times now, Suwon have been playing some great football whilst also being a bit leaky at the back. But the fantastic defensive displays in the last 2 games, but particularly against FC Seoul, have calmed my nerves a little bit. Now if we could just combine the attacking play that has been the signature of the team this season with our new found stringent defence, then Suwon will really be a force to be reckoned with.

Jeonbuk went through a punishing encounter with Jiangsu in the ACL on Wednesday night and we can only assume that Choi Kang-hee will rotate his 1st eleven again. Whereas Suwon were able to rest the majority of their first choice team in their ACL encounter and thus are at relative full strength and full fitness.

Moreover, I have to mention Kim Gun-hee who scored his first professional goals midweek. I have said before that the young striker is playing well without really troubling the goal. In midweek he had an exceptional game spearheading the attack of what was, on paper, a very weak team. He did everything that I have come to expect of him holding the ball well, dropping deep and linking with the midfielders. But from the moment he scored his 1st career goal from the penalty spot, he looked like a completely different player. Added to his all round play with the midfielders was an aggression that we had not yet seen and a willingness to turn and run with the ball, something that he is surprisingly quite adept at. His 2nd goal was a thing of predatory beauty. A Baek Ji-hoon strike from the corner of the penalty area was horribly miscued into a crowded penalty area, and with his back to goal, and standing almost on the penalty spot, he flicked the ball into the far corner. That was the most impressive thing about him. So far this season he has been very reluctant to shoot himself and he usually attempts to find a pass before taking a shot on, but quite clearly goals breed confidence and Kim Gun-hee certainly has confidence now. It will be interesting to see how he starts the game on Sunday but if he continues to play like he did in midweek then he will be the key to the game.

Prediction: Suwon Bluewings 2 - 1 Jeonbuk

(NOTE: Me and Matthew would like to apologise for the brief nature of this article. The long bank holiday weekend in Korea left us with just a little time to get this article out. Hopefully we will both be back at it for the next installment of K League football.)

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