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Preview: Pohang Steelers vs. FC Seoul

(A bit dramatic, but it is nice nonetheless. Choi's last game was against Ansan in the FA Cup, from FCSeoul.com)
Last time these two teams met it was in Seoul and the worst Pohang team in five years came away 3-1 winners that day.  Now, with manager Choi Yong-soo stepping down to take over Jiangsu Suning and the incoming gaffer not starting until Wednesday, June 29th, Seoul travel to Pohang without a head coach.  
FA Cup Recap 

Seoul won 2-1 as Yun Ju-tae won.  I was not able to watch the game because I had to work and I could not find any streams on Afreeca.  Normally, Afreeca is great to watch games on, but not this time.  The Jeonbuk game and Incheon games were on, but not Seoul, so I do not know what the hell happened.  However, if you want to watch the highlights, click here.

Watching the highlights, Yun's first finish was quite nice.  The second was quite opportunistic.  Ansan's goal was a shit one to give up and maybe Yu Sang-hun should have done better, but in the end Seoul took care of business.  They are on through to the quarter-finals to face Jeonnam and this should be a game that they win.  Jeonbuk, somehow and someway, got yet another favorable draw.  Are they freezing the lottery balls with Jeonbuk and their opponent or am I just being paranoid?

Pohang: 2016

Last time, I wrote extensively about how this Pohang team is the worst one in five years.  I also wrote about how, during the season Pohang own Seoul, but that this should be an easy win for Choi Yong-soo's men.  Unfortunately, I was wrong on all counts as Seoul put in their worst performances with a lethargic attack and shambolic defending.  Was I wrong about Pohang?  Not really, they are still the definition of mediocrity.

Pohang's record stands at 4 wins, six draws, and five losses.  They have scored 17 goals (1.13 goals per game) and conceded the same amount.  They have won twice at home and twice on the road, lost twice at home and three times on the road, and drawn three times at home and on the road.  I was looking through the statistics to see if anything stood out and unfortunately, I could find no general trends, so I decided to split their K-League season into three parts.

Part I:  Pohang with Song Joon-ho
Week
Poss.
Shots
On Goal
Corners
Free Kicks
1
56.27
10
7
5
13
2
51.54
11
9
3
18
3
51
18
10
7
11
4
44.39
7
6
1
13
Avg.
50.80
11.50
8.00
4.00
13.75

Son Joon-ho was probably Pohang's best player last year, scoring nine goals and assisting on four others.  He was one of the few good ones from last year to remain.  Son's ACL injury is obviously a massive blow for Pohang, one which has been difficult to recover from.

In the first four weeks, Pohang lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and with the exception of the Jeonbuk game, generally played attacking football.  In the first three weeks of the season, Pohang averaged 53% of possession and 13 shots a game, with almost 9 being on target.  However, Pohang only won once, drew twice, and loss once, so the results were mixed.

Part II: Pohang without Son Joon-ho
Week
Poss.
Shots
On Goal
Corners
Free Kicks
5
45.42
9
4
5
8
6
56.83
10
2
4
17
7
48.88
2
1
3
14
AVg.
50.38
7.00
2.33
4.00
13.00

Even though the results were not stellar in the first four weeks of the season, after Son's injury the team really struggled in their next three games, drawing once and losing twice.  The nadir was a 1-0 loss at home to Pohang in the seventh week when they only had two shots in 90 minutes.  Possession was similar, but the average for shots per game dropped almost 40% and more alarmingly, the ones that were on goal fell by 65% (from an average of 8 on goal to less than 3 is a substantial drop-off). Obviously, manager Choi Jin-cheol realized that something must be done about this and decided to change the formation.

Part III: Pohang in Their New Formation
Week
Poss.
Shots
On Goal
Corners
Free Kicks
8
45.45
6
5
3
11
9
36.03
11
5
2
17
10
43.72
13
8
8
14
11
53.04
6
1
5
17
12
49.15
10
5
5
11
13
44.9
5
1
2
11
14
47.08
10
6
5
12
15
58.07
13
2
8
6
Avg.
47.18
9.25
4.13
4.75
12.38

Since changing formations from four in the back (4-2-3-1/4-3-3/4-1-4-1) to three in the back (3-4-3/3-5-2), the results are a bit better.  Pohang have won three games, drawn four, and loss four.  Possession has dropped a bit, but shots and ones on goal have increased a bit.  Has the formation worked or has the team adjusted to the loss of Son Joon-ho?  Let's look at the wins and losses after Son Joon-ho's injury.

Three Wins Post Son Jong-ho: Pohang vs. Opposition
Poss.
Shots
On Goal

Poss.
Shots
On Goal
45.45
6
5

54.55
16
6
36.03
11
5

63.97
20
9
47.08
10
6

52.92
6
4
42.85
9.00
5.33

57.15
14.00
6.33

In the three wins, Pohang have had significantly less possession than their opponents, which of course occurred because they scored an early goal in all three wins (Jeju- 24th min. , FC Seoul 20th min., Seongnam 12th min.).  For Seoul,the key will be to not let Pohang get an early goal, especially in the first 30 minutes.  If Pohang score early enough, they will go into a defensive shell and look to play to their strengths, utilizing Sim Dong-woon's speed on the counter.

However, this is not always the case.  In both games against Suwon Bluewings, Pohang scored in the first 30 minutes, but each fixture ended in a draw.

Four Losses Post Son Joon-ho: Pohang vs. Oppisition
Poss.
Shots
On Goal

Poss.
Shots
On Goal
56.83
10
2

43.17
16
9
48.88
2
1

51.12
9
4
53.04
6
1

46.96
9
4
58.07
13
2

41.93
11
5
54.21
7.75
1.50

45.80
11.25
5.50

In three of their four losses, Pohang's opponent got a goal in the first half.  If Seoul are able to score early, it could bring the Steelers out of their defensive shell and Seoul might be able to get a second goal.  Unfortunately, Pohang are very unpredictable.  

On their day, as they have shown against Jeju at home, FC Seoul on the road, and Seongnam, they can beat anybody.  They have also shown an ability to grind out results against and score late goals as games against Gwangju FC, Jeonbuk, and Suwon Bluewings can attest. That is what makes them such a difficult opponent.  Pohang are not a very good side generally, but the team has shown the propensity to get results.

Prediction

I have no clue who will win.  On paper, FC Seoul are the better team and should absolutely come away with all three points.  However, after the last time these two teams met, on paper means nothing.  In the league, Pohang teams have dominated Seoul teams the for the last five years and it is hard to see this changing.

I think with everything going on, Choi leaving, five games in two weeks, and Pohang's superior record when these teams play, this contest ends in a draw.  

Final Score: Pohang 1-1 FC Seoul

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