Preview: Suwon Bluewings vs Jeju United
(Photo courtesy of http://www.wowtv.co.kr)
This weekend's upcoming round of K League classic see's two teams with contrasting fortunes come to blows when Suwon host Jeju at Big Bird. Free scoring Jeju are riding the crest of a wave and currently sit in a surprising 3rd place in the league. At the other end of the table, struggling Suwon sit in 9th place with only 4 points seperating them from the bottom of the table. It's a crunch encounter that neither team can afford to lose and both teams are expected to approach it as such.
At the begining of the season I don' think any K League follower really expected Jeju to mount a serious challenge on the ACL qualification spots. But here we sit, with half of the regular season gone and Jeju sit in 3rd place and only 5 points off top spot. And it has to be said, it is the least that they deserve after winning 8 games and being the league's joint top scorers.
After a quiet pre-season in which former Korean international Lee Keun-ho was the only real notable acquisition, nobody really expected Jeju to produce anything other than midtable mediocrity. But after a slow start which saw them win only one of their first 4 games they have taken the league by storm and with 5 wins since the begining of may they are one of the K League's form teams.
This form is mainly down to a mentality of 'we are going to score more than you'. Jeju play with an attacking mentality that must be applauded in a league where teams too often look to contain rather than attack. Jeju undoubtedly give other team's opportunites to score but they regularly outscore their opponents and that has been the key to their success.
It's difficult to pick out any particular players to watch as rather than there being any star players on show, Jeju build their success around teamwork. Their forwards work tirelessly and their midfield is packed with quality. While at the back they are very shaky they also have athletic full backs that traverse the length of the pitch for the full 90 minutes. They are a team very much in tune and all know their personal and team responsibilites.
However, 2 midfielders have caught my eye this season, those being Kim Ho-nam and Kwon Soon-hyung. Both midfielders have notched 4 goals from midfield and are both vital to the way that Jeju play. Jeju operate in a very similar way to Suwon in that the strikers are not really expected to contribute that many goals and are instead expected to open up space for the midfield. Kwon Soon-hyung has particularly been dominant in this area. The energetic midfielder has been key to everything good that Jeju have produced and Suwon will need to watch him closely.
The one thing that would give Suwon hope is that Jeju have had very mixed fortunes on their travels this season and have only managed to win 3 of their 7 away games so far this season. This is something that Seo Jung-won and co. will be looking to capitalise upon.
After some very difficult fixtures (Jeunobuk away and FC Seoul away) Suwon should be happy that they are 4 points away from bottom spot as things could have been much worse. In those particular fixtures (besides from the 96th winner they conceded in the Jeonbuk game) on a whole the team looked much more sold than in recent weeks and were able to limit the two best teams in the league to only scoring 3 goals, and that is taking into account the own goal that Suwon scored in the Jeonbuk game.
For the last handful of games Swo Jung-won has fielded a team in a 5-3-2 formation and having 3 centre-backs on the pitch has proved to be a real virtue. As I have lamented in the past, the Suwon squad is not exactly brimming with defensive talent. Therefore it's not only important for us to defend as a team, but to also take more of a defensive approach than we had for the first 2 months of the season. Although, Suwon have a lot of attacking talent at their disposal it was certainly time to take a more pragmatic approach and I am glad that Seo Jung-won has done that.
In the Seoul game particulalrly, Suwon never really looked threatenting going forward, but they also looked solid at the back and didn't allow a dangerous Seoul attack many goalscoring opportunities and if Suwon are to pull themselves out of the perilous situation they find themselves in then this attitude is something that they must persevere with, especially against an attack as blessed as Jeju's.
Furthermore, the switch to a 5-3-2 formation will also suit Suwon's new (super)striker, Johnathan. The Brazilian is eligible to play starting next weekend, and the striker will relish having more support around him rather than having to labour playing as lone front man.
As for this game, it looks as though Suwon will have to do without Kwon Chang-hoon as he was completely left out of Suwon's FA Cup squad in midweek presumably nursing the muscle strain he has been carrying in recent weeks. Also, I would argue that now would be a good time to rest Yeom Ki-hun. The left sided playmaker is vital to Suwon but in recent weeks has looked very jaded and is a shadow of his former self. On his day, he is still one of the best players that the K League has to offer, but as of late his distributuon has been poor and his relentless energy has not been on show. With a busy schedule coming in July this may be a good time to give him a breather and let him recuperate.
If Suwon play to their capabalities in a controlled fashion I think they can hold this Jeju team to a draw. Again, I will expect a conservative performance and hope to take one of the few chances that we can create. If we can do that then we should be able to hold on to take a valuable point against a high flying Jeju team.
Score Predicition: Suwon 1 - 1 Jeju