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Writers Chat: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Suwon Bluewings Preview

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings K-League Preview
Suwon Bluewings travel down to Jeonju this Wednesday to face high-flying Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in Round 14 of the K-League Classic. With the reverse fixture earlier this season boasting five goals and a controversial second yellow card, our contributors Scott Whitelock and Matthew Binns (myself) discuss what can be expected in this midweek clash.

Matt asks, Scott Answers

Matthew Binns: Last time we spoke, you claimed Suwon’s position was a false one. Over one month on, and with little movement up the table, do you think there is any danger that this early false position may become all too real as the season progresses?

Scott Whitelock: Honestly, I still maintain that Suwon have played some of the best football in the K League thus far this season, but good performances don't always guarantee 3 points and it is starting to look like the imbalance in the team might ultimately leave us rooted in the bottom half of the table. May was a very frustrating month. On paper, we had some very favourable fixtures that we should have quite frankly won. The loss against Jeonbuk (or should I say the victory for the referee) was disappointing but forgivable. However, the performance and capitulation at home against an average Ulsan team was unforgivable. The team was so bad that Jo Dong-geon (the worst player in the world, as I have documented previously) ended up being the best player wearing blue. This was followed by another blown lead in stoppage time last time out against Pohang leaving Suwon looking down the table rather than upwards. At some point I have to stop blaming bad luck and referees and just admit that Suwon are an imbalanced team.

All the quality in the team is in the forward areas and there is a real dearth of talent in the defensive areas, particularly in the centre back positions. However, pretty much every K League team has a weak defence but, for the most part, most teams are able to defend their goal for a full 90 minutes, Suwon however, cannot. This is not just the defenders' fault but also Suwon's inability to defend as a unit. Too many times midfielders are lagging behind in the opposition's half as the other team breaks and scores. If it happens once then that's bad luck, if it happens twice then it needs working on, but when it is happening in almost every game then it is a blatant tactical flaw. For all Santos and Kwon Chang-hoon's ability going forward they offer very little in defence, and in all honesty, Santos looks like he's off for a stroll down the beach for most games.

The defensive frailties need strengthening otherwise things could get a lot worse for Suwon.

MB: On a more optimistic note, the Bluewings have made their first summer signing! It is too early for Johnathan to play in this fixture, but what do you make of Johnathan’s arrival and what do you expect him to bring to the club?

SW: This is quite a difficult question because, on paper, Johnathan looks like one hell of a signing. With 40 goals scored in 68 games for Daegu it would be difficult not to see the value in that signing. A quick look at his highlight reel shows that he can score in a number of ways ranging from long distance belters, to short predatory tap ins, to back post headers. Who wouldn't want to sign this player? On a free transfer,  and with Suwon's season in danger of imploding, it has the potential to be signing of the season.

But I'm just not sure how he fits into the dynamic of the team if we continue to deploy the same tactics as we do now. Suwon's style of play is to operate with a lone front man who is asked to play mostly with his back to goal and link play with the midfield. In this formation, the number one priority of the centre forward has been not to score goals, but provided assistance to the forward thinking midfield players. That has worked well so far and Suwon are the 2nd highest scorers in the league. Admitedly, I have not seen Johnathan in live acton, but he doesn't appear to be a player who would be adept at the role that Kim Gun-hee has been performing adequately so far. If Seo Jung-won is going to get the most out of Johnathan then maybe he will have to shift his preferred tactics towards a more traditional 4-3-3 or 4-4-1-1.

It's an interesting dilemma to have and unfortunately not one that can be solved until the transfer window officially opens.

MB: With one eye on the 'Super Match' this weekend, and with FC Seoul wobbling of recent, do you expect any players to be held back for this fixture in a bid to take an impressive scalp on Saturday?

SW: After almost 2 weeks of rest between the Pohang and Incheon games I would like to think that the squad were fully rested and at their peak fitness going into this run of games, thus I would expect every single player (barring injuries) to be able to complete 2 games in a week. As such, I would hope that provided players perform well against Jeonbuk they will also take to the field 3 days later in Seoul.

Seo Jung-won has not rotated a lot this year and in most cases when players have been fit and performing well he has played them. The only exception to this has been in the centre back positions where he has been unable to find a stable partnership. If there are to be any players rested then I would imagine it would be in this position.

MB: Suwon’s latest result saw them earn a disappointing 2-2 draw with a struggling Incheon side. In your opinion was this score fair and what went wrong for Bluewings?

SW: The result certainly wasn't reflective of Suwon's dominance over the game, but it wasn't an unjust result as Suwon once again lost their bottle and surrendered a winning position.

Seo Jung-won must be reading my blogs as he did exactly what I said he should do pre-match and shifted his formation to a more traditional 4-5-1 (although that may have been more down to Kwon Chang-hoon's injury rather than tactical genius) and the change in formation worked well. Suwon dominated the game and minimised Incheon to one shot on target until the 75th minute. Suwon weren't sparkling in attack but were functional and their quality up top was beginning to show long before they were awarded a rather generous penalty which Santos dispatched with ease. It was exactly what I had requested; a functional and workmanlike performance with a focus on not conceding.

And then the madness set it. In the 75th minute Goalkeeper Yang Hyung-mo, who had been handed his debut, moronically came almost to the edge of his box to collect a long, high ball that he had no right to try to claim, and as expected he dropped it straight to the feet of Incheon captain Kim Do-hyeok who tapped into an unguarded net. It was the first real shot and attack that Incheon had mustered and it was yet again as a result of a personal clanger from a Suwon player. And just like that, all the good hard work that the team had put in over 75 minutes just evaporated along with the team's confidence. Players started leaving their assignments and we returned once again to the gung-ho football of the past few weeks. Incheon had a player sent off and the formation and game plan went even further out of the window. Left wingers were playing in the centre forward position, left backs were playing in central midfield and the goalkeeper was playing sweeper. It was crazy on the pitch but it was placid on the bench, with Seo Jung-won simply spectating. Incheon duly capitalised on the Suwon shambles and scored another with only their 3rd shot on target in the game. If it wasn't for a moment of class from Santos in the 96th minute Incheon would have left Suwon with all 3 points.

The chant from the terraces was "Go, go, Challenge" and I can't disagree with the Suwon support. The quality in the Suwon squad is there for all to see, but they are mentally just not right at the moment. There are only so many times that a team can squander winning positions before you have to question the manager's abilities. With two away games at Jeonju and Seoul to come I would be very surprised if Seo Jung-won still has a job come next weekend.

MB: Predicted score?

SW: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0 Suwon Bluewings

Scott asks, Matt answers

Scott Whitelock: Despite having a suspect defence Jeonbuk surprisingly still remain undefeated this season, the only team in Korea to hold this record. How have Jeonbuk been able to remain undefeated whilst fielding such a weak defence?

Matthew Binns: Jeonbuk seem to have found a fighting mentality this season which has seen them come back from behind to win games three times (in a row) against Suwon Bluewings, Jeonnam Dragons and Sangju Sangmu. They have also managed to overcome their closest rivals at home this season, taking 3 points each from FC Seoul, Seongnam and Jeju United as well as a point at the weekend away to Seongnam. Motors have also earned four points from the other two ACL teams (Bluewings and Pohang).

In fact, you could even argue they only tend to turn up when playing a tie they feel is difficult or when they are losing. Apart from the goalless draw with Ulsan, all of Jeonbuk's draws have come from letting leads slip against teams they were expected to beat. It could be this underestimation of sides that will eventually inflict their first defeat, but the spirit they show and the ability to turn on the performance when they need to is what makes them favourites for the title this season.

SW: Jeonbuk have never hit great heights in their performances this season yet find themselves sitting on top of the pile going into the summer months. Is this is an ominous sign for the rest of the K League as Jeonbuk are yet to find first gear?

MB: The fact that are Jeonbuk are still unbeaten whilst still not playing to expectations should be of great concern to their title rivals. Jeonbuk's biggest mistake this season was selling Kim Kee-hee, although you can hardly blame them considering the jaw-dropping fee they received. In doing so, the early games saw the defence made up of new signings and players who they originally intended to replace. This, combined with the equivalent of an extra team's worth of signings who were all struggling to receive the game time required to settle has made for a shaky start. The now accustomed defence is still leaking goals, but some the players who have come in are now finding their feet within this team and the on-pitch performances are improving along with the results. With an idea of who is now considered as the first team, Choi Kang-hee can slowly reintroduce other players into the squad on occasion, all who will be desperate to fight for their place and prove themselves.

SW: In recent months Choi Kang-hee appears to have abandoned his heavy rotation policy and is now playing a more settled team. What has been the impact of this, and have Jeonbuk's performances improved as a result of this?

MB: Choi Kang-hee's rotation reached it's worst when he underestimated Becamex Binh Duong and made eight changes for an away trip the club needed to win. The silver lining to what became a shock defeat was that the manager began to stop making sweeping changes between each game, opting only for one or two alterations between each fixture. Kim Bo-kyung also returned from a lengthy lay-off after that match as the team slowly began to find their feet. It was the Seongnam game at home though that finally saw the incarnation of the team which the manager has tended to deploy since.

Since the 3-2 victory over Seongnam, Jeonbuk went on to improve and progress in the ACL, win their first away match of the year (against Bluewings) and go on a four game winning streak, with the latter three all being victories from losing positions. All of these results, excluding the 2-1 win over Jeonnam that was prior to the ACL R16 2nd leg, used the same core 13-14 players. Jeonbuk may still have drawn their two most recent games, but they have found solace in consistency, which should put them in good stead for the summer months.

SW: Predicted score?

MB: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 Suwon Bluewings


  1. Reading this back Scott, when you said "Go, go, Challenge" did you mean the team needed to challenge more in games or they are heading to the Challenge? Both seem applicable at the moment in time.

    1. Hahaha. Sorry, I should have made that a little clearer. The chant was intended to let the players know that we're heading towards the Challenge.


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