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FC Seoul: What's Gone Wrong?

(A bit melodramatic- from cpr.mtninet.com)
Three games in a row have been lost.  Their manager has left midway through for more money and prestige in the Chinese Super League.  Their best player has been suspended for six games because of a phantom elbow (maybe it was real, but I am biased).  All of this leads me to ask, what the hell has happened?

This season started out with so much promise, but it has now become one of disappointment again as Seoul's form has fallen off.  Normally, Seoul would start terribly, eliminating themselves from winning the title by the tenth game, but build up enough steam to finish on a high note and give the fans hope for next year.  This year, the converse has happened and it seems as though there is little in the way of optimism at this point.

Here are some reasons why I think Seoul have fallen off in recent weeks.  A lot of this I have already written about, but Seoul keep making the same the ghastly mistakes individually and as a team, so I feel as though it merits repeating.

1.  Fatigue

Initially, this would be one of the more obvious reasons.  As Matthew Binns pointed out in his column on Choi Kang-hee's roster roulette, FC Seoul had the fewest changes to their starting lineup among K-League teams playing in the ACL in the first 12 games of the season.  This helped the team find consistency via continuity with Seoul starting very well and then coach Choi Yong-soo receiving deserved plaudits.  However, as always rotation is a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't conundrum because if a coach does not rotate enough he risks player burnout and/or injury and if he rotates too much the players fail to find any chemistry with one another.  Here is a chart of how many minutes each member of FC Seoul played in the first league seven games plus any ACL fixtures that had occurred up to that point.

FC Seoul: Minutes Played (23/2/2016-24/04/2016)
Name
K-League (%)
ACL (%)
Total (%)
Osmar
630 (100%)
450 (100%)
1080 (100%)
Ko Kwang-min
540 (86%)
450 (100%)
990 (92%)
Takahagi
539 (86%)
450 (100%)
989 (92%)
Ju Se-jong
607 (96%)
333 (74%)
940 (87%)
Kim Won-sik
489 (78%)
450 (100%)
939 (87%)
Adriano
515 (82%)
422 (94%)
937 (87%)
Dejan
514 (82%)
413 (92%)
927 (86%)
Go Yo-han
473 (75%)
450 (100%)
923 (85%)
Kim Dong-woo
450 (71%)
449 (99%)
899 (83%)
Park Yong-woo
439 (70%)
124 (28%)
563 (52%)
Park Chu-young
223 (35%)
66 (15%)
289 (27%)
Kim Chi-woo
247 (39%)
24 (5%)
271 (25%)
Lee Seok-hyun
158 (25%)
97 (22%)
255 (24%)
Yun Ju-tae
31 (5%)
5 (1%)
36 (3%)
I did not include Shin Jin-ho in this chart even though he played a significant amount of minutes because he had departed at that point to join Sangju Sangmu.  As you can see, nine players had featured in over 80% of the minutes available up to that point, which showed Choi Yong-soo's aversion to rotating and/or even making early substitutions at that point.  Now let's see how many minutes each team member has played in all competitions.

FC Seoul Minutes Played (23/02/2016-02/07/2016)
Name
K-League (
ACL
FA Cup
Total (%)
Osmar
1530
660
270
2460 (93%)
Ko Kwang-min
1350
636
270
2256 (85%)
Kim Won-sik
1304
660
270
2234 (85%)
Go Yo-han
1373
660
178
2211 (84%)
Takahagi
1234
660
270
2164 (82%)
Adriano
1275
722
85
2082 (79%)
Dejan
1280
540
70
1890 (72%)
Ju Se-jong*
1011
520
120
1651 (85%)
Kim Dong-woo
928
659
0
1587 (60%)
Park Yong-woo
1053
207
14
1274 (48%)
Park Chu-young
537
155
193
885 (34%)
Yun Il-lok
615
165
32
812 (31%)
Kim Chi-woo
503
83
90
676 (26%)
Kim Nam-chun
277
180
120
577 (22%)
Jung In-hwan
450
1
90
541 (20%)
Lee Seok-hyun
340
187
0
527 (20%)
Yun Ju-tae
316
36
69
421 (16%)
Sim Sang-min
180
90
56
326 (12%)
Lee Sang-hyeob
77
90
90
257 (10%)
Sim Woo-yeon
8
113
50
171 (6%)
Sim Je-hyeok
20
90
0
110 (4%)
Cho Chan-ho
83
0
3
86 (3%)

*Ju Se-jong did not play against Jeju Utd. because he was called up for the K.N.T.  Ju has also not featured since the 14th game because of an injury.  

Since the end of April, there has been much greater rotation as every member of the team that had featured in 80% of the minutes in those first two months of the season has seen a drop.  Some, such as Adriano, Dejan, and Kim Dong-woo have had significant drops.  Likewise, players such as Jung In-hwan and Yun Il-lok have been featuring in the starting line-up much more frequently.  In my opinion though, Yun Ju-tae continues to be criminally underutilized and should see more game time. My point is that fatigue has obviously played a role in Seoul's drop, but the coaching staff has done their best to juggle the minutes of the first 11 as of late by giving more minutes to the squad players. Unfortunately, it is the lack of quality among these players, particularly in the midfield, that has hurt Seoul this year.

If there is any fatigue, I think much of it is mental.  Seoul have played 28 games in all competition so far and with the bulk of the minutes going to a select few, it must be difficult to be consistently switched on and in a state of constant alert.  Maybe that is why there are so many individual mistakes as of late, especially, on defense.

2.  Shin Jin-ho's Departure

I have said before that the team misses Shin Jin-ho and I think that is obvious.  Here is the team's record in the K-League before he left.

FC Seoul’s Record With Shin Jin-ho
Played
Wins (%)
Draws (%)
Losses (%)
G.F. (avg.)
G.A. (avg.)
Points (avg.)
6
5 (83%)
0
1 (17%)
14 (2.33)
4 (0.67)
15 (2.5)

Of the six games he played, in Seoul won five, which is a great rate of return.  Critics will scoff that the teams Seoul beat were weak and that the one contender they played, Jeonbuk, is the team that they loss to.  Granted, three of the five wins were against the league's bottom teams (Incheon Utd. Jeonnam, Suwon FC), but Suwon FC were in sixth place when these two teams met in April.  I would argue that it is not so much the victories that Seoul had there were important, but the manner in which they won them.  When Shin played, Seoul were a juggernaut, aggressively pressing teams and finishing games early.  Now let's look at how the club has done since he has left.  

FC Seoul’s Record Without Shin Jin-ho

Played
Wins (%)
Draws (%)
Losses (%)
G.F. (avg.)
G.A. (avg.)
Points (avg.)
12
4 (33%)
3 (25%)
5 (42%)
21 (1.75)
22 (1.83)
15 (1.25)

The club have played twice as many games without him, but have accumulated the same number of points (15).  They are still scoring lots of goals without him, but unfortunately they are conceding substantially more as well, having allowed one more goal than they have scored.  The average of amount of goals that they have allowed has increased 173%, which indicates that there is a problem somewhere.

In my opinion, this is where his departure has had the biggest effect.  Defensively, his energy let the team play Choi's favored 3-5-2 formation and set up in a high-block.  With Shin on the field, the team pressed effectively as a unit and were able to recover the ball quickly and keep their opponent under constant pressure offensively.  In turn, this limited the number of opportunities that the other team had to shoot at Seoul's keeper.

Of course, one individual does not make a team and Seoul most likely would be going through a slump of some sort any way since it would be impossible to keep up the pace that the team had set through the first seven games.  However, I would argue that if Shin Jin-ho was here, the loss of form might be mitigated somewhat.  Let's look at the statistics for the first six games versus seven through twelve and later on, thirteen through eighteen.

FC Seoul Offense vs. Defense: First Six Games
Week
Poss.
Shots
On Goal

Poss.
Shots
On Goal
1
56.33
13
8

43.67
8
3
2
44.93
16
12

55.07
11
3
3
55.41
16
8

44.59
5
2
4
52.11
12
4

47.89
7
1
5
45.09
8
4

54.91
9
4
6
54.82
19
11

45.18
5
3
Avg.
51.45
14.00
7.83

48.55
7.50
2.67

The team won five of their first six games in dominating fashion and the statistics bear this out.  Seoul averaged almost twice as many shots as their opponents (14 to 7.5), but most impressively, only allowed an average of 2.67 shots on goal.  I would argue that this figure is the reason why the team only conceded four goals and looked so strong defensively.  

FC Seoul Offense vs. Defense: Games Seven Through Twelve
Week
Poss.
Shots
On Goal
Poss.
Shots
On Goal
7
45.42
15
10
54.58
18
10
8
51.81
15
5
48.19
8
5
9
63.97
20
9
36.03
11
5
10
51.1
14
9
48.9
9
6
11
58.61
14
7
41.39
10
2
12
57.59
19
10
42.41
13
8
Avg.
54.75
16.17
8.33
45.25
11.50
6.00

From week 7 through to week 12, Seoul struggled a bit, winning two, drawing two, and losing two.  On offense, the team's level of possession jumped up and so did the average amount of shots per game.  I would say that this was because of having to chase the games against Pohang in week 9, Jeonnam in week 10, and Jeju Utd. in week 12.  

However, I think the reason that Seoul struggled so much during this period is because of the drop-off on defense.  For example, the amount of shots averaged by Seoul's opponents jumped 53% from 7.5 to 11.5 per game and even more alarmingly, the amount of shots that Seoul's defense allowed on target rose 125% from 2.67 to 6 per game.  Not coincidentally, the amount of goals that Seoul allowed in these six weeks tripled from 4 to 12, a rise of 200%.  Of course it did not help that Yoo Hyun turned into Yoo Howler during this period and conceded some terrible goals.

Nonetheless, even taking into account the poor standard of goal keeping, I think the team missed Shin at this point.  As I stated previously, Seoul started games strongly by pressing in the beginning of the season, but that stopped being a feature, particularly in the later weeks.  Much of that could be down to fatigue, as Dejan looked tired and was subbed off at half-time in weeks 8 and 10, but I also think their was a reduction of intensity in the midfield upon Shin's departure and this was the domino that set in motion Seoul's defensive collapse.  

As a team, in the first six weeks Seoul only allowed 35% of their opponents shots to be on target.  In the next six weeks, the average number of shots on target substantially jumped up to 52%, which I think makes it inevitable that Seoul would concede more goals.  Here are the statistics from week 13 through 18.

FC Seoul Offense vs. Defense: Games Thirteen Through Eighteen
Week
Poss.
Shots
On Goal

Poss.
Shots
On Goal
13
47.54
17
10

52.46
12
3
14
52.89
12
9

47.11
10
4
15
54.12
18
9

45.88
4
3
16
52.02
10
4

47.98
11
9
17
53.3
12
6

46.7
8
5
18
48.15
11
4

51.85
10
5
Avg.
51.34
13.33
7.00

48.66
9.17
4.83

There really is not much difference between games 7 through 12 and games 13 through 18.  Possession, shots, and shots on goal are around what they were in the first six weeks.  Still, even though the average amount of shots and shots on target that Seoul's opponents has dropped a bit, indicating an improvement on defense, this has not been the case at all as the rate on target was still quite high at 53%.  Factor that in with colossal defensive mistakes and goal keeping blunders and this is why Seoul are mired in crisis right now.  

3. Ju Se-jong's Injury

Just as Shin's departure hurt the team, so did losing Ju Se-jong.  I believe the week 12 result when Seoul lost to Jeju Utd. at home 4-3 demonstrated this.  With Ju having been selected to play for the national team against Spain and the Czech Republic, he was unavailable, and Seoul's midfield was overrun throughout the game and pretty much a non-factor.  

Upon his return, Seoul destroyed Suwon FC and played their best game in seven weeks.  Granted, it was against the league's worst team, but they looked good on offense and defense and it seemed as though the team was beginning to cope without Shin Jin-ho and recover from the mental fatigue of the intense ACL knockout fixtures against the Urawa Reds in May.  Unfortunately, Ju picked up an injury during that week and has not played since then.  The team won their next game against Gwangju FC, but have struggled since then.  

Seoul could not win at home against the worst Suwon Bluewings team in a long time, were completely outplayed on the road by Pohang, went to shit and lost at home to Seongnam, and inconsistent on the road against  Sangju Sangmu.  Some might attribute their last three losses to Choi Yong-soo's departure, but I would not.  The team is a mess and this decline has been inevitable.

4.  The Formation and Keepers are Killing the Team

The 3-5-2 formation with Seoul's CBs playing a high line no longer works.  Far too often, the CBs are isolated and ripped to pieces on the counter as the games against Pohang in week 16 and Seongnam in week 17 showed.  The pressure put on the CBs from playing so far up the pitch and lack of help from the midfield has led to more mistakes from the defenders such as missed tackles, misjudgment of the ball's flight, and a complete loss of shape far too often.  In other words, the CBs cannot defend effectively, but that is probably because they are not getting much help from the midfield.

Likewise, the team's keepers both have major flaws.  I have lamented in the past about how the quality of keeping will probably be the difference as to whether or not Seoul will win the title and that has been proven true as of late.  Every keeper, as Kwoun Sun-tae demonstrated against Suwon FC last Sunday, make mistakes.  Yet, it feels as though Seoul keepers have been making quite a few as of late.

Yoo Hyun's calamities have been well-documented, so I will not go into great detail about those.  I will say that he is a good shot stopper, but he does not have a commanding presence in the box.  He cannot punch the ball for shit and he struggles to catch crosses as well.  I think he is a good back-up keeper, but he should not be holding the number one shirt.

However, Yu Sang-hun cannot seem to dislodge him even though he has had ample opportunity.  He has the physical necessities to thrive in his role, but seems to lack a certain amount of maturity.  In the last game he played in, against Seongnam, I blamed Kim Dong-woo for Tiago's first goal but Yu had a massive role in it as well.  Why did he come so far out of his box?  If he stayed on his line, maybe the defense recovers and stops Tiago.  Instead, he is way the hell out of his box and was lucky to not be carded for a wild, lunging tackle.

Yu reminds me of Wojciech Szczesny when he played for Arsenal.  He had so much potential, but failed to live up to it even though he was significantly better than the other keepers the team had.  In the end, Wenger decided to choose the shorter Ospina over him and Szcezesny was sent off to Roma. Now, I cannot see him dislodging Petr Cech either and I can see the same thing happening to Yu.  For whatever reason, even though he has had PK heroics, the coaching staff keeps running Yoo Hyun out and I think this demonstrates that they do not trust Yu.

Conclusion

I have no idea what Seoul can do to get out of this mess.  I think that Seoul need to move away from playing 3-5-2 and Hwang Sun-hong must have read this (wink wink), because I suggested changing the formation from a back three to a back four and he did it against Sangju Sangmu.  I did not expect him to do it so soon, but I think it is necessary because the defense has been continuously exposed on the counter as of late with opponents exploiting the large pockets of space behind the CBs. Unfortunately, Seoul still lost to the military team as Sin Sang-min stupidly pulled Park Gi-dong down in the box to give up a last minute penalty.

Hwang evidently understands the magnitude of the defensive crisis as well and I think that is the impetus behind signing Kwak Tae-hwi.  I am curious as to when he will slot in to the starting line-up. Nonetheless, Seoul still need to sign another midfielder at this point.  Unfortunately, I cannot see how they will do this.  Seoul are at the maximum for the amount of foreigners allowed on the team and any Korean player of note will probably not be allowed to leave mid season.  Maybe if Seoul look in the Challenge they could find a suitable player to replace Shin Jin-ho or the injured Ju Se-jong.

Moon Ki-han of Bucheon is 27 and might be willing to make the jump to a higher division.  He seems like he has good passing ability and would fit in with the team's ethos.  I do not know who else to suggest since I do not follow the Challenge as closely as I should, but I would like to think that the staff are working on this problem.

This is a fantasy, but I would really like to see Seoul get Yoon Bit-garam, but that is absolute fantasy.  Even though Yanbian are struggling (I think they are 9th), he is lighting it up, having scored four goals and assisted on four as well.  From looking on line, Yanji seems to have its good and bad points.  Maybe the fear of being kidnapped by North Korea and living in China's crystal meth capital would make him find Seoul a more suitable place to live.  I doubt it, but one can dream.

Barring the signing of Yoon, the scouting department has their work cut out for them this transfer window if they want to help manager Hwang arrest the team's slide, especially with Adriano having been suspended for six games.  With this suspension, the next question that should be asked is whether or not Adriano will want to remain in the K-League.  That question of course will be answered in the coming weeks.



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