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Recap: Jeju United 3-2 FC Seoul

(Image from FC Seoul.com)
For the first time in a long time, I did not write a match preview for Sunday's game.  I blame prior commitments and moving, but really I just was not feeling it.  I had a nasty suspicion that Seoul would fall apart in this game somehow and that I did not really want to take time out during the week to write more of the same shit that I have been over the last three months- too many mental mistakes, weak midfield, perplexing substitutions, etc.  After such a promising start, this season has officially been labeled a disappointment as Seoul have failed to keep up with Jeonbuk and look in danger of possibly even being knocked out of the top six. Seoul's opponent this upcoming Sunday, Pohang, are only four points back and could do quite a bit of damage if they win.  This is an absolute possibility since Pohang have owned Seoul over the last three years and do not look like relinquishing control at any point.  However, that is beyond the scope of this article and instead, I will just briefly recap the game and comment on six things that stand out for me.

In the first half, right after kick-off Seoul conceded early yet again (more on that below).  From there, Jeju were quite happy to cede possession and look to hit Seoul on the counter.  With over 65% of the ball, Seoul struggled to fashion any thing of note really and were quite lucky not to be down by two or three goals.  Luckily, after a corner, Seoul were able to draw even with some great counterattacking play and the half ended at 1-1.  In the second, Seoul came out much stronger and took the lead in the first minute.  Afterwards, they tried to kill the game off but were unsuccessful. This profligacy would eventually cost them as Lim Min-hyeok was given a second yellow card for tugging on an opponent's shirt and sent off.  From there, Jeju equalized on a corner in the 73rd minute as Seoul's defense did the one thing it should not have- panic.  Sim Je-hyuk thought he put Seoul back in the lead only to be flagged offside.  In the 80th minute Seoul put in an even more egregious display of set piece defending as nobody marked Kwon Han-jin and he was able to power home a header and give the tangerines a much needed three points.

Anyways, here is a link to the video if you want to watch the highlights.  Now, I will list the four things that I took away from this game.  

1.  Park Chu-young, Yun Il-lok, and Yu Sang-hun all played well.  

Before addressing the negatives, which unfortunately always seem to number more as of late, let me point out the positives first.  Park Chu-young continues to do well in his second season coming back from a knee injury.  He now has seven goals and looks well on his way to being named the Comeback Player of the Year, at least in my humble opinion.  Considering that Park has only shot the ball 23 times this year, that is a very impressive ratio of one goal for every 3.28 shot attempts.

Yun Il-lok finally got his first goal of the year and it was from the aforementioned counter attack.  Yun's late run into the box and thumping shot were reminiscent of his golden period in 2014 and hopefully he can replicate that play going forward.  Likewise, he set up Park Chu-young's goal, starting the move with Dejan and getting the ball back.  Yun's shot was blocked, but Park was on hand for an easy tap-in.  This would have been a wonderful goal created by Yun if Dejan could have gotten onto the end of it, but the ball was beyond him.  I have been pissing and moaning for quite a bit, but Yun works quite well as an attacking player, particularly out wide where he has space to work with, so hopefully management will quit trying to shoehorn him in as a central midfielder.  It was worth a try, but I think Seoul should look for a better way to strengthen in that area.

Finally, Yu Sang-hun has bounced back quite well from his disaster against Seongnam a month ago.  He made some key saves to keep Seoul in the game in the first half, especially a diving save to his right to deny Marcello from point blank range.  Yu really did deserve better and his defense let him down again.

2.  I might have been wrong about Cho Chan-ho.

In my Transfer Talk piece last month, I singled out Cho Chan-ho as being the biggest disappointment and someone who should be released.  Since Choi Yong-soo's departure though, Cho has begun to play more and has had some good moments.  In his start against Sangju Sangmu in the beginning of July, Cho should have gotten an assist for starting a counter attack but Dejan's shot hit the cross bar.  On Sunday, he finally recorded his first assist, setting up Yun Il-lok for Seoul's equalizer.  By no means it time to anoint Cho as the savior, let alone a successful signing, but if his ability to break on the counter from an opponent's set piece gives Seoul another dimension to their attack that has been lacking at times.

3.  Errors cost Seoul yet again.  

All three goals were the result of breakdowns in communication and these breakdowns are what is killing Seoul's defense.  As soon as the team senses any sort of danger, panic ensues and EVERY member of the team immediately converges on the ball.  The first goal is an example of this as poor  Lim Min-hyuk, making his debut, miss kicked a ball and it fell dangerously to Wanderson.  From there, Kim Nam-chun stands off of Wanderson, allowing him time to easily pick out Song Jin-hyung for Jeju's first goal.  If you watch the GIF you can see how EVERYONE on the team runs towards the ball, leaving acres of space for Song to receive the ball and shoot.  Ko Kwang-min belatedly recognized the danger and tries to pick him up, but it is too damn late and Seoul conceded another poor goal.

Jeju's second and third goals came from set pieces and looked as though they were the result of poor marking and players switching off.  On Jeju's second goal, Lee Keun-ho does well to knock the ball back into the middle for Song to get his second goal of the night, but who was suppose to be marking Song?  Here is an image below.

(From FCSeoul.com)
I circled Song Jin-hyung in orange.  Look how much space he has, which begs the question, who should have been marking him or his zone?  What is Kim Nam-chun (1) doing?  What are numbers 2 and 3 doing as well?  Were they coached to be in these positions?

The third goal was similar to the second as there was a massive breakdown somewhere as Dejan failed to jump, allowing Gwon Han-jin to have the simplest of headers.  I love Dejan and hate to critique him, especially since I do not know what the instructions of the coaching staff are, but he probably should have at least jumped.  Again though, as with the second corner I am not sure what positions the players should be in, so it is hard for me to say definitively who is at fault.

I think what can be taken away from this game is that something has to change with regards to the defensive coaching.  There were warning signs prior with Marcelo having two headers on target and it is known throughout the league about Jeju's ability to score from set pieces.  This segues nicely into my next point.

(from evilenglish.net)
4.  Is Hwang Sun-hong in over his head?

Last year, tongue firmly planted in cheek, recommended that Seoul go out and get Jurgen Klopp under the caveat that he could travel around southeast Asia when the season finished last year.  I complained regularly that Seoul were boring, Choi Yong-soo did not win enough, and he drew too frequently.  Christ, looking back on those halcyon days of a 0-0 or 1-1 result, I feel as though I was pretty damn spoiled.

Hwang Sun-hong on the plus side, does not draw games, but unfortunately he just fails to win.  His record since coming to Seoul is one win, one draw, and four losses.  It is completely unfair to blame Hwang for whole mess since the team had significant issues before Choi's departure, especially in midfield.  Most likely, this slump would have occurred regardless, but maybe Choi could have gotten the team over the hump somehow.  I would have bitched about the number of draws, but that would be better than all of the losses right now.

My biggest issues with Hwang right now is not only how often Seoul concede the first goal, but how early they allow them.  In the six league games he has coached, Hwang's team has scored the first only once and that was in the 3-1 loss to Seongnam.  With the exception of Seoul's 0-0 draw with Ulsan, Seoul have conceded first in four of the six games he has coached.  Here is a chart of Seoul's last seven games:

Opponent (result)
Time conceded
Who scored first?
Pohang (2-1 loss)
4th minute
Pohang
Seongnam (3-1 loss)
19th minute
Seoul
Sangju (2-1 loss)
65th minute
Sangju
Ulsan (0-0)
n/a
n/a
Incheon (2-1 win)
8th minute
Incheon
Jeonbuk (3-2 loss)
4th minute
Jeonbuk
Jeju (3-2 loss)
6th minute
Jeju

Even though he did not coach against Pohang, I am including it since it is a loss and Seoul conceded early.  In four of their last seven league games, they have conceded a goal before 10 minutes, which is never good.  Most troubling however, is that in their last three games that Hwang has managed, Seoul have allowed a goal in the 8th minute, 4th minute, and 6th minute.  This shows a team that is switched off and not mentally prepared when taking the field and I firmly affix the blame to the coaching staff for this.  One or two times, sure that might happen, but three games in a row demonstrates that something is amiss habitually and needs to be addressed immediately.

Finally, I think it is fair to ask whether or not Hwang should have substituted out Lim Min-hyuk instead of leaving him on the field.  This was Lim's debut game and he had picked up a yellow card in the first half for a bad tackle.  After taking the lead, maybe Hwang should have pulled Lim and brought someone on with more experience to help defend.  I am not going to be too terribly critical of Lim since he is young and this was his first game.  Instead, I am going to blame the manager because even if it is easy to second guess, Hwang continues to make perplexing personnel changes that hurt the team, such as with bringing on Sim Sang-min for Kim Chi-woo against Sangju Sangmu earlier in the month.  Hwang should have brought the kid off rather than pushing his luck.

So to answer the question, is Hwang in over his head?  Of course not.  He managed Pohang to the title in 2013 and just needs time to institute his set up.  I would say it is only fair to judge him at the end of next season after a full year.  However, he really does not have the luxury of patience with so many games coming thick and fast in the K-League over the next two months (11), the FA Cup, and the upcoming fixture against Shandong Luneng in the AFC Champions League (ACL).

After Seoul vanquished the Urawa Red Diamonds in the round of 16, I felt great about Seoul's chances when they drew Shandong.  They were in complete disarray, mired at the bottom of the Chinese Super League table, and Seoul had already beaten them once in China and really should have won at home against Shandong in April.  In sum, I thought they were the easiest of the three East Asian Zone opponents for Seoul to draw.

Now, after firing their manager and hiring noted hardass Felix Magath, Shandong have begun to climb the table.  They are in 14th place rather than 15th or 16th, but that is progress as the team have won three of their last five games.  Most worryingly though is the fact that Shandong have pulled out the checkbook and signed Graziano Pelle for an obscene amount of money and pulled Papiss Cisse of the scrap heap.   At 31 years of age, both are old for football players, but against Seoul's abysmal defense and panicky back-line each striker is probably relishing the chance to rack up their goals tally.  What was once going to be an easy two legs for Seoul most likely has now become one of worry as Shandong have the talent to take advantage of Seoul's stunning loss of form.  

At this point, Seoul should abandon the notion of trying to catch Jeonbuk and instead focus on the ACL.  Hwang needs to help the team find some form A.S.A.P.  To do this, I think he needs to pick a system, preferably one that does not involve three center backs, and stick with it.  I have been banging on about this, but I would like to see Osmar moved up into the midfield and paired with Ju Se-jong or Takahagi.  Granted, that would weaken the defense, but when is Kwak Tae-hwi going to play?  Is he not suppose to be a capable center back?  

 FC Seoul need to fix midfield in the transfer window or off season immediately.  They have struggled since Shin Jin-ho's departure and none of his replacements has been up to snuff.   Likewise, the team needs to look at its defensive set up and see why there have been so many colossal mistakes this year.   At this point, if the team was a dog, it would be shot.  That sounds cruel, but Seoul need to begin to play better before the season is completely lost.  A look at the league table will confirm that.


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