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Preview: Sangju Sangmu vs Suwon Bluewings

(Yeon Jei-min celebrates scoring on his return to the starting line-up against Jeonnam. Photo courtesy of www.fourfourtwo.co.kr)

This Sunday sees Suwon return to the only football ground outside of Suwon that they have registered an away win at this season, when they travel to Sangju to take on Korea's military team. The two teams are having contrasting seasons with Sangju surprisingly challenging for an ACL qualifying spot and Suwon languishing near the foot of the table. But with Suwon winning both previous games this season this one might not just be a foregone conclusion.

Sangju Sangmu

Sangju have had quite an astonishing season. Tipped by many, including myself, to struggle against relegation this season, they have instead comfortably been among the top 6 for most of it and in recent months have begun to challenge for 3rd spot in the league. 

Their position is no fluke either as only Jeonbuk, Seoul and Jeju (teams with significant fire power) have outscored them this term. And while their defence if the 2nd worst in the league (having leaked a remarkable 44 goals in 27 games), a stellar June and July, in which they picked up 20 points from a total of 33 on offer, has propelled them to the heights that they now find themselves.

Their good season has been built on a fantastic counter attack and Sangju have more regularly relied upon outscoring their opponents rather than keeping clean sheets. In that, their midfield has been vitally important and Kim Sung-hwan has been a threat throughout the season and his chipped in with 7 goals from midfield and is only 2 goals shy from equaling his record tally for a season. The former Seongnam and Ulsan midfielder is an energetic box to box midfielder with a neat touch and if any chances fall his way he will be likely to finish them. He is someone that Suwon will have to watch very closely.

Up front, Sangju have been aided by the emergence of Park Gi-dong. The youngster is having a marvelous season with 9 goals scored and 7 assists provided. Those stats are certainly telling of his all round play and as one of the strongest forwards in the K League he has caused major problems to quite a few defences this season. Contrary to what I wrote at the beginning of the season (yet again I was proven wrong on something) Park Gi-dong is not just a battering ram of a centre forward that is there just to provide space and assists for the other attacking players. This season has seen him find a new maturity and he is able to dominate defences whilst scoring goals. He is a very good target man and without him I don't think the Sangju system would work as effectively as it does. I imagine that Lee Jung-soo will be asked to mark him but with Suwon's best defender occupied, Sangju could fancy themselves to have a good day at the office on Sunday.

Prediction

Suwon come into this game off the back of two home draws against an unpredictable Pohang and a resurgent Jeonnam team. And on the surface, two points from games that I had predicted Suwon to lose is a good return. But in reality, it was more 4 points dropped rather than 2 points gained, as Suwon had the better chances in both games and with better finishing should have won both games comfortably on the balance of play.

Admittedly, the first half of the Pohang game was an absolute horror show from Suwon and they should have been 5-0 down at half time. However, in the 2nd half they laid siege to Pohang's goal and relentlessly rained down effort after effort that was either blazed high and wide or saved by the marvelous Kim Jin-yeong in the Pohang nets. In truth, it wasn't until the ineffective, yet extremely willing, Kim Jong-min was replaced up front with Kim Gun-hee that Suwon really came to life. Gun-hee had an astonishing 30 minute spell that showcased everything good about his game and he was unlucky not to bag a couple of goals at least. But the young striker was to give a very contrasting performance in their next game, versus Jeonnam.

Seo Jung-won, the Suwon manager, made the bold choice of playing in a 4-4-2 for the Jeonnam fixture and I can't recall seeing it used too many times in Korea. Kim Jong-min and Kim Gun-hee were asked to play as two out-and-out strikers as Suwon dominated throughout whilst creating a number of goalscoring opportunities. The fact that Suwon dominated in the game has to surely go down to the manager's tactics (that's the first time I have said that all season) as he was forced to field an extremely weakened team. The starting midfield in particular was extremely weak with Jo Won-hee and Baek Ji-hoon playing in central midfield, whilst Ko Cha-won and Lee Yong-rae were asked to play out wide. The midfield did work tirelessly and out muscled their opponents time and time again.

The performance wasn't built on flashy football, as there simply weren't enough players in blue that possessed enough skill on the pitch. Instead, it was a performance built around substance. The midfield won the ball and simply fed the strikers who ran the Jeonnam defence ragged, that is until they got to the penalty area. And then the wheels fell off as Suwon's lackadaisical finishing once again reared it's ugly head. Kim Gun-hee was the main guilty party in this respect as he had a number of great opportunities to convert but kicked the ball like he was playing on Blackpool beach with a penny floater. The ball went left, it went right, it went high and it went hide. But never once, did it go straight when it left the boot of Kim Gun-hee. For all the positive potential he possesses it was a night to forget for him.

For this game, I would like to see Seo Jung-won persevere with the 4-4-2 system as I think Suwon could really pressure Sangju with the formation as Sangju tend to sit deep and spring rapid counter attacks. The onus will be on Suwon to go out and pressure Sangju in to making defensive lapses, which is something that they are prone to. Also, Jonathan officially (definitely, as he let me down last week) has returned to full fitness and should be ready to partner Kim Gun-hee up front, a forward line which would suit both player. Kim Gun-hee likes to drop deep and play in the channels which would free Jonathan up to play a more central and selfish game. Jonathan's key attribute is his deadly finishing and that is something that Suwon have been unable to capitalise upon in his fledgling Classic career.

Moreover, Suwon now finally have two very good specialist full-backs that can play in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Hong-Chul and Shin Se-gye are strong, athletic and skillful, and have enough stamina to support the wide midfielders whilst maintaining a strong defensive position. Hong Chul, in particular, is a superb player and probably won't remain with Suwon after this season. He is a player that is rarely beaten by his opposing number, can tackle well, and going forward can be a real nuisance. He is the 2nd best crosser of the ball in the Suwon squad, only trailing behind the mercurial Yeom Ki-hun, and is one of the few players that plays with his head up and never looks at the ball when it is at his feet. His return from injury this month has been like making a new signing and I remain hopeful that his presence could propel Suwon to a few more wins.

I should feel very nervous about this game but for some reason I don't. I actually think that Suwon can go to Sangju and come away with all 3 points, as they did earlier this summer. Both teams are weak defensively so I expect goals at both ends but I am hoping that the return to the starting line-up of Yeom Ki-hun, Kwon Chang-hoon, Jonathan and Santos will tip the scales in Suwon's favour.

Predicted Score: Sangju Sangmu 1 - 2 Suwon Bluewings

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