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Preview: Incheon United vs Suwon

(Baek Ji-hoon struggles to regain the ball against a strong Gwangju midfield. Photo courtesy of http://sportalkorea.mt.co.kr)

On Saturday Suwon will come to the end of their marathon stretch of 5 consecutive away games when they travel to Incheon for a relegation six pointer. With Suwon facing the bottom two in consecutive matches over the next week (they face Suwon FC at home next Saturday) it is now or never for a team that is finally starting to show their quality in the final stages of the season. 

Incheon United

Incheon have been the major disappointment of this K League Classic season. After their strong run in the FA Cup, coupled with a respectable league campaign last season, not many people had backed them to figure in the relegation equation. However, since the beginning of the campaign they have been rooted to the foot of the table.
There is no single reason as to why they have failed so miserably. Instead, it is a catalogue of inadequacies that has seen them fall to their lowly position. Their attack has been dismal, only registering 30 goals (only Suwon FC have failed to score more), whilst their flimsy midfield and weak defence has led to them losing 14 of their games (again, only Suwon FC have lost more than that). Out of the 7 games they have won this season, 5 have been won by a single goal and they have relied on a little more than a stroke of luck to convert those games into wins. 

The major weak point has certainly been their midfield which is not only lacking creativity, but is also missing a real leader. Only four goals have come from midfield with Kim Tae-su scoring a solitary goal and Kim Do-hyuk scoring a meager 3 goals from his advanced position. But the most damning statistic has to be the 2 assists provided in the whole season from midfield players. The Incheon midfield has been one of the least effective in the whole of Korea this season and if Incheon are to be relegated then they will be forced to accept the major share of the blame. 

Their stand out performer this season has undoubtedly been Kevin. The big front man is regularly asked to play as a lone, and isolated, front man but has somehow still managed to register  impressive figures of 8 goals and 7 assists in 24 games. He is currently on a 5 game barren run but if Incheon are to get themselves out of trouble then his presence will be a strong factor in that. 

As terrible as Incheon have been this season, they have shown that they are capable of piecing together small runs of form. June was an extremely successful period for the club in as they claimed 15 points (almost half of their season total) from 9 games. They are now also unbeaten in their last 3 games (taking 7 points from them) hinting that they may be, yet again, about to produce a special run and propel themselves to safety. 


Wednesday night showed just how far Suwon have come in such a short space of time, managing to sneak a draw in a game in which they only registered two meaningful shots on goal.

After the bruising encounter in Jeonju in the previous game, Seo Jung-won made 5 changes to the starting 11 (although 2 of them were enforced through suspension) with Jo Dong-geon coming in at striker, and Cho Won-hee and Baek Ji-hoon coming in to play in central midfield, a move which weakened the spine of the side.

Suwon started well, with Lee Sang-ho scoring a neatly taken goal. However, after the 20th minute it became evident that the aforementioned pair in the centre of midfield were going to struggle to retain the ball against a strong and committed Gwangju midfield. As such, Suwon's promising start dissipated and they really struggled in the game until both Baek Ji-hoon and Cho Won-hee were substituted in the 2nd half.

For 40 minutes Suwon were dominated by Gwangju, but yet they still showed the strength and resolve to hold on for a valuable point when playing a much weakened team. And this is where the improvement can be seen. 2 or 3 months ago, Suwon would have simply rolled over and allowed the superior team to beat them. But while they are not playing the most attractive football in Asia, their recent run of good form see's them unbeaten in 6 games and this steeliness is testament to that.

The spoils have been shared in the 2 previous games between these two, however, both games were meandering to easy Suwon victories until late drama ensued. Suwon had dominated the first encounter in April even though they fielded a weakened team, (at that time they had midweek ACL commitments) but in the 92nd minute of the game, No Dong-geon dropped an easy catch to allow Incheon to equalise and draw the game at 1-1. In the second encounter Suwon, again, dominated but failed to take their chances effectively. At 1-0 up Suwon were cruising towards victory, until a defensive mix-up allowed Incheon to equalise with their first shot on goal in the 75th minute. Suwon again pushed but were unable to break down a stubborn Incheon defence. Incheon somehow scored again in the 92nd minute, as Song Si-woo capitalised on yet another Suwon error. Luckly, Santos equalised to save a point for Suwon in the 96th minute, but how Suwon managed to almost lose a game in which they had 19 shots, compared to their opponents 2, is something I will never understand.

I expect that Suwon will start with the same 11 players that performed so admirably against Seongnam and Jeonbuk recently. Both Jonathan and Lee Jong-seong return from their bans and should go straight back into the starting line-up. Shin Se-gye should also return to his right wing-back slot after being rested in midweek. The defence will most likely, and should, remain unchanged. The centre-backs,Yeon Je-min, Ko Ja-ryoung and Kwak Kwang-seon have performed marvelously over the last 2 games and have been very unlucky not to keep clean sheets in both games. They stood up to 2 very different challenges; an extremely physical and aerial game in Jeonju, and waves of midfield pressure in Gwangju. In both games, the 3 defenders were the most important players on the pitch. If Suwon are to have any hope of winning tomorrow the will need them to marshal Kevin with authority and diligence.

I think Suwon should have enough in their locker to sneak a victory tomorrow. Both Jonathan and Santos have performed well together recently and appear to be forming a good relationship on and off the pitch. If Suwon can continue to use the ball in the wide areas, with the wing-backs, and retain possession a little better than they did against Gwangju, then I expect that they will be able to create atleast a couple of opportunities for the 2 Brazilians up front. Moreover, after defending so well for the last 3 weeks, I don't think Incheon have enough ideas or invention in their attack to break down a stern and unforgiving Suwon backline.

Predicted Score: Incheon 0 - 1 Suwon

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