Preview: Suwon Bluewings vs Seongnam
(Photo courtesy of http://sports.donga.com)
Saturday see's these two teams meet for the 5th (yes, 5th) and final time this season when they play out their crunch K League Classic basement battle. Both teams have hit terrible runs of form at the worst time possible and are in desperate need of 3 points in order to prolong their stay in the top tier of Korean football for one more season. And although this game may not be make or break, a lot is riding on it.
Seongnam have had a disastrous last 3 months, which has seen them slip from a potential ACL qualification spot to a relegation battle. Over recent weeks what was being deemed as a superb season is at risk thanks to a poor run of results. In truth, recently, Seongnam have looked a shadow of their former selves and a win for Suwon in this game would leave them only a point behind Seongnam.
However, since June, Seongnam have had a mixed bag of results. Out of their 18 games in June, July and August they only secured 5 wins, 5 draws and 8 losses which has seen them fall further down the table. On the pitch calamity, was also mixed with off the pitch calamity as the board attempted to sell star man Thiago for $3 Million, only to find out that he was actually on loan to Seongnam from parent club Penapolense.
Despite their great start to the season Seongnam haven't looked anything like the team that performed so well and impressed so many people last season. Last season Seongnam taught the whole league how to properly play counter attacking football. They were extremely resilient in defence and they knew how to play to the strengths of Hwang Eui-jo. They rarely attacked but in Eui-jo they had a man who only needed one chance and he finished the season with 15 goals to his name.
This season, Seongnam have attempted to replicate the same formula but it just hasn't been the same. They have conceded far too many goals, and have already conceded more than they did in the entirety of last season. Moreover, they just don't threaten their opponents enough. Hwang Eui-jo's off field interests (the striker has allegedly cast his eye over a few of Seongnam's female supporters) appear to have affected his performances and without his goals Seongnam are always going to be fighting an up hill battle.
For 3 months the fantastic Thiago (he was going to be my pick for player of the season) kept Seongnam afloat but now that he has gone Seongnam have very little attacking inspiration on the pitch.
They have displayed relegation form over the last 9 games (winning 1, drawing 2, and losing a remarkable 6 games) and are currently a sinking ship. If Suwon FC and Incheon keep getting the results they have over recent weeks, and Suwon Bluewings begin holding onto their leads, it certainly isn't unthinkable that Seongnam could be sinking their way to the Challenge.
This game, much like the rest of Suwon's season, will most likely be decided by one man; Johnathan. The Brazilian, after suffering through a difficult period when he first joined the club in July, has come to life this autumn and is currently the hottest striker in the league. After only scoring 1 goal in his first 7 games for the club, he has now netted 7 goals in his last 5 games. His goals are probably the only thing that are keeping Suwon's head above water at the moment and he is starting to solidify his place as a firm fan's favourite. It's not only his goals that are endearing him to the Suwon supporters aswell, and his visible passion and commitment is setting him apart from his teammates. Johnathan is a player who is not shy to make a challenge or stick his head in where it might hurt and atleast half of the Suwon squad could stand to learn an important lesson from him .The striker will be looking to take advantage of a Seongnam team that are hemorrhaging goals (7 conceded in their last 4 games) and add even more capital to his growing reputation.
Suwon's last game saw the aforementioned player bag another 2 goals, with one being a contender for goal of the season (a fine solo run from the halfway line, and neat finish past the goalkeeper). However, despite leading in the game with 15 minutes left to play, Suwon yet again managed to surrender a winning position. This has been a contiuous theme of their season and if Suwon had managed to hold onto winning positions then they would have accumulated a further 30 points and would be sitting top of the table with an 8 point gap between themselves and Jeonbuk. But those are the fine margins in football, and instead of pushing for a trophy they are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table.
This propensity to concede when leading isn't solely due to defensive blunders, although there have been a fair number of those. The negative mindset of the team is possibly the biggest factor in the avalanche of goals that are conceded when Suwon take the lead in the game, and this mindset is transmitted from the Seo Jung-won and down to his players. The much maligned manager has had his fair share of critics this season, and he needs to find a way of trying to close out games without making mind-numbingly stupid defensive changes in games. Far too many times this season have Suwon been controlling games, only for the manager to make a defensive substitution, or alter the formation, and instantly put the team on the back foot. This was evident again last weekend, when he substituted Lee Sang-ho, who had defended resolutely all afternoon, for the out of form and out of sorts Yeom Ki-hun. Despite Ki-hun having a nightmare a couple of weeks earlier when he was introduced at Incheon with Suwon leading 2-0, and somehow sacrificing that lead to draw 2-2. Seo Jung-won clearly doesn't learn from his mistakes and it was no coincidence that Pohang scored their equaliser only moments after Ki-hun was introduced.
Over recent weeks the manager has switched from formations of 3-5-2, to 3-4-3, to 4-5-1, to 4-3-3 in the hope of finding a magic formula that might just somehow save his job. The frequency with which he changes his tactics and first 11 has rendered it impossible for me to predict what team will line-up. But I would not be shocked if the same under-performing midfield is selected yet again. Kwon Chang-hoon will likely (undeservedly) retain his place, whilst Ki-hun will most likely start. Cho Won-hee might also retain his place as it seems these three players can do no wrong in the eyes of the manager.
One thing the players must realise though is that it is now or never in terms of their hopes of survival. With Incheon showing signs of fight and Suwon FC already proving once that they can beat their cross-city rivals the only points that Suwon could pick up between now and the end of the season may be in the games against Seongnam and Gwangju. With Seongnam in free fall this should be an ideal opportunity to pick up some points. No less than 3 will suffice.
Predicted Score: Suwon 2 - 1 Seongnam