2017 Season Preview: Suwon Bluewings
After a good pre-season, both on an off the pitch, the 2016 KFA Cup winners are looking strong coming into the new season. Having strengthened their squad, whilst their rivals have weakened, some people are tipping Suwon to go all the way this year and claim the league title. (Photo courtesy of www.bluewings.kr)
10W, 18D,10L - 7th Place
2016 was a tale of two seasons for Suwon. The first 2/3's of the season were disastrous as the club flirted with relegation to the 2nd tier. But the final third of the season saw the talented squad play to their potential, eventually avoiding relegation with ease and securing a historic FA Cup final victory over bitter rivals FC Seoul.
On the whole, Suwon have had a pretty good pre-season and have strengthened what was already a talented squad of players. However, 3 pieces of business have particularly stood out.
Firstly, the acquisition of Australian centre-back Matthew Jurman appears to be an astute one by the club. After last season's defensive frailties, a strong, authoritative defender was the first thing on Suwon's shopping list. The club opted to look overseas for a defender with that profile and decided to target one of Australia's most highly rated defenders. With Suwon conceding a multitude of late goals last season, the hope will be that Jurman can add some mental solidity to a defence that folded too easily under pressure last season.
Another key signing has been that of striker Park Gi-dong. I must admit, I was surprised to see that Jeonnam let the striker go so cheaply, receiving Yeon Je-min, an average centre-back, in return. The tall target man will add a different dimension to Suwon's attack, and after lacking any physicality up front since Jeong Tae-se's departure, they now finally have a plan-B for Seo Jung-won to utilize. The striker comes with real promise after finally proving himself at Classic level whilst playing for Sangju last season. The striker netted 9 goals and provided 8 assists to his teammates as he troubled defences up and down the country.
Finally, perhaps the most significant transfer was a negative one for the club, with left-back Hong Chul departing to complete his military service. Yeom Ki-hun aside, Hong-chul was the most technically gifted player in the squad and his defensive and crossing ability is going to be severely missed next season. Suwon are yet to find a suitable replacement for his position and it looks likely that they will be unable to replace a player of his quality.
As I just mentioned, despite the club doing some good business over the winter, there is still a massive Hong-chul shaped hole in the squad and with Yang Sang-min the only recognised left-back in the squad, Suwon look very light in that department. If there is one more signing to come before the close of the window, then it must come in this position.
During pre-season, Seo Jung-won has persevered with the 3-5-2 shape of last season but has opted to play new signing Kim Min-woo at left wing-back. And despite him performing admirably in that position, when the attacking midfielder signed for the club, I doubt it was the plan to play him in this position. The midfielder comes with a wealth of experience and a glowing reputation from the J-League and if Suwon are to utilize his capabilities effectively he needs to play in a position that better suits his skill set.
Despite being 33 years of age Suwon's key player is still the captain, Yeom Ki-hun. The Kleague's all-time assist maker, who had a poor season when compared with the high standards he has set, finished the 2016 season with 15 assists. That is an absolutely staggering figure when you consider that the team struggled offensively and played without a goal-scoring striker for the majority of the season.
The winger shows no signs of slowing down as he ages, and he still possesses the best left-foot in Korea. His dead-ball delivery is the best in the league and now with two recognised strikers to aim for, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect him to finish the 2017 season with over 20 assists. Undoubtedly, if Suwon are to be successful this season then they will need a fully fit Yeom Ki-hun firing on all cylinders.
Reason To Watch
The attraction of Suwon's Brazilian forward Johnathan may be enough to entice some more people to come to Big Bird stadium this year. With the departure of Adriano from FC Seoul, it could be argued that Johnathan is now the best goal-scoring striker in the league and Suwon have a proven and dangerous player to lead their attack.
The Brazilian enjoyed an unbelievable debut season with the club, scoring 14 goals in 18 games. After joining in the summer transfer window, the striker had a quiet start to his Suwon career. With the team in terrible form, Johnathan didn't have any effect on the team during his first 5 or 6 games, but a classy end of season run saw him score 11 goals in 8 games as he steered his team away from the relegation battle and towards FA Cup glory.
Perhaps the biggest question is whether Suwon and their manager, Seo Jung-won, have learned from last seasons mistakes. A season that ultimately ended in success, because of that FA Cup win, could have ended so much differently, if it wasn't for the late season run of form.
The 2016 season was characterized by defensive frailty and managerial mismanagement, and if Suwon are to mount a title challenge this season then performance in both these departments will need to improve. Suwon held the 2nd worst defensive record in the league, conceding 59 goals with the vast majority of those goals being conceded in the final quarter of games when Suwon were in winning positions. The reasons for this were twofold; defensive naivety and the team selections of the manager.
However, the team and the manager both improved in the latter stages of the season. If Suwon can continue their late 2016 form into the new league season then they will be a match for anybody in Asia, let alone just the Kleague.