Preview: Gangwon FC vs Suwon Bluewings
Suwon Bluewings make the difficult journey to the mountains of Gangwon-do on Saturday afternoon as they prepare to take on a Gangwon FC team that, surprisingly, put early league leaders, Jeju United, to the sword with a 2-1 victory on the island last weekend. Added to the difficulty in reaching the Alpensia Stadium's unique location, atop a rural mountain, Gangwon have had a strong start to their home campaign and will be looking to twist the sword that has already been planted firmly in Suwon's back. (Photo courtesy of www.bluewings.kr)
Last Time Out
It has been a tumultuous week for Suwon Bluewings as they struggle to come to terms with their on field and off field problems. After a month of disappointing home draws against teams that they should, realistically have beaten, things came to a head last weekend when a lackluster Suwon drew 0-0 to Gwangju. The result was met with extreme criticism from the Suwon supporters, and with a considerable majority chanting 'Seo Out' after the final whistle had sounded.
Last Sunday's game was itself, a non-entity with both teams struggling to form coherent attacks and both midfield's cancelling each other out. Neither goalkeeper was required to make a serious save and Gwangju, who were great value for their away point, were warmly applauded by the home supporters for their industry and superb team work, both of which were first rate.
The lows of Sunday were met, if not surpassed, on Wednesday night as Suwon travelled to near neighbours Incheon and produced one of the most forgettable games of football that this writer has ever witnessed. An almost full strength Suwon team, again, struggled to find any coherence in attack against a much changed, and much weakened, Incheon team. Suwon didn't register their first, and only shot on target, until the 56th minute, which luckily for them resulted in a goal. A dangerous Yeom Ki-hun corner kick was headed against the crossbar, and in the resulting scramble Incheon gave away a needless free-kick 25 yards out from goal, which Ki-hun, himself, dispatched into the top left corner of the goal.
In summary, in 180 minutes of football, Suwon have managed to produce one meaningful shot on target and have limped their way into the next round of the FA Cup simply by the virtue of not being quite as terrible as their near city neighbours, Incheon. With the doubters already voicing their concerns, if performances remain the same, Seo Jung-won must only have days remaining on his tenure as the manager of Suwon Bluewings.
Is It Time For Seo Jung-won To Leave?
In short, in this writer's opinion, it was time for him to leave at the end of last season and it was only a thrilling end to the season that saved his job. Despite presiding over what seemed like it would go down as one of the worst seasons in the club's history, Seo Jung-won saved his job with a miraculous run which culminated in them winning the 2016 KFA Cup. But that victory just only papered over the cracks of what had and continues to be a crisis.
Having come from a back ground of briefly coaching the national U-23 team, Seo Jung-won is now beginning to show his tactical inadequacies which have been masked for so long by the quality players the manager has had at his disposable. His most successful seasons as Suwon manager (the 2014 and 2015 seasons) came at a time when he was able to rely on the strength of Jeong Tae-se and the technical skill and discipline of players like Oh Beom-seok and a younger Yeom Ki-hun. But the slashing of the Suwon operating budget has left a dearth of quality in the squad and Seo Jung-won has struggled to find ways to maintain the performance of the team.
Furthermore, has become fond of playing players out of position in a near attempt to re-invent the wheel every time that Suwon play. This season, in particular, he has opted to play a right footed, central midfielder in the left wing-back slot, and perhaps even more nonsensically, has asked Yeom Ki-hun, the league's best passer and creator of goals, to operate as a striker, which, as other followers of Korean football have commented, seems like a basic mistake that the manager continues to make on a weekly basis.
Moreover, the signing of Korean national team player, Kim Min-woo, in the winter transfer window was seen as a real movement of intent by the club, but thus far, the midfielder has been asked to play the unfamiliar role of left wing-back on the occasions he has played. Kim Min-woo is one of the most talented midfielders in the squad, and again, the manager is making a basic tactical mistake and is not playing one of his most dangerous players in a position where his talents can be maximised.
Despite having, on paper, one of the strongest squads in the league, and being tipped to challenge for the Classic title by the majority of the Kleagueunited staff, the players ultimately aren't performing for the manager and therein lies the problem. A number of players just haven't been playing to their potential this season, most notably Johnathan, Koo Ja-ryong, Kim Min-woo, Santos and Shin Hwa-yong. It's an easy accusation to be made, but Seo Jung-won appears to have lost his dressing room and just can't manage to motivate his players to perform at the levels they are capable of. This point was further amplified by the news midweek that Lee Jung-soo had announced that he was to quit playing for Suwon Bluewings despite having never confirmed that with the manager or the club's board. The defender was omitted from the match day squad for the midweek FA Cup game as talks between the club and the player are ongoing.
Seo Jung-won, being the club's record goalscorer, is quite rightly regarded as a legend in Suwon. However, legends can only recieve so much grace and favour, and it appears that this particular legend is living on borrowed time.
Time For A Change In Formation
Seo Jung-won's tactical ineptitude is also mirrored in his stubbornness in not switching from the 3-4-3 formation that served Suwon so well in the closing months of the 2016 season. In truth, it was probably the tactical switch to that formation that allowed Suwon to go on their wonderful run. The change of formation allowed Suwon to shore up a leaky defence, which was prone to conceding in the latter stages of games (a massive 18 goals were conceded beyond the 80 minute mark in the 2016 season), and allowed the manager to push players up the field and closer to Johnathan, who had struggled for form before the new system was introduced. However, that system could only be implemented because of the players that the manager had at his disposal, most notably, Hong-Chul and Kwon Chang-hoon.
However, the turnover of players over the winter left Seo Jung-won without either of those players and his inability to sign a replacement for the talented Hong-Chul has left a serious hole in the squad. As I have aluded to previously, if Seo Jung-won wished to continue using a 3-4-3 system, the signing of an attack minded left wing-back should have been on the top of his winter transfer list. As it stands, Suwon have no recognised left wing-back in their squad and it is beginning to show.
The 3-4-3 system should, if being utilised properly, allow a team to overload central areas of the pitch, whilst maintaining a threat from the wings, and with 3 defenders at the back also provides a safety net for any potential counter attacks. However, with players being played out of position, there currently is no natural width or threat from the flanks, despite having the best crosser of a ball in the Kleague in the squad. Teams have very quickly learned that to stop Suwon from scoring they merely need to crowd men around Johnathan and defend their 18 yard box resolutely.
As it stands, a shift back to 4 man defence and playing certain midfielders in their natural positions would benefit this team greatly. But with Seo Jung-won nothing should seems that simple and it may be a long time before he realises that the way the team is performing now isn't quite up to standard.
Despite getting off to an indifferent start to the season, following an away victory and a home defeat to Seoul, Gangwon are really starting to show the type of form that some people predicted when they went on their winter spending spree. They have had some especially solid results at home, having held early pacesetters Jeonbuk and Pohang to score draws.
Another impressive thing about the Classic new boys is that they are managing to spread their goals throughout the team. Goals have been scored by a combination of defenders Ahn Ji-ho and Sielis, midfielder Kim Seong-yong, and atackers, Lee Keun-ho, Mauricio and Kim Kyung-jung. Of these, Lee Keun-ho will pose the most danger to teams and the veteran striker is already well on course to out perform his goal tally of last season.
Based on what I have said above, it would be fair to assess that Suwon have absolutely no chance of returning to Gyeongi-do with 3 points on Saturday evening. I think they will struggle to cope with a Gangwon attack that has already proven it can break down the toughest defences in the league. Gangwon are most certainly a team on the rise, while Suwon, if they persevere with the stewardship of Seo Jung-won, could still visit new lows that they never imagined even in their worst nightmares.
Predicted Score: Gangwon 2 - 0 Suwon