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Preview: Sangju Sangmu vs FC Seoul

Fresh off a surprise win to close out an otherwise hapless ACL campaign, the defending champs return to league play with a trip to Sangju this Sunday. Evenly split with two wins, two losses, and a draw in their previous five league matches, Seoul will be looking to put last weekend's collapse in Pohang behind them and climb back into the title conversation. 
(image via the-afc.com)

Overview

(form through all competitions via soccerway.com)

The Kids Are Alright

With just one member over the age of 30 (midfielder Cho Chan-ho) and an average age of 25, manager Hwang Sun-hong definitely decided to field the kids vs Urawa Wednesday and it paid off in surprisingly positive fashion. Still without a single minute in the league campaign, 21-year-old Park Min-gyu started his second ACL match of the year and had a strong showing in Kim Chi-woo's usual left wingback spot. Unlike his veteran counterpart, Min-gyu stayed much more disciplined defensively and rarely made overlapping runs, leaving the attacking decisions to Ju Se-jong and Maurinho. The Brazilian winger had another strong shift and continues to make a case to be in the starting lineup through his ACL play. Though his name may not show on the scoresheet, it was his deft touch on a pass slightly behind his run and the following on the money through ball that set up Yoon Seung-won's goal. The goal was a well worked play that resulted in a tap in, but the fact remains that Yoon had a strong enough showing throughout his first full 90 of the year that he should be seeing more minutes for a struggling offense. The 22-year-old has only played 124 minutes spanning back to last year's FA Cup final, but found the back of the net twice with the limited opportunities. Wednesday's tally may not have meant much, but his go ahead goal to send the 2016 FA Cup Final to extra time certainly did, and proved that he doesn't shy away from the bright light. After showing well on much bigger stages, there's really no reason to leave him on the bench this weekend.

Admittedly, this was a B-side Urawa Seoul was facing, but the cohesion this lineup showed can't be denied. Perhaps it had to do with fighting for a spot, or perhaps it was young players too afraid to make a mistake, but whatever it was Seoul looked much better for it on both ends of the pitch. It's something Marc Guay, Hosu Kim, Paul Neat and I talked about in more detail post match on Facebook.


Goodbye to Yoo

Alright... first and foremost I know it's a terrible pun. I couldn't help it. Secondly, Yang Han-bin showed enough Wednesday night to take over the starting spot from the unreliable Yoo Hyun. Again, it was a B team he was facing, but you can only face the team put in front of you and Yang did a solid job organizing his backline and stepping up the few times he was asked to keep the clean sheet. While this was the third consecutive scoreless match for Urawa, it's still the same side the put up six vs Western Sydney and rang up five on Seoul the last time they faced each other. They also lead J League with an astounding +13 goal difference after just 10 matches played. So it's not like the backup brigade for Seoul had some slouches scoreless. Yes, Urawa's on a downswing, but they're still a might better than a host of Classic teams and Yang's shot stopping capabilities proved up to the task. I say shot stopping abilities because his command of the box and decision making need some work. This was never more evident than late in the match when the Reds were making one final push for a draw and Yang poorly punched a ball clear that he just as easily could have caught and taken possession with. He also seems a bit unsure as to when he needs to come off his line and positionally could use some work. That said, he's 25-years-old and only has 180 minutes played in all competitions this season, so it shouldn't be surprising that there were some flaws in his game. And at this point in the season, I would happily take the teachable flaws Yang's displayed over the baffling lack of ability and poor decision making Yoo Hyun has shown. The swap is certainly something worth considering when playing an army team that's lost two straight and doesn't seem to have a proven goal scorer.

The Adversary

As per usual Miro Tramita hit the nail on the head in his most recent Power Rankings where he has the military team 7th. After a strong start to the season that saw them regularly in the top five, they were the first team to lose to Incheon United this season and followed it up by being drubbed 4-1 at first place Jeju. Coming off of their first back to back losses of the season, Sangju is likely reeling a bit mentally and are at an interesting make or break point tactically. Having to make due with the players he's given, Kim Tae-wan has done well enough to settle on a regular squad, but may have been figured out tactically with enough tape on the team after 10 rounds. The usually staunch defense was found out by both Jeju and Jeonbuk to the tune of four goals a piece. Granted those are the two strongest teams in the league, but each was able to break down Sangju's "hold steady" tactic and create holes in an otherwise stable backline. Whether or not Kim Tae-wan can get his men to shore things up at the back and keep eking out narrow wins will be something to keep an eye on over the coming weeks. If not, he'll have to change things up and figure out a new way to get enough points to ensure they're in Classic again in 2018.

Who To Watch


The pride of Stephen Waddell's time holding a season ticket for Seoul E-Land will be on display this weekend when Joo Min-kyu takes the field. After a 23 goal campaign for E-Land in 2015 had more than a few folks asking for a call up from Korean National Team manager Uli Stielike, the now 27-year-old Korean striker had a much more mediocre start to 2016. However, he found his form at the end of the year and nearly dragged Seoul into the Challenge Playoffs, finishing just two points off Gangwon for the final spot. Now in the Classic at long last, Min-kyu will be looking to make the most of his time in the spotlight to secure a transfer to a first division side once his two year military duty finishes and he's free to leave Sangju. With just three goals to his name this year he's not exactly lighting the world on fire, but his brace at Pohang just two weeks ago was enough to secure a 2-1 win and may be the spark he needs to get his season going. Joo burst onto the scene in 2015 scoring any way he could and has retained that poachers instinct in the years since. If Yoo Hyun is in net for Seoul and offering up his usual amount of rebounds and opportunities for the opposition, it could be a dream day for the man affectionately known as 대한민규.

Prediction

For all of the (rightly placed) focus on Seoul's sputtering offense, the defense has only conceded two or more goals twice this year and that number isn't likely to go up this weekend given Sangju's recent run of form. Having lost two in a row, Sangju will likely be looking to bunker for most of the match and force Seoul to break them down. With Dejan back in the lineup and hopefully some of the kids who showed well in ACL getting minutes this weekend, they should have enough to scrape another win.

Sangju Sangmu 0-1 FC Seoul


Would love to hear your thoughts on this match! Voice your thoughts in the comments below or compare your predictions with others in the Twitter poll.

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