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Writers' Chat: Suwon Bluewings vs FC Seoul

Suwon and FC Seoul face off for the 81st time when the Bluewings host their bitter rivals at Big Bird this Sunday. Being close to each other in the table is nothing new to these sides, but both being mid table and Seoul being lower certainly is. I chatted with our Bluewings columnist Scott Whitelock about how each team got to this point, what Sunday means for this rivalry, why Suwon's been cursed at home, and our predictions for the full time score.

Scott Asks, Ryan Answers

Scott Whitelock: Coming into the 2nd Super Match of the season Seoul, surprisingly, sit in 7th place in the table. What has gone wrong for the defending champions thus far?

Ryan Walters: The shortcomings of this team were apparent at the beginning of the season and with nothing done to address them before the first transfer window closed, Seoul find themselves where they deserve to be: below the dividing line. A lack of depth, no true box to box midfielder to replace Takahagi, and no backup option to Dejan were all concerns back in February and have plagued the team through June. They've been frustrating to watch, but it can't really be considered a surprise. The only shock at this point is Park Chu-young's inability to find the back of the net or lead this team. Yes, he's second in team goals with 4, but two of those were PKs. Additionally, there are only five players who have scored for Seoul this season, so being second on the list isn't exactly saying much. Though there have been several examples of Park disappearing from the game, none were more obvious than his start against Busan in the FA Cup. Clearly an opportunity to shine against a lower division opponent, gain some confidence, and earn a regular minutes in league play, Park simply vanished. He didn't chase down balls over the top, didn't show for the ball when the midfield needed help, and was altogether lazy with his off the ball runs.  Luckily for Seoul all of these issues, including Park, can be dealt with in the summer transfer window.

SW: Despite possessing a talented squad, Hwang Sun-hong has struggled to find a winning formula all season. Can the team's misfortunes be traced back to the manager and is it time for the eccentric coach to move on? 

RW: In an effort to be fair, at no point in 2017 was this squad deep enough to compete in three tournaments and travel around Asia to do so. The double match weeks caught up to them quicker than expected due to a lack of options capable of winning the game and having to play the regular starters over and over. Seoul crashing out of ACL and the FA Cup had as much to do with tired legs and inexperience as it did with tactics. That said, you're quite right to say the talent is there for this team and Hwang's made some baffling roster choices that has made his job much harder. His refusal to give former Jeonnam winger Maurinho more meaningful minutes after the number of strong showings the Brazilian has had is confounding. The fact that 22-year-old Yoon Seung-won only has 114 minutes through 13 matches in spite of being one of just five Seoul players with a goal makes less than no sense for a team struggling to find goals. On top of that, the refusal to drop the 3-4-3 in spite of it playing far too defensively and omitting the midfield in favor of long ball after long ball should be a concern for Hwang's bosses. He just doesn't have the personnel to run the system, but keeps trotting it out there week after week. But, more than any of that, this just doesn't look like a team that's up for the match. They don't have the passion required to go out and win ugly 1-0 or 2-1 games, and so they're ending in 0-0 draws or flat out losing. That's something that needs to come from the top down.

So, short answer: yes. Is it time for him to move on? Not just yet. After winning the title last year, I don't think he'll be shown the door before he gets another transfer window. However, should Hwang's men put in a less than inspiring performance in the Super Match this weekend, then his seat will likely get quite a bit warmer.

SW: Having done the unthinkable and left Suwon to join FC Seoul in the winter transfer window, Lee Sang-ho appears to have had a quiet start to the season. What has been his impact on this Seoul team?

RW: He's a hot and cold player. Much like his counterpart Yun Il-lok on the other side of the field, Lee shows flashes of brilliance and then promptly follows them with foolish mistakes. The difference being Yun Il-lok is 25 and is still going to make mistakes as he takes over a larger role with the team. Lee is 30-years-old and should be better with the ball at his feet. I don't think Seoul expected him to be an out and out goalscorer, but putting a few shots on target per match wouldn't hurt.

SW: For the first time in a long time Suwon sit above Seoul in the K League table. Do you get the sense that the tide is turning for both these teams and can Suwon maintain their edge over their fierce rivals?

RW: Ripping the FA Cup from Seoul last year certainly helped turn the tide in Suwon's favor, but I don't think they quite have the edge... yet. While losing the head to head FA Cup hurt Seoul, they had just beaten another league rival (Jeonbuk) to claim the K League title just weeks before, so it didn't sting quite as much as it usually would. However, those wounds haven't yet fully healed and a rivalry match of this magnitude against a team just three points above them easily makes this the biggest match of Seoul's season. Should Suwon land a significant blow and take all three points and push themselves closer to title contention while nearly knocking Seoul out of it, I would say the tide has officially turned in their favor.

SW: What is your prediction for this game?

RW: I want there to be drama. I want a hero to emerge from this match. But... I don't see it happening. Unfortunately I think both managers shell up a bit and will be content with a point to get the season back underway. A goal within the first 20 minutes could change all of that, but I see this one playing out like the first Super Match of 2017.

Suwon Bluewings 1-1 FC Seoul

Ryan Asks, Scott Answers

Ryan Walters: The Bluewings haven't played a home game since May 6th when they fell to Ulsan 2-1. But, unlike other teams that gave up their grounds to the U20 World Cup, Suwon faired quite well on the road picking up two wins in a row. In fact, four of Suwon's five wins have come away from Big Bird. Why is this teams struggling so much at home this year?

Scott Whitelock: Because of the anomaly of hosting a World Cup this year, the stats certainly paint a different picture to the one that actually exists. And apart from an isolated period at the beginning of the season, Suwon's form has been rather impressive. It just so happened that the majority of games played during that run of bad form were played at home, and were played against so called 'lesser teams'. But since their form has improved Suwon have been quite impressive in their two home games. A dominant victory over high flying Pohang was sealed, and although they lost at home to Ulsan, whilst playing an extremely weakened team, they had enough chances to win the game and probably should have taken atleast a point from it. Stats can sometimes be misleading, and I think that may be the case with this one.

RW: The Bluewings have the 4th best defensive record in the league with only Seoul, Jeju, and Jeonbuk conceding less. What's been the biggest change for a team that conceded the second most goals in 2016?

SW: The defence lacked any mental strength to maintain a lead and especially struggled against aerial attacks. But this season, Suwon's recent success can be attributed to a stronger defensive unit and greater defensive cohesion throughout the team. The winter additions of Matthew Jurman and Shin Hwa-yong have improved the quality of the squad and they have probably been the two standout performers of the season thus far. In a league renowned for goalkeeping errors, Shin Hwa-yong is one of the few safe pair of hands in Korea and brings an unflappable quality to the backline whilst Jurman is proving on a week by week basis the importance of having a physical centre-back in this league. His aggressive and committed performances have already seen him become a firm fan favourite and what was touted in the winter as a 'big money' contract is beginning to look like an absolute bargain.

RW: On the other end of the field, Suwon have the league's worst home attacking record with just three goals to the good. Who do you think is the key player to end that streak and put multiple goals past their bitter rivals this Sunday?

SW: There's only one man isn't there? Johnathan!

Since arriving at the club the talismanic Brazilian has 23 goals and 3 assists to his name and has a strike rate of better than a goal every other game. Although he has had a slow start to the season, only scoring 9 goals so far, he has scored two in his last three games and is beginning to show signs of the form that he was in last year. He is the vital cog in the Suwon team and if he plays well it usually means that Suwon win. It was announced in the week that he has signed a new 3 year contract that will see him remain at the club until 2020 and this weekend will be the perfect occasion for him to repay the club and the supporters that he dearly loves.

RW: In spite of a rough start to the season, the Bluewings have turned things around and are just five points off the top after 13 rounds. Would a Super Match win this weekend solidify them as legitimate title contenders?

SW: In my opinion, they still can't quite claim to be title contenders just yet. Despite starting the season as some commentators favourites to win the league, the early season blip has really cost them. And recent slip ups against Jeonbuk and Ulsan show that they might just lack the mentality to really pursue the bigger teams this year. However, Suwon's form has taken a dramatic upturn over the last 10 games and when they are in form they will take some stopping. Whereas Jeonbuk are extremely strong in defence and Jeju are fantastic going forward, Suwon seem to have one of the most balanced teams this year and a big win against bitter rivals Seoul may be the catalyst that starts an extraordinary run to the title.

RW: Score Prediction?

SW: Suwon go into this game buoyed by the recent FA Cup victory against Jeju, the signing of Johnathan's contract extension and the news that the Super Match is on it's way to a near sell-out. It seems that everything may be going in Suwon's favour while Seoul are suffering one of their worst seasons in recent memory. However, this is the Super Match and they are extremely difficult to predict and current form is usually thrown out of the window once the two teams take to the field.

I imagine that this will be another tense game, low on clear cut chances, and thus, it will be the team who can convert those few chances who will run out winners.

Suwon Bluewings 1 - 0 FC Seoul

What do you think will happen in Suwon this Sunday? Will the hosts stake their claim as one of K League's elite or will Seoul get the win they need to turn their season around? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

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