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Preview: FC Seoul vs Pohang Steelers

After beating first place Jeonbuk in dramatic fashion at home, Seoul had the exact opposite evening in Gwangju where they lost to the last place team. After 19 rounds Seoul are in the extremely rare position of looking up at the top six and wondering if Champions League is out of reach. Can they turn their fortunes around midweek vs manager Hwang Sun-hong's old club, Pohang, or will yet another lackluster performance prove to be the last for the embattled manager?
(image via goal.com)



More Injuries and Missteps

For a team that played so compact and organized against league leading Jeonbuk, it is astonishing how removed from any semblance of a game plan Seoul was Sunday night in Gwangju. The team was given a break before kick off when Northern Ireland International Niall McGinn was left off the team sheet to give him time to adjust to his new league, and Seoul still couldn't muster up enough to beat the team at the bottom of the table. The capital club were utterly disjointed in their buildup and had far too many hacked or lobbed long balls to no one. A big reason for the miscues was the injury of newly signed KNT midfielder Lee Myungjoo in the 37th minute that forced him out of the game. He has since been ruled out for up to eight weeks with possible ligament surgery looming, essentially eliminating his time with Seoul before he signs with Sangju next season for his military duty. His absence left the bulk of the midfield responsibilities on the out of position Lee Sangho, who was tasked with playing CAM for the second match in a row. Not the most adept on the ball, Lee was never going to do well setting the tempo nor getting his head up quickly enough to pick out passes. He may be decent at running down a cross on the wing, but a playmaker he just ain't. Perhaps his worst moment of the match came in the 57th minute when he had a chance to clear the ball out for a corner, but instead attempted a blind backheel pass that went directly back to Gwangju and allowed them to set up their second goal. Plenty of blame can be placed on Sangho for the goal and other blunders throughout the match, but Hwang should have known better than to put his winger in that position. Instead of adjusting away from the 4-3-3 the team started in when Lee Myungjoo went off injured, Hwang stubbornly stuck to the formation and opened the midfield for Gwangju to exploit without Myungjoo's presence.

With the lack of cohesion in the midfield, Seoul's defense was ripped apart time and again on the right side and up the middle. In spite of scoring the equalizing goal, captain Kwak Taehwi had what was possibly the worst game of his career. He played himself out of position several times by over committing and flat out lunging at 50/50 balls with no cover behind him and losing the battle. Luckily for him another defender had the speed to catch up most times, but Gwangju were gifted a number of one on one chances vs keeper Yang Hanbin. If not for the stellar play of the the 25-year-old between the sticks, things would have gotten truly ugly.

The Hwang Derby

Manager Hwang Sunhong is up against the side where he made his name yet again Wednesday night. Hwang famously won the 2013 K League title with an all Korean Pohang team that lacked any out and out superstars, but played far better than the sum of their parts. Hwang truly took ownership over that team and his week to week tinkering was a necessity to keep opposition guessing. So steady was the rotation that 16 Steelers ended 2013 with over 1,200 minutes; a team feat that hasn't been done in the any season since. Part of this constant shuffling was to keep other teams on their toes, but it was mainly to compensate for the lack of a true goal scoring threat. Not one player on Hwang's 2013 roster broke into double digits. Current FC Seoul midfielder Cho Chanho came the closest with 9 goals. Instead, 15 different players stepped up to fill the void most K League clubs bring in foreign mercenaries for and it led Pohang all the way to the title.

After 19 matches at the helm of FC Seoul this season it would seem Hwang's attempting to do the same thing even though the circumstances are drastically different. Whether he likes it or not – and recent personnel decisions would suggest he indeed does not – Seoul has an out and out superstar in Dejan Damjanović, and would be better suited to play to his strengths by adding a shadow striker. This would not only benefit the 35-year-old Montenegrin, but the team as a whole as it's more than clear Seoul doesn't have the players to go with three up top. The aforementioned Lee Sangho was brought in to play on the opposite wing of Yun Illok, but even if Sangho had lived up to expectations, the fact remains neither are a true threat to goal. Illok has done well this season and leads the team in assists, but that does very little to take the pressure off Dejan in the middle of the pitch. The 25-year-old does well providing service, but hasn't proven he can cut inside and put shots on target with enough frequency to trouble defenses. So Hwang has been trying Park Chuyoung on the wing, and it's been even worse. Park doesn't have the pace nor dribbling abilities to play out there and would be much better utilized in the middle of the pitch playing slightly behind Dejan; much like Adriano did last season.

However, if Hwang is truly facing facts, Park Chuyoung simply doesn't look up for it this year and a shadow striker needs to be brought in during the summer window to help alleviate some of the pressure on Dejan at the moment. With Damjanović finding the back of the net on a stellar individual play vs Gwangju he may have forced his way back into the starting lineup Wednesday night, but will likely be on an island yet again under the guise of a three pronged attack. Coming off the debacle in Gwangju, this is well and truly Seoul's lowest point of the season (and in recent memory), so why not try out two up top? There isn't much to lose in experimenting with it for a half.

Dejan on Khaled and This Season

Paul Neat and I sat down with Dejan this week to chat Champions League, his legacy at Seoul, fan culture, and what's gone wrong this season. We'll have the full interview up later this week, but here's what he had to say about his new teammate and K League's first Iranian player, Khaled Shafiei:
What I saw now in this last week, he has personality and character. He is a fighter, good at heading. He wants to kick a little bit, you know? Iranian style. So this thing we were missing sometimes, a little bit of aggressive football, he can help us a lot. He'll need a little bit of time to adapt, to catch a few words of Korean. He looks like a really professional guy, athletic. I hope he can help us, because now, in this moment, we need all the help we can get. Especially now from him, maybe some other foreigner may come here. We need everything though. To stick together and to try to save the season as much as we can because now in this moment, this could be the worst season in the history of FC Seoul I think. So we need to see if we can catch this ACL slot. 
Asked if making ACL would be a successful season for Seoul this year:
Not even close. Not even close. But what can we do now? If I had a remote to turn back time three months then for sure, we can try again, but now we don't have that. We are professionals, we want everything perfect, but it's not going perfect. Honestly, this is unbelievable how many injured players we have this year. Seven or eight? Of the best eleven, five or six? All the time we have some injuries. Plus, now summer is coming. Now is the worst part, July and August. It's humid. Now it can be possible to have some other injuries because it is really hot. So we need to now focus to save the season. We are professionals, we are playing for FC Seoul. We must play ACL next year. That's our objective. Luckily the league is almost the same except Jeonbuk, I have to be honest as I said. So we need to start thinking like FC Seoul.

The Adversary

I chatted with our Pohang columnist Seokhyun about the team's recent form and who Seoul fans should keep an eye out for. Here's what he had to say:

In the last five games Pohang has won twice, lost twice, and drawn once. If you just see this record, it might feel normal, but they conceded six goals and scored only five goals during that time. Yang Donghyun scored four of the six goals, but the pattern was too simple from Pohang overall. Four goals came from individual skill and the other two came from side crossing. But their conceded goal pattern varied. Three goals came on crosses, two from individual skill, and the others from player mistakes and a PK. These patterns show that Pohang's defense has been shaken, and that the attack is too zoomed in on Yang's skill, with other players unable to follow. Furthermore, the attack/defense balance disruption is the responsibility of the midfield line. So Pohang should brace their defense by having a midfield player press harder. Because they can connect the attack and defence. I think Hwang Jisu is this key player for future games. As mentioned, the midfield is very important for balance, and Hwang is good holding player. He can attack and play defense well, so he should be the key to holding that balance.


In spite of winning just four of their ten home matches thus far, Seoul have conceded two or more goals only twice at the World Cup Stadium this year. Add that to the fact that Pohang come in having scored just three in their last four matches, and two goals should do the trick for Seoul. Hell, one might even do it. But it once again comes down to whether Hwang will set his team up to win or not, and given his recent run of form, I just don't see it happening. If the spine of Khaled, Osmar, Ha Daesung, and Dejan start the match, then there's a decent shot Seoul gets the goal(s) they need. But it's unlikely all of them see the field from the first minute given Hwang's perpetual squad rotation. Look for Pohang to nip the lone goal in another frustrating affair for the Seoul faithful.

FC Seoul 0-1 Pohang Steelers

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