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Preview: Gangwon FC vs FC Seoul

Coming off an emphatic 3-0 victory over Ulsan Hyundai, FC Seoul heads to Chuncheon for their last away day this season. A draw or loss would almost certainly leave them with nothing to play for on the final day. However, a win keeps them in the hunt for the final AFC Champions League spot for 2018.
(image via Daum)


Overview

(soccerway.com)


Thoroughly Ruthless

On the weekend most were celebrating Halloween, Seoul surprised those in attendance with a treat of their own to the tune of a 3-0 drubbing of 4th place and falling Ulsan Hyundai. In what was easily their best home performance this year, the hosts jumped out to an early lead and kept their foot firmly on the gas scoring two more before the half time whistle blew. The win pushed Seoul's unbeaten streak to seven games and kept them in contention for an ACL spot with just two games remaining. For more specifics on the match, check out my chat with Paul Neat, and Steve Price after full time.

Midfield For The Taking 

With the recent news that both Lee Myungjoo and Ju Sejong are heading to Asan next season to fulfill their mandatory military duty, there will be some gaping holes in the midfield quite soon. I fully expect both to continue to play significant roles in the two matches remaining, but any substitution appearances from youngsters Kim Wonsik or Lim Minhyeok could go a long way to securing more significant minutes for themselves next season. Ideally, Seoul will copy last week's formula and jump out to an early lead, which could pave the way for some observatory minutes for midfielders looking to make a mark. However, even if they're limited in minutes, getting Wonsik or Minhyeok on the field against a demanding Gangwon midfield and attacking line would be a valuable assessment of what the team has heading into 2018. Along with the youngsters, it will be interesting to see how manager Hwang Sunhong deploys the veteran Lee Sangho after a less than stellar season. With rumors aplenty of Seoul targeting wingers both from abroad and within the league, there likely won't be much space for the longtime Suwon Bluewing out there. Instead Lee may be looking to slot into the CAM role that Hwang has frequently played him in this season. Sangho certainly has the pace to keep up there, but has given up possession far too easily and has often lacked the vision and composure to pick out the proper pass from the middle of the pitch. Regardless of his struggles, I still fully expect Hwang to use Sangho at CAM at least one more time to assess what's in his toolbox for 2018.

The Situation

Even with just two games remaining, there are still a litany of possibilities for Seoul to get into ACL next year. Obviously the easiest would be a win vs Gangwon and a loss for both Suwon and Ulsan. Should all three of those results work in Seoul's favor, then the capital club would see themselves in 3rd place on the final match day where a win would assure them ACL. As luck would have it, Seoul can put the pressure on the other clubs as they're in the only Championship Round on Saturday. Sunday sees Ulsan hosting the already crowned champions Jeonbuk, and Suwon traveling to Jeju. It's feasible that both Ulsan and Suwon lose those games, but neither Jeonbuk nor Jeju have much left to play for and that lack of motivation very well may show through this weekend. However, even a severe lack of motivation and a title already in the bag may not be enough for Jeonbuk to drop points to a hapless Ulsan side that has looked out of sorts for weeks. At this point in the season, it seems Ulsan have put all of their ACL eggs into the FA Cup basket. A risky strategy at best given their Finals opponent Busan's form in the tournament.

In the other Sunday match Seoul fans will want to keep an eye on, Suwon looks to lock down 3rd place with a win against a very tired Jeju United. The Islanders play far better at home and may be more than a touch upset after letting the title slip away last weekend, but that still may not be enough to deal with an unbeaten in six Bluewings team on the charge. The return of MVP candidate Jonathan completely transforms Suwon, and that recently renewed side know a win Sunday could be enough to guarantee ACL should Seoul lose. If that isn't enough to motivate the Bluewings, I don't know what is.

Even if all of the results don't go their way, there's still a chance Seoul get into international play next year. A draw could be enough to bump Seoul into 4th place if Ulsan lose or draw. However, 4th place doesn't carry the weight it did a few weeks ago now that Suwon has been eliminated from the FA Cup. 4th place only gets an ACL spot if one of the top three teams is also the FA Cup winner, so if the season finishes Jeonbuk, Jeju, Suwon, then Seoul are out of luck. So... again, the easiest way to get into ACL is to just go out there and win.

The Adversary

Having already fallen short of their stated goal of qualifying for ACL this year, Gangwon are currently in a tailspin that may well see them finish with fewer points than the team technically below them in the table. Guaranteed no less than 6th place due to the Championship and Relegation Round split, the recently promoted side has little left to play for beyond pride... which is at risk of taking another hit Saturday in their final home game of 2017. Gangwon have lost three straight since the split and are tasked with slowing down a Seoul side in desperate need of a win to keep their slim ACL hopes alive. To do so, Gangwon will likely need to outscore their opponents because clean sheets have been nearly impossible to come by for the hosts. They have managed just two through 36 rounds this season, and it hasn't been by a little either. GFC's 63 goals against is second worse only to the astoundingly inept Jeonnam backline's mark of 66. Luckily for them, Gangwon have proven goalscorers in team leader Diego Maurício, 2016 Golden Boot winner Jung Jogook, and Korean National Teamer Lee Keunho to get them on the scoresheet. If Gangwon's to have any chance of claiming points Saturday, one of these three will need to step up in a way they haven't of late.

Who To Watch

Recently named to Shin Taeyong's Korean National Team that will take on Colombia and Serbia later this month, Gangwon captain Lee Keunho remains the standout for his club. He leads GFC with eight assists this season, and has contributed seven goals as well. Those numbers aren't outstanding by any stretch, but his true value to the team comes from his remarkable ability to command the attack. Though he's perfectly capable of leading the charge himself, Lee shines most in his off the ball work to get into position and creating space for teammates. Assuming he will be in his usual right wing or striker position, expect him to be a handful for the newly reinstated Kim Chiwoo or whoever else is in at left back.

Prediction

Seoul have proven plenty capable of laying an egg this year, but the entire team finally seems aware of what's at stake and have been playing their best football at the best time of year. It may prove too little too late, but I don't see that coming to fruition this weekend.

Gangwon FC 1-2 FC Seoul

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