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2018 Season Preview: FC Seoul

FC Seoul underachieved massively in 2017 but after a winter of rebuilding, Hwang Sunhong's team will be looking to get themselves back into the ACL picture or even challenge for the K League title. But, with the former Pohang Steelers manager feeling the heat from the fans, can the under-fire gaffer prove his doubters wrong by showing that last season was a mere one off by leading the capital club to glory once again?
(image via Naver Sports)


Last Season

W14-D11-L8, 5th

What Happened?

FC Seoul sold their leading marksman in Adriano as well as midfield general Yojiro Takahagi without truly replacing either of them. Both of their absences were felt and, although question marks could’ve been asked about Adriano’s attitude, not bringing in another 20-goal-a-season striker to replace him and help take the load off Dejan was inexcusable from manager Hwang Sunhong. Returning former captain Ha Daesung was supposed to be Takahagi’s replacement he but struggled with injuries and his season, quite like FC Seoul’s, never truly got off the ground.

Notably, there also appeared to be a distinct lack of drive from a group of players who, at times, came across as far too comfortable for the own good. Defeats didn't seem to hurt, complacency set in and so 2016’s Champions finished fifth missing out on ACL football for 2018. Question marks will also be asked of the tactics and formation, particularly with Hwang's insistence on having just one up front, despite it being glaringly obvious that Dejan needed a shadow striker with mobility to link up play with.

In terms of team selection the former Pohang Steelers gaffer showed far too much loyalty to an ageing Kwak Taehwi, who looked way off the pace last season, as well as goalkeeper Yoo Hyun whose calamitous performances were well-documented at the time. The often ineffective and apathetic Park Chuyoung who, at times, seemed to treat the game we all love with a certain degree of contempt in with general demeanour, was also afforded more game time than was perhaps deserved. The Former Arsenal, Monaco and Nice striker netted just three goals from open play in the league last year.

But, most critically, FC Seoul were lead by a manager who was laughably amateurish in his preparation for games, stubborn to a fault, whilst also being arrogant enough to believe that he ought not to be questioned even when asking for advice from his senior players. Arguments could be made for players underperforming but Hwang Sunhong was uninspiring and was a big part of  why Seoul crashed out of the ACL in the group stages and finished 12 points behind Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Notable Moves

Worryingly for FC Seoul fans, the more notable transfers have been involving players heading out of Sangam rather than coming in. Club legend Dejan Damjanović was allowed to leave on a free transfer, despite bagging 19 league goals last term, to join bitter rivals Suwon Bluewings. Also, as well as Seoul’s leading marksman being shown the exit door, the club’s leading assist maker, Yun Illok, has also departed for pastures new. The left winger was sold to J.League side Yokohama F. Marinos meaning that, not only will Seoul fans be wondering where the goals are going to come from again this year, but with the added worry of who is going to be supplying them.

(Image via Getty)

Former captain Osmar Ibáñez  Barba has also left for the J.League, joining Cerezo Osaka on loan with a view to a permanent deal. With yet another important player allowed to leave, FC Seoul will seemingly have to find a new identity, especially considering that Ju Sejong and Lee Myeongjoo both begin their military service this year and have joined K League 2 side Asan Mugunghwa. Of course, manager Hwang Sunhong has been very vocal in his assertions that this winter was always about rebuilding but too much upheaval could prove costly.

So, who has Hwang Sunhong brought into to fill these sizeable holes? Sanfrecce Hiroshima forward Anderson Lopes has been given the number 9 shirt and has seemingly been tasked with replacing Dejan at the spearhead of Seoul’s attack. However, according to Football Radar's Sam Robson, Anderson Lopes is most likely going to be used as a right winger who cuts in. The Brazilian did enjoy a spell as a striker towards the end of last season but, because he wasn't always used as an out and out striker for the entire campaign, his goal tally of 10 in J1 last season from 32 appearances isn't bad and was actually a career best for the 24-year-old.

(Image via K League)

Fellow Brazilian Evandro Paulista has also signed after impressing for Daegu in what was North Gyeongsang outfit's first season back in the top fight, eventually sealing an 8th place finish. The 31-year-old’s goal return is very similar to Anderson’s, 11 in 32 for Sanfrecco Hiroshima but it remains to be seen whether either will be able to beat those figures in the red and black of FC Seoul. In the blue of Daegu, however, Evandro was often deployed as an out and out striker and is most likely where he will feature for Hwang Sunhong's side come March.

Shin Jinho has returned from Sangju Sangmu after the midfielder completed his military service and former Daejeon Citizen and Cerezo Osaka midfielder Kim Seongjoon has signed from Seongnam over the winter. The pair will both go some way in slotting into the gaps left by the departing Osmar, Ju Sejong and Lee Myeongjoo.

Full transfer roundup here.

FC Seoul 2018 Season Squad Numbers here.

Needs

FC Seoul need a left back seeing as though both Lee Kyulo and Kim Chiwoo were allowed to depart over the winter. Shim Sangmin, as well as the inexperienced pair of Park Minkyu and Park Dongjin have been tried there in pre-season but a good left back would be the last piece of the back four's puzzle for FC Seoul alongside Lee Woonghee, Hwang Hyunsoo and new skipper Shin Kwanghoon.

What FC Seoul need  are players with character and a winning mentality. Losing Dejan’s drive and professionalism will be evident, of that I am sure. Likewise, losing Osmar’s calm and assured presence will also be missed, not only on he pitch but in the dressing room, at the training ground, and in the day-to-day and so it will be up to the likes of new vice captain Go Yohan and skipper Shin Kwanghoon too step up.

But, perhaps most important of all, FC Seoul need a new manager. To finish fifth, not make it out of the their ACL group and to be knocked out of the FA Cup by lower league opposition was, frankly, not good enough. Hwang Sunhong has angered the FC Seoul fans following the exit of several of Seoul's key players and will be under immense pressure in the first 10 games to get off to a good start. If Seoul finds themselves struggling for wins after the first round of fixtures, the board may need to take action but it may be a blessing in disguise.

Key Player 

Go Yohan

Go Yohan's first class attitude, determination, work rate and versatility makes him an important player for FC Seoul. Whilst primarily a right wing back or right midfielder, the one club man slotted into central midfield with ease last season in the absence of Lee Myeongjoo and Ha Daesung and even earned himself a call up to the Korean National Team as a result. FC Seoul have lost a lot of big characters and perhaps some of their identity. Go Yohan's exuberance and effervescence has earned him the vice captaincy and is considered key for Seoul in helping to preserve some familiarity as well as helping to show the new players what it means to play for a club like FC Seoul.

Biggest Question 

Can FC Seoul put last year behind them, qualify for ACL and get back into the title picture?

AFC Champions League is hugely important for FC Seoul and so to not even qualify is a massive blow. Frankly, winning the K League title would be considered pure folly given how strong Seoul's competition are but getting back into the ACL is achievable and ought to be considered Seoul's number one priority: whatever happens thereafter will perhaps be considered a bonus. With the likes of Suwon Bluewings, Ulsan Hyundai and Jeju United strengthening their squads, the pressure is on Seoul and Hwang Sunhong to arrest the slide and ensure that they are in the mix for ACL places come the end of the season and at least get closer to title favourites Jeonbuk Hyundai than they did last term.

Reason to Watch

All eyes will be on FC Seoul to see whether they can bounce back. FC Seoul have some tough games in the opening few weeks of the season; away trips to Jeju, Jeonbuk and Suwon all beckon for Hwang Sunhong's men with in the first five games. If Seoul can hold their own and dispatch one or two of those title contenders then it could be the difference between whether Hwang Sunhong keeps his job or not and how life without Dejan and co will be for the capital club. A good start would do the whole club the world of good, the fans and players alike.


K League 1 Fixtures here


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