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K League Coach: Korea vs Poland Match Analysis

K League Coach: South Korea National Team Analysis
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia on the horizon, we look back at the last Korean National Team game against Poland to see what they may be planning for this summer's games. Korea have been drawn with Germany, Mexico, and Sweden and so there will be plenty of intrigue as to how Shin Tae-yong (pictured above) will be setting his team up. 
(Image via K League)

Game Information

Team: Korean National Team
Opposition: Poland
Date: Match 27th 2018
Competition: International Friendly
Number of report: 1

Match Overview

Despite two late goals, the Korean National team were defeated 3-2 after pulling the game back late on. After trailing 2-0 at halftime, two goals in the final two minutes had looked like Shin Tae-yong's men were about to salvage a draw. That was until an even later strike from outside the box sealed a home win. Shin Tae-yong made significant changes during the game to the team's shape, style, and personnel which changed the flow of the game and gives him a lot to think about as the World Cup draws closer.

Line Up

To begin the game Korea set up in a 5-4-1 shape. This left Son Heung-min leading the line alone, not his best role.

Starting line up & shape

Korea began changing personal during the first half and eventually, around the 60th minute, shifted to a clear 4-4-2. Along with a decision to press far higher in the second half, this lineup and shape brought around a huge change in the flow of the game.

Adjusted line up & shape
Following the adjustments, Korea were far more successful in moving the ball forward and creating shooting opportunities.

Defensive Structure

The first half saw the vast majority of the game played out in the Korean half. Sitting very deep in a 5-4-1, Son was often in his own half with two rigid defensive lines sitting further back protecting their defensive third. Korea hoped to hit Poland on the break and stop them from creating any meaningful chances. Korea formed a narrow block and looked to direct play out wide and then press hard, forcing the ball out of play or back into the Polish half.

After halftime Korea pressed much higher upfield and eventually had two strikers pressing the 'Orly' (Eagles) backline and goalkeeper when in possession. This was a very effective tactic as Korea forced a lot of turnovers within Poland's half of the pitch and stifled the their ability to progress forward.

In Possession

For this stage of the analysis, we will be focusing only on forward movement.  Forward movement includes both passes and carrying the ball forward into the next third and phase of play. We will break play into three stages. Stage 1 is plays from the team's defensive third, Stage 2 is plays made from the midfield third and Stage 3 is plays into the penalty box.

Stage 1:

1st half Stage 1 forward plays
During the first half Korea completed a total of 17 forward plays from within their own third, and failed with another 17 forward attempts. When winning the ball deep the Korean back line struggled with the Polish counter-press and often looked to hit long balls forward.

With only Son up top, this was easily dealt with by the Polish defence and resulted in sustained possession and pressure for Poland. With Korea only completing 50% of their attempts, it led to Polish domination of both territory and possession.
2nd half Stage 1 forward plays

The adjusted shape, pressing strategy and personnel in the second half saw a huge improvement in completed forward plays from the Korean defensive third. It also reduced the number of times Korea had to attempt this in total, down from 34 to 21, with 14 completed and seven incomplete in the second half.

Korea dealt with Polish pressure better, but the main reason for this change was that they were now forcing Poland deeper into their own half, meaning the Korean defence were under less pressure when on the ball.

(Green = Goal / Yellow = On Target / Orange = Blocked / Red = Off Target)
Stage 2: 

1st half  Stage 2 forward plays
Due to sitting deep, Poland's high counter-press and the inability to find Son as the lone striker for an outlet ball, Korea had very few opportunities to build play through midfield. On only five occasions were Korea able to advanced the ball forward beyond the middle third successfully
Six other attempts were made at forward progress but to no avail. To have 11 attempts to move beyond the midfield third during the course of a half is a low amount, completing less then 50% of them shows how little Korea offered going forward in the first half. Five of these attempts were long aerial balls trying to find their left winger in  behind the Polish defence due to a lack of other options ahead of  the man on the ball.
2nd half  Stage 2 forward plays

It was a completely different story in the second half, though. With an additional attacker on the field and a focus on winning the ball back higher up, Korea were able to get on the ball in midfield much more often. During the second half, Korea attempted forward progress from the middle third a total of 30 times, successfully breaking into Poland defensive third on 24 of these occasions.

There was an increase in balls into feet to players finding space between the Poland midfield and defence, as well as an almost equal split of attacks coming from down each flank. Poland were now the team pinned back in their half struggling to get a hold of the ball and build any play. The tide of the game had completely changed and Korea were now able to show their ability on the ball, along with the threat they can pose.

(Green = Goal / Yellow = On Target / Orange = Blocked / Red = Off Target)

Stage 3: 

1st half Stage 3 forward plays
Penetration into the Poland penalty box during the first half was very limited. Korea were able to complete a pass into the box along twice with two other occasions where a player carried the ball in. The Polish 'keeper went relatively untested during the first half and Korea struggled to create much of note from open play besides one shot from Son Heung-min.

There was a lack of numbers forward to stretch the Poland backline and play was rather predictable. It relied on Son trying to carry the ball and take on several defenders, or a long ball over the top in an attempt to relieve pressure on the back line and find a runner in behind.

Finding themselves 2-0 down at halftime, Shin Tae-yong knew he would have to adjust somehow as, with the current system, Korea seemed extremely unlikely to get back into the game. The adjustments made had a huge effect. As shown above, Korea were now on the front foot and dictating play and were able to successfully penetrate into the Polish box on seven occasions.
2nd half Stage 3 forward plays

They also had greater numbers forward trying to connect with any deliveries into the box. Having two strikers up front, and Son drifting in from a wide left position, meant Korea had several options to play in to.

They were also able to vary their threat, as the lineup changes made had brought Kim Shin-wook onto the field who offered an aerial threat to go with the movement of Son and Hwang Chan-hee.

(Green = Goal / Yellow = On Target / Orange = Blocked / Red = Off Target)

Attempts on Goal

Korean attempts on goal

Korea's improved threat on goal was highlighted not only by the fact that they were able to score twice in the second half, but the amount of attempts they had on goal. During the first half Korea only had three attempts, managing to put all of them on target, however one was from a wide free-kick that sailed past runners and had to be dealt with by the Polish goalkeeper.

The switch to a higher press and having two players up top and more support from movement out wide saw Korea have 12 attempts on goal, resulting in two goals, three shots on target, five blocked attempts and one strike off target. Poland were having to bring men back behind the ball to deal with Korea's new threat and were throwing themselves in the way of shots.
Polish attempts on goal

It also showed that the old saying that "attack is the best form of defence" still rings true. Though Poland had more attempts on goal in the second half, they were from far less dangerous positions. During the first half Poland were able to deliver balls into the Korean box and create chances within the frame of the goal. This was not the case in the second half, with Poland being forced to shoot from further out and in wide areas, due to having fewer men forward as part of the attack.

(Green = Goal / Yellow = On Target / Orange = Blocked / Red = Off Target)

Expected Goals (xG)

Using xG based upon shot location, both teams actually saw a better goal return than they could have expected. The first half reflected Poland's domination with an xG of 1.25 to Koreas 0.16. Poland took two of their opportunities very well giving them a 2-0 half time lead. The second half saw a reversal of fortunes, with Korea having an xG of 1.14 to Poland's 0.28, with Korea winning the second half 2-1. Total xG was  1.53 to 1.30 in Poland's favour. Both teams were able to outscore their xG by converting low probability chances from outside the box, something that can not always be relied upon. Korea did well to change the tide of the game and considerably increase their control of proceeding along with their goal threat, however, they must look at why so many of their attempts on goal came from range and despite a lot of deliveries into the box they were not able to create more shots on goal in higher probability regions.


  • In the first half, Korea struggled to play out from their deep, defensive position with only one striker to clear to.
  • Son is not a natural target striker and is better used in a role where he can get on the ball and run at defenders.
  • When sitting so deep Korea struggled to transition quickly enough into an attacking shape and often lost the ball within one pass.
  • When playing a high pressure system the Korean defense had more time on the ball and were able to help build better forward movement.
  • Having two strikers leading the line gave Korea more options when looking forward and helped them keep the ball through their combination work.
  • The second half saw Korea display their technical ability and impose themselves on the game.
  • Koreas second half high-pressure system worked very well, disrupting the Polish defense and creating turnovers closer to the Polish goal.
  • If Korea want to make more of territorial and positional dominance they need to ensure better delivery into the box from wide areas, many crosses failed to find a Korean shirt.
  • As preparations for Mexico and Sweden move up a gear Korea must be brave enough to take the game to these opponents rather than playing a deep reactive game.
  • Against the likes of Germany, Korea may still be better off siting deep so they are not picked off on the counter-attack when one of their own attacks breaks down.

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