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2019 Season Preview: Suwon Bluewings

With the club being inches away from an Asian Champions League final and then crashing to mid-table mediocrity in the league, it is safe to say that 2018 was a mixed bag for the Suwon Bluewings. With lots of outgoings and few incomings over the winter it looks like the Gyeonggi based team will be looking to youth to improve on their lowly league record of last year. Lee Lim-saeng will have a tough time marshaling his new troops, but despite that lack of transfer activity there is still a slight buzz of positivity as the Bluewings look to start 2019 on the right note. 

Last Season

13W 11D 14L, 6th place

What Happened?

The 2018 K League 1 season will go down in Suwon's history as one of the club's poorest years. The Bluewings started the year on a positive note, making some eye catching transfers and they had been tentatively backed to challenge Jeonbuk for the title. However, a mid-season collapse extended all the way throughout the latter stages of the league and Suwon slipped to finish in a disappointing 6th place, and thus missing out on Champions League qualification. Their final points tally of 50 points was their 2nd worst return since 2010 and they registered a minus goal difference for only the 5th time in the club's history.

The season was littered with tactical failures and disappointing performances and after a fans protest manager, Seo Jung-won, resigned from his post in late summer. Seo strangely returned to the club in October and swiftly presided over Suwon's exit from the FA Cup and Champions League. With only 1 point gained from their final six matches of the season, Suwon plummeted out of ACL qualification and ultimately finished the season on the same number of points as Daegu FC.

A full season review can be found here. 

Notable Moves

Suwon lost a number of experienced players at the start of the transfer window, with first team mainstays Shin Hwa-yong, Kwak Kwang-seon and Cho Won-hee all leaving after their contracts expired. Squad players Jo Ji-hoon, Park Jong-woo, Kim Jong-min and Kim Eun-sun all also left following the expiry of their contracts. Suwon also allowed striker Park Ki-dong to leave and the target man has now signed with Gyeongnam FC.

With the transfer budget slashed, due to their lack of ACL football in 2019, new manager, Lee Lim-saeng has been limited to only three incoming transfers. Ko Myeong-seok, one of K2's top centre backs, has arrived from Daejeon Citizen, whilst goalkeeper, Kim Da-sol, has arrived from cross city rivals Suwon FC.

Fortunately, Suwon finally bagged the striker that they have been desperately searching for when they announced the signing of Adam Taggart from the Brisbane Roar this week. The Australian striker, who also has experience of playing in Britain, arrives in Korea having scored 11 goals already this season, making him one of the prized assets of the A-League. The 25 year old has already won 7 caps for his country and will be hoping that the move to one of Asia's strongest leagues will propel him back into the national team fold.

Key Player

Suwon had serious defensive issues last season and the 54 goals that they conceded was the 2nd worst total in the club's history. Disappointingly, Suwon ranked 6th in the league for challenges won, 9th in the league for tackles made and 5th in the league for interceptions completed in 2018.

So it comes as no surprise that what little transfer business has been done, has been to provide defensive cover. And one of those new boys could just be the answer that Suwon are searching for.

23 year old Ko Myeong-seok arrives at the club off the back of his most successful season as a professional. Ko was statistically the best centre back in the K League 2 last year, and was also among the top ten in terms of forward passes made in the whole of the K2, not just among the defenders. Ko also finished the season with only one yellow card to his name, highlighting the cool head that he has on young shoulders.

It remains to be seen how well Ko can adapt to the rigors of the K League 1, but playing alongside Jo Sung-jin should go someway to helping the young defender. If Ko can settle quickly then Suwon might just have one of the strongest and most feared defensive partnerships in the league.

Young Player to Watch

The lack of incoming signings and Suwon's team selections in their preseason matches suggest that young players will have a huge role to play in 2019. Manager, Lee Lim-saeng, also has a history of nurturing young talent and in his most recent role was the KFA's Chairman of Technical Development.

Suwon have a number of interesting prospects that have come through their famed academy system but 20 year old, Jeon Se-jin, is without a doubt the biggest talent at the club. The youngster spectacularly broke into the first team last season, scoring in both of his first two starts. However, despite performing well, and the squad lacking natural width, Seo Jung-won rarely gave Jeon a run of consecutive games and the youngster only started back-to-back games on four occasions in 2018.

However, Jeon had a stellar year on the international stage representing the national team in both the U-21 and U-19 age groups. He finished the year with 6 goals for the national team, with 5 of those coming in the AFC U-19 Championship. His performances in guiding Korea to the final of that competition were enough to see him claim the KFA's young player of the year award and be nominated for the AFC's young player of the year award.

Still at the age of 20 it would be unfair to rest all the pressure on Jeon's shoulders, but big things are expected of him and he should be tipped as one to watch in 2019. 

Biggest Question

Will Suwon really trust the kids?

When Suwon announced that veterans Dejan Damjanović and Yeom Ki-hun had extended their contracts at the club it appeared that the Bluewings would continue to trust the experienced players that had so often under performed over recent years. But the exodus of players out of contract signaled that the club may be looking to rebuild the squad.

The Bluewings have fielded young lineups in all their preseason friendlies and even their squad number list has some debutantes claiming some interesting numbers (although not too much can be read into that). The likes of Jeon Se-jin, Song Jin-gyu, Ko Myeong-seok, Kim Min-ho, Kim Jun-hyung and Park Dae-won have all played significant minutes in preseason, and they all appear to be a part of the manager's thinking going forward into 2019.

It has been a while since Suwon successfully integrated any young players into the team, so the task that faces Lee Lim-saeng is a huge one. Only the future will tell if the manager has the patience and faith to trust these young players, but there will be a generational shift at Suwon over the coming years, so why not now?

Reason to Watch

The 2018 league campaign was a forgettable one for Suwon, but as low as things got there were still some incredible highs when the team actually reached the level that they are capable of playing at. Their fairy tale run to the ACL semi-finals was inspired, and epic victories against Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai and eventual champions, Kashima Antlers, highlight just how good the Bluewings can be when they get things right.

Lee Lim Saeng's men look likely to be one of the youngest teams in the league this season, but mixed with the experience of Yeom Ki-hun, Jo Sung-jin and Dejan, along with the skill and determination of Waguininho and Elvis Sarić, those young players will have a solid spine on which to rely on.

Expect another season of unpredictability from Suwon, but you would underestimate them at your own peril. The top 3 of Jeonbuk, Gyeongnam and Ulsan all suffered big losses against the Bluewings in 2018, and if Lee can find the right mixture of youth and experience then K League's sleeping giants could register a couple more significant victories against the big boys. 

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