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Column: Ko Jongsoo's Loyalty Costing Daejeon?

Daejeon Citizen Ko Jongsoo
After guiding Daejeon Citizen to the playoffs in 2018 and subsequently lifting the mood around the whole club following a disaster of an anniversary year the season prior, Ko Jongsoo is fast becoming one of the most talented young coaches in K League. However, whilst credit for his ability to lead the team on a shoe string budget is undoubtedly due, the former Suwon Bluewings and Daejeon Citizen midfielder's loyalty to his players could be what is holding them back due to an unwillingness to rotate.


Aside from a spell at the start of last season when fledgling gaffer Ko Jongsoo was still getting to grips with management and his vast Daejeon Citizen squad, the former K League MVP has bucked the trend of being a manager that tinkers.

It has become common place for managers to make changes to their starting elevens from one week to the next, apart from the odd exception. But Daejeon Citizen manager Ko Jongsoo has been loyal to a group of around 14-15 members of his first team squad.

After eight rounds of the 2019 K League season, Ko Jongsoo's Daejeon Citizen sit in sixth place along with Suwon FC, Bucheon FC 1995, and Sunday's opponents FC Anyang on 11 points. A win over the Violets on Sunday would have taken the Purples to joint second and just two points behind Gwangju who sit atop the K League 2 summit.

Alas, it was a frustrating afternoon for Daejeon who succumbed to a 2-0 defeat. Beforehand, Coach Ko made just one change to his starting lineup - a forced change at that. Goalkeeper Park Juwon had picked up an injury and so Kim Jinyoung was brought in to deputise for what was his first league outing since June 2018.

The previous match ended in victory, a 1-0 home win over Bucheon FC 1995 and so, following the old adage of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it', all 10 outfield players remained the same. Except, the win didn't paint the full story as, once again, tactical adjustments and substitutions were needed to get Citizen over the line - most notably Shohruh Gadoev's second half introduction before going on to provide and assist for the winner.

In an environment where squad rotation is to be expected, or perhaps seen as tactical acumen, Ko Jongsoo has been forever faithful to his 4-1-2-3/4-3-3 formation with Aurelian Chițu down the middle, flanked two of Kim Seungseop, Park Inhyeok and Sanzhar Tursanov.

However, Ko's reluctance to change his team, even when it is apparent that certain individuals are not performing as they might, could be what is costing Daejeon Citizen. Squad rotation is not always a bad thing and a spell on the sidelines for a handful of players could be of benefit to the team.

Hwang Jaehoon

Hang Jaehoon (L) in action away to Jeonnam Dragons, K League 2 R2
As is the case in most, if not all formations in the modern day, full backs are vitally important. For Daejeon this is no exception, with Park Sooil proving just how influential a full back can be having racked up 10 assists last season from left-back. However, on the opposite side, Hwang Jaehoon is a player who Coach Ko ought to think about resting.

Crossing has been an issue for the Purples this season and Hwang has attempted 13 crosses this term but, alarmingly, only one has found its intended recipient. Waiting in reserve is Jeon Sanghoon who has been limited to playing for Daejeon's second string. Park Sooil is naturally right-footed and so a shift over to right back with Jeon slotting in on the left would make sense.

Lee Jeesol

Lee Jeesol (R) has started every K League game for Daejeon this seaosn
Korean U20 international centre back Lee Jeesol has been thrusted into the limelight this term following the departure of Ko Myeongseok to Suwon Bluewings and Yun Juseong to Suwon FC. Lee has done okay. Naturally, the 20 year-old has looked uneasy at times and has made the odd mistake - as is to be expected for a second year pro with less than 20 appearances to their name.

However, even if Lee wasn't set to join up with the Korea squad ahead of the U20 World Cup, a spell on the sidelines might not necessarily have been a bad thing. Lee has won just 17% of defensive duels and 52% of losses have come in his own half. Yun Kyungbo showed potential last season and could step in for Lee, whilst Lee Jungmoon can also play as a central defender.

Shanzhar Tursanov

Tursanov joined Daejeon last summer from Al Kharaitiyat SC

Uzbek attacking midfielder Sanzhar Tursanov has been preferred on the flank ahead of compatriot Shohruh Gadoev, despite failing to really get going in 2019. From 25 attempted crosses, only four have been successful - a conversion rate of just 16%. Furthermore, Tursanov has a 46% success rate for long passes made and is yet to complete a through pass so far this season. Tursanov came into the team last summer following a mid-season transfer and helped Daejeon along that incredible unbeaten run that spanned two and a half months. However, the warning signs have been there and, as a result, the 31 year-old has completed 90 minutes just twice in eight outings. 


Park Inhyeok

Park Inhyeok (L) has nine goals in 40 appearances for Daejeon
Park Inhyeok is a hugely talented young player who can operate as an out-and-out striker or on either side of a front three. Over the winter the former Hoffenheim youngster attracted interest from Jeju United and looked set to follow former teammate Kang Yunsung to the island. Instead, Park remains at Purple Arena, donning the number nine shirt and is seen as a key player. 

Part of the problem with Park is that neither he nor the club seem to know what his best position is. His frame, strength and  ability in the air would serve him as well as an out-and-out striker down the middle. However, because he possesses two good feet and bags of technique, Park often operates as a second striker, tucking in from the flank in Ko Jongsoo's 4-1-2-3/4-3-3. 

But perhaps most problematic of all is his petulance; instead of playing to the whistle or using his strength, Park goes to ground too easily and sulks when things don't go his way. On his day, he can bag a brace and win the match for Daejeon, on others he can frustrate - as his teammate Aurelian Chițu would perhaps testify. 

Both of Park Inhyeok's goals this term came in the 3-1 away win over Jeonnam Dragons in round two and so the 23 year-old is now on a run of six games without a goal. From 13 shots on goal, only 46% have found the target and from 37 dribbles, only 54% have been successful. 

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