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Preview: Gangwon FC vs FC Seoul

K League is back after the international break and the Final Round is upon us. This Sunday FC Seoul head to Chuncheon to take on Gangwon FC in Final Round A in search of back-to-back victories for the first time since June. With just four points separating Seoul from Daegu FC in fourth, Choi Yongsoo and his men will know that nothing less than a win will do to ease the pressure heading into the last four matches. For Gangwon, injuries to key players have taken the shine of 'Byungsoo Ball' but the provincial outfit will be keen to get back to winning ways and end the season strongly.

Overview

via Soccerway


Last Time Out

Sangju Sangmu 2-1 Gangwon FC

Gangwon's poor form continued prior to the international break as Kim Byungsoo's men lost 2-1 to Sangju, despite taking a first half lead. Lee Youngjae had given Gangwon the lead with 34 on the clock before Park Yongji bagged his 11th of the campaign just after the hour mark. Then, deep into added on time, Kim Jinhyeok fired in a late, late winner. The win wasn't enough to send Sangju into the top six, nor was it enough to effect Gangwon's status in Final Round A. However, with three defeats from their last four, Gangwon are appearing to run out of steam.

Highlights




Suwon Samsung Bluewings 1-2 FC Seoul

FC Seoul extended their unbeaten Super Match league form to 16 matches thanks to a 2-1 win at Big Bird in Round 33. Park Chuyoung gave FC Seoul an early first half lead from the spot after VAR had spotted a Min Sanggi handball. Then, in the second period, some excellent wing-back play by Go Yohan teed up Lee Myungjoo to nod home Seoul's second. Yeom Kihun pulled one back for the Bluewings with a deflected free kick but it wasn't enough for Lee Limsaeng's side to salvage anything from the match.

Highlights



Previous Meetings

FC Seoul have faced Gangwon four times already this season, three times in the league and once in the FA Cup. The very first encounter of 2019 ended in an FC Seoul win in Gangwon thanks to an Aleksandar Pešić brace in a 2-1 victory. However, just three days later, Seoul let a two goal lead slip to crash out of the FA Cup in a 3-2 defeat to Gangwon before earning a 2-2 draw at home in July. Park Dongjin had given Seoul the lead that evening but a quickfire double from Kim Jihyun turned the game on its head. But, young forward Cho Youngwook fired in a 73rd minute equaliser to salvage a point. The most recent meeting in August ended in a 0-0 draw.

Almost exactly a year ago, FC Seoul hosted Gangwon in the Relegation Round of the Split in desperate need of three points to avoid the drop. Park Chuyoung gave Seoul the lead in the 84th minute with what looked to be enough to earn Choi Yongsoo his first three points since returning as manager. However, almost immediately after the game had restarted, Jung Seungyong restored parity to see the spoils shared.

FC Seoul have just two wins over Gangwon in the last two seasons and only four since the Chuncheon-based side returned to the top flight in 2017. However, overall there have been 22 meetings, of which Seoul have 12 wins to Gangwon's five and five draws.

Team News

Gangwon will be without forwards Kim Jihyun and Cho Jaewon after the pair suffered season ending injuries. Kim Byungsoo will also be without Japanese left back Nakazato Takahiro and club captain Oh Beomseok through suspension. Former FC Seoul full back Yun Sukyoung is likely to switch to the left-hand side after a spell in the centre, whilst Stelios Valentinos could be recalled to slot in at centre back.

Gangwon FC lineup which lost 2-1 away to Sangju Sangmu, K League 1 Round 33.

For FC Seoul, central defender Lee Woonghee and forward Park Dongjin are both suspended after being booked in the Super Match, the pair receiving just their third cautions of the campaign. Centre back Hwang Hyunsoo and striker Alexsandar Pešić, who both missed the Super Match through injury, are expected to return in their place.

FC Seoul starting lineup which beat Suwon Bluewings 2-1 away, K League 1 Round 33


Eulji Lewis 

The Adversary


Gangwon secured a top six finish for the second time in three seasons since returning to the top flight in 2017. However, Kim Byungsoo's side, who were once seen as Seoul's nearest competitors for third place, are on a run of four games without a win with three defeats heading into Sunday's match. The loss of Kim Jihyun and Cho Jaewan is a huge blow as the pair had bagged 18 goals between them in 2019 before suffering season-ending injuries. The outcome of which is an eight-point gap separating Gangwon from Seoul in fourth and a real uphill struggle to qualify for the AFC Champions League. No team has come back from such a point deficit to seal third place.

Gangwon's record against the current top six is actually the worst of the teams in Final Round A having picked up just a point against both Ulsan and Daegu and two points from Sunday's opponents FC Seoul. That said, Kim Byungsoo and his men did manage to take four points off Jeonbuk and six from Pohang to give them a total of 14, one less than Pohang who accumulated 15 points from matches against the current top six.



What To Watch

20 year-old Cho Youngwook scored against Gangwon earlier in the season and may be recalled to the starting lineup come Sunday.
Recently, FC Seoul haven't named a player who is 22 years of age or younger in the starting lineup, something which must be done if a K League manager wants to make three substitutions. In recent matches Seoul's only U22 player has been on the bench and so Choi Yongsoo has been limited to making just two substitutes. Choi was questioned about this after the 1-1 draw against Gyeongnam a few weeks ago to which the the former striker said:

"For the past few games we haven't used an U22 player. It was probably a hasty decision. Moving forward I will use the best combination of players but in midfield there's a lot of energy being consumed and we need a change. There's a lot of pressure on Lee Myungjoo, Ju Sejong, and Alibaev."

Furthermore, after the Super Match win prior to the international break Choi commented further on the matter, saying:

"I like experimenting. Unless we change the formation, to get the results we need we need to keep going. But we're in a situation where the team are fatigued and so it [U22 player] is a situation to consider... Like Jeonbuk and Ulsan do, we need to have three or four good players on the bench who could be starters but I also have a duty to nurture the younger players."

However, Choi's U22 options are somewhat limited, certainly in terms of players who can slot into the team seamlessly and at such a pivotal time of the year. Five players under the age of 22 have played for Seoul this season; wing-backs Yoon Jonggyu (21) and Shin Jaewon (21), as well as forwards Cho Youngwook (20), and Lee Inkyu (19), and 18 year-old centre back Kim Jusung. Shin, son of former Seongnam and Korean National Team manager Shin Taeyong, has been limited to just 69 minutes of football and one start during which the 21 year-old gave away a penalty before being hooked. Kim Jusung, an 18 year-old centre back, got a run in the team due to Choi's apparent distrust of the other centre backs he has at his disposal, but has since been relegated to the reserves. Choi could recall Kim Jusung given Lee Woonghee's suspension but if Hwang Hyunsoo is fit enough to start, the 24 year-old will be the preferred option.

Another option would be to start Yoon Jonggyu, who began the season as first choice, at right wing-back, and move Go Yohan over to the left-hand side in place of Ko Kwangmin. Ko has laid on just one assist this season and has a crossing success rate of just 35%, a figure which is below some of the other full back/wing-backs in the division. For reference, Lee Yong at Jeonbuk's crossing accuracy is at 56%, Seo Bomin at Seongnam's is 50%, Kim Yonghwan from Pohang 43%, and teammate Go Yohan 40%. Alternatively, Cho Youngwook could slot into the centre of midfield to replace Alibaev who may be fatigued after long trips to Uzbekistan and Singapore on international duty.

Prediction

Seoul will get the job done one way or another. Gangwon are out of form and missing some key players through injury and suspension. For Seoul, though, at this stage of the season results are much more important that performances. It's a cliche to say as such but, having not won back-to-back matches since June picking up three points at a place where they have done so already this term is an absolute must if they are to qualify for the AFC Champions League.



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