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2019 Season Review: Bucheon FC 1995

After spending the majority of the season in the bottom half of the K League 2 table, Bucheon FC 1995 put together an end of season winning run that saw them qualify for the play-offs for the first time since 2016. Although they were disappointingly knocked out via a draw due to the play-offs unique format, Bucheon should be proud of their improvement from last season and will be given hope for next year. If they can invest wisely and continue their good form, Bucheon have the potential to be one of the league's strongest teams in 2020.

What Went Well

Bucheon had a season of many ups and downs, though one thing that was consistent throughout the season was their ability to scores goals. Though they were not the most prolific in individual matches - the most goals they scored in one game was three, achieved on six occasions - they were the joint fourth highest goal scorers in the league with 49. They only failed to score in nine matches, and what gave them their success in front of goal was the fact that their goals were spread throughout the team. 

A total of 17 players scored for the club in 2019, with 21 goals coming from players outside their top three goalscorers. This especially aided the club during the first-half of the season when they lacked a dominant goalscorer, but the emergence of Marlon de Jesus and Nilson Junior (who both ended the season on 10 goals each) in the second-half of the season made up for this early season deficiency.

The combination of goals from Marlon and Nilson, with support from the rest of the team, is what lead to the highlight of their year. Their end of season run of six wins in eight matches, which included winning all of their last five games, is what saw them rise from eighth place and grab the final play-off spot with a fourth place finish. All of the flashes of brilliance that the team had produced throughout the season came together, which combined with moments of luck to allow the team to create one of the stories of the season. 

It was not just the results that were crucial, but who they were against. Defeating the likes of Jeonnam Dragons and Ansan Greeners, who both finished the season only a win away from overtaking Bucheon, showed a strength of character and tactical confidence that had been missing for large parts of the season. Coach Song Seon-ho found the best formation and style for the players at his disposal, and if their key players can be retained for next season then Bucheon will have a strong foundation to build on.

What Didn't Go Well

One thing that stopped Bucheon from achieving their end of season form earlier in the year was their defence. Bucheon's record of 51 goals conceded was the fourth worst in the league, and it lead to them being the only team in the top half of the table with a negative goal difference. This is not to say that Bucheon's defensive players were poor performers. Nilson Junior impacted Bucheon positively at both ends of the pitch with his defensive displays and goal scoring ability. Park Gun served as the club captain and his leadership and consistent form brought Bucheon some much needed stability in the squad. Kim Jae-woo's form saw him being selected by the South Korea U-22 national team, and goalkeeper Choi Chul-won produced crucial saves in almost every match that he played in.

The problem was not in the performances of these players, but the lack of depth in this area of the pitch. Bucheon's main strength's lie in their midfield, and for the majority of the season they played as a 4-5-1. This meant that there was quite a lot of rotation at the back as they could not find the correct combination of defenders to work together, meaning that lots of mistakes were produced from a lack of communication or different levels of ability between players. 

Early season experimentation with a 3-5-2 formation allowed glimpses of Bucheon's potential success with a three-man defence, though it created a new problem in finding the ideal two-man strike partnership. The switch to a 3-4-3 brought balance to the side and was the catalyst for Bucheon's rise up the league table. If one of their back three had experienced a severe injury of a long suspension, however, their lack of depth in that area could have come back to haunt them.

[LISTEN: KLU Pod | K League Decision Day]

Young Player of the Year

Bucheon largely stuck with more experienced players from their mid-twenties to early-thirties for the majority of the season. Out of 12 registered players that are under the age of 23 in the squad, five of them did not make a single appearance all year. Of the remaining seven, only two of them played in more than 10 matches for Bucheon in 2019: Lee Si-heon and Kim Jae-woo. Lee is an attacker that arrived on loan from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in July, and while he impressed in his 11 appearances this season, he is still very much a diamond in the rough.

The clear Young Player of the Year is Kim Jae-woo. As previously mentioned, he became an integral part of a three-man defensive line as the season progressed, usually playing on the right or left side, with Nilson Junior in the centre. Kim only scored once this season, but the 21 year-old's impact was felt in other ways and he has been selected to be a part of the South Korean U-22 side several times. His 25 appearances this season is a big improvement on the one match he played for Bucheon last year. If he remains at Bucheon next year then it would not be surprising if he started in almost every match, and if his progression continues at the same rate then he will probably leave K League 2 behind very soon.

Team MVP

In order to finish in a play-off position Bucheon had to have several players perform exceptionally well. Some have already been mentioned previously, while several others deserve to be recognised as well. Ahn Tae-hyun has been integral to Bucheon's creative and multiple would not have happened without him. Kim Ryun-do was Bucheon's only consistent goalscorer - finishing with six this season - until Marlon and Nilson hit their stride. Cho Beom-seok and Cho Soo-chul returned from national service late in the season and brought an added dimension to midfield, playing crucial's roles in Bucheon's improving form in the final months of the year. 

The Team MVP, though, has to be Brazilian defender Nilson Junior. The 30 year-old was voted by the club's fans as their player of the season and it is not hard to see why. This is his third year playing for Bucheon, and sixth in Korean football, though this was his best season by far. He was the only Bucheon player to play in all 37 regular season and play-off games for the club this season, and he was a consistently good player in all of them. As previously mentioned he finished the season as the club's joint-top scorer along with Marlon de Jesus with 10 goals each, which is seven goals more than his previous highest scoring season in his whole career.

What is truly impressive about this is that he remained as a true defender throughout this season and has never been deliberately positioned as an attacker. Only four of the goals came from penalty kicks, meaning that he was not simply handed all of the goal scoring opportunities that he was given. Nilson produced many commanding displays in front of his own goal as well and is definitely a player that the club would like to keep hold of for next season.

Most Disappointing Player

The impressive thing about this season is that while Bucheon had several outstanding players, most of the rest of the squad gave good performances when called upon. One example of this is with back-up goalkeeper Lee Young-chan, who only played two matches all season but after one of those games he was named in the K League 2 Team of the Week. This makes it hard to name a current player as the most disappointing, but if players that have already left the club are included then one person stands out: Rodrigo Maranhao.

Rodrigo arrived in the winter transfer window from J2 League club Zweigen Kanazawa, at the same time as Marlon. Unlike the Ecuadorian, though, he was unable to adjust to the playing style of K League 2. If given more time it is possible that he could have improved, after all, it took Marlon until 16th June to score his first goal for Bucheon. Rodrigo's record of nine goals in 31 league appearances in Japan indicated that he was able to play at this level. However, Rodrigo left to join Thai League 2 side Nongbua Pitchaya FC in the summer.

It is possible that he made the move because he preferred the lifestyle in Thailand, having experienced it in 2017 playing for the clubs Port FC and Sukhothai FC. Whatever the reason may be, it means that his record at Bucheon will remain at nine appearances and zero goals. Compared to the performances of his fellow South Americans at the club this season, Rodrigo was particularly disappointing and will not likely stick around in the memory of most Bucheon fans.

Most Important Decision of the Off Season

Identifying the improvements that need to be made would be a much easier task if Bucheon had remained in eighth position, instead of climbing the table at the end of the season. It is easy to get blinded by the good form of those final matches and believe that the club are ready to proceed unchanged next year. However, while the team did improve in those final matches they were far from perfect. Their defence still needs to be upgraded, but how the club goes about it will be interesting.

As the club do not have the resources to go on a big spending spree, if they keep the majority of their squad then the coach will likely try to retain the same style of play and 3-4-3 formation of their final matches of the season. If this is the case, the coach will have to consider who to drop if he does manage to sign a high-quality defender. Nilson is their star player, Park Gun is their captain and Kim Jae-woo is their best youth player. They could all retain their place in the starting eleven if Nilson becomes a defensive midfielder or Kim starts playing more as a winger.

Doing either of those, however, could risk disrupting the balance of their midfield, which was one of their few areas of consistency throughout the season. The same problem arises if they revert to a 3-5-2 or 5-4-1 to accommodate all the defenders and midfielders. The most important decision of this winter is whether to prioritise strengthening the defence or sticking to the current players, or experimenting with a balance between the two.

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