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2019 Season Review: FC Seoul

2019 Season Review: FC Seoul
In 2019 FC Seoul announced their return to prominence after being involved in a relegation battle just 12 months ago. Under the leadership of Choi Yongsoo, Seoul found themselves in the midst of a title race early on in the campaign but faded away after summer. That said, with third place and a ticket to Asia in the bag, the capital club's last K League campaign of the century proved to be a productive one.

2019 Record: W15 D11 L12 GF53 GA49 GD+4 Pts56


What Went Well

Before the start of the season, the target for FC Seoul was simply to get back into the top six and consolidate after almost falling through the trap door in 2018. However, a strong start to the new season meant that Seoul were part of a three-horse title race along with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Ulsan Hyundai. The promising form lasted up until July, though, but then tailed off during the summer months.

But, the foundations were already laid to give Choi Yongsoo and his men every chance of qualifying for the AFC Champions League and, despite results drying up somewhat towards the end of the campaign, a 0-0 draw away to Daegu eventually sealed a place in the ACL. Above all, though, Seoul had an identity once again; Choi Yongsoo stuck with a 3-5-2 for the whole season, and once again the team had character. The return and influence of Osmar cannot be understated either and really the former Buriram United man ought to be club captain such is his importance to the team.

Recruitment

Compared to 2018, recruitment was done relatively well this term. Seoul brought in Uzbekistan international midfielder Ikromjon Alibaev from Lokomotiv Tashkent, as well as former Serbian Super League Golden Boot winner Aleksandar Pešić on loan from Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad. The latter's early season form displayed exactly what Seoul were missing in the final third last year and, after topping the league's scoring charts early on, looked to be a genuine contender for the K League Golden Boot too.

However, a broken toe in July curtailed Pešić's season somewhat but 10 goals from 19 starts isn't a bad return. Shooting accuracy wise, Pešić ranked sixth in the league with 49% of all attempts on goal finding the target, and fourth for the number of shots taken from open play with 48, as well as ranking tenth for touches in the box. Aside from goals, the 27 year-old also showed how selfless of a player he is by being seventh in the division for smart passes made and fourth for smart passes competed per 90 minutes.

Alibaev, meanwhile, added some vigour and energy to Seoul's midfield, and with an eye for a pass, has been an asset creatively. The 25 year-old went on to make 35 appearances, score three goals and register five assists, joint fifth in K League 1 in 2019 in that regard, as well as four second assists, the sixth-best in the division. FC Seoul's number nine ranked 10th for through-passes made, seventh in terms of accuracy, and eighth for smart passing accuracy. Alibaev has also shown that he can get stuck in and help defensively and is ranked fourth in K League 1 for the number of tackles made and ninth in terms of duels.

Return to Form 

Rather unsurprisingly, Seoul's return to prominence coincided with strong performances through the season from key individuals. Some of these key individuals will have been genuine contenders for the K League United Comeback Player of the Year Award, such as vice-captain Park Chuyoung and centre back Hwang Hyunsoo in particular. The pair endured disappointing campaigns in 2018, making just 22 starts between them last term but performed very well in 2019. Park Chuyoung was able to finish the season ninth in K League 1 for combined assists and goals with 17, joint sixth for assists with seven, and second for key passes with 19, not to mention 10 goals for the season.

Centre back Hwang Hyunsoo's return to form was enough to cement his place in the team and make the most appearances out of any FC Seoul player this season with 36 and 3,166 minutes. The 24 year-old was able to contribute at both ends of the pitch too, scoring five goals and laying on three assists, whilst ranking in seventh for interceptions made (185) and interceptions made per match (5.1). Despite being a central defender, Hwang was joint ninth in K League 1 for passes made into the final third.

There should also be a notable mentions for captain Go Yohan who ended the season in second for smart passes, fourth per 90 minutes, eighth in the division for progressive runs, second for the number of second assists with six, and sixth for crossing accuracy with 42.3%. 


What Didn't Go Well

Despite propelling themselves into an early three-horse race for the title, Seoul's form throughout the summer months and thereafter suffered somewhat. After the Super Match on June 16th Seoul then went on a poor run of form, picking up just five wins with just three wins in their last 15 matches. The absence of Pešić was an issue but a lack of depth in the striking department was also a contributing factor.

Goals

FC Seoul didn't have a single player in the top 10 for the number of shots made or shots on target in K League 1 in 2019. As a team Seoul ranked tenth in the division in this regard, and managed just 4.84 shots on target per 90 and on average 5.63 shots from inside the box per match, of which only 1.58 on hit the target on average. Adding extra fire power in 2020 should be at the top of manager Choi Yongsoo's list of priorities for next season.

Results Against Top Six

In the end, Seoul bowed out of the title race due to their inability to beat the likes of Ulsan and Jeonbuk. Against the 2019 Champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Seoul picked up just a solitary point after one draw and three defeats to the North Jeolla side. Granted, Seoul can count themselves unlucky after conceding late goals in both visits to Jeonju Castle. In April, despite there being six minutes of time added on, Jeonbuk fired in a 98th minute winner via Han Seunggyu despite Pešić drawing level with two minutes of normal time remaining. Likewise, in the FINAL A meeting post split in October, Seoul looked set to pick up a rare away win over the Green Warriors after Hwang Hyunsoo had given them a 20th minute lead only for veteran striker Lee Donggook to fire in an 85th minute equaliser to see the spoils shared. From the four encounters, Seoul scored four but shipped 10. 

Seoul endured a similar record against Ulsan with one draw and three losses, and picked up just one win from the four meetings with both Pohang and Gangwon. The only anomaly was the three wins and a draw against their nearest rivals for AFC Champions League qualification, Daegu FC. If Seoul are to challenge for the title once again then being able to pick up results against the top teams is an absolute must.

Young Player of the Year

Yoon Jonggyu


Right wing-back Yoon Jonggyu made 29 appearances for FC Seoul in 2019, more than anyone else in the squad under the age of 22, and fifth overall in K League 2 for players under 22. Yoon managed to lay on two assists in what was something of a breakout season during which he made 26 starts. In 2018, Yoon was thrusted into the first team towards the end of the campaign to help with the U22 rule whereby teams must field a player under the age of 22 if they are to make three substitutions. The rule may have its critics, but the FC Seoul youth product has certainly benefited from it having previously only managed a handful of first team appearances in any one season.

Amongst players of his age group, Yoon ranks second in K League 1 for the number of crosses made with 59, just four less than Kim Daewon of Daegu FC, but has the best crosses per match record. Furthermore, Yoon is joint third for the number of key passes made amongst players under the age of 22, but the most out of any defended in this age group. Yoon also ranks highly in passes made (fifth), forward passes complete (seventh), dribbles (tenth), progressive runs (sixth), progressive passes (second), progressive passes per 90 minutes (fifth), accuracy of passes into the final third with 76% (fourth), and one-on-one dribbling success rate with 57% (fourth).
 

Team MVP

Osmar Ibáñez Barba


After a year on loan with J.League 1 side Cerezo Osaka, Osmar returned to Sagnam last winter and immediately put pen to paper on a new three-year deal under returning manager Choi Yongsoo. Osmar missed the first five games of the season through injury, but was still was able to rank sixth in K League 1 for the number of passes made (1,148), fifth for forward passes made (959), second for the number of forward passes made per 90 minutes (30.9), and ninth for progressive passes (689). Furthermore, the Spaniard ranked sixth for the number of tackles made as well as for interceptions (188), and fifth for interceptions made per 90 minutes (6.1).

Osmar proved to be a threat in front of goal too with four goals, two of which came in the 4-2 Super Match win, the others in a 2-1 win away to Gyeongnam where Osmar turned in a late, late winner, and the 3-1 home win over Seongnam - FC Seoul's 500th win as a football club. More than anything, Osmar's presence in the team added some much-needed composure and leadership at the back and it would be fair to say that without him, Seoul would not have finished in third place. 

Most Disappointing Player

Cho Youngwook


The only reason why Cho Youngwook has been disappointing this season is simply because he hasn't played anywhere near enough than was expected. When the 20 year-old has come into the team, he has performed well enough, but from 18 appearances overall only six came from the start. The two goals which he scored this season proved to be important, though, having scored Seoul's second in a 2-1 win over Gyeongnam in April and an equaliser in a 2-2 home draw with Gangwon in July.

Last term, Cho made 17 starts and 30 appearances overall, scoring three goals and two assists - a decent return for a first-year professional and especially considering that the former Korea University graduate played as a winger, central midfielder and out-and-out striker at various stages throughout the campaign, as was the case this term. There is no doubting the ability and potential which Cho has and, with more matches to be played in 2020, there's every chance that the youngster will get more game time.

Most Important Decision of the Off-season

The most importance decision, or thing for FC Seoul to consider, during the off-season is what a realistic target is for next year. Given that Choi Yongsoo targetted a place in the top six for 2019, it could be argued that Seoul are ahead of schedule. Next term Seoul will be back in the ACL, should they win a qualifying playoff match at the tail-end of January at least, and so finding the right players to fight on two or possible three fronts, will be imperative. Seoul need depth and are, as of now, not ready for the rigours of AFC Champions League.  

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