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Preview: Seongnam FC vs Pohang Steelers

Seongnam FC invite Pohang Steelers to Tancheon Sports Complex for the 1 Round 10 fixture. Both teams had a 1-0 victory in the midweek FA Cup matches, but the atmospheres around each team in K League 1 are quite different. While Pohang have won three games in June and are in a two-game winning streak, Seongnam have lost four and drew one. Their places in the league table are distinct from each other also, as Pohang are placed fifth and Seongnam eighth. Will the Magpies write an underdog story and end the Steelers' winning streak? Or, are the away team going to successfully start off July with a blissful win?

Last Time Out

Seongnam FC 1-0 Chungnam Asan FC

After ending a disastrous four-game losing streak in the match against Busan IPark, Seongnam faced Chungnam at home for FA Cup Round 3 fixture. Despite the expectations that Kim Nam-il was to have Na Sang-ho start the match, Kim instead put in forward Kim Hyun-sung for the first time in the season to partner up with Tomislav Kiš in the attacking third. To face the home team's 4-4-2 formation, Chungnam began the match with a 4-1-4-1 formation. A significant point to note is that the Owls' did not have Armin Mujakic and Philip Hellquist on the Starting XI and the bench, therefore the away team played the match with only Korean players.

The match was not broadcast by any channel so it's very difficult to figure what happened during the game, but according to Seongnam FC's live text-broadcast, the Magpies played the early match offensively utilizing Kwon Soon-hyung and Jeon Seung-min's passes in the midfield. Choi Oh-baek also contributed to the team's attacks by continuously finding open spaces on the sides. In the 31st minute, Kiš struck the ball that Chungnam's defenders could not manage to clear during the confusion in the penalty box, and the ball went straight into the corner of the net, 1-0 Seongnam lead. The Owls changed the flow into a more offensive style in the second half but it was not enough to damage the tough defense from Ahn Young-kyu and Igor Jovanović. Seongnam will face Daegu FC on July 15th for the Round 4 fixture of the FA Cup.

Pohang Steelers 1-0 Gyeongju Citizen FC

Pohang clashed with Gyeongju from K3 League in Pohang Steel Yard for their FA Cup fixture. The Steelers began the match with a 4-2-3-1 formation which they have been continuously using this season, with some of the core players including Brandon O'Neill, Manuel Palacios, and Kim Kwang-suk on the bench. The Citizens started the match with a 4-5-1 formation.

Pohang had the possession for almost the whole first half. The home team actively passed the ball to the sides and made early crosses or lob passes from the midfield into the penalty box. Gyeongju implemented tight pressure while using the field more narrowly, targeting to cut out the passes or dribbles that Pohang's midfielders tried to make. The away team's tactics worked pretty well, as the Steelers failed to score a goal in the first half. Although Pohang had multiple great chances in front of the goal, Gyeongju's defenders displayed an impressive spirit and blocked them all. Despite the effort, in the 85th minute, Lee Seung-mo of Pohang took a curved short while the goalkeeper's sight was blocked and it went right into the net, ending the match 1-0.

Previous Meetings

Seongnam and Pohang have faced each other 123 times in total, with Seongnam winning 33 matches and losing 57. 

Two teams played against each other three times last season, and the results were the Magpies winning one and the Steelers winning two. The very latest matchup was in Pohang on August 31st, 2019 and the home team won 1-0. Song Min-kyu scored a goal in the second minute, and that made the game shift toward Pohang too easily and too early. 

The team that will have a harder time expecting what the opponents will come up with are going to be Pohang, as Seongnam as a team have changed greatly compared to last season. Not only has the manager been replaced, but the squad is very different from the last matchup between two teams as well. Among the players that formed Seongnam's squad for the last match against Pohang, only Kim Dong-hyun, Lee Chang-yong, and Yeon Je-woon are still in the club and actively playing. Compared to that, Pohang's squad isn't that different from last year and the manager has not changed either. Although last year's sensation Wanderson Carvalho de Oliveira is replaced by Manuel Palacios and Brandon O'Neill is a new member of the starting eleven, other positions' players are pretty similar to the squad of last year's, therefore Kim Nam-il is expected to have an easier time predicting Pohang's tactics than Kim Gi-dong predicting Seongnam's.

Team News

Seongnam's Choi Ji-mook and Lee Chang-yong received a red card in the game versus Busan, and won't be able to play this match. Other than them, Seongnam will not have an issue with calling upon anyone that played against Busan and Chungnam.

With Choi and Lee out of the squad, Kim Nam-il will have a hard time preparing the back four line for this match. He might return to a back three, but considering that Seongnam have earned good results with back four against Busan and Chungnam, it's very likely for Kim to use the back four system again. The starting defenders are expected to be Park Soo-il, Igor Jovanović, Yeon Je-woon, and Lee Tae-hee.

On July 2nd, Pohang acquired K League veteran Nam Joon-jae from Jeju United. Nam has played 214 K League matches and scored 35 goals in total. The former Incheon United captain can cover large areas and provide energy to the Steelers, plus make sharp penetration plays. An apprehensive factor is that Nam did not play a single match this season and his form might not be very sharp. Whether Nam plays this match or not will be of interest to the fans.

What To Watch

Seongnam vs. Pohang's defensive tactics

As the season is already approaching the halfway point, the style of each team's performance have been starting to be noticed. For Seongnam, the rules are closely related to the opponents' defensive line and pressure.

Kim Nam-il has experimented with multiple offensive tactics, but the Magpies' attack progression usually has been through penetration passes from the midfield or defenders into the attacking third, and that is why Kim has been placing fast-paced players such as Choi Oh-baek and Hong Si-hoo as the center forwards. This seems to be a reasonable choice as Seongnam's midfielders and defenders such as Jamshid Iskanderov, Kwon Soon-hyung, Lim Sun-young, Yeon Je-woon, and more have great passing skills. However, the lack of physical power in the midfield and attacking third often made the team too vulnerable to tight pressure and dense defensive line.

Considering that, the rules to harm Seongnam's performance are:
1. Seongnam's offensive performance decreases greatly when faced by the narrow defensive line.
2. Tight pressure also significantly ruins the Magpies' performance.
3. If the opponent's central defense is dense, Seongnam do not have many options left because they usually progress attacks through the central area, not the sides.

Then, the rules that improve Seongnam's performance should be:
1. When Seongnam play against teams that have a wide back four line.
2. When Seongnam face loose pressure.
3. When Seongnam's opponent have a light central defense.

Seongnam's past fixtures prove these points. One of the matches where the Gyeonggi-based team performed greatly was the game against Ulsan Hyundai. During the match, the Magpies' midfielders actively put through passes into the forwards, and Choi Oh-baek had multiple precious chances.

Seongnam vs. wide defensive line (Source: K League YouTube Channel
As the picture shows, Ulsan's defensive line was wide enough for Seongnam's midfielders and forwards to find open spaces for penetration plays, and their pressure was not very harsh either. Although the match ended 1-0 for the Tigers with Júnior Negrão's goal in the 87th minute, the Magpies showed great performance and almost ended the match without conceding.

Another match Seongnam showed great performance (Source: K League YouTube Channel)

Seongnam also showed an impressive attack progression in the match against Busan, and their defensive line was not dense either. Compared to the fixtures that went positively, the game against Suwon Samsung Bluewings was probably one of the worst ones so far in this season. The Bluewings did not give many open spaces and instead kept the players very close to each other, which almost erased all the attack options Seongnam had.

Seongnam against dense defensive line (Source: K League YouTube Channel
Then, what about Pohang, the opponent of this week's matchup? Unfortunately for the Magpies, the Steelers usually set their defensive line pretty narrowly, with very harsh pressure in the defensive third. The midfielders use their physical strength to often make fouls for making time for others to come back down and put pressure on the opponents.

Pohang's narrow defensive line (Source: K League YouTube Channel)

In order to find a way to escape Pohang's tight pressure and narrow defensive line, Seongnam have to focus more on making crosses or lob passes utilizing the sides of the stadium. However, the fact that the Gyeonggi-based team do not have a tall forward with dominant strength and they have not been really using sides much makes the Magpies fans worry.

Key Player: Yeon Je-woon

Pohang's offensive performance has been outstanding this season. Although the Steelers are placed fifth in the league table currently, they have scored the second-most goals as a team so far (17 goals). Stanislav Iljutcenko keeps proving his class, having scored six goals in nine matches, and the physical dominance Manuel Palacios shows on the sides is unbelievable. Song Min-kyu and Aleksandar Palocevic have contributed hugely as well. To defend Seongnam's goal from Pohang's terrifying attackers, captain Yeon Je-woon should lead the overall defense successfully. The 25-year-old center back has been showing his talents by only conceding eight goals so far (third-least goals conceded), and this match could be one of the highlights of his career.

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Seongnam FC 0-2 Pohang Steelers

Although Seongnam have ended the losing streak and earned a victory in the FA Cup fixture, Pohang just seem to be too big of an obstacle for them. The away team have so many characteristics that counter Seongnam's, and it's difficult for me to imagine the Magpies smiling at the end of this fixture. In addition to that, from Round 2 to Round 9, Seongnam made 32 shots on target and only scored two goals from open play, which makes the rate of goals per shots on target for them 6.25%.

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