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Column: What is Going Wrong with Daegu FC?

High-flying Daegu FC are plummeting as the Sky Blues have gone five games without a victory in K League. What are the reasons behind the recent poor performances? K League United's Daegu FC correspondent Muyeol Jung tries to shed light on the club's recent run.


What's Happening?


Daegu FC started the campaign in a precarious way due to the sudden departure of former manager Andre Gaspar and Covid-19, however, they seemed to get back on the right track from Round 5 by beating Seongnam 2-1 away from home.

Daegu FC match results in the 2020 season (courtesy of Soccerway.com)

Then, the Sky Blues spent a fantastic June with four wins and a draw in five League games including the emphatic 6-0 win over FC Seoul. The momentum continued for two more games until the citizen club squared off against the title contenders Ulsan Hyundai at home. Although they lost one FA Cup game and one league more in a quick turnaround, Lee Byunggeun's side got two straight wins including an 18-year awaited win over Suwon on their turf.

On 8th August when Daegu played host to Jeonbuk with fans for the first time, the Sky Blues hopelessly lost 2-0, but the defeat didn't taste bitter as objectively Jeonbuk are a much stronger side. The real crisis came right after the Jeonbuk game. Shockingly, the Sky Blues became the victim of Incheon's first win this season and lost to newly-promoted side Gwangju 6-4 at home.

Last weekend, by losing to Pohang 3-2, the Sky Blues extend their winless streak to five with four losses and a goalless draw.

Facts

  • Since 2017 when Daegu FC returned to the top flight, the longest winless streak is eight games, which were recorded twice in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
  • In the first half of the 2018 season, Daegu FC recorded one six-game winless streak and an eight-game winless streak with a single win over Gangwon in between
    • the first one is from the season opener to home to Ulsan (LLDDD/L, 03/03/18~11/04/18)
    • the second one is six straight defeats followed by two draws (LLLLL/LDD, 21/04/18~08/07/18)
  • However, since summer 2018 when the Sky Blues turned things around and became a powerhouse in recent K League history courtesy of dynamic and counterattacking football, the current winless streak is the worst with four defeats and a draw in five games.
    • There was another five-game winless period recorded in mid-June to early July 2019 with three draws and two defeats.

What Is Going Wrong?

Is Caretaker Lee Byunggeun incompetent?

Ahead of the season, due to a sudden departure of former manager Andre Gaspar from the Sky Blues, Lee Byunggeun was handed the responsibility as a caretaker until further notice. One of Andre's backroom staff didn't make any radical changes, but opted to steer the side in the same philosophy with the acquisition of Dejan Damjanović, Lee Jinhyun and Gu Sungyun.

Caretaker Lee Byunggeun has been steering the Sky Blues well, but can he cope with this crisis?

With him in charge, the main formation and tactics have remained the same as a 3-4-1-2 with an emphasis of counterattack. The only difference was a swift change to a back four when the Sky Blues need to go more aggressive for goals. The change is to generate maximisation in attack at the sacrifice of defence, but this tactic works quite well.

Also, considering that the club's CEO, former Korean National Team manager Cho Kwangrae has been acting as a mentor for managers upon their request, it would be unfair to say that the current sluggish performances results rest solely on the shoulders of caretaker Lee Byunggeun.

Depth of Squad

The depth of Daegu's squad has always been a concern for any citizen clubs because of their relatively low-budget and Daegu isn't an exception. However, the Sky Blues did become strong enough to compete for an ACL place.

The Sky Blues now have a quality starting XI in the league that any manager would fancy boasting in their squad, for example league's best player Cesinha, legendary striker Dejan Damjanović, former Brazil U20 striker Edgar, versatile midfielder Jung Seungwon and young promising defender Jeong Taewook. However, the gap between starting XI and second string is too big. Therefore, Daegu's line-up usually remains almost the same with only forced changes due to injury or suspension, which have ultimately led key players to be extremely exhausted throughout the summer.

Lack of Leadership and Experience on the pitch

The Sky Blues' captain Hong Jungwoon, who missed the second half of the 2019 season due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, is spending this season again, on the sidelines after unfortunately tearing his ACL again in Round 4. The misfortune not only gave him a tough time, but also lessened the club's quality in terms of leadership and experience.

Hong Jungwoon had to finish a season he had been longing for in a miserable way again

Born in 1994, the defender joined the Sky Blues in 2016, making big progress year by year and swiftly become one of the most important figures as captain. Ahead of this season, he was expected to command the defence to help youngsters Jeong Taewook (51 appearances), Kim Wooseok (84) and Jo Jinwoo (15) on the pitch. During his absence, Cesinha or Jeong Taewook have captained the Sky Blues, but they are not as influential as Hong yet, because Cesinha always takes attacking roles, while Jeong Taewook is still inexperienced.

Suspension of Reserve League

There would be few people acknowledging that the Reserve League has been suspended this season because of the Covid-19 after agreement was reached in executive meeting. It is very hard to quantify how the clubs have suffered from this decision, but I firmly think that Daegu FC would be one of the heavily affected sides in the league.

Daegu FC's String XIs for Reserve League (Data: Daegu FC Facebook): Red circles are players who usually made the bench for the first team last season, but they maintained fitness and sharpness by playing in the R League. On a few occasions, first team players played before they return to the first team from injury (#66 Park Byunghyun, #6 Han Heehoon)


In case key players are out with injuries or fatigued, there had always been a few surprising youngsters at Daegu who broke into the first team and did an excellent job. The prime examples are Jeong Seungwon and Kim Daewon who had trained for nearly two years in the Reserve Team, gaining experience in the R League before they eventually broke into the first team in 2018 and became household names. Apart from them, Jang Sungwon, Kang Yunku (currently at Incheon United), Oh Huseong, Go Jaehyun (currently loaned to Seoul Eland), Kim Taehan, Jung Chiin and Park Hanbin are the players who were always ready for a call up to the first team or on the bench, while maintaining their match fitness and sharpness in the R League. Thanks to the success, Daegu FC annually recruit a lot of promising young players in the squad and this year the Sky Blues have 43 players registered in K League.

Since the re-introduction of Reserve League in 2016, Daegu FC always have remained in top five including their inaugural champions title

However, the suspension of the R League caused a massive disruption to Daegu's plan and its youngsters. When youngsters are introduced to a game with a mission, they hardly make any difference. As a result, the gaffer was forced to put off making changes to the end of the game or ended up having an unused sub. Also, during the summer transfer window, a few youngsters such as Go Jaehyun (Seoul Eland on loan) and Ye Byeongwon (Gimhae City on loan) moved to other teams in search of game time.

Usual Substitutes this season
  • Shin Changmoo (638 minutes from 8 starting XI and 4 substitutions)
  • Kim Dongjin (523 minutes from 5 starting XI and 4 substitutions)
  • Ryu Jaemoon (518 minutes from 6 starting XI and 7 substitutions)
  • Lee Jinhyun (599 minutes from 4 starting XI and 11 substitutions)
Youngsters who made the bench, given rare time
  • Kim Jaewoo (194 minutes from 1 staring XI and 2 substitutions)
  • Hwang Taehyun (86 minutes from 2 starting XI, 3 minutes from substitutions, 5 unused sub)
  • Jang Sungwon (44 minutes from 2 substitutions, 4 unused sub)
  • Oh Huseong (33 minutes from 2 substitutions, 11 unused sub)
  • Jeong Chiin (30 minutes from 2 substitutions, 2 unused sub)
  • Yoon Jongtae (20 minutes from 2 substitutions, 2 unused sub)
  • Park Minseo (2 unused sub)

A butterfly effect caused by the absence of Edgar

The absence of Edgar appears to be affecting Daegu. I must admit that Dejan is doing a great job, while Edgar is absent, however, the absence of the former Buriram United forward changes the way Cesinha plays on the pitch.

Position (points) and successful passing direction (arrow) for Cesinha in four games when Edgar was present or absent (Data Source: K League Data Portal): With Edgar on the pitch, Cesinha tends to play and move centrally, but he tends to play on the flank or up front without Edgar, which results in the successive movement of defensive midfielders and centre backs to cover space created by Cesinha leaving. This serial change is likely to leave Daegu's defence open and vulnerable.

Position of Cesinha when Edgar was absent in the first half (upper) and present in the second half (lower)
When Edgar plays on the pitch along with Kim Daewon, Cesinha tends to play behind Edgar, receiving and distributing the ball in the opposition's half before the penalty box. However, when Edgar is absent, Cesinha seems to move more freely on the pitch, finding himself inside the box or on the flanks. Accordingly, Daegu's spine defensive midfielder Kim Sunmin (Look at the Yellow triangle in the above image) steps up to cover space where Cesinha would have covered if Edgar played. As a result Daegu have more space in between midfield and defence.


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What would be the breakthrough for the remaining season?


It may sound doom-mongering and cynical, but I don't see any positive signs at the moment for the Sky Blues who will play three games in nine days with limited resources. They will play Ulsan away and Seongnam at home before a trip to Seoul before the Final Round. The news that Edgar (Achilles) is expected to remain out for next 1-2 games is the icing on the cake.

However, the Sky Blues are five points clear off six place and might take a more defensive approach against the Ulsan Horangi, playing for a draw before aiming for three points in the midweek home game.

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