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How Seongnam Cut Jeonbuk's Midfield Passing Lanes in Buildup

Despite coming into the game on a three-match winning streak, K League 1 title chasers Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors found themselves thwarted in Tancheon by relegation threatened Seongnam FC, playing out a goalless draw in Round 26. Ben Griffis takes a look at how the Magpies managed to stall the Green Warriors and secure a much-needed point.

10th-place Seongnam FC held 2nd-place Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to a 0-0 draw in Round 26. After losing their previous matchup 5-1, Seongnam set out to ensure they wouldn’t be as easy for Jeonbuk to carve open this time around. This was no simple task, because Jeonbuk came into this match as the highest-scoring team in the K League, with 42 goals in 22 matches.

Seongnam were able to hold Jeonbuk to 10 shots, the fewest they’ve had since an August 4th loss to Suwon FC—where they also had 10 shots. Jeonbuk, meanwhile, had about 59% of the possession, the most they’ve had in the K League since the 5-1 win over Seongnam on June 6th when they had 68% possession.

Seongnam were able to stop Jeonbuk from revving their attack by forcing Jeonbuk to play long passes and passes up the wings. The players allowed Jeonbuk’s defenders to have possession while blocking off passing lanes into the midfield. Seongnam pressed Jeonbuk occasionally, but the most effective way they defended Jeonbuk from building up into dangerous attacks was by cutting off their route into midfield.

Figure 1 – 7’

We can see Seongnam’s general shape and tactic in figure 1 above. Jeong Seok-hwa, Lee Jung-min, and Hong Si-hoo are blocking any passes Jeonbuk’s back line could make to Paik Seung-ho in midfield. Further, Seongnam are inviting Lee Yong to pass back to the center backs, as they’re too far away to intercept or pressure the center back once they receive the ball. Seongnam are trying to force Jeonbuk to play it long to a winger or striker, or to pass right along the touchline if they want to progress the ball.

Shortly after figure 1, Lee passed back to the center backs, who passed between themselves and left back Park Jin-seong for a few seconds before Park launched the ball long towards Gustavo.

Figure 2 – 31’

Figure 2 illustrates Seongnam’s tactic even better, as we can see both Jeonbuk midfielders. This allows us to see what Seongnam are doing to block the passing lanes. Seongnam lined up in a 3-5-2 on paper, but defended in more of a 3-4-3 shape. Kim Nam-il instructed one midfielder to push up and form a front three to outnumber Jeonbuk’s two deeper midfielders. Jeong Seok-hwa was the midfielder who pushed up most often, but An Jin-beom also took up this position.

In figure 2, we can see that Jeonbuk’s entire back line is available for a pass. Meanwhile, Hong, Lee, and Jeong have positioned themselves so that it’s impossible to pass to Choi Yeong-jun or Paik Seung-ho. Just like in figure 1, Seongnam are inviting passes amongst the back line while forcing lower-percentage passes—or dribbles—for ball progression.

Figure 3 – 53’

Figure 3 shows how Seongnam defended Jeonbuk’s buildup on the flanks. While Seongnam often allowed Jeonbuk to use the flanks, they pressed and attempted to shut off passing lanes once Jeonbuk’s fullbacks began progressing the ball.

An Jin-beom has pushed wide to press Lee Yong after he dribbled up the flank. An Jin-beom is also cutting Lee Yong’s passing lane up into the midfield, while Lee Jung-min is blocking the sideways pass to the midfield. If Lee Yong continues to dribble, An will challenge him. Because of the Seongnam players’ positioning, Lee is forced into either playing a long ball up the touchline or passing back to the center backs—who, of course, are wide open. Lee decides to play the long ball up the wing, which Seongnam’s defenders easily cut out.

Figure 4 – 59’

Figure 4 shows a very similar shape to figure 2, with An Jin-beom the midfielder who has pushed up. Lee, Hong, and An are effectively blocking the lanes to both Paik Seung-ho and Lee Seung-ki, forcing Jeonbuk to keep possession through passes along the back line and progressing the ball through more risky means.

Figure 5 – 70’

Figure 5 shows that Seongnam continued to block Jeonbuk’s passing lanes into midfield once Fejsal Mulić entered the game. Both midfielders have their lane blocked, so Lee Yong is forced into passing back to Hong Jeong-ho. Shortly after this screenshot, however, Jeonbuk were able to progress the ball through the midfield after Gustavo dropped into a hole.

Seongnam’s ability to effectively and consistently block off passing lanes diminished once Mulić came on, however. Mulić is slightly slower and less agile than Lee Jung-min who he replaced, so Jeonbuk were able to pass quickly around the defenders before finding an open vertical passing lane past Seongnam’s wall of three forwards.

Figure 6 – 83’

Figure 6 shows how Seongnam typically left the flanks open for passes and would close down if Jeonbuk played those passes. Like the rest of the match, Seongnam have created a three-man defensive wall that cuts out the passing lanes into midfield. Kwon Soon-hyung is even between the wall and the Jeonbuk players in midfield this time. However, Seongnam allow the pass along the flank. We can see both center backs positioned by Mun Seon-min currently, but already positioning themselves to press Park Jin-seong on the wing if he receives the ball.

These images, taken from all throughout the match, illustrate Kim Nam-il’s tactic to defend Jeonbuk’s buildup and force them to play lower-percentage passes to progress the ball. While Jeonbuk were able to get the ball into the final third, they had more difficulties than usual with their midfielders’ passing lanes cut off.

Jeonbuk are the highest-scoring side in this season’s K League, but were only allowed 10 shots—scoring none of them—even though they had about 59% possession. Seongnam’s ability to divert Jeonbuk’s play around the midfield helped them deal with such a dangerous attacking side. Kim Nam-il’s Seongnam will be very happy with a well-earned point against a team eight places above them.

- Ben Griffis

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