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What’s happened to Suwon Samsung Bluewings?


It was all going so well. Suwon Samsung Bluewings reached the mid-season interval as genuine title contenders, blending a mixture of youth with experience in addition to a former club legend at the helm in Park Kun-ha. A return to the season has seen their fortunes reversed, however, and they now find themselves with just two goalless draws as the only positive results in eight matches. Guest contributor Lewis Crane looks at where it has all gone wrong.


Suwon Samsung Bluewings' start to this K League season was outstanding. They found themselves sitting in third after nineteen match days after beating FC Seoul 3-0 and finding themselves level on points with current K League 1 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on thirty-three points, which is a significant improvement from where they were at this time last season. However, since then, it has been downhill for Suwon, having lost seven of their previous nine games in all competitions and winning zero. Below, we will analyse where it’s going wrong.  


The Suwon Derby  

It started with the second Suwon Derby of the season; Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Suwon FC on matchday twenty in the K League 1. The Bluewings lined up with their usual 3-5-2/3-1-4-2 and looked to attack down the wings at Suwon FC, who also deployed a 3-5-2/3-4-1-2, which made a tactically exciting match on paper. However, missing club top scorer Kim Gun-hee meant Suwon Bluewings would have to rely on a strike partnership of Uros Djeric and Jeong Sang-bin for goals. Doneil Henry at centre back was another key missing player meaning 23-year old Park Dae-won had to step in as his replacement.  

A flat performance from Suwon Bluewings saw them only manage seven shots the whole game, only one of which was on target, showing their lack of attacking threat when without leading man Kim Gun-hee. The Suwon FC defence had managed to keep Uros Djeric and Jeong Sang-bin quiet. However, things looked positive for Suwon Bluewings when a deflected shot from the edge of the box by substitute Jeon Se-jin found its way into the net in the seventy-minute. Unfortunately, this would be the only joyous moment from the Bluewings as three minutes later, Han Suk-jong would be shown a second yellow card and sent off for a foul (a red card which the Korean Football Association would later rescind). Lars Veldwijk would equalise in the eighty-second minute, making it a nervy final few minutes in the Suwon Derby but, unfortunately, Suwon Bluewings would go from bad to worse in this game. The Bluewings would concede a penalty on eighty-nine minutes when goalkeeper Yang Hyung-mo fouled Suwon FC striker Tardeli Reis allowing Lee Young-jae to step up and convert the penalty handing Suwon FC a 2-1 derby win.  


Missing Key Players 

Suwon Bluewings has had key players missing in crucial areas of the pitch, undoubtedly contributing to the recent drop-off in form. Talisman, Kim Gun-hee, who is out with a hernia, has not featured since the 3-0 away win at FC Seoul. Kim Gun-hee also has the joint-most goal contributions in the squad this season, with seven (six goals and one assist) showing his value to Suwon, which has left the majority of the goal-scoring to experienced K League 1 striker Uros Djeric. 

Canadian national team centre back Doneil Henry had also had a spell out of the squad since the 3-0 away win at FC Seoul having been playing with the Canadian national team at the Gold Cup and only returning after the 2-1 defeat to Seongnam FC. Henry’s absence has had an effect defensively as Suwon Bluewings have conceded 11 goals in the six games without him in all competitions meaning academy graduate Park Dae-won has found his way into the starting eleven and, despite making 20 appearances this season, he lacks experience at club and national team levels. 

Han Seok-hee is out with a knee injury that will not see him return to action until next season, depleting  Suwon attacking options even more while veteran, K League 1 centre back Yang Sang-min has been out with a thigh injury and is expected to return in the coming weeks bolstering Suwon’s defensive options. In addition, 27-year-old midfielder Ko Seung-beom has left the Suwon squad to complete his military service with Gimcheon Sangmu and will not be back until 2023. Versatile defender Park Hyung-jin, who spent last season on loan at K4 League side Pocheon Citizen, is out for unknown reasons, and it’s not known when he will return, furthering Suwon’s crisis depleting the squad even further.  


Tactical Analysis 

Suwon Samsung Bluewing lines up in a 3-1-4-2, and they have used this system for most of the season. However, Suwon has also experimented with a 3-4-3 and a 3-5-2/5-3-2 as well. When using the 3-1-4-2 formation, Suwon Bluewings main starting eleven has been: 

(Source: Chosen 11)

Suwon Bluewings focus most of their attacks down the wings. Left wing-back Lee Ki-je and left-sided central midfielder Kim Min-woo, and right wing-back Kim Tae-hwan and right-sided central midfielder Kang Hyun-muk will look to combine with passing combinations, notably in wide areas looking to disrupt the opposition defence and create a goal-scoring opportunity through crossing situations. 

Suwon will also look to overload the wings with the centre-back, wing-back and near-side central midfielders, which creates problems for the opposition. Should they commit more players to the overloaded side, which would risk leaving space in either the centre or on the opposite side of the pitch, or do not commit players but give the themselves the advantage in the wide areas? Suwon Bluewings will often look for crosses into the box with both strikers, usually Uros Djeric and Kim Gun-hee, and the far sided wing-back, normally either Kim Tae-hwan or Lee Ki-je attacking the box to finish depending on the side and who delivered the cross. Unfortunately, this can be an ineffective strategy when Uros Djeric and Kim Gun-hee do not play upfront as Suwon lose the aerial presence of Djeric and the finishing ability of  Kim. Suwon will also look for long passes into Deric, played either in the air for a knock on that a teammate can benefit from, or played into Deric’s feet to hold the ball up and bring teammates into play with the centre backs usually playing these passes. However, this becomes significantly more difficult when Min Sang-gi and Jang Ho-ik do not feature. Both deliver the most accurate long balls per game, with Min Sang-gi delivering five per game and Jang Ho-ik delivering just over four per game, respectively. 

Out of possession, Suwon Bluewings form a 5-3-2 mid-block and will look to block central progression from the opposition. The opponents will then look to play into the wing areas, where the threat of scoring a goal significantly reduces and Suwon will rely on pressing triggers such as the opposition fullback/wing-back receiving a pass or the opposition’s central defensive midfielder receiving a pass with his body facing his own goal. Typically, the Suwon wing-backs/fullbacks act as the first players to engage the opposition in the wing areas. The opposition then has to make a hard decision to either try and stay on the ball and risk losing it, which would lead to a counterattack from Suwon, or play a hopeful long pass which Suwon defenders can deal with efficiently. As a result, this pressing system can cause the Bluewings issues against teams that move the ball quickly and have the quality to play through their press in wide areas, especially if Suwon’s press is weak, slow, or becomes disjointed.


Conclusion  

Suwon Samsung Bluewings' recent downturn in form can be put down to a few things; bad performances and the absences of key players in key positions have all contributed. However, if Suwon gets all their key players back, there is no reason why they cannot have a return to form. Suwon has shown real promise at times this season when having a full-strength squad. Even with the recent bad run of results, they still sit in seventh place in the K League 1 after twenty-seven matchdays with thirty-five points; however, Suwon are still only the points off local rivals Suwon FC in third place. Fortunately for Suwon, there is still a lot to play for throughout the remainder of the season, and one question will be on everyone’s mind: Can Suwon regain their early season form to finish in an AFC Champions  League spot? 

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