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Busan IPark: A Tale of Two Goalkeepers


With the aim to make a quick return to the top flight, Busan IParks to the season has seen somewhat of a stuttering start, with newly appointed manager Ricardo Peres looking to find his feet in K League 2. One area of contention of the squad has been that of the goalkeeper, with two contenders vying for the gloves. Michael Booroff takes a look at the options of Choi Pil-su and Ahn Jun-su to see what each 'keeper brings to the role.


Busan IPark are looking for an immediate return to K League 1 after relegation last season. While only needing a single point from their final two games, a loss to Seongnam on the final day of the season saw them drop to the K League 2 for the second time in 3 seasons.

Over the winter, the club revamped its coaching staff. With Cho Deok-jae resigning towards the end of last season, in came Ricardo Peres for 2021. Peres was formerly Paulo Bento’s assistant at Cruziero and Olympiacos, with Bento recommending the Portuguese coach to IPark.  His remit for Busan is to completely overhaul the culture of the club, with a radical change of the off-field operations and a focus on promoting young players from within. With a long building process ahead, Peres has sought to transmit these ideas to his playing and coaching staff with some interesting ideas:


So Far This Season…

While optimism was high at the start of the season, an inconsistent start has dampened expectations. With an opening day loss to Seoul E-Land, Busan regrouped, earning their first points of the season in a 2-1 win over Deajon Hana Citizen. Then came the most shocking result, a 4-0 loss to Chungnam Asan. Changes were made and before the KFA Cup/international break, Busan claimed a much needed 3 points against fellow promotion favourites, Gimcheon Sangmu. They followed this up with a 2-1 win in the FA Cup and a 1-1 draw against Ansan Greeners. Inconsistency returned the week after though, with a 2-1 loss to Anyang. 

The inconsistent results could be understood for a team completely changing their club culture, and for K League 2 this season, but have there been any common themes running through the opening games? In his interview with K League United, Valentinos Sielis mentioned how the tactics for the team are altered based on the opposition:

‘We have a certain strategy […] We are trying to do whatever the coach asks in different games, because all the time we change our strategy depending on the opponent. We’re alway adapting to the opponent.’

This can be viewed through the lens of Peres’ choice of goalkeeper. The way the team have approached each game has varied depending on which goalkeeper has been used, as they offer varying benefits to the team. For the opening three games, Korean U23 Ahn Jun-su was selected. After the Chungnam Asan loss, Choi Pil-su was given his first start of the season in the 2-1 win over Gimcheon, and has been the starting keeper in the league since. 


Ahn Jun-su

With Ahn Jun-su in goal, Busan often look to play noticeably higher up the pitch. A key for them with the U23 International in the side is his proficiency on the ball and comfort in playing higher up the pitch than a usual keeper. In their build-up, Ahn will often position between the two centre backs. This has benefits for both the centre backs, as well as further upfield. 

For the centre backs, with Ahn between them they can position wider than usual in build-up. The benefit here is that they can now play around central pressure from the opposition. With opposition forwards seeking to stop Busan penetrating centrally, the width of the centre backs can allow the ball to be moved forward around the opposition pressure, or to force the opposition to alter their defensive shape in order to stop ball progression, and thus create space elsewhere to advance the ball. 


With Ahn positioned in the defensive line, this also means that an additional player can be positioned elsewhere higher up the pitch. A good example comes from their 2-1 win v Daejon Hana Citizen. With Ahn between Park Ho-Yeong and Sielis, they only require 2 outfield players in the first line. Daejon in comparison use the same shape in build-up (in their 3-5-2 shape), but do this with 3 outfield players:

The implications here are that, simply put, Busan can now attack with an additional player ahead of the ball. Using the goalkeeper in this way not only means that they’ll have an extra player in attack, but will always have a free player when in possession. The opposition won’t have their goalkeeper come out to pressure or mark an outfield player, so Busan likely will always have an open player that they can use to build up and attack. 

While it can be beneficial for Busan, it has also lead to issues that can explain how they’ve managed to be dominant in games and yet come away on the wrong end of a thrashing. The 4-0 Chungnan Asan loss being the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to using the goalkeeper in this way. While the goals were not caused by playing this way, the concepts created openings that, when the ball was lost, were too hard to resist for Chungnam Asan’s forwards and were able to convert with relative ease.




As mentioned by Tomas Marcantonio in his match review of the game, Chungnam’s forwards looked to remain compact and block passing lines through to Busan’s central midfielders. This can be worked around by the centre back’s positioning wider. However, the problems here arise after the first pass. As soon as Ahn passes to Sielis, he drops to take up a more stable position in case the ball is lost but also offering the option of a pass backwards to maintain possession and switching to the opposite side. Understandable. Because he makes this movement, the distance between the two centre backs in the first line is now huge. If the ball is to get turned over and Chungam counter attack, there is a gaping hole in which they can attack through, which they inevitably did.


Choi Pil-su

In order to tighten up the defence for the Gimcheon game, Peres not only switched the team’s shape again to a 4-4-2 (they had used it against Daejon), but also changed personnel in goal. He opted to give Choi Pil-su his first start of the season and his first start since the final game of last season. 

Choi plays more as you would imagine a goalkeeper would compared to Ahn Jun-su. His starting position is a lot deeper than that of Ahn’s, showcased by both players heat maps so far this season:

Choi Pil-su's Heat Map
 
Ahn Jun-su's Heat Map

Against Gimcheon Sangmu, Choi’s deeper positioning meant the way Busan built up changed from previous games. No longer was the keeper positioned between the two centre backs. The centre backs also were positioned closer together to compensate for this. This meant that in order to advance the ball around a compact opposition forward line, the full-backs were now required to drop deeper to support build-up, with the consequence being that more players are drawn closer to the ball and less high up the pitch:


The way Busan attempted to build up with Choi was also more conservative than in previous games. Less focus was placed on constructing attacks through a possession-based style, using short passing to move the ball forward as a unit, with Choi, Park Ho-yeong and Sielis often playing longer passes aimed for striker, An Byong-jun. The number of passes attempted against Gimcheon (248) and Ansan (332) are considerably lower than in games where Ahn Jun-su starts (high of 516 v Chungam Asan). Each goalkeepers passing stats this season also illuminate this. Choi has averaged 22 passes per game, whilst Ahn attempts significantly more with an average of 38.7 passes per game.

This can be seen from one of Busan’s goal kicks. While the new goal kick rules allow almost a ‘free hit’ for the goal keeper to play a short pass to a player in the box unopposed, Choi opts instead to usher his team higher up the pitch. A long goal kick is aimed for the forwards, and while the initial header is won, it results in a turnover of possession. The intention her could be, that after the devastating loss to Chungnam, and now playing against one of the pre-season favourties, Gimcheon, getting the ball up the pitch quicker and in a way that doesn’t put the defensive line under pressure when the ball is lost was more applicable.



Even when Choi is involved in the build-up, his deeper position means that either the rest of the team shape has to drop deeper in order to connect with the defenders, or more longer passes are made in order to move the ball up the pitch:


Curiously, it seems that he is beginning to be more involved in the team’s build-up, something that could be attributed to the culture shift and coaching of Peres. In the Anyang loss, Choi made 47% of his total passes from the three games he has started this season. 


Conclusion

Four points from Gimcheon and Ansan after the Chungnam Asan loss can be seen as positive, although followed up by a loss to Anyang does them no favours in their quest for promotion back to K League 1. The way that K League 2 is panning out this season, a good patch of consistency and some consecutive wins would help put them back in a position to do so.

The way they have played so far shows some comparisons with Gangwon last season. Adept at keeping the ball and playing an expansive possession game, yet consistently being caught out in negative transition where players were unable to regain positions quickly or stop the opposition from counter-attacking. A team can have all the possession it wants, but if they constantly give the opposition easy goal-scoring chances every time possession is lost, it will always become more difficult.

While he may have settled on a starting goalkeeper now in Choi Pil-su, one positive for Peres for the rest of the season is that he has the possibility to be flexible with his team’s approach based on the opposition and the way he wants the side to play. If he is seeking the team to be more proactive and controlling of possession, then Ahn Jun-su is an ideal fit. Conversely, against stronger opposition where he will require Busan to be more balanced and to not give away too much, the more traditional choice of Choi Pil-su would make sense.


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