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Match Analysis: Jeonnam Dragons 0-2 Bucheon FC 1995

Struggling Bucheon FC 1995 caused one of the shocks of the round last weekend in K League 2 as they took lead leaders Jeonnam Dragons to task and came away from Gwangyang with a memorable 2-0 victory. Ben Griffis looks into the tactics behind the win.

First place Jeonnam Dragons hosted 10th place Bucheon FC 1995 on June 13th in a matchup that, on paper, should have been a run-of-the-mill match where the league leaders beat the bottom feeders. Lee Young-min’s Bucheon, however, had other ideas.

In an unexpected turn of events, Bucheon were the better side in all phases of the game while Jeonnam lacked urgency in both attack and defense. Bucheon deservedly won 0-2 on the road, scoring more than one goal for the first time all season.

Jeonnam came into the match as league leaders coming off a strong 3-0 victory against Seoul E-Land. Bucheon came into the match as the bottom team in the league but with high morale after beating Chungnam Asan in the previous round—their first victory in three months, since Round 2.

Jeon Kyung-jun’s Jeonnam continued to use a 4-3-3 after good results in the two prior rounds. Bucheon used the same 3-4-3 shape they’ve used all season, with manager Lee Young-min believing his side can turn their poor form around in this shape.

Jeonnam’s Buildup and Attack

Jeonnam built up in a classic 4-3-3 shape with fullbacks higher up the pitch and one midfielder deep to play simple passes with the center backs. Hwang Ki-wook dropped in front of the center backs while fullbacks Kim Tae-hyeon and Jang Seong-rok were on the same line as Hwang. Kim Hyeon-uk had a relatively free role and picked up positions in channels between the midfield and forwards, while Jang Sung-jae remained central. Hwang Ki-wook was the key player for Jeonnam’s buildup, with everything flowing through his feet.

Many times in the first half, Kim Tae-hyeon pushed very high while Nnamani sat narrow. One of the center backs or Hwang Ki-wook would aim a long ball at these two players, hoping to win a second ball with the other player on the left or Kim Hyeon-uk. This shape is shown in the figure below.

This tactic, however, was not consistently successful, so Jeonnam also tried to play dangerous through balls between Bucheon’s lines. These passes, while having the possibility for substantial reward, are low percentage balls and Jeonnam didn’t put enough pace on the passes for them to catch Bucheon out.

Jeonnam’s passing was very slow for most of the match, and not just between the backline and Hwang. Their passes also lacked pace when they attempted to move the ball up the pitch, allowing Bucheon to intercept the ball frequently. When Bucheon didn’t intercept, they were able to close the receiver down before he had possession.

Another key weakness in Jeonnam’s buildup play was their tendency to dwell on the ball. Partly due to Bucheon’s effective defensive setup and partly due to poor decisions, Jeonnam players took a lot of time to move the ball during the match. Whether a dribble or a pass, many times the decision came too late and a Bucheon player had either pressed the ball carrier or made a challenge to win the ball. Dwelling on the ball and low-paced passes were features for the entire game, even though there were major offensive errors during the match because of these two factors.

However, Jeonnam’s attack was not worrisome the entire match. Early on, even after a few instances of slow passing and dwelling on the ball, there were a few interesting pieces of movement. One such piece is detailed in the figure below.

As we can see, Jeonnam’s players moved in sync to create space via a ball vertically into a channel and then into space. However, the ball carrier once again took too long to make a decision, and when he passed to his teammate making a run into space in the box, it was too late and called offside. Quicker decision-making on the ball would have led to—at the very least—a high-quality chance, if not a goal itself early in the match.

A few good chances from set pieces closed out a first half where Jeonnam were solidly beaten by their own weaknesses as much as Bucheon’s effective defensive positioning limited their options. Set pieces at the end of the first half were well-worked, with free kicks from wide causing Bucheon particular trouble.

For these free kicks, Jeonnam lined two players up at the ball and one ran to feign a kick. When Bucheon defenders began running towards goal and lost their rigidity, the other player sent the ball into the middle of the chaos as Bucheon tried to reset their line. Bucheon were fortunate to win the pinballs that ensued, but Jeonnam were able to draw Bucheon out of their shape at the edge of the box.

In the second half, substitute Kim Han-gil became left back while Kim Tae-hyeon moved from left back to right back. Jeonnam then built up in a very fluid 5-2-1-2 that would become a 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2, or 4-2-3-1 depending on positions of Hwang Ki-wook, Kim Hyeon-uk, and the wingers. Their starting position was a 5-2-1-2, however, and they also defended in that shape, which is detailed below.

The 5-2-1-2 allowed for the fullbacks to push even higher at the end of the game, looking for long balls and scraps. Much of Jeonnam’s play went through Kim Hyeong-uk at left back-cum-left winger in the final quarter of the match. Jeonnam attempted to use Kim Hyeong-uk’s skill, pace, and flair to break down Bucheon from the left. This was relatively successful in the final 15 minutes, but Kim lost possession multiple times by trying to play his way out of trouble instead of making a simple pass back to a teammate.

Finally, in the final 10 minutes of the match when trailing by two goals, Jeonnam threw most of their players forward. However, they still played very slow passes between their deep players for 10 seconds before playing long balls up to a teammate. This was a curious decision, as they should have been playing passes the instant their midfielders and fullbacks joined the attacking line. However, this was in line with how Jeonnam played for the preceding 80 minutes.

Overall, Jeonnam looked a step behind while in possession for most of the match. Their decisions and passes were too slow, even if they had decent movement to create space at times. They crafted a couple decent chances throughout the match, so the result may have been different if they had played with more pace.

Jeonnam’s Defense

Jeonnam lined up in a 4-2-1-3 in defense, with Kim Hyeon-uk pushing forward to be an attacking midfielder in an attempt to counter Bucheon’s Song Hong-min dropping in front of the back line. However, Jeonnam rarely pressed or even closed down Bucheon’s deeper players when in possession, so this strategy had little effect.

Jeonnam were also standoffish in the middle third, inconsistently closing down Bucheon’s players throughout the match. Jeonnam’s third was the only time they consistently pressed to win the ball, and were rather effective at it as well when Bucheon had sustained possession in Jeonnam’s third.

The sloppy and slow play with the ball also carried over into Jeonnam’s defensive transitions. The players were a step off to react to a change of possession, allowing Bucheon to counter or regroup with little need to worry about losing possession themselves.

Bucheon’s second goal came from Jeonnam’s poor attacking play and poor transition play, as well as a lapse of concentration and teamwork—a combination of most of their weaknesses throughout the match in a few seconds. Watch the goal below.

First, Jang Seong-rok passes the ball right to Song Hong-min, who plays quickly with Choo Jeong-ho and Jo Soo-shul. This is an example of the lazy approach to Jeonnam’s attack—Song Hong-min was in front of the prospective Jeonnam receiver to begin with, and was as surprised as anyone to receive the pass.

Next, Jang Seong-rok doesn’t counter-press or get into a decent position after giving the ball away, so the three Bucheon players pass quickly between each other without worry as Jang slowly jogs. Song Hong-min receives the ball again and plays a perfectly weighted through ball to Lee Si-heon running into acres of space behind 2 Jeonnam defenders.

If Jeonnam were effective at transitioning to defense, Lee Si-heon probably would have been offside. However, Jang Sun-hyeok was preoccupied by Han Ji-ho, who was sitting very high. Because of this, Jeonnam’s back line is more of a back patchwork, and Lee Si-heon can run into space and still stay onside before Song Hong-min makes his pass.

While Lee Si-heon is dispossessed right before his shot by a great tackle, the ball pops right to an onrushing Choo Jeong-ho who places the ball into the net. A great team goal by Bucheon, but aided by a very poor Jeonnam defense. Outside of the poor pass to give Bucheon possession, Jang Seong-rok needed to be more urgent after giving away the ball and Jang Sun-hyeok has to step up instead of staying meters behind two other defenders. If he stepped up, Bucheon can’t pass to Han Ji-ho because he’s offside and Song Hong-min would be forced to pass earlier to Lee Si-heon and possibly make a mistake.

Bucheon’s first goal also came after lazy defending from Jeonnam. Jeonnam lost the ball in midfield and after failing to win the loose ball, stood back and let Bucheon pass for over a minute—21 consecutive passes—while the front three slowly jogged or walked side to side when the ball moved.

Jeon Kyung-jun will need to sort his squad’s lackadaisical approach to defending out before their next match, or they will let even more goals in. Bucheon, before this match, had only scored 7 goals in 15 games, yet scored 2 in this one match. This is the first match this season that Bucheon have scored more than one goal, and it’s due to Jeonnam’s approach. In a season where any K League 2 side can beat another, Jeonnam have to actively defend their opponents and try to force poor, hasty decisions.

Bucheon’s Buildup and Attack

Bucheon built up in their back three with Song Hong-min dropping to help facilitate ball movement around the center backs and a wingback that would drop deep. Jo Soo-chul stayed in the left half-space, creating a diamond with center back Cho, wing back Guk, and winger Han. Song Hong-min would sometimes shift over to create an even bigger overload on Jeonnam’s right side.

The overload wasn’t needed, as Jeonnam rarely pressed Bucheon’s players in Bucheon’s third or the middle third. To take advantage of this, Bucheon would occasionally shift to a back four, with Cho Hyun-taek becoming a left-back and marching up the wing while wing back Choe Byeong-chan drops deeper to become a full back. Cho had the freedom to move up, culminating in his goal.

Bucheon passed methodically in the buildup, looking for smart passes rather than low-percentage balls. Jeonnam allowed their defenders and midfielders to pass freely, facilitating Bucheon’s buildup tactics. When Bucheon’s players were in good positions relative to Jeonnam’s players, the player with the ball would initiate one-twos with a few players to pass around Jeonnam and pull their players further out of position.

While they passed at a moderate tempo most of the match, Bucheon countered at a high tempo when they won the ball back in midfield, which happened often with their 18 interceptions throughout the match. Counters usually involved a combination of one-twos with nearby players and direct balls up the pitch or across the field to a player running behind the defense. Bucheon scored their second goal in this manner, winning an interception and countering with a long ball after quick passes in midfield—aided by poor positioning discussed earlier. Here’s the goal again, this time focus on Bucheon’s quick passes between their three players before a well-placed direct ball to Lee Si-heon running into space.

For their first goal, Jeonnam gave Bucheon ample time to decide how to attack. After winning the ball in midfield, Bucheon strung together 21 passes over the course of a minute with no pressure from their opponents. True to their patient passing nature during the game, halfway through the possession there was an opportunity to play a long ball to Choe Byeong-chan running down the right wing. Bucheon decided against that risky pass, instead recycling back to the center backs.

This patience paid off, as a few passes later Bucheon sensed opportunity and played a pair of one-twos between Choo Jeong-ho, Cho Hyun-taek, and Jo Soo-chul. Cho Hyun-taek gets sent in on goal and does very well to beat Park Chan-yong and score the opener.

Shortly after this goal, Bucheon saw another chance come after a period of prolonged possession with no Jeonnam pressure. After passing between the backline and Song Hong-min, Bucheon hurried the ball up their right flank into open space on the wing. A good cross saw Choo Jeong-ho’s header go straight at the keeper, however, Jeonnam were beaten again by not pressing Bucheon and letting them string together a series of passes.

Bucheon had less possession in the second half, but appeared more confident on the ball than in the first half. The attackers showed more flair and players tried to play their way out of the rare pressure more often than the first half. They continued to have chances on the counter, and should have made it 3-0 but Jeonnam’s goalkeeper Park Jun-hyuk did well to close the angle and force the shot just wide.

Overall, Bucheon’s patient but determined passing transitioning into quick one-twos and smart direct balls were very effective against a lackluster Jeonnam defense.

Bucheon’s Defense

Bucheon typically defended in a 5-3-2, with their wingbacks dropping deep, Han and Choo up top shifting centrally, and Lee Si-heon joining the midfield on the right. However, they could also defend in a 523 with only the wingbacks dropping deeper. As the match went on and Jeonnam continued to play slow passes, Bucheon used their 3-4-3 shape to defend, but the wingbacks were tentative to push up too high and risk opening up too much space behind them.

Bucheon restricted Jeonnam’s space rather than pressing with a high intensity and challenging for the ball everywhere. Once Jeonnam were in the middle third, Bucheon’s players would run to close down their opponent, allowing less space and tighter angles for passes. At the same time, teammates would mark their players and move quickly to intercept or challenge whoever was the target of a slow pass. Occasionally, Bucheon players would cut passing lanes as their teammate restricted the ball carrier’s space to force interceptions.

Once Jeonnam began dominating possession in the second half, Bucheon solidified their defense by bringing their wingbacks close to their center backs, and allowing the wingers to operate in midfield just ahead of the defensive line. Coupled with efficient marking of the opponent, Jeonnam found it very difficult to break Bucheon down. Even with 62% possession in the second half, Jeonnam only managed 7 shots to Bucheon’s 6, with only one shot on target. Bucheon also had 28 clearances in the second half—compared to Jeonnam’s 2—showing their ability to get the ball away from their third and suppress Jeonnam’s attacks.

A key aspect of Bucheon’s defensive tactic was their choice to restrict space and intercept balls instead of intensely pressing Jeonnam. Bucheon could keep their rigidity until the final whistle instead of becoming mentally and physically exhausted in the last 10 minutes when Jeonnam were trying to pepper the box with crosses and long balls. Lee Young-min’s defensive plan was both efficient and effective, allowing them to keep it up for the full 90 minutes—no simple task for a team defending for 62% of the half.

Final Thoughts

If you had watched this game and been told the top and bottom teams of K League 2 were playing, you probably would have guessed Bucheon were top of the league, not Jeonnam. Lee Young-min’s tactics were superior to Jeon Kyeong-jun’s, and Lee’s players performed at a higher level than Jeon’s as well. Even though Jeonnam had some decent passages of play, poor teamwork and decisions helped lift Bucheon to their second consecutive win after going winless for 12 straight league matches.

Bucheon were both the better side in attack and in defense, earning a deserved 3 points against a Jeonnam side that was short of ideas for much of the match. Jeonnam’s biggest weakness was dwelling on the ball, aggravated by lethargic passes when they tried to move up the pitch. Jeonnam allowed Bucheon to dictate the game by rarely pressing. Bucheon’s approach to their own defensive phases effectively smothered Jeonnam’s attack by limiting open options while being in a position to intercept bad passes—all while not pressing so intensely as to exhaust themselves mentally and physically before the final whistle.

A perfect summation of the match comes from Bucheon’s opening goal. Jeonnam lost the ball in midfield and Bucheon then had over a minute of sustained possession while recording 21 consecutive passes as Jeonnam’s attackers walked around the middle of the pitch. Bucheon then scored after a pair of one-twos opened up Jeonnam’s defense and put Cho Hyun-taek in on goal.

Lee Young-min will be thrilled with his squad’s performance and should look forward to going into their upcoming match with Gyeongnam FC in good form for the first time this season—just one defeat in the last 6 league matches. Jeon Kyung-jun, on the other hand, will need to address his players’ lack of urgency in their pressing, passing, and movement before they head to Chungnam Asan in the next round—another match against a bottom-table team coming off a victory much like Bucheon in this match.

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