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Two Games, Two Different Seongnams

With two games into the 2023 season, Seongnam have shown two different faces. The first game saw Seongnam playing a positive style of football while the second saw a Seongnam similar to the one that played under Kim Nam-il last season.

The game against Ansan:

In the opening-day match against The Green Wolves, Lee Ki-hyung opted for the 4-1-4-1 with some surprises in the starting eleven, especially in the defense. Choi Pil-soo was the choice for the Goalkeeper position while Kim Young-kwang was on the bench, with four Full Backs in the squad it was a surprise to see that none of them featured in the starting eleven, instead Park Ji-won, a Striker/Left Winger, was the Left Back and Lee Jae-won, a center attacking midfielder, was the Right Back.

Starting Eleven


GK: Choi Pil-soo

DEF: Park Ji-won; Kang Eui-bin; Jo Sung-wook; Lee Jae-won

MID: Jung Han-min; Park Sang-hyeok; Lee Sang-min; Moon Chang-jin; Shim Dong-woon

STK: Lee Jong-ho

This 4-1-4-1 was full of nuances with Lee Sang-min dropping between the center backs, making a 3-4-3 in the build-up and a 5-2-3 when defending. That movement alone did help Seongnam a lot as Lee did increase the quality in the first phase of the build-up with his passes, awareness, and carrying ability. 

With Lee Sang-min making a back line of three, Park Ji-won and Lee Jae-won had full permission to be further up the pitch, where they feel more comfortable since both are attacking players by nature. Park Ji-won had an amazing game in the offensive third and defending! Amazing in one-on-one situations, he looked confident throughout the 90 minutes, probably the best player on the pitch. Lee Jae-won didn’t play as well as Park Ji-won and didn’t look as comfortable in his new position. Shim Dong-woon, who played in front of him is also a center attacking ,idfielder, therefore played more centrally. With this movement by Dong-woon, Lee stayed back more often being less effective offensively than Park Ji-won. It was somewhat anarchy on the right wing with both players preferring to play in the same area of the pitch.

Seongnam played with an aggressive defensive strategy, with the center backs always looking for interceptions rather than staying in position, a strategy that fits the characteristics of Kang Eui-bin and Jo Sung-wook who are aggressive, temperamental, lengthy, agile, and quick of the mark defenders.
The three CBs combined for 20 interceptions!

As a team, Seongnam did press high and was able to get the ball in the offensive third creating good goal opportunities. With this positive approach, the midfield duo of Park Sang-hyeok and Moon Chang-jin must work hard without the ball as both have to cover a lot of ground, especially when defending. With Lee Sang-min as the third center back, they are the ones responsible for the space in front of the defensive line, not being known for their defensive capabilities, which could become a problem against stronger opposition. Park and Moon are tidy players with the ball, with good technique, and good passing ability but lack physical presence and that is a big problem when playing at a numerical disadvantage in most games. To overcome that, Seongnam might need to play with a more defensive-minded midfielder like Yang Si-hoo alongside Moon Chang-jin or Park Sang-hyeok.

The Magpies won 2-1 against Ansan but some problems need to be addressed like the lack of a striker that fits the system, Lee Jong-ho looks to be the first choice for Lee Ki-hyung, but the 31-year-old Striker didn’t have a good first match. It’s true he didn’t get much support from his teammates, but he didn’t offer anything without the ball, no movement, no passing lanes, and no runs. His replacement, Jeon Seung-soo who is a Winger by nature, offered much more movement but lacked quality in the decision-making. If Seongnam wants to really fight for the playoffs, they must get it right at the striker position, Lee Jun-sang might be the answer. Another problem for Seongnam in this match was the left wing, while Park Ji-won had an amazing match, Jung Han-min and Shin Jae-won were subpar even with the latter scoring the game-winning goal in the 97th minute.

The Game Against Bucheon:

Lee Ki-hyung approached this match with the mentality “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” and stayed truthful to the 4-1-4-1. The only change made was Shin Jae-won for Jung Han-min.

The minor problems visible in the first game become major against Bucheon’s high press and intensity.

Starting Eleven


GK: Choi Pil-soo

DEF: Park Ji-won; Kang Eui-bin; Jo Sung-wook; Lee Jae-won

MID: Shin Jae-won; Park Sang-hyeok; Lee Sang-min; Moon Chang-jin; Shim Dong-woon

STK: Lee Jong-ho

First Half:

In the first 45 minutes, Seongnam was a mirror of last season! Against an effective and intense high press from Bucheon, The Magpies looked very uncomfortable creating plays from the back losing possession in the defensive third quite often. There is a good number of reasons for that but let’s talk about two of them:

Strength in Numbers:

With the evolution of football is normal to have periods of time where some formations get an increase in utilization, like the 5-2-3 and 5-3-2 nowadays. Playing with a two-man midfield has some pros but it’s very dangerous when playing against a midfield trio or a midfield duo that has more intensity and presence. It was mentioned before that with Lee Sang-min becoming the 3rd center back, Moon Chang-jin and Park Sang-hyeok were responsible for the midfield, the major problem with that is the lack of defensive characteristics of both.

Bucheon played in a 3-4-3, therefore Seongnam wasn’t at a numerical disadvantage in the midfield, but Takahashi and Choi Jae-young intensity and physical presence were too much for Moong Chang-jin and Park Sang-hyeok to handle. Both spent more time with their backs to the direction of play and both were nonexistent with the ball.

Tactical Flexibility:

It was clear from the opening ten minutes that Bucheon would dominate the midfield battle and, because of that, Seongnam should change the build-up approach. With the versatility, Seongnam has within the squad and even in the starting eleven, it was strange to see them forcing something that was doomed to go wrong.

Lee Jae-won prefers to play more centrally rather than staying out wide, making inward runs could have been helpful to overcome the lack of presence in the midfield and put Seongnam with a numerical advantage. That’s one of the many options Seongnam had to change the outcome of this match.

With the defensive line uneasy and without options, the aimless long balls returned to Seongnam and this time without a tall striker to go after them. Last season, a more direct football was the preference for Seongnam and, even though Mulic isn’t the best target forward, he had somewhat of a high presence. This season Seongnam doesn’t have a striker suited to challenge aerial duels, a direct playing style shouldn’t even be on the cards. No involvement from the midfielders whatsoever and no clear-cut chance was created in the first half.

Second Half:

Jung Han-min was subbed on at half time for Shin Jae-won who had a bad first-half performance, Jung seemed to give Seongnam more pace and vertical movement on the wing which also helped Park Ji-won who had more space in front of him to exploit.

Seongnam improved after the break, one reason was the involvement of Shim Dong-woon in half-spaces, making Bucheon midfielders more uncomfortable in pressing high, therefore Seongnam defenders had more space and time to make the right pass/decision.

Even with the improvement, the long balls were pretty much alive throughout the whole game for Seongnam which is a bad sign for things to come.

Playing against a weaker side, the 4-1-4-1/5-2-3 is good enough, especially with a positive mindset but against stronger opposition, this midfield will struggle a lot and without a good-level striker, chance creation might be an area Seongnam will have problems on.

In-form Players:

Is way too soon to be talking about in-form players but there is a couple worth mentioning for Seongnam.

Kang Eui-bin was solid in the first two games with 21 interceptions, ten blocks, and 29 clearances across both games. He is solid in the air and good enough with his passing.

Park Ji-won has been the best player for Seongnam so far, unstoppable in the game against Ansan and lively in the second half against Bucheon, looks like the new position suits him well. Surprisingly, he has been solid defensively.


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