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scouting

Seongnam FC vs. Suwon Samsung: former heavyweights meet in unfamiliar surroundings

The 98th meeting between Seongnam FC and Suwon Samsung, former K League 1 and AFC champions, will take place in K League 2 for the first time this Sunday. Seongnam are approaching rock bottom, in disarray and near the foot of the table, whereas Suwon are aiming for a swift return to the top flight. Can a bumper crowd at Tancheon lift the Magpies towards midtable, or will Suwon justify their status as league favorites?

Match details


Match: Seongnam FC vs. Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
Date: Sunday, May 5th, 2024. 14:00.
Venue: Tancheon Stadium. Capacity 16,000.
Tickets: Interpark. Prices start at ₩10,000.
How to watch: K League TV.

Record so far

Seongnam FC
Played: 8 Won: 1 Drew: 4 Lost: 3 Points: 7
Goals For: 8 Goals Against: 12
Position: 12th

Suwon Samsung
Played: 9 Won: 6 Drew: 1 Lost: 6 Points: 19
Goals For: 16 Goals Against: 8
Position: 1st (joint)

A season of promise in Seongnam already looks like fizzling out, just two months in. Seongnam were heavily predicted to finish near the top of the table, with a play-off run the least of their ambitions. The club invested heavily over the winter but the opening day defeat in Anyang followed by the Ansan collapse flattened all optimism. Manager Lee Ki-hyeong paid for the poor start with his job and Choi Chul-woo has been in temporary charge for six weeks. It isn't ideal.

Suwon are joint top without getting out of third gear yet. They laid down a marker with statement wins over Jeonnam Dragons (5-1) and FC Anyang (1-3) but they've been rudderless and predictable in some of their other games. The Bluewings are unbeaten in five although that streak was preserved by Fejsal Mulić's 97th-minute equalizer last Sunday. Despite the early season loss in Mokdong, the team's away form could be crucial to returning to K League 1.

Managing expectations might easier on the road

Park Dae-won part of a rocky defense that looks more solid on the road.

When K League United asked Serbian striker Fejsal Mulić after the win in Anyang what playing in front of the traveling support meant to his teammates, the big striker said, laughing, "we only see our fans." Having been to Mokdong and Anyang so far this season, it is easy to see where Mulić is coming from. Away ends are routinely sold out with Suwon's fans bringing balloons, umbrellas, flags, banners, and the usual playlist of songs and chants.

This might go some way to explaining why Yeom Ki-hun's side are performing well away from Big Bird. They lost their first game of the season on the road, against Seoul E-Land, but followed that up with up two wins (one in the Cup) versus Ansan, and one each in Cheongju and Anyang. Late goals have been a real feature of the Bluewings' season. Even their most recent match, against Gyeongnam, was saved seven minutes into added on time.

Defensively, Suwon are erratic. Every ball into the box causes mayhem, no matter how well the team is playing. They're yet to keep a clean sheet at home in either competition but away from the World Cup Stadium, Suwon are more secure. Two of the three goals they've conceded away came deep into injury time. In three other games, Yang Hyeong-mo was a spectator. With a more established back four featuring Lee Si-young, Jo Yoon-sung, Baek Dong-gyu, and Park Dae-won, protected ahead by Kim Sang-jun and Kozuka, Suwon have the ingredients to shut Seongnam out on Sunday.

The Suwon World Cup Stadium is one of Korea's best, and presumably a great pitch to play football on. But the Bluewings are flourishing in local civic stadiums, with a running track and away fans seemingly miles from the field. It'll be no difference in Tancheon, where the vast away end is sold out. Their away form could be the key to staying ahead of the pack, roared on by a loud traveling support.  

Seongnam's gentle improvement stalled by Cheongju

Seongnam's record of one win from eight games is a derisory total for a club that invested so much over the winter. 12 players arrived before the season started, most with K League 1 or 2 experience. Included in this dozen were former Suwon men Kim Ju-won and Han Suk-jong. The squad has plenty of talent and experience but results have been truly awful.

Choi Chul-woo will be back in the dugout this weekend.

I saw Seongnam's opening day defeat in Anyang. Both Anyang goals came from Seongnam errors and the home goalkeeper, Kim Da-sol, made two big saves to deny Seongnam a point. But that hides the fact that Anyang had several big chances of their own, especially in the second half, to put more gloss on the score. Seongnam were well beaten and that result was followed by a damaging 3-1 defeat at home to Ansan Greeners.

Lee's removal from the dugout initially inspired a run of games without defeat, starting with Pocheon in the Cup. This was followed by a first League win of the season against Gimpo, three draws, and an uplifting Cup victory over Suwon FC. But just as it looked like the Magpies were building some form, they inexplicably threw away a lead against Cheongju, conceding two goals in three minutes. They enjoyed a week off so should, at the very least, come rested and refreshed for this Gyeonggi derby.

Side note, but always interested in watching fans react to former players. Mulić is one of several who could line up against his former employers. 

Key men

Kim Hyun is having a season above expectations but he might start this game on the bench.

Kim Hyun might not start this game but there's no doubting his impact on the Bluewings this season. Signed from city rivals Suwon FC following relegation, the journeyman striker is on course to have his best ever season in professional football. Going into the weekend's action, Kim has scored four (joint most at his club) whilst adding three assists; only Seoul E-Land's Bruno has more goal contributions. His teammate Mulić might be in line to start against his former club, however. Mulić rescued a point for Suwon last Sunday, when played through by Kim in the 97th minute. Manager Yeom Ki-hun has rotated his forward options throughout the season, and this weekend could see another change. If Kim is benched, expect a big performance when he comes on.

How busy will Yu Sang-hun be in the Seongnam goal?

Yu Sang-hun will be busy on Sunday. The 34-year-old goalkeeper has been between the sticks for all eight of Seongnam's games, conceding 12 goals. Yu has made close to 200 league starts in his long career, playing for FC Seoul, Gimcheon Sangmu, and, most recently, Gangwon FC, all in K League 1. This spell, towards the end of his career, with Seongnam represents his first outings in the second tier. Whilst he hasn't always been a starting goalkeeper, Seongnam fans would have felt entitled to expect big performances by a man who's played at the very top. With Kim Hyun, Mulić and Kim Ju-chan recently finding form and the net, this is the perfect opportunity for Yu to impress his new fans. 

Coming up on a ton

Sunday's meeting will the first meeting in Tancheon between the Gyeonggi-do rivals since October 2022. The Bluewings prevailed 2-0 as part of a clean sweep of wins over the Magpies that season. You have to go back to March 2019 for Seongnam's last victory over Suwon at home, although they have recorded several wins in Big Bird in the meantime. 

In fact, the record between the two clubs is very similar. Of the previous 97 League, Cup and Asian meetings, the Bluewings have won 36 to Seongnam's 30. In the League, Suwon have been victorious in 36 of the 69 meetings, to Seongnam's 30. They'll hit 100 games, in all competitions, later this season.


Prediction


Suwon are a better team with better players, and, so far, enjoying their trips around K League 2. Whilst their defense is unpredictable, it helps that the back 4 are playing regularly, and not getting sent off as we saw in March. Yeom has to choose between Kim Hyun and Mulić up front; a nice headache to have. Whoever starts will likely grab a goal against a team in 12th with 12 goals conceded. Anything other than three points would represent a major surprise. But I suspect Suwon will find this a comfortable outing by the banks of the Tancheon.

Seongnam FC 0-2 Suwon Samsung

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