[2016 Rio Olympics] Meet the Squad: Attacking Midfielders

If the defensive midfielders are often the unsung heroes, the attacking midfielders are often the complete opposite. Meet three generation veterans in Moon Chang Jin, Ryu Seung Woo, and Kwon Chang Hoon, all of whom have been playing together since the U20 team in 2012 (for balance purposes, Son Heung Min will be listed among the forwards).

Unlike the defensive midfilders, where the biggest debate is how many to play (and which one/two to field) in order to fit the style we want (only LCD, only PYW, both, or LCD + LCM?), the biggest debate here is which player to play in which position – all of them are fairly flexible in terms of playing position, yet there are positions at which they excel at more than others. Read on for more, and check out our other posts if you haven’t already:

Part 1: Goalkeepers
Part 2: Fullbacks
Part 3: Centrebacks
Part 4: Defensive Midfielders

Coming Soon:
Part 6: Forwards –> This one’s gonna be real interesting with Son Heung Min, Hwang Hee Chan, and Suk Hyun Jun – our three most exciting attacking talents – all playing together. But will they start simultaneously?

 

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Name: Moon Chang Jin (문창진)
Age: 23
Height: 170 cm
Jersey Number: #8
U23 Caps: 27
U23 Goals: 14 (!!)
Club: Pohang Steelers (Korea)
Position: AM

I remember my days in high school working in a university chem lab and keeping my laptop right next to my bench so I could watch Moon Chang Jin hard carry the team to the 2012 AFC U19 Championship trophy. I would sit at the bus stop in the evening going like “Moon Chang Jin is gonna be the next big KNT star.”

Well that clearly hasn’t happened yet because Moon Chang Jin is one unlucky man. The biggest star of the generation lost his chance to play in the U20 World Cup due to an ill-timed injury. Instead of him, a certain Ryu Seung Woo would steal the show at that showpiece and end up getting a (ill-fated) transfer to Bayer Leverkusen of all teams. After his recovery Moon Chang Jin started playing for Pohang again and finally started to get minutes, but once again, he got injured… at least once every season. This fact is the major reason why over four seasons at Pohang (not counting his debut season since he only played 2 games straight out of Pohang Jechol HS), MCJ has only played 55 games. Imagine how much better of a player he could have been if it wasn’t for those injuries?

Now 23 years old, Moon Chang Jin will be looking to provide the lion’s share of the team’s goals. Because for some reason this guy has always had a knack for scoring, even if he was invisible the entire game (case in point: Korea v Uzbekistan this past January). I believe this pretty much sums up MCJ’s profile. When he’s on form, he can beat defenders and dribble past one or two of them with ease. He’s also very fast, contributes to some good passes, and can play pretty much anywhere in the attacking third – he’s even played false 9 on many occasions, though STY shouldn’t even be thinking about that option considering the presence of Hwang HC and Suk HJ. But MCJ also has this tendency to disappear completely from the game – much like Son Heung Min, consistency is what MCJ has to work on the most. Despite this tendency, however, there’s a good chance MCJ will score a goal or two at the Olympics.

Because he can score goals like this:

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Moon Chang Jin used to be this team’s #10. That is where he will play if we opt for a 4-2-3-1, and if we go for a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3, he will likely play as the AM there as well. There’s also a good chance we’ll see him out wide in the case that STY wants either KCH or LCM in the middle (it has happened before), but it seems to me that STY sees MCJ as the AM and KCH as the wide player.

 

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Name: Ryu Seung Woo (류승우)
Age: 22
Height: 172 cm
Jersey Number: #10
U23 Caps: 21
U23 Goals: 3
Club: Technically Leverkusen (GER)
Position: AM

If MCJ is “one unlucky man” RSW is either “a really unlucky man” or “a guy who made some poor career decisions.” It’s hard to say which is more accurate. I say the former because Ryu also was hampered by injuries on his loan spells, and being injured on loan can be more detrimental than being injured with a team that you’re under contract with. I say the latter, because even after a very impressive outing at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, it was pretty clear that Ryu was not going to get much playing time with Bayer Leverkusen. Even on loan, he played decently well with Eintract Braunschweig in 2014-15, but failed to make any sort of impact with Arminia Bielefied in the 2016 half of the 2015-2016 season. Now clubless, Ryu is currently training in Korea along with Suk Hyun Jun ahead of the Rio Olympics.

Ryu was a hot talent back in the day. He was playing very well for Chungang University in 2012-2013 leading to his inclusion in the 2012 and 2013 Korean NT’s. He played wide during in 2012 but in 2013, was shifted into the #10 role due to the loss of Moon Chang Jin. He excelled in that position, to the point where a Bundesliga giant wanted to sign him. (Remember when it was announced that BVB had signed him but he all of a sudden ended up going to Leverkusen instead?) Unfortunately, now in 2016 the hype around him has cooled and even his inclusion in the Rio Olympics squad is being debated. That is because this entire 2016 season, Ryu has yet to show the flashes of brilliance that made him the player he used to be. The quick-footed playmaker he used to be seems to have been replaced. He still is pretty good at connecting plays and passes, and I think his inclusion was warranted in the end, but his dribbling doesn’t seem to be up to where he used to be. Thus, I see RSW as a “first option off the bench” player. I think some of the doom and gloom surrounding RSW’s inclusion is a little overblown – he surely doesn’t slow down play or do much to the team’s detriment – but I agree that he shouldn’t start ahead of players like Son Heung Min and Kwon Chang Hoon.

Position-wise, to me it is clear he is most effective either as the 10 or the “SS,” but Shin Tae Yong has largely used him as our starting LW. I think out wide, we have players who offer better attacking threats and track back more than RSW does.

 

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Name: Kwon Chang Hoon (권창훈)
Age: 22
Height: 174 cm
Jersey Number: #16
U23 Caps: 14
U23 Goals: 7
Club: Suwon Bluewings (Korea)
Position: AM/CM

 

Kwon Chang Hoon is among the K League’s hottest stars right now. For the past year or two this guy has produced some fantastic displays for Suwon Bluewings, the senior NT, and U23 team. There’s not quite a player like him either. Who else can provide vertical runs from deep + a strong goal threat + a decent passing game and dribbling skills + hilariously awful set pieces?

As a high school student at Suwon Maetan Hs, Kwon made the U19 squad in late 2012, playing in the CM position alongside Lee Chang Min and scoring a goal in the 4-1 beatdown of Iran in the quarterfinals. In 2013 he skipped going to university in favor of directly signing with Suwon Bluewings, and in his first season he actually managed to make eight appearances. That summer Kwon would go on to represent Korea in the U20 world Cup, where he took over the #10 jersey from the injured Moon Chang Jin and scored twice, once against Iraq in the quarters and once against Cuba in the group stage.

Based on your definition of a breakout season, Kwon’s would have either been 2015 or 2014. In 2014 he started to play more regularly, but I would argue his real breakout year was 2015. That was when he started 29/36 games, scored 10 goals, and was named in the K League best XI. That was also the year Kwon made his national team debut in the East Asian Cup, where he caught Stielike’s eye enough to make the senior team alongside Lee Jae Sung. In the 2nd round of the FIFA WC qualifiers, Kwon would continue to make a strong impression on Stielike, scoring three in just seven appearances. Kwon can clearly excel against Asian minnows, but can he excel against much stronger opposition in the German and Mexican U23 teams?

I believe he can, but if he’s used the right way. I say this because I personally object to playing Kwon out wide. First of all, we have seen in the past couple friendlies that KCH is just not a RW. He drifts in anyway and he doesn’t track back that well. Where KCH excels at is the #8 role, where he can start from deep and end up in the opposition box at the end of an attacking play. If we wanted a traditional RW we should have gone with Kim Seung Jun or Choi Kyung Rok, neither of whom are on the team. If STY opts for a 4-1-4-1, KCH better not play wide. Fortunately, whenever KCH has played wide it has been in a 4-2-3-1. In this formation KCH is essentially a wide forward/AM who plays more centrally and lets the RB play wide.

A good example where KCH is effective out wide would be the Algeria game in March, where KCH demonstrated why many call him the best player of the U23 generation:

For why KCH excels even more playing as the #8, however, you can check out any of his ball touch videos from the senior team.

 

Final thoughts:

If you consider SHM into the attacking midfield pool, certainly this department is one of, if not the strongest of our six positional breakdowns. I highly doubt all three of MCJ RSW and KCH will play together, however, considering that 1) Son Heung Min and SHJ almost certain to start together, and 2) there’s uncertainty whether Hwang HC will be used as a starter or as a bench option.

Shin Tae Yong has recently announced that he will stick to only a plan A and a plan B throughout the tournament. Based on what we’ve seen so far one of them is definitely a 4-2-3-1. Because of the positional versatility of pretty much every player on this team, it’s hard to predict a starting XI, but in that 4-2-3-1 formation I forsee a midfield trio of Son Heung Min – Moon Chang Jin – Kwon Chang Hoon with Suk Hyun Jun up top.

This second formation, however, is most likely going to be a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-3-3 (though if you think about the only difference between the two is that one has wing forwards and the other doesn’t). In this scenario, I’d actually imagine that Kwon and Lee Chang Min would play central with MCJ out wide (based on previous lineups), or maybe KCH and MCJ would switch. Again, it’s nearly impossible to predict, but what I do know is that KCH and MCJ are likely to start, whereas RSW might not. RSW started almost every friendly before the Olympics, but with the inclusion of SHM, I don’t see it happening.

3 Comments

  1. Nice read Jinseok. Surprised actually you didn’t contemplate the possibility of a 5-4-1 formation like the one used vs Qatar in the AFC U23 SF. Feels like with som many centrebacks and two ball playing ones (JHS, PYW) we might want to set up camp like that against certain teams? Germany, for one?

    • I think the 3/5 back works nicely, but STY hasn’t used it since and in his most recent interview he said he’s done with experimentation, making me think we’re going to stick to 4-back. Against Germany, as you suggested earlier i also believe we will be fielding a 4-2-3-1. I also wonder if a 5 back would be more appropriate against the front-loaded Mexico than the midfield-loaded Germany…
      I personally think that against Germany, a 2014 Netherlands style counter attacking 5-3-2 would be perfect with SHM + SHJ or SHM + HHC up top, but again, I’m led to believe we’re not going to see anything new this tournament.

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