The second installment of the series designed to take a closer look at Choi Kang-Hee’s call ups for the final three qualifying matches. In this edition, we take a look at the midfield.
The midfield takes up the biggest chunk of the squad. So, in order to make the analysis a bit more manageable, I will break it into three segments. Wide midfielders, attacking midfielders, and defensive midfielders. Between the wide and attacking midfielders there may be a bit of overlap since some players are more flexible in their positioning.
There are seven players who are capable of playing wide. They are: Lee Chung-Yong, Lee Keun-Ho, Ji Dong-Won, Son Heung-Min, Kim Chi-Woo, Kim Bo-Kyung, and Lee Seung-Gi.
Definite Starter: Lee Chung-Yong – “Chungy” is the only sure starter in the wide group. A superb end to the season saw Lee Chung-Yong produce some of the best play in his relatively short career. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get Bolton out of the Championship. The only worry about Lee, now fully recovered from his injury, is that with Bolton’s season ending back on May 4, it will be a full month between his last competitive action and the first qualifier. Nonetheless, it would be truly shocking if Lee Chung-Yong did not take up his usual spot on the right.
Strong Chance to Start: Lee Keun-Ho – I would be surprised if Lee Keun-Ho doesn’t start somewhere against Lebanon. It may not be on the wing, but I think he’ll start given his experience, and the fact that he seems to be another of Choi Kang-Hee’s personal favorites (at least Lee Keun-Ho makes sense). Spending time in the Korean second division, also known now as the K League Challenge, doesn’t seem to have affected him too much. The reigning AFC player of the year managed to score Korea’s first goal against Qatar in the last outing. Would likely start on the wing in a 4-4-2 that doesn’t include Kim Shin-Wook.
May Start: Lee Seung-Gi, Ji Dong-Won – After disappearing from the senior scene for awhile (thanks Sunderland), Ji Dong-Won has returned, largely due to a new lease on life in Germany. He started the last match, but wasn’t terribly effective on the left. Nonetheless, it’s not difficult to see him starting there again. Lee Seung-Gi has appeared a few times under Choi Kang-Hee, and other than Lee Chung-Yong, Lee Seung-Gi is the most natural wide player in the group. If Choi Kang-Hee is looking to stretch the play laterally, Lee Seung-Gi may be the best choice.
Probably Won’t Start: Kim Bo-Kyung, Son Heung-Min – A bit unfortunate, as “Kimbo” is probably the most in-form and consistent player in the group aside from Lee Chung-Yong. Kim Bo-Kyung had a great second half of the season for Championship champions Cardiff, where he showed that he can also operate more centrally as well. Yet, for reasons unknown, Choi Kang-Hee doesn’t really seem to trust Kim Bo-Kyung (as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t even get called last time), and I would be a bit surprised if he started. There are many fans who would love to see Son Heung-Min start, but again, the trust doesn’t seem to be there. Also Choi seems very unwilling to give Son more creative and attacking freedom, freedom that is likely needed for Son to thrive. Super sub role again most likely for the prodigious youngster.
Won’t Start: Kim Chi-Woo – A bit surprised that Kim Chi-Woo made it to the squad as he’s been out of the picture for a while. Surely there mainly for depth, and a bit of versatility as he can also play in defense.
There are four players capable of playing in a central attacking role. They are: Lee Keun-Ho, Son Heung-Min, Kim Bo-Kyung, Lee Myeong-Joo
Definite Starter: Lee Myeong-Joo – If early press is to be believed, Lee Myeong-Joo will definitely take one of the central midfield spots to replace the Ki/Koo combo. Has been very important for Pohang in their quest for K League Classic glory. Usually sits a bit deeper for the Steelers, but I’d expect him to play a bit more advanced with the national team.
Strong Chance to Start: Lee Keun-Ho – There’s a chance that Lee will start on the wing, but if not then he’ll probably shift more central (if Choi goes 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1). In these formations he would operate almost as a second striker.
May Start: Kim Bo-Kyung – Probably should start, but Choi seems to have already decided that Lee Myeong-Joo will get a chance. Choi could surprise us, but . . . nah.
Probably Won’t Start: Son Heung-Min – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a manager, either Cho Kwang-Rae or Choi Kang-Hee, give Son a start in a central attacking role for Korea. I don’t think that will change in June.
Finally, there are four defensive midfielders: Kim Nam-Il, Park Jong-Woo, Han Kook-Young, Hwang Ji-Soo
Definite Starter: None – I don’t feel like any of these players are definite locks to start.
Strong Chance to Start: Kim Nam-Il – He must be here for a reason. It’s difficult to think that he was brought purely to be a bench option. Again, early press reports are that Choi will start him.
May Start: Park Jong-Woo, Hwang Ji-Soo – Park Jong-Woo will not start against Lebanon (still suspended), but depending on how Kim Nam-Il (or whoever starts against Lebanon) does, Park may get a shot back in Korea. He’s been tested when Korea went to Tehran, and came out relatively unscathed. He’s had a good season with Busan too. Hwang Ji-Soo seems unlikely, but given his normal club partnership with Lee Myeong-Joo it can’t be totally out of the question.
Probably Won’t Start: Han Kook-Young – I know Jinseok is desperate to see Han make his senior bow, but I just can’t see it happening. Choi has never been one to trust youth, and since Han didn’t even make the scrap Aussie game back in December, I can’t see Choi trusting him in a qualifier. Maybe if qualification is wrapped up for the final game.
If you’ve read the forwards edition, you already have some ideas of how I see this team shaping up. I think the most likely midfield combination is five midfielder: one defensive, two attacking, and two wide (a 4-1-4-1 set up). I think Kim Nam-Il will start in the defensive spot. Lee Myeong-Joo and Lee Keun-Ho in the attacking spots. Lee Chung-Yong on the right, and Ji Dong-Won on the left. Kim Nam-Il’s experience will get him the nod over Han Kook-Young and Hwang Ji-Soo. Experience will also see Lee Keun-Ho pip Kim Bo-Kyung. Ji Dong-Won’s workrate will give him a nod on the left, and as I suspect Lee Dong-Gook will start at forward, Lee Seung-Gi’s crossing ability will be less important. So the midfield may look something like this:
Ji Dong-Won / Lee Keun-Ho / Lee Myeong-Joo / Lee Chung-Yong