In the 2019 K League season, Kim Byungsoo took over as head coach for Gangwon FC. Gangwon FC, a young team that was founded in 2009 and relegated between 2014-2016, was a relatively unpopular team. But under Kim Byungsoo, Gangwon FC became one of the most exciting K League teams to watch. Nicknamed “Byungsoo Ball,” Gangwon FC’s unique style of football has been attracting quite a bit of attention. Perhaps the most symbolic event of Byungsoo ball was the 2019 home match against Pohang Steelers, when Gangwon overcame a 4-0 deficit to score 5 goals in thirty minutes to win 5-4. This article analyzes Gangwon FC’s tactics under the leadership of Kim Byungsoo.
Who is Kim Byungsoo?
Kim Byungsoo is a former footballer who started his coaching career relatively early. As a Gangwon native, Kim Byungsoo showed talent as a midfielder and played for the U16, U19, and U23 KNT squads. After playing for Korea University, one of Korea’s best sports colleges, he played five seasons of professional football. Unfortunately, extreme ankle injuries caused early retirement. From 2008-2016, Kim served as the head coach for Yeungnam University’s football team, where he was extremely well-received by his players and developed his passing football philosophy. Here he coached numerous professional footballers such as Kim Seungdae, Son Junho, and Lee Myungjoo. After serving as the head coach for Seoul E-Land in 2017, Kim joined Gangwon FC in 2018 and became head coach in 2019.
Gangwon FC Squad Overview
Gangwon’s lineup features a steady balance of well-known veterans and rising prospects. Midfielder Han Kookyoung and right-back Shin Kwanghoon are both former KNT players who serve key roles for Gangwon. Striker Kim Seungdae, who played for Kim Byungsoo in college, is on loan from Jeonbuk and is probably the team’s best player. The team also features prospects Kim Jihyun, who was awarded the 2019 K League’s Young Player award, Cho Jaewan, a speedy winger, and Lee Youngjae, the lefty midfielder with KNT experience under his belt. Another very familiar name in the squad is U20 superhero Lee Gwangyeon, who is not currently a starter but wears #1 for Gangwon.
Formation and Starting Lineup
Kim Byungsoo generally employs a 4-3-3 lineup. In the first two matches of the K League season thus far, the same starting lineup seen above was used. Lee Hyunsik and Kim Jihyun came off the bench in both matches to provide offensive support in close-game situations.
Results Thus Far
So far this season, Gangwon FC has one 3-1 win against FC Seoul and one 2-0 loss against Sangju Sangmu. The team’s goals have been scored by Cho Jaewan, Kim Seungdae, and Kim Jihyun. The highlights for both matches will be used to exemplify and clarify some of Gangwon FC’s tactics.
Key word: Possession
In the 2019 K League season, Gangwon led the league in average possession per game. This season proves to be no different. In the Seoul match, Gangwon held 64% possession, while in the Sangju match, they held 61%.
On offense, Gangwon FC goes all-in. Its formation maintains a clear shape, but within this shape features lots of movement and rotation within its players.
The formation on the attack generally looks like this, taking a 2-3-2-3 formation. The ball generally starts with Han Kookyoung, who has passing options of feeding the sidebacks, pressing forward with the two other midfielders, or through-passing to the strikers.
What’s quite interesting about Gangwon FC is that within this 2-3-2-3 offensive position, players rotate quite a bit. The three strikers on top are not restricted to playing in the right/middle/left areas of the penalty box, and sometimes even come outside the box to receive the ball. Shin Kwanghoon occasionally plays as one of the three midfielders, and Lee Youngjae and Seo Minwoo rotate spacing out to the right corner. As a result of such frequent rotation, Kim Byungsoo’s style of play demands not only excellent passing ability, but also the flexibility to play multiple positions. It is perhaps for this reason that Uros Deric scored 24 goals for Gangwon in 2018, but only 4 in 2019 under Kim; he was unable to adapt to the mobile style of play.
Another important component of Byungsoo ball is the movement of the midfielders once the ball has reached the striker or side-back. Han, Lee, and Seo rotate in making runs in the penalty box. Their “line-breaking” run overwhelms the defense, freeing up space for the strikers or giving another passing option for the player with the ball
Check out these time stamps for Gangwon FC’s highlights to see such tactics in action:
Notice how far upfield the left back is, how the three strikers are all in the penalty box, and midfielder Lee Youngjae making a run into the penalty box.
Han Kookyoung’s run frees up space for Shin Kwanghoon to successfully lob to Kim Jihyun, who stayed in the penalty box while Kim Seungdae crept outside.
A pass to the top penalty area, mixed with a run by Han, allows Kim Jihyun to release a powerful shot.
4:23-4:30 and 7:27-7:36
This time, it’s midfielder Lee Hyunsik, not Shin Kwanghoon, in the right-back region, and when he crosses into the penalty box, there are five players symmetrically distributed throughout the box waiting to receive the ball.
Key Weakness: Counterattack
In 2019, Gangwon conceded 58 goals, which was the third-most in the K League only after Gyeongnam and Jeju, both of which were relegated. In comparison to the amount of time Gangwon holds the ball, Gangwon concedes a disproportionately large amount of goals. Because so many players join the offense, Gangwon is particularly susceptible to the counterattack. This weakness is seen perfectly in Moon Seon Min’s goal this past weekend (6:43), and watching the highlights for both matches show that Gangwon’s go-to strategy for preventing the counterattack is to simply foul. However, such fouls are often harsh and result in yellow cards.
New Strength: Counterattack
It seems as though Kim Byungsoo has been learning from his team’s opponents about the most effective ways to launch counterattacks. Effective counterattacks are a new element in Gangwon’s repertoire, and following the Seoul match, Kim himself stated that he has been waiting a year to finally see a counterattack goal. Contrary to Gangwon’s normal offense, in which the three strikers squeeze into a small area, Gangwon’s counterattack features the three strikers running almost in a straightforward lane, divided into three sections. Using spread out lanes forces the limited defense to also spread out, leaving areas for additional players to make runs and open up space for a quick shot.
- As the defense surrounds Cho Jaewan, Cho passes to Kang Sukhwa, who was all the way on the right but closed inward
- Kim Seungdae, originally on the middle lane, spreads out to the empty space on the left side of the field. As Kim spreads out left, Cho Jaewan runs inward and scores the most impressive goal of Round 1.
- Rather than waiting for the ball to be passed to him, Kim Seungdae aggressively runs downfield and allows Han Kookyoung to make an excellent through-pass to him for another counterattack goal.
- Kang Sukhwa just misses out on a goal. Once again, four Gangwon players were spread out while all running upfield, and the defense could barely catch up to Cho Jaewan as two quick passes changed the location of attack from the far right to the left middle.
- Another dangerous opportunity as Kim Seungdae’s run to the right side of the field prompted Kang to run inward and almost receive the ball in an extremely advantageous position
“Byungsoo Ball” has obvious strengths and weaknesses. While Gangwon players show excellent spatial awareness and confidence, they also need to sharpen up on their defensive mistakes and limit reckless fouls. Gangwon is an extremely fun team to watch, and I know I will be rooting for them this season. It will be interesting to see if Byungsoo ball can blossom into a winning form of football, not just a fun form of football.