In Jinseok’s excellent preview of the crucial “final-like” Germany encounter tomorrow at 3pm EST, 4am KST, he mentioned several hypotheses I had flaunted with him when it came to Shin Taeyong’s lineup against a team which is by far, the toughest team this Olympic generation has faced. Let me clarify my thoughts and reasoning on those, including why I believe Shin Taeyong will drop hat-trick star Ryu Seungwoo against the Germans.
The midfield trio?
It seems like Shin Taeyong will opt for a 4-2-3-1, which, although his claims the other day that “I never play 4-2-3-1, ever”, seems to be in Korean football circles the expected formation (given that it’s been tested of late and provides for two defensive mids as well as tactical flexibility). If that happens, we will of course have three “attacking” midfielders playing ahead of the double-six.
On form, and purely form, it makes a lot of sense that those three players be Ryu Seungwoo, Son Heungmin and Kwon Changhoon. Ryu scored three goals against Fiji and seemed to be at times, the only player on the pitch. Even in the team’s rough spots, he was nimble on the ball, aggressive in the dribble and a constant source of ebullient energy. Son, of course, is 100% starting against Germany, barring injury, and had good impact in the 15-20 minutes he played. Kwon Changhoon had two goals of his own and a pair of assists to boot, despite playing on his less influential right winger position.
Moon Changjin did not have a particularly impressive game, though in all the goals, I think he had an assist or two. Nonetheless, he was in the thick of the Fiji great wall of defense (playing as the highest of the midfield players in the 4-3-3) and was not able to influence the game. Part of that for me is because he and the ball-feeders Lee Changmin & Jang Hyunsoo didn’t really click, the latter opting for attempted passes out wide to the fullbacks or wingers. Then again, the opponent was Fiji and he will be disappointed with his personal performance.
Despite this, the Pohang Steelers man, in my humble opinion, will be starting this game. The midfield trio will be Son Heungmin – Moon Changjin – Kwon Changhoon. Although we’re trying to “outscore” Germany here, there will be quite a bit of defensive work to do, and it is unquestionable in my mind that Son and Kwon will be more effective tracking back to pickpocket the likes of Gnabry and Brandt.
Son Heungmin obviously brings physicality to the table, and playing in the EPL, he’s accustomed to the nitty-gritty defensive battles while tracking back. Kwon Changhoon, for his part, is acquainted to defensive responsibility because of his usual club role of defensive midfielder & notably did a reasonably good job of neutralizing Qatar’s bombastic leftback in the AFC U23 Championship by tracking down and matching his crazy runs.
Ryu Seungwoo brings no physicality to the table and his tracking back is more suspect than the two aforementioned options, which is why I don’t think he will be starting against Germany. Even if Moon Changjin doesn’t necessarily excel in the physique department either, his role is different as CAM and his defensive responsibilities differ to those of wingers.
But Ryu’s form!
Hwang Heechan was on fire – and I mean on fire – against Sweden, heading into the tournament. But against Fiji he was largely anonymous and missed a 1v1 chance all while not providing a spark. The games are different, the space a player receives is different, the role a player plays is different. And form fluctuates.
Ryu is on form. But for the reasons I’ve mentioned above, there’s nothing he’s doing WRONG. He just isn’t the right man for the hour.
A five-back defense?
I’ve been toying with this particular idea for a while – playing a 5-4-1 against Germany, much like the 5-4-1 against Qatar. The defensive midfielders of Lee Changmin and Hwang Kiwook were able to break up Qatari passes and force them to result to longballs, and speedy threats on the wings were mostly neutralized. Kim Hyun started up top, and his target man prowess could be easily replaced by Suk Hyunjun.
I still personally like the idea of it, but Jinseok is probably right when he says that in any case, Germany will find a way to score. And the 5-4-1 leaves us with much less offensive clout, forcing us to hope for Germany to play a high line (for Son and Kwon to run behind), and that Suk Hyunjun will be competent in his aerial battles.
I also wondered if rightback Park Dongjin might get a start in this match, since his inclusion was really a surprise, leaving me to wonder if Shin Taeyong had some sort of master plan for this game. He’s taller and has a more physical build to him than the regular rightback Lee Seulchan. If Shin listens to me and plays a 5-back, then obviously it will be Jeonnam’s Lee playing as a fullback, but if he goes with the more likely flat back four… all bets are off.
This is the game of these player’s careers so far. A victory comes with a MASSIVE confidence boost and a quarter-final berth. A defeat sets up a do-or-die against a Mexican side reeling off of what will likely be a thrashing of Fiji. Shin Taeyong will do what he can, and after that it’s up to the 11 men wearing the Taegukki on their sleeve to play their hearts out.
It’s a longshot, but with a bit of tactical innovation, some luck and some Tuhon… who knows. This team could just pull off the greatest upset in Korean Olympic team history.