Tactics Talk: Greece vs South Korea

A continuation of the ‘Tactics Talk’ series where we take a closer examination of the tactics, goals, and goal chances behind South Korea’s 2-0 win over Greece last week.

Formation

Hong’s starting XI was largely as expected, with perhaps the only surprise being Jung Sung-Ryong starting in goal ahead of Kim Seung-Gyu. Other wise it was as expected.

football formations

Paper vs Reality

Starting formation gets a lot of focus, when honestly it’s actually not that important. Largely because in modern football a team’s shape is largely fluid and will shift depending on the situation. Hong’s 4-2-3-1 regularly shifts between that, a 4-4-2 when defending and a 4-2-4 when attacking (and at extremes at 2-4-4).

The interesting thing about this match was that rather than the normal shifts just mentioned, Hong’s formation looked a lot like a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 when attacking.

football formations

A screenshot of the 3-5-2. Yellow lines connect the 'units'. Lee Yong, Lee Chung-Yong, and Park Chu-Young are off screen.
A screenshot of the 3-5-2. Yellow lines connect the ‘units’. Lee Yong, Lee Chung-Yong, and Park Chu-Young are off screen.

The shift is an interesting test by Hong. Kim Jin-Su’s offensive abilities allow him to play the wingback role, while Lee Chung-Yong’s workrate also allows him to play a loose interpretation of the position over on the right. As you can see in the above picture, Kim Young-Gwon has slid to the left to help cover defensively while Hong Jeong-Ho is central (relative to the play). The news that Hong had wanted to test Hwang Seok-Ho at “right back” prior to the player’s injury further indicates Hong wanted to test the three-man back line as Hwang-Hong-Kim would have given him three natural centerbacks, which is desirable. Lee Yong though did a passable job given his tendency to stay a bit deeper anyway.

Also, with Greece’s 4-3-3 formation, the choice is a logical one. A back three gives Korea a man-on-man situation against the Greek attack, Kim Jin-Su and Lee Chung-Yong have individual battles with the fullbacks, and the three-man midfield each have a man. There are also individual battles between Son Heung-Min and Park Chu-Young against the two center backs. Basically, it nullified any potential overload that Greece could have in the midfield (3v2) or in defense (5v4).

I’ve wondered about Hong’s tactical knowledge lately, but this game helps to reassure my worries. Hong appears to have set out to nullify Greece on a man-to-man basis and rely on Korea’s superior technical ability on an individual basis. And you can certainly argue that Hong was successful in that regard given the result.

Park Chu-Young Goal – Park is smart, Greece is sloppy

Park wins the header. Flicks on to Koo.
Park wins the header. Flicks on to Koo.
Koo passes to Son, who spots the run of Park. Greece has a defensive mix-up.
Koo passes to Son, who spots the run of Park. Greece has a defensive mix-up.
Manolas tries to get back, but Park is already at full speed.
Manolas tries to get back, but Park is already at full speed.

Korea’s opening goal was actually quite simple, and aided by a defensive mix-up between the two Greek centerhalves.

  • Following a missed Greek free-kick, Jung Sung-Ryong plays it long. Papadopoulos wins the initial header against Park Chu-Young. The ball goes to Kim Young-Gwon, who heads it back upfield.
  • In the second battle (picture 1) Park Chu-Young wins the header and flicks it up to Koo Ja-Cheol.
  • Koo passes it to Son Heung-Min, and Park makes his forward run (picture 2). Here’s where the Greek mix-up happens. Papadopoulos, who had come out to challenge Park, runs back to his original position (right-centerback). However, the left-centerback, Manolas, is already there as he had moved to cover Koo Ja-Cheol. The left back, Cholevas has not shifted to cover the hole, possibly due to the presence of Lee Chung-Yong.
  • In picture 3, Son is about to play the ball to Park who is already at full speed. Papadopoulos is back at his normal position, while Manolas is struggling to turn and get into his position. Cholevas is offscreen, potentially ready to intercept any cross field pass. Maniatis, the midfielder, has seen Park’s run and is trying to direct traffic, but it is too late.

While Park’s finish and Son’s pass are well done, it is a simple Greek defensive error that allows the chance to come. Rather than trying to get back to his position, Papadopoulos would have been better off continuing to track Park until a better chance to switch came (i.e. when Greece has possession again or the ball is further away). Additionally, cover assignments are not well executed as Cholevas has left a gaping hole for players to run into. Finally, Greece’s midfielders have not tracked Park’s run or gotten deep enough to prevent it (ironically a similar mistake that Korea made when Katsouranis hit the post).

Greece hits the post

While Kim Jin-Su got a lot of criticism, and much of which was deserved, a more detailed look shows that it was a team fail.

Katsouranis launches the counterattack following a Korea set piece. Take note of Korean player positions.
Katsouranis launches the counterattack following a Korea set piece. Take note of Korean player positions.
The ball comes out to Cholevas on the left. Korea scrambles for positions.
The ball comes out to Cholevas on the left. Korea scrambles for positions.
Just before the cross, you can see where the players are watching
Just before the cross you can see where the players are watching
Katsouranis has made the run all the way from well within his half. No one has tracked him.
Katsouranis has made the run all the way from well within his half. No one has tracked him.

The four pictures show the development of the play. Katsouranis actually starts the move off with the outlet pass (picture 1) that gets out to Cholevas (picture 2) for the break. Korea, coming out of a set piece, does not transition well, and players are either a bit lazy with their defensive work or out of position. Kim Jin-Su makes two crucial errors at the end of the play, but we can see that there are problems before it even gets to that.

  1. No one in the midfield picks up Katsouranis. As you can see in picture 1, there are three players who could have picked up Katsouranis. Ki Sung-Yueng is closest, and level with him. Koo Ja-Cheol is a bit deeper and is moving towards him. Han Kook-Young is deepest.
  2. Of the three, Han Kook-Young chases the ball (pictures 2 and 3). Ki Sung-Yueng doesn’t really go for it, and Katsouranis is already a few meters ahead by picture 2. Koo Ja-Cheol basically stops once the ball goes over his head (not pictured) and does not track back at all.
  3. No one communicates (apparently) to Kim Jin-Su that Katsouranis has continued his run from deep. We’ll come to Kim’s errors in a moment, but as you can see when the play starts, Kim Jin-Su is maybe 15+ meters ahead of Katsouranis. He will not be thinking, I need to pick up the central midfielder from deep. That will be the job of the aforementioned three central midfielders. Ki Sung-Yueng is the best positioned to make the shout, but it seems he never does.

Kim Jin-Su though, is not faultless in this. Two mistakes. One, while he may not expect Katsouranis to make that lung bursting run, he should expect that someone might. Either the right forward, Salpingidis, or the right back, Torosidis. During that whole run you never see Kim Jin-Su turn his head and look behind him to make sure no one is coming. That may not have been a problem, were it not for Kim’s second mistake, which is he does not follow the play through to the end. Picture 4 shows how Kim Jin-Su has stopped running once Mitroglou has stopped, thus allowing Katsouranis the free shot. Kim, of course, should have run all the way through, to either follow the ball out of play, or to pick it up and start the attack.

Set Piece Problems – Greece hits the crossbar twice

Set pieces were never going to be easy, but Korea were fortunate that in the span of about 5 seconds Greece hit the crossbar twice following a corner. The five screenshots below illustrate what happened.

Initial corner comes in, Ki SY strangely has no man to mark and is just standing in the middle
Initial corner comes in, Ki SY strangely has no man to mark and is just standing in the middle
Mix-up between Ki and Koo.
Mix-up between Ki and Koo.
The shot by Samaras is flicked on by an unmarked Torosidis. Where is Kim JS?
The shot by Samaras is flicked on by an unmarked Torosidis. Where is Kim JS?
Mitroglou goes for the loose ball after it hits the crossbar. Han KY is responsible for him.
Mitroglou goes for the loose ball after it hits the crossbar. Han KY is responsible for him.
Mitroglou hits the bar, Han KY is just watching. Others have given up?
Mitroglou hits the bar, Han KY is just watching. Others have given up?
  • The first odd thing is the presence of Ki Sung-Yueng in the middle (picture 1). Ki clearly has no man to mark, so his position strikes me as unusual. It’s important to note that both Lee Yong and Kim Jin-Su are stationed at either post at this point. Also (apologies for the poor quality of the shot), it should be noted that Koo Ja-Cheol is marking Torosidis (who hits the crossbar the first time).
  • Picture 2 is important for two reasons. First off, the initial corner has been won by Mitroglou (top-right of the picture), and the ball is heading for Samaras. But, the most important thing is in the middle, right in front of goal. Koo Ja-Cheol has lost Torosidis, who has literally bumped into Ki Sung-Yueng who, remember, has no specific defensive responsibilities.
  • In picture 3, Torosidis has headed the ball on from Samaras’ shot/pass. Ki, who was not marking anyone, did not think to stick with Torosidis who is completely alone in front of goal. Kim Jin-Su, who was at the left post, has left his spot (he is at the edge of the six-yard box) which is exactly where the ball has gone.
  • The ball hits the crossbar and bounces back out in picture 4. Mitroglou, who won the initial header, races in to shoot. Han Kook-Young, who is marking Mitroglou, does not react.
  • Finally, in picture 5 Mitroglou has smashed his shot against the bar. Han Kook-Young has only taken a couple steps in helplessness. Also, note how many Korean players are just standing about with no Greek player near them.

Kim Jin-Su has made a similar error as before. He has failed to see the play through. Pushing out following a corner is common, but the ball never really gets out, plus Lee Yong over on the other post is firmly in position (thus nullifying any attempt to play Greek players offside). Ki just standing in the middle is a baffling move, and one that would reinforce the criticism that there is no one in the defense that can properly organize them. The fact that he’s literally a meter in front of Jung Sung-Ryong doesn’t bode well either. Another worry is Han Kook-Young. Han is a tenacious defensive midfielder during open play, but he seems a liability at set pieces. I can’t point to any specific games at the moment, but it seems like he regularly gets beaten in the air.

*Correction – In the Google Hangout I criticized Hong Jeong-Ho for not picking up Torosidis. That was incorrect, Koo Ja-Cheol had initially picked him up.

Hong goes more conservative after the half

The more familiar 4-4-2 defensive shape
The more familiar 4-4-2 defensive shape

Hong clearly wasn’t pleased with the amount of space Greece had down the lines in the first half, so he switched back to Korea’s more conventional 4-4-2 defensive shape in the second half. The forced switch of Kim Shin-Wook for Park Chu-Young also likely affected the decision as Kim Shin-Wook lacks the mobility that Park has.

Offensively, Korea kept their more traditional 4-2-3-1 shape. Kim Jin-Su pushed up, but not as far or as often. With the more stationary Kim Shin-Wook on the pitch, the only switching came from Koo Ja-Cheol and Son Heung-Min.

Son Heung-Min goal – Sloppy Greeks again

Korea’s second goal once again came from poor Greek play. Like the first goal, there was no beautifully crafted buildup play from Korea, but simple (correct) choices that took advantage of the Greek defense being out of position.

Kim Shin-Wook wins the header (sort of) from Jung Sung-Ryong's long punt upfield
Kim Shin-Wook wins the header (sort of) from Jung Sung-Ryong’s long punt upfield
Koo picks up the ball from Kim. He can dribble or pass it left or right. Papadopoulos doesn't know what to do.
Koo picks up the ball from Kim. He can dribble or pass it left or right. Papadopoulos doesn’t know what to do.
Koo's pass is too heavy, forcing Son wide (and narrowing the angle), but Son smashes it hard and over the keeper. Papadopoulos cannot recover in time to make the challenge.
Koo’s pass is too heavy, forcing Son wide (and narrowing the angle), but Son smashes it hard and over the keeper. Papadopoulos cannot recover in time to make the challenge.

Again, it’s just sloppy transition defending from Greece. The right back, Torosidis, is out of position leaving the middle-right half of the Greek defense exposed. Similarly the midfield is not back yet, and Son and Koo are free behind them (pictures 1 and 2). Koo makes the correct choice in passing to Son, but his pass is heavy making the shot more difficult. Son does well to shot just about the only place he could, hard and high over the keeper’s head.

Individual Player Thoughts

  • Han Kook-Young is a decent young player, but his “wild dog” (apologies for the dog reference) nature in terms of chasing the ball, leaves others exposed. In essence it’s the same as when you have an attacking player in a free role. If Han is free to chase the ball, others must be more disciplined to cover the holes he leaves. Which leads us to . . .
  • Ki Sung-Yueng. Ki is vital to our attacking side, but his slowness to track back at times exposed the team, and perhaps this is why managers are hesitant to let him bomb forward at will. Ki will need to stay deeper if Koo Ja-Cheol is in the #10 role as Koo rarely dropped deep in this match.
  • Son Heung-Min presents a similar challenge. You want him near the goal, but if he doesn’t track back, the left side is in danger. The 3-5-2 was clearly an idea to get him in more dangerous positions, but it failed defensively as Ki did not cover for Kim Jin-Su when he was up. Ironically, Son scored when Korea had shifted back to a more ‘normal’ 4-2-3-1.
  • Lee Chung-Yong was the player sacrificed for the 3-5-2 to work as he was required to do more defensive work and sit deeper than he normally does. This is the main reason why I’ve not really advocated for the 3-5-2 for Korea. Lee is probably the most individually creative player (on the ball) that we have, and that invention was missing against Greece.

Conclusions

The win was solid and well-deserving, but the play was not what one would consider brilliant. Essentially, Korea took advantage of two Greek defensive errors while Greece could not capitalize on two Korean errors. Defensive transitions remain a major concern, as well as set pieces.

Hong’s attempt at the 3-5-2/3-4-3 in the first half was interesting, but the team is not familiar with the system. All four defenders play in four-man back lines with their clubs. Additionally, the three central midfielders are not used to the additional defensive responsibilities that come with the three-man defense, Ki Sung-Yueng in particular did not track back enough for the system to work. The attempt though, raises one other question, which is why Park Joo-Ho did not play. Park is more naturally a wingback, rather than a fullback, and he seems an ideal fit for the formation. I would be surprised to see Hong bring this formation back for the World Cup, and expect he will return to a more conservative formation in the future.

After a closer, and repeated, viewings of the match, I would say that Korea has generally speaking, returned to 2010 levels. They are capable of beating slower teams, can compete against average teams, but will get overrun by faster/more efficient sides. In essence, Korea should beat Algeria, compete with Russia, and get beaten by Belgium (nothing surprising there). Hong’s task over the coming months will be to figure out how to get the most of his attacking trio/quartet without sacrificing solidarity at the back. Which takes us to my next post: Should Korea be a proactive or reactive side?

About Jae Chee 312 Articles

A football fan with who got bit by the writing bug.

10 Comments

  1. Park Joo Ho would be perfect as our wingback. He goes and is good at supporting the final third and also isn’t very weak defensively either. He is also one of the best LB’s currently at Mainz in the Bundesliga. PJH should be given first team opportunities.

    • Only problem is there’s only one match before the cut (and it’s literally a couple days before it). At 27 this summer is his best chance at going to a World Cup as he’d be 31 when Russia rolls around.

      • As you were breaking down Kim Jinsu, I was arriving at the same question you ended with. If he’s being asked to move up more, why wouldn’t Hong try Jooho, who is more attacking as you stated, but is also more talented in general? Seems curious.

        • I suspect, although am not sure, that Hong is keeping an eye on the long-term. Park JH seems like a player in form at the moment, but beyond the World Cup I don’t think he’ll figure much in the senior side (despite only being 27). I think Hong is trying to build a side that is going to play together for years and years, and he doesn’t see Park JH in it.

  2. Loved this piece, it just worries me when a defensively minded team such as Greece had more set chances than we did :/

    • Granted I didn’t go over every chance as it would have taken far too long. Greece, while happy to defend, is more attacking than they used to be. But it is worrying that Korea tends to have a lot of ‘sterile possession’.

  3. Awesome analysis. I completely agree with everything you said. My biggest worry is the midfield defense in front of the back 4. I love Han KY’s tenacity and tackling ability but he really lacks positional sense. Ki simply doesn’t provide much defensive production. Even though he’s the first guy on the Sunderland team sheet these days even Poyet said he’s ill-suited to protect the back 4.

    I’m really excited for the post on whether we should be a reactive or proactive side. I feel like we’re one of those odd teams caught in the middle.

    • Thanks. Hopefully the proactive/reactive post will be up some time next week. Got busy all of a sudden and writing long, in-depth pieces have been put on hold. Yes, Han is a very aggressive defender, but he does leave others exposed as he roams.

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