Tactics Talk: South Korea vs Tunisia (Part 2)

Here, we’ll take a look at the defensive shapes of both sides. First, we’ll see how Tunisia’s defensive formation prevented Korea from creating any quality attacks. Second, we’ll look at Korea’s one open play chance. Finally, we’ll take a look at Korea’s defensive shape. If you missed it, you can read part 1 here.

Korea’s Build Up Play/Tunisia’s Defensive Shape

korea build up 1

In the pre-image stuff, Ki Sung-Yueng has intercepted the ball from a Tunisia pass in the Korea half, and he has passed it back to Kim Young-Gwon. Both teams are in the process of transitioning into their positions. It’s important to note that, even though they lost the ball just seconds before, Tunisia is already in their basic defensive shape. The back line is intact (two defenders are off screen) as are the midfield and forward lines. To paraphrase Jamie Carragher (never thought I’d do that), you can’t be counterattacked when you play direct. Tunisia has their whole team behind the ball, so Korea must be more patient with their build up.

The yellow arrow shows where the pass goes. It’s the obvious, and correct choice, to play it to Yoon Suk-Young who has acres of space on the left. The only other possible option would be over to Lee Yong on the right. If you remember from part 1, this is exactly what Tunisia wanted. For Korea to have the ball on the flanks, but it non-dangerous positions. Kim Young-Gwon could have tried a more ambitious ball, over the top to Park Chu-Young or hard and into the feet of Son Heung-Min, but both of those have little chance of succeeding.

 korea build up 2In this next image, we can see that Tunisia has reset to their base defensive scheme, a 5-4-1 with a diamond midfield. If you see the video, Yoon Suk-Young is looking downfield, but he has no options. Park Chu-Young (far right of the image) is closely marked by two players. Their is one player deeper than him to prevent passes over the top, and another behind him to cover. Similarly Koo Ja-Cheol isn’t available either. The Tunisia right midfielder is preventing a simple pass into feet, and there are four other players who could challenge/pressure Koo if a pass did come in.

The red circle is the danger area for Korea, but as seen, there is no one there to exploit that space down the flank. The player responsible for this is Son Heung-Min, who has instead dropped slightly deeper to make himself available. If you contrast image 1 with image 2, you can see that Son has gone from being just inside the Tunisia half (a couple yards in front of the Tunisia defense) to being a few yards inside the Korea half. By dropping deeper, Son made the pass easier, but the next move harder. Had he gone with the ‘flow’ of the move, staying along the retreating Tunisia defenders, he would have been in good position to exploit the space down the line. And knowing Son’s pace that’s a race he probably would have won.

korea build up 3But Son did come deep, and he essentially finds himself in the exact position that Yoon Suk-Young was in. There are no real good passing options. Lee Chung-Yong (bottom-right) has a defender right behind him, as does Park Chu-Young.  Yoon Suk-Young has a midfielder close to him, and the down the line pass is no longer available as Yoon would have to make up nearly 10 yards on the defender (he’s also stopped running). Ki Sung-Yueng isn’t available either as the midfield diamond is right behind him. Koo is still trapped between four Tunisia players. The Tunisia forward’s cover shadow is preventing a pass to Han Kook-Young. So, as the yellow arrow indicates, Son’s move to is play a curled pass around the forward into the feet of Hong Jeong-Ho.

Here we can see one of the persistent problems that Korea has, movement off the ball. The players are largely static making it exponentially harder for the player with the ball to make an attacking pass. There is perhaps a ball over the top to Park Chu-Young as there is space between the centerbacks for him to make a run, plus the space on the left. But, Park hasn’t given any indication he’ll make that run, and Son has turned his back.

korea build up 4Another pass, same problems. There are no options for Hong Jeong-Ho. Yoon Suk-Young, Ki Sung-Yueng, Son Heung-Min, and Koo Ja-Cheol are blocked off by the midfield diamond. Park Chu-Young is still isolated and marked by the backline. Lee Yong has made a forward run, but he is marked by the opposition left back. Lee Chung-Yong has dropped deep to receive a pass, but the left midfielder is ready to apply pressure to prevent Lee from turning.

korea build up 5More of the same really. There aren’t too many options for Lee Chung-Yong. Lee Yong (bottom right) could be available, but he would immediately be under pressure. There is some space in front of Park Chu-Young, but he too would be under pressure. Lee opts to pass to Han Kook-Young who makes a forward run into what looks like space.

korea build up 6 At this moment (six moves in) there is a half chance for Korea to possibly create something. Han Kook-Young has a bit more time as the Tunisia midfield doesn’t press him hard from all sides, and the midfield diamond has flattened out. This has left Yoon Suk-Young, Koo Ja-Cheol, and Park Chu-Young in space between the lines. Yoon Suk-Young has the most space, but as mentioned in part 1, Han Kook-Young lacks the passing range to reach him (accurately). Koo Ja-Cheol is an option, but Han’s pass would need to be right on the money, splitting the midfield line and hitting Koo in stride so he can use his momentum to go past the defense which is moving forward. However, Han picks the easiest pass, which is a short pass straight forward to Park Chu-Young. Park possibly could have continued to push Tunisia back, but he takes a touch backwards (towards the Korea half) instead of letting the ball run and then turn (or turning while controlling the ball). The latter option was a possibility as the defense had stood off him.

korea build up 7Park Chu-Young’s positioning has taken away all forward options. Two defenders are closing in on him, and he needs to do something immediate. He could pass to Lee Yong (bottom left) or Ki Sung-Yueng (far left), but opts to pass to Kim Young-Gwon (off screen).

korea build up 9So, we’re almost back to square one. Kim Young-Gwon once again has the ball in Korea’s half and he’s looking for options. Kim has a few options, but once again they are all in “safe areas”. Han Kook-Young is to Kim’s right, but Han isn’t a great attacking option. Yoon Suk-Young is on the touchline (top), and Son Heung-Min is also available. Kim opts to play the ball to Son Heung-Min.

korea build up 10Son Heung-Min picks up the ball and starts to run at the defense. A good choice since there are few passing options available, and Son has space because of the midfield diamond. Yoon Suk-Young on the left is probably the only one, but the right back is close enough that it would be a slightly risky pass. Koo Ja-Cheol is unavailable as three defenders could easily crowd him out as soon as the ball arrives.

korea build up 11But, the midfield line catches up to him, and he’s forced to stop. And here, we possibly see the one flaw in Son Heung-Min the winger, a lack of tricks/skill moves to beat a defender one-on-one (other than pure pace). Son has no passing options available to him. Koo Ja-cheol is in-between two players, Yoon Suk-Young is marked by the right back, Park Chu-Young is between two defenders. The midfielder facing up Son is also well positioned to deny any pass between the lines (for Koo) and long (to Lee Chung-Yong). Son’s only option is to retreat. He dribbles backwards, until he’s faced with the midfielder at the top of the diamond, at which point he passes to Han Kook-Young.

korea build up 12As soon as Han Kook-Young receives the ball, he is put under pressure (and we’ve already mentioned his lack of technical ability several times). Han beats a hasty retreat (the orange dotted line). Similar to earlier moments in this move, the fact that Han is going backwards prevents him from seeing any possibly forward passing options (not that there are any). The only ones available to him is a long sideways pass to Lee Yong (although there is a small risk of interception), and shorter option to Lee Chung-Yong who is coming back. Han takes the latter.

korea build up 13Since he’s coming back, Lee Chung-Yong opts to play the first time pass back to Hong Jeong-Ho. A reasonable thing, as Hong can see the whole field and [knows] that he is not under any pressure. The orange solid line illustrates the pass, while the orange dotted line shows Lee’s run after the pass. The only option Hong has is to pass it to his defensive partner, Kim Young-Gwon (top left) as the rest of the midfield and forwards are to closely marked.

korea build up 14So, we come to the final part of this move for Korea. After a quick succession of first time passes between Kim Young-Gwon and Yoon Suk-Young, Kim finally decides to push it a bit and launches a long pass over the top for Son Heung-Min. The reason is that once again, there are no other players available for a pass. However, Son is too far away from the backline and Kim’s pass is easily intercepted by the Tunisia defense.

Korea’s Open Chance Play

Contrast the previous sequence with the next few images, which show Korea’s one good open play chance from Koo Ja-Cheol. *Note – apologies for the poor quality*

korea chance 1aAs the move starts, we see familiar things. Tunisia is in their usual defensive shape, five across the back, four in midfield in a diamond shape. Korea advances the ball through Lee Yong, down the right flank. This is similar to the previous sequence when Yoon Suk-Young tried to do something similar. The biggest difference is how far they get into the Tunisia half. Yoon was challenged at the halfway line, Lee gets about halfway into Tunisia’s half.

korea chance 1bThis is the key image for Korea’s chance. Tunisia’s defensive shape is recognizable, but the diamond is incredibly stretched. This has left a huge space in the middle for Koo Ja-Cheol to exploit. Lee Yong slips the pass to him (through the diamond) and Koo has space in front of him, and no pressure from the midfielders.

The key difference between this image and those of the relative positioning of the midfield diamond and the back line. In Korea’s failed attacks, the diamond stayed compact, preventing anything from coming into the middle, while the back line stretched from side-to-side to deal with the fullbacks.  Here, not only has the left side of the diamond stretched, crucially the bottom has stretched as well, leaving the middle open.

korea chance 2The final image simply rounds out the move. The deep midfielder cannot recover in time to prevent the shot, and the keeper does well to get fingertips to Koo’s shot and turn it around the post.

Tunisia’s Build Up/Korea’s Defensive Shape

korea defense 1So, here Tunisia begins an attack. When Tunisia had a spell of possession they generally looked to play in a manner similar to Korea – use the flanks to advance the ball and then cross into the middle. The major difference was that while Korea was very patient in their build up, Tunisia was much more direct.

In image 1, Tunisia’s first pass is to switch the play from left to right. Korea has shifted strongly to the left, leaving the right open. Hong Myeong-Bo typically sets his team up in a flat 4-4-2 shape when defending. In image 1 you can see the rough shape. Koo Ja-Cheol has moved even with Park Chu-Young, and Son Heung-Min (bottom left) and Lee Chung-Yong (middle) have dropped even with Ki Sung-Yueng and Han Kook-Young.

korea defense 2Image 2 starts to reveal some of the problems Korea has defensively. Lee Chung-Yong (top-middle) has moved out to challenge for the ball, but no one else has gone with him. The midfield defensive line is, essentially, broken. Additionally, significant spaces have opened up between the lines, between both the defense and midfield lines, and the midfield and forward lines.korea defense 3Again we see some questionable defensive positioning in image 3 (the question mark at the bottom is a Tunisia player). Lee Chung-Yong is still not (obviously) connected to either the midfield or forward defensive line. The midfield and defensive lines are closer together, closing the space there, but a large space is open between the midfield and forward lines.

korea defense 4We fast-forward a bit (couple passes along the Tunisia back line) to the main thrust of Korea’s defending. A direct pass on the ground has come in, from the defense to the midfield. That space between Korea’s lines is the culprit. Han Kook-Young was not in a position to deny the pass, and Hong Jeong-Ho has stepped up to challenge from behind. That has left a significant hole in the defensive line. Lee Yong has moved in a bit to compensate, but that leads to the next problem.

korea defense 5 korea defense 5b

Two images show the final problem from different angles. Lee Yong pinching in earlier has allowed the wide runner space down the side. It also highlights a potential problem with using Son Heung-Min as a defensive player. While Son’s workrate is solid and he’s more than willing to do it, he’s not great defensively, and his inability to adjust to Hong’s move up/Lee’s move in and track the runner created a problem.

Again, the space between the lines is a problem. With the defensive line scrambling to get back to close the space between Jung Sung-Ryong and themselves, it’s opened up a bigger space between them and the midfield line. The pullback comes and the midfielder is in plenty of space.

korea defense 6Again, the final image rounds out the move. Korea is let off the hook by a poor touch/finish by Tunisia. The ball harmlessly bounces wide and out of play. But as the image shows, when the ball arrives there are no Korean players near him to pressure him. He also has an open view of the goal.


The most worrying thing about these images is that these are long existing problems, and they don’t seem to show any signs of improvements. The Tunisia move that resulted in a good chance for them is quite similar to the chance that Greece had back in the March friendly when they hit the bar. Indiscipline in defensive positioning and a failure for wide midfielders to track back. Perhaps it was a case of poor conditioning and lack of concentration, but Korea made a number of arrogant and naive mistakes.

While Tunisia was compact and organized in defense, Korea was open and loose. Similarly, Tunisia was smart when attacking as well. They moved the ball quickly to take advantage of Korea’s slow transitions, creating the better chances despite having significantly less of the ball. Korea didn’t do enough to cause Tunisia’s defense problems, seemingly content to have the ball where Tunisia wanted them to have the ball.

Korea will have to be smarter, and more humble, defensively against Ghana (as well as our World Cup opposition), and need to offer more variety in attack. At this point, all the opponents we face will be well versed in our players and tactics, and Hong will need to have a trick or two up his sleeve if he wants to get the necessary results.

About Jae Chee 310 Articles
A football fan with who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. I’m impressed. Thanks Jae. Bit concerning – but could be a positive. I think most of Korea thinks we will walk over Algeria. Assuming that Tunisia plays in a similar way to Algeria hopefully this is a good wake up call.

  2. This actually depresses me more than the game itself. I could write that off as a one-time fluke, but clearly, it’s something larger and systemic in the way Korea plays. I’m very pessimistic for Brazil.

  3. didn’t know where else I could post this.. but interesting that a couple of espn bloggers have korea’s uniform ranked #3. While it could be better, the design has been growing on me, since it looks better worn than on display. That said, when you do it relative to other uniforms, these writers are generally right and it looks like Nike have probably done the best job out of the other brands.


    to the tavern keepers, is there a place we could actually post things instead of on the comments section of an unrelated post? just wondering.

    • Currently no, there is no place to post things other than the comments. The Tavern is still just a simple blog for the most part. Behind the scene discussions have taken place though about possibly adding a simple forum-like section. Watch this space.

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