Well that was bad, now what? (part 2)

Yes, Korea won. Yes, they helped ease fears of not qualifying for Brazil (for a little while at least). Yes, Son Heung-Min scored. But anyone who watched the game knows, that the team played quite badly. Questions that were raised following the crushing loss to Croatia have certainly not been answered. In part 1 we looked at the style of play Korea should use. Now that we have a style of play, let’s look for a formation to use. Should it be the 4-2-3-1 that is in vogue? The standard 4-4-2? The resurgent 3-5-2? Some variant like a 4-1-4-1? Maybe a  4-3-3? Let’s look!

Against Qatar Korea played a 4-2-3-1 and later, a 4-4-2. The 4-2-3-1 was largely ineffective, and the 4-4-2 was more effective. But, remember we (or rather I) decided that a more direct, but balanced style of play would make the most of our players, rather then the mix-mash of stuff that Choi Kang-Hee is currently directing.


The 3-5-2 was discussed at length in another post. So,  I won’t repeat all of the pros and cons of it. While I still think that Korea could implement some form of it, and have decent success, I think it would be too limited against stronger teams, and too easy to defend against.

I do think that some form of it could be useful against smaller teams, like Qatar and Lebanon. Where we should be pressing the attack more, and four defenders at the back are a bit much (even though our defense is . . . less then ironclad). So I’d file this formation under maybe, at times.


The good ol’ 4-4-2. Largely regarded as being too simple and too weak in the midfield. That combined with the seemingly complete disappearance of the traditional wide midfielder have seem the 4-4-2 almost disappear from the world stage. Yet, Korea used it with some success against Qatar. The traditional strengths of the 4-4-2 are well documented. Getting most of your players in zones where the ball is most likely to be. Your forward isn’t isolated against the defense. Wide midfielders on both sides to stretch the play. Central midfielders who can help attack and defend. Fullbacks to support the attack and defense. And two centerbacks to clean stuff up. Manchester United in the late ’90’s would seem to be the epitome of a good 4-4-2. A good strike partnership of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. Two world-class midfielders in Ryan Giggs and David Beckham. A great central midfield combo of the more attack-minded Paul Scholes, and defensive Roy Keane. Quality fullbacks in Denis Irwin and Gary Neville. And two good centerbacks.

Of course, just as well documented as the 4-4-2’s strengths are the 4-4-2’s weaknesses. Mainly in midfield. The beginning of the end of the 4-4-2 seemed to come when Jose Mourinho went to Chelsea and brought his 4-3-3. Chelsea’s powerful three-man midfield, particularly the Makelele, Essien, Lampard trio, completely overpowered the majority two-man midfields being used in the Premier League, including United’s aforementioned Keane-Scholes combo. Since then, the idea to “pack the midfield” has taken hold of the world’s game. And because it has, the 4-4-2 is not a highly feasible option.

Beyond that, I have difficulty in seeing how we could fit our players into such a system. We have enough trouble fielding one quality striker, let alone two. We still lack a proven defensive midfielder to help hold on. Fullback is still a question mark as well. A true left-sided midfielder is also missing. I think that any attempts to line up in a 4-4-2 would ultimately see the formation naturally warp into something else, and so it’s just not worth doing.


This formation is of course, a variation on the 4-4-2, with a bit more midfield control and defensive stability. It’s been a popular formation for Choi Kang-Hee as of late, using it against Iran, Australia, and Croatia (although it should be noted that Korea lost all three of those matches). The 4-1-4-1 seeks, in my view, to keep some of the positives from the 4-4-2, namely the ability to spread play wide, and have a normal back four, and compensate for the recent surge in three-man midfields. The trade off is that the the second forward is sacrificed for a defensive midfielder. In theory this formation can be a more offensive formation, if you assume that the holding midfielder will sit in the normal central midfield spot, and the other central midfielders push higher (into a more 10 position).

Korea’s failings with this system are similar to the failings of the 4-4-2. Namely, we lack quality fullbacks, a true left midfielder, and a quality lone striker. Another concern about this formation is the three central midfielders. While Park Jong-Woo and Han Kook-Young are certainly promising players, they are not proven on the international level. Plus the combination of Ki Sung-Yueng and Koo Ja-Cheol seems to have hit a snag in that Choi Kang-Hee doesn’t really seem to know how use to them anymore. Both players have grown from being role-specific players, Ki as a deep-lying playmaker and Koo as an attack midfielder, into more well-rounded players. Ki has shown he is capable of playing higher up and providing good through balls. Koo has shown he can drop deeper to help control the tempo and play. But the result is that neither has really managed to exert their normal influence in the game. Roles seem confused, and nothing really happens. Both had a very quiet game against Qatar. Ultimately, while the 4-1-4-1 could be useful, I think there are other formations that are better.


This is a formation that is endorsed by fellow Tavern writer Jinseok. This is a formation, that isn’t that popular in the world, save for one team. Barcelona. The 4-3-3 used to be a very popular formation, but with a couple tweeks it has been adjusted to be a different formation (to be discussed later). The 4-3-3 is based around a strong three-man midfield, one quality lone striker, and two wingers. The type of players you use in these positions can vary quite a bit, so let’s look at two examples. Barcelona and Chelsea circa 2006.

Barcelona is of course, a highly popular model to cite, and with good reason. Barcelona puts players with high-technical ability in every position. The three central midfielders are all good passers: Busquets, Xavi, and Iniesta. The lone forward is Leo Messi. The wingers are the interesting point for Barcelona. At their best it’s usually David Villa and Pedro (but Alexis Sanchez, Christian Tello, and Iniesta are also used there). Barcelona’s playing style and use of their midfield, are no secret. The idea is ball circulation, short passes, triangles, and blah blah blah. Messi is not your traditional lone forward, but his incredible ability allows to be successful (to put it mildly). Besides from being a brutally efficient number 9, he also possesses tremendous vision and passing ability. Pedro is a fairly normal right winger. Pacey, decent crosser of the ball, able to get in good attacking positions. David Villa on the other hand, is a converted forward. At first he was a very good center forward, but with Messi in that position, Villa has pushed out wide. He has since adjusted well to being a wide forward who makes smart runs into the space Messi leaves when he drops to pick up the ball.

On the other hand is the old Chelsea team. The team, that under Jose Mourinho, became a powerful and ruthless force that, for a few years, dominated the Premier League. While Barcelona based their side around fluid passing and possession, Chelsea was about power. Their central midfield three consisted of Claude Makelele, Michael Essien, and Frank Lampard. The lone striker was Didier Drogba. The wingers were Arjen Robben and either Joe Cole or Damian Duff. The basic idea of play is very different to Barcelona’s. It’s based on strong defense and smart, ruthless counterattacks.

Between the two, the Barcelona model is more something that Korea can do as we currently lack players who have the physical power and speed that Chelsea had. Implementing a midfield in the mold of Lampard, Essien, and Makelele is a bit out there. But, it could happen. The closest three that I see are Koo Ja-Cheol (Lampard), Park Jong-Woo (Essien), and Han Kook-Young (Makelele). Yet doing so would require the sacrifice of Ki Sung-Yueng who doesn’t really fit in the Chelsea model. The Barca model, better passing players, is a bit more feasible, but still offers problems. Mainly a smart defensive midfielder to play the Busquets role, and a forward to play in a lone striking role. Yet it’s a formation that would allow us to field our three most influential players in Koo Ja-Cheol, Ki Sung-Yueng, and Lee Chung-Yong. I’m not 100% convinced that we could really pull this formation off in big matches due to the fact that our midfield trio isn’t as accomplished or technically efficient as their Spanish counterparts and our lack of a lone striker. But, I would file this one under maybe.


Here we come to the most popular formation in the world, and one that Korea has used quite frequently. It is essentially a combination of the 4-3-3 and the 4-4-1-1. Basically it acts more like a 4-3-3 in attack and the 4-4-1-1 in defense. I won’t prolong the tension. This is the formation I would stick with. Why? Simply due to it’s natural tactical flexibility. It can be a formation to crowd the midfield. It can be a very offensive formation. It can be a very defensive formation. You can play it with many skilled offensive players. You can play it with many skilled defensive players. Basically, it offers a bit of everything. Granted this can be a bit of a double-edged sword, as it can confuse player instructions if not done clearly (which I believe is the current problem with Choi Kang-Hee). But, here’s how I would use it.

While I will withhold the details, in terms of player selection and tactics, for the next piece (watch for it next week), I will provide an overview here. I select this formation for Korea mainly because of our defensive weaknesses. Our centerbacks are either aging (Kwak Tae-Hwi, Lee Jung-Soo) or unproven (Jung In-Hwan, Kim Ki-Hee, Jang Hyun-Soo). Our fullbacks are also unproven at the international level (Yoon Suk-Young, Park Joo-Ho). So, it seems natural to want to help shore up this area with defensive midfielders, and the 4-2-3-1 allows for two of them. The 4-2-3-1 also allows for these two DMs without sacrificing a ton of attacking potential in the form of the attacking midfielder and wingers. Also, in this day and age, when possession and control of the midfield is crucial, having three central midfielders will help prevent the team from being completely overwhelmed. Which is why the 4-4-2 is not a good option long term. In short, the 4-2-3-1 offers Korea the best chance to maximize our strengths, a strong midfield, and minimize our weaknesses, weak defense and thin at forward.

So, we have a style and formation. A bit more direct, but with some short passes mixed in, and in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The last part of this series will look at the players to start in this formation and the more specific directions and roles each player will have.

As always let us know what you think! Is the 4-2-3-1 formation a good choice? Is there a better formation for Korea to use? Share in the comments.

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