So, there actually isn’t much in the way of a tactical analysis for this game because, well, the tactics were pretty simple and straightforward. But, we’ll try to discuss the points I raised in Jinseok’s preview, as well as a few other things relating to key players.
First let’s address any lingering confusion about Korea’s starting XI. Was it a 4-4-2 as FIFA’s official teamsheet showed? Well, yes and no. Defensively, Korea certainly did use a 4-4-2, which is normal. Offensively, it was a bit of a flexible 4-4-2/4-2-3-1. Koo Ja-Cheol, and to a lesser extent Son Heung-Min, had a flexible role where they could drift and switch places. It certainly wasn’t unusual to see Koo moving higher next to Park Chu-Young, or switching places with Son coming more central.
Here you can see the rough view of the 4-2-3-1 formation Korea used when attacking. As I’ve said before, starting formations are a little overstated as in modern football as many positions are flexible. It was fairly normal for the front four to rotate and switch spots (particularly Son Heung-Min and Koo Ja-Cheol).
Stronger on Defense, Weaker on Offense?
The above image highlights (in a nutshell) an occasional problem that the team has had offensively (particularly with the current versions of Ki Sung-Yueng and Koo Ja-Cheol). Koo Ja-Cheol has moved higher up, while Ki Sung-Yueng has stayed deeper. As such, there is a significant sized gap between the attacking four and the deeper midfielders/defense. We’ll take a closer look at Korea’s attack in a moment, but this one image shows the problem fairly well. The attack is isolated and spread out, with little support.
One thing that hampered Korea’s attacking prowess was the fullbacks playing deeper than usual. Lee Yong normally plays deeper, but (according to Squawka) he spent about 55% of the game playing in Korea’s half. Yoon Suk-Young, capable of powerful, surging runs, spent even more time in Korea’s half, almost 70%.
Why did both spend so much time in Korea’s half (overall possession was split 50-50)? The logical answer is that they were both instructed to stay a little deeper to shore up the defense. Prevent Russia from using the wings and allow the centerbacks to stay central.
The side effect of that, offensively, is that both Lee Chung-Yong and Son Heung-Min were both fairly isolated on their sides. It was fine when Korea had a few rare chances to break into space, but often moves broke down in the face of superior Russian numbers.
Han Kook-Young’s and Ki Sung-Yueng’s Relative Positioning
I’m awaiting a response from Squawka if I can use their graphics on our site, but you can head there to check it out with your own eyes. Between the two, Han Kook-Young was the one who played higher up the pitch for most of the game rather than Ki Sung-Yueng. Ki did make a few rare runs forward which was good to see, but overall it wasn’t frequent enough to really threaten Russia on a consistent basis. We’ve discussed before how Han’s technical level isn’t sufficient for him to really add anything to the attack.
Hong Jeong-Ho and Kim Young-Gwon
The two centerbacks had much better games compared to the friendlies. Coincidence the Russian goal came right after Hong came out? Maybe, maybe not. But, the two looked much more assured and there really wasn’t that one facepalm worthy moment for them. I suspect that this is more due to the fact that Russia lacked attackers with pace and technical ability who could put them under a lot of pressure.
Korea’s Defensive Transitions
Korea was much better in their transitions and largely was able to control any Russian counters. The major difference was that the fullbacks stayed deeper and they didn’t press as high or aggressively when Russia won the ball.
Russia’s defense was somewhat interesting to watch as it shifted as the opposition, Korea in this case, got closer to the Russian goal. When Korea started with the ball deep in their own half, Russia defended in a 4-3-3. As Korea moved up their half, Russia shifted into a 4-4-2. When Korea was around the halfway line, Russia’s defense dropped into a 4-5-1. Finally, when Korea penetrated Russia’s third of the pitch it they shifted into a 5-4-1.
The above sequence of diagrams and one image shows roughly how Russia shifted defensively. The final image, Russia’s 5-4-1 should look familiar to Korean fans. It’s essentially the same defensive shape that Tunisia (see below) successfully used to frustrate Korea back in Seoul a few weeks ago.
Russia’s shifting defense was an interesting strategy, and one that, with a little hindsight made a lot of sense. Korea does like to build from the back, either through the centerbacks or Ki Sung-Yueng dropping deep to pick up the ball and initiate. By keeping their three forwards higher up initially, it allowed Russia to press the backline enough that Korea wasn’t able to use their normal tempo and style, and instead had to play more speculative long passes. It also, on occasion, allowed Russia to win the ball back in the Korean half, when Korea opted to try and play medium-range passes.As you can see in the above image, two of Russia’s three midfielders are man-marking Han Kook-Young and Ki Sung-Yueng. The third midfielder (bottom left) is free to press either Kim Young-Gwon or Yoon Suk-Young if the pass goes to them. Russia’s left forward is man-marking Lee Chung-Yong. The center forward is pressing the ball carrier (Lee Yong). The right forward is marking Hong Jeong-Ho, but could sprint and cover Jung Sung-Ryong is the pass goes to him.
Improved Individual Performances
That Russia pressure in the Korean third is what made Ki Sung-Yueng an even more valuable player than he usually is. Of the three more central players, Ki is the only one really capable of using on the ball skill moves to keep possession from defenders. On several occasions he managed to skip away from a pressing Russian player to force Russia to drop deeper, and allow Korea a moment to organize and launch a more composed attack.
Beyond that Ki was back to his normal self. Constantly moving, helping to direct traffic and passes, making himself open for passes, and just generally spreading the play. I haven’t figured out if I can embed them into this post directly, but you can head here (to FourFourTwo’s Stats Zone), and see all of Ki’s passing and other statistical events.
Han was also a valuable player in this match. He made five successful tackles, which was the most of any player on the pitch. Han also made five clearances and an interception. Unfortunately, because Korea is not a high demand team I can’t compare Han’s positioning (with graphics) to this one, but it certainly felt like Han was more disciplined in his positioning this time. There didn’t seem to be those moments when Han was scrambling after the ball and forcing others to cover for him.
The captain put in an improved performance, and was very active around the pitch. That being said, I still have concerns about how his overall game fits within the team. Essentially Koo turns the team into a 4-4-2 formation as he offers little in the way of link up play.
Hong stuck with his man (as expected) and Park looked better than he had against Tunisia and Ghana. Park did offer a few good flicks and passes, but he struggled to find attacking space for himself. You could make an argument that Koo and Park essentially switched roles (Park as the 10, Koo as the 9), but the reality is that really they both acted more as a 10, and the formation was ‘striker-less’ for long stretches.
There wasn’t much to really say about this game. Korea sacrificed some attacking impetus to shore up the defense and the draw was largely a fair result. Hong Myeong-Bo showed he was able to get the team more organized defensively, but not that he could balance that with sustained attacking pressure or an attacking system that could reliably create attacking chances.