Jeremy is still working on the match report, so I thought I’d just stick this up there while people are waiting. Don’t forget to check out Jinseok’s player ratings too.
A disappointing result, but some promising moments particularly in the first half. And for the first time, it felt like we saw a few changes, albeit small ones, in how Stielike wants the team to play. Like the Jordan game, this analysis will mainly be limited to the first half as I feel that half was really what Stielike has been working with the team on.
For this one, Stielike changed almost every player from the Jordan friendly on Friday. Only Park Joo-ho (and he changed positions) started both matches.
On paper, it was Korea’s normal 4-2-3-1 with Lee Keun-ho leading the attack, a trident of attackers in Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol, and Lee Chung-yong operating just behind, Park Joo-ho and Ki Sung-yueng in midfield, and a back four of Yoon Suk-young, Jang Hyun-soo, Kwak Tae-hwi, and Kim Chang-soo. Kim Jin-hyeon got the (slightly) surprise start in goal.
If it was 4-2-3-1 on paper, it was rarely that on the field. Korea was clearly looking for midfield superiority in numbers when they had the ball. Son Heung-min and Lee Chung-yong were notably pinching in towards the middle to make a five-man central midfield structure with Yoon Suk-young and Kim Chang-soo pushing up to give the team width. Son and Koo also took turns pushing higher to help support Lee Keun-ho.
This change in positioning also affected the way Korea attacked. Traditionally, or at least over the last couple years, Korea has been very wing-oriented in their attacks. Using the wide midfielders and fullbacks to combine and move the ball up the field. Against Iran, Korea seemed to be much more focused on attacking through the center of the pitch with balls into the feet of the attacking three.
Unfortunately for Korea, Iran (as most teams do) set up to deny this attacking strategy. They dropped into a rough 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation with their midfield four forming a very horizontally compact unit to deny the passes into the Korean attackers. Korea’s better moves generally came from when (primarily) Lee Chung-yong went slightly wider to avoid the Iran midfield, and then combined with the fullback (usually Yoon Suk-young) to beat the isolated Iranian fullback.
Like the Jordan game, Iran was content to sit deeper, soak up the Korea pressure, and then counter. A traditionally winning formula against Korea, so perfectly understandable. But, it’s frustrating from an analytic perspective because it feels like we’re yet to see the defensive system Stielike wants to use.
I still feel like Korea’s defensive system is not entirely clear, both to observers and the players. When do they press, when do they stand off? Who sets the height of the line? How do they cover for each other when someone does go to challenge the attacker? Things like that. I did however, notice one defensive strategy that Korea employed. That was to shield the Iranian midfield and cut off the easy passes into feet from the Iranian backline. The tactic is obviously designed to force Iran into playing long down the field, and it was largely successful.
Controversial? A bit. But some of the reaction (both on the pitch and on the internet) seemed a bit over the top. To be honest my initial reaction was that it’s the kind of incident that the referee usually blows the whistle for, but then fans complain how all the contact/physicality is being taken out of the game. Or to paraphrase Ernesto Valverde (Athletic Club Bilbao manager), ‘if it’s against my team it’s a foul, if it’s against their team it’s not a foul’.
I suspect that many are dead certain it’s a foul because of an often said ‘rule’ of the game. That being that any contact with the goalkeeper inside the goal box is a foul. Perhaps I missed it, but having spent a good 30 odd minutes perusing the official FIFA Laws of the Game manual this morning, and I failed to find this rule in it.So, if you accept the idea that contact with the keeper can happen, the challenge becomes a 50-50 one in the eyes of the ref.
That being said, let’s take a look at it in images.
Using slow-motion replays and screenshots, we can easily see that Kim Jin-hyeon got to the ball fractionally before Azmoun did. In hindsight, we can definitively say it was a foul (update: 3 Korean international qualified officials commented that the call was correct because Kim JH did not have full control of the ball when the contact occurred), but in the moment it’s not so easy, and as is often said when these types of incidents occur, the officials don’t have the benefit of technology. But, perhaps the debate on this incident is a bit moot because in the build up just before the free kick, this happened . . .
- Lee Keun-ho: Was given a starting nod ahead of Park Chu-young and largely failed to capitalize on his chance. Although I feel that the type of game didn’t really fit his playing profile. Lee is adequate in terms of his technical ability, but if we’re honest it’s his workrate that gets him time on the pitch. Lee KH can be a useful player, but only if used in a specific set of circumstances. To me, Lee KH is someone who can be used wide when you need someone who can help attack and defend or as a center forward when Korea will be playing more on the break. Lee KH is decent at shielding the ball and holding up play, and his workrate allows him to run the channels and stretch defenses.
- Koo Ja-cheol: Returned to the starting XI and delivered a mixed performance. In some ways it was similar to Park Chu-young’s performance against Jordan. He had his moments where he did some nice combos, worked hard, but ultimately was disappointing. His attempted outside of the boot pass to Son Heung-min on the break was particularly poor.
- Ki Sung-yueng: Put in his usual shift. My lingering ‘dislike’ if you will, with Ki is that he tends to operate on one speed. Which broadly speaking is slower, more patient, and safe. Granted this was a friendly and it’s probably not wise to go ‘balls to the wall’ when your team is shaky defensively, but when Korea went down a goal late, there really wasn’t any reaction other than to get squabbly with the Iranians. Because Ki is the hub which everything runs through, I feel that he’s the one that needs to up the tempo and get the team moving at a faster click.
- Kwak Tae-hwi: Speaking of getting squabbly with the Iranians. Kwak was decent although he didn’t have to deal with much. If he can keep healthy he’s probably a useful player to have around to help the younger center backs and provide that ‘veteran’ presence in the squad. I didn’t really have any issues with his squabble, but will agree it was probably over the top. Korea fully expected Iran to waste time (Koo JC mentioned it very specifically in an interview he gave before the match), and so when it happened they probably had an ‘again?’ feeling of annoyance (plus they were suddenly losing). It’s a rivalry, what’d you expect?
- Jang Hyun-soo: Finally! Jang has returned to center back! And the youngster (is he still considered a youngster?) did fairly well. At least there wasn’t a brain fart moment like Kim Young-gwon or a ball-watching moment like Hong Jeong-ho. This game probably gave him a one-up on his 선배’s, but one game does not make a career. Hopefully Jang will continue to get chances to show his worth and hopefully he continues to take them.
- Yoon Suk-young: A mixed outing for the QPR man. Flashed some nice attacking skill, but was then generally wasteful with the ball after that. Misplaced a couple simple passes as well that went unpunished (thankfully). Still feels like ‘one for the future’.
- Park Joo-ho: Did okay in center midfield, and while this comparison may not actually hold up, he strikes me as a slightly upgraded version of Lee Yong-rae.
The “Azadi Jinx” continues. I believe there will be a Hangout later this week with some Tavern folks (not me) to talk about the games against Jordan and Iran, so make sure to look for that. I’ll be posting my own thoughts about the immediate future (Asian Cup) in the coming weeks.