Our tactical look at Gyeongnam is on hold as manager Lee Cha-Man has resigned and we’ll wait to see how the team re-shapes, but let’s get something out shall we? So, in this installment of K League Tactics we look at giants Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Suwon is arguably the most popular team in the country (domestically speaking), and they have plenty of silverware in their cabinet. Four times domestic champions, three times cup winners, and twice Asian champions. The fanbase is large given the size of the city’s relatively modest size, and their hardcore fans show up for every home game regardless of the opponents. *Side note, my one trip to the Big Bird was for a KFA Cup match a couple years ago against Gangneung City, and the ultras were still out in numbers most clubs (in Korea) would be envious of* Yet, the last few seasons have been a struggle for the Bluewings as the team has struggled to assert any control on the league. A slowish start this year has given way to a surge that saw Suwon come close to the top of the table (although dented by last week’s 3-2 loss to Jeonbuk).
Name: Suwon Samsung Bluewings FC
Standing: 3rd (as of 8/16/14)
Goals scored/Goals conceded: 30/22
Manager: Seo Jung-Won
Suwon sets up in a pretty standard 4-2-3-1. But, like a lot of teams, it operates more as a loose 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 with a pretty big disconnect in the middle between the deeper two central midfielders and the attacking two. Seo Jung-Won has been flexible with who starts in his attacking four, with Jong Tae-Se, Roger, and Bae Ki-Jong all taking turns up top (Roger has been the preferred starter as of late). Similarly Go Cha-Won has seen significant playing time in the attacking midfield spots, but it seems like Santos, Yeom Ki-Hoon, and Seo Jung-Jin are the preferred three. Kim Du-Hyun and Kim Eun-Sun are the preferred deeper two, but Oh Jang-Eun has featured frequently as well. The defense is fairly set, but Min Sang-Gi has seen more time as of late (in place of Ferreira). Choi Jae-Soo has also slotted in at left back on a few occasions.
- Balance – Suwon has a nicely balanced squad this year. There are some veterans in the team in the form of Jung Sung-Ryong, Kim Du-Hyun, and Yeom Ki-Hoon to blend with the younger players like Seo Jung-Jin, Kim Eun-Sun (granted he’s 26 already), and Hong Chul.
- High overall quality – Looking at the team, it’s relatively high in quality – at least by K League standards. Stack their XI against any other team and you’d be hard pressed to find another one that’s better on paper.
- Young backline – In the listed defensive four in the graphic above, three of the four are 23. Cho Sung-Jin, Hong Chul, and Shin Se-Gye are 23, Min Sang-Gi who has also played lately is 22.
There’s nothing particularly special in Suwon’s build up play. The two wide midfielders will generally come inside to provide extra attacking threat. The fullbacks are expected to provide the width when the midfielders move in. The attacking midfielder, usually Santos, operates more as a deep forward and will drift around. One of the deeper midfielders, usually Kim Du-Hyun, will make attacking runs from deep. That being said, while Kim Du-Hyun is a technically good player, he is not a possession, ball-circulating, nor is his partner, often Kim Eun-Sun. As a result, Suwon can be a bit on the direct side and not the most fluid looking team when attacking. The two “Super Matches” between them and FC Seoul come to mind. Seoul effectively packed the middle forcing Suwon into hopeful long balls and crosses (things that Seoul easily defended).
Beating Suwon in 3 Steps
- Clog the middle – It’s defensive basics these days, but keeping the more dangerous attacking players quiet in the dangerous zones (between the lines and in the channels) does keep Suwon’s attack in check fairly well. Suwon’s four attackers are good players individually, but they aren’t the caliber that can single-handedly defeat opposition.
- Expose the defenders – Suwon’s defense is young and relatively inexperienced. Suwon has conceded 22 goals thus far, which puts them in the bottom half of the conceding table. The fullbacks certainly fall in the attack-minded category and so they’ll leave space to attack.
- Press the defenders/holding midfielders – A slightly risky strategy for some teams (who don’t know who/haven’t practiced pressing), but one that can be very effective against Suwon. As said before, Suwon doesn’t really play with possession players, so their natural tendency is to boot it upfield when under pressure. That being said, committing the necessary number of players to effectively press can leave you open at the back . . .
3 Things Not To Do Against Suwon
- Sit deep and concede space – Yes, teams should keep it compact in the middle, but it’s important not to become too passive defensively. Against most teams, Suwon can slowly force teams to defend too deep, allowing them chances to shoot from distance or increasing the chance of the defense making a mistake in a costly position.
- Over-commit on defense – By K League standards Suwon can be a frightening test. Big name team, good players, vocal support, and so on, and for smaller teams it may be tempting to set up shop and regularly (and quickly) get 10 men behind the ball. That strategy may be necessary at times throughout the game, but it can’t be your primary tactic. Suwon can be gotten, but opponents must actively look to expose their weaknesses.
- Let the midfield dictate play – Again, a pretty standard thing, but keeping Kim Du-Hyun and Kim Eun-Sun from dictating the play is important. Teams should actively work to keep the two deeper midfielders deep. Meaning, keep them around the halfway line or thereabouts. If they’re allowed to advance into the opposition third, then they do, particularly Kim Du-Hyun, have the ability to play a killer pass.
For national team fans, Suwon is in many ways similar to the Korean NT. And if you’re familiar with KNT strengths and weaknesses, you’re also familiar with Suwon’s. There are two basic strategies to defeating Suwon. Sit deep, stay compact, and counter with pace (see FC Seoul) or aggressively press them high up and expose the young defense (see Jeonbuk). Neither guarantees success of course, but they seem to be the most likely routes to success.
Will Suwon’s “long” suffering fans finally get what they crave? A league title this year? Unfortunately for them, probably not. The two team’s ahead of them – Jeonbuk and Pohang – are teams that can actively take advantage of Suwon’s weaknesses. That being said, they have the individual quality to keep them in the top three and the AFC Champions League places.