While Hong is unlikely to vary much from his much preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, I think it’d be interesting to propose a few different formational and style variations.
Hong supposedly “tried” this formation during the tour, but watching the team, it was Hong’s same ol’ same ol’. Which isn’t terribly surprising, as even the successful teams that use the 4-4-2 this year (Manchester City and Atletico Madrid) shift into something of a 4-2-3-1 when defending. The key would seem to be with the forwards and the nature of the central midfielders. One forward must drop deeper when the team is defending to help out the midfield, otherwise given modern footballing trends, the midfield is outnumbered 3v2. For Atleti that is often Diego Costa, and for City they tend to rotate. Diego Costa’s energy allows him to drop deep to harry the opposition and then burst forward to attack. City’s complement of strikers, Negredo, Aguero, and Dzeko, allow them to vary their style.
The midfields are probably more interesting, as City favors two powerful runners in Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, while Atletico tend to use more defensive players like Gabi and Mario Suarez (and sometimes Koke). The result is that City are incredibly good going forward, but can be exposed by top teams down the middle. Atletico are very strong defensively, but can get frustrated in attack.
Between the two, Korea would be better advised to go more of an Atletico Madrid route, one would think as we lack any player even remotely similar to Toure or Fernandinho. While it’s debatable, I would consider Atleti’s strongest XI to include a midfield of Arda Turan, Mario Suarez, Gabi, and Koke, and a front pairing of David Villa and Diego Costa. In this case Atleti almost become a 4-2-2-2, with Suarez and Gabi sitting deeper in front of the defense, Koke and Turan pinching in higher up to create, and Villa and Costa up top. Width comes from Atleti’s two excellent fullbacks Juanfran and Felipe Luis. When defending the fullbacks, Koke, Turan, and Costa will all drop a bit deeper to help out.
How would it work?
The formation would largely operate on the same principles as it does for Atletico. Ki Sung-Yueng and Han Kook-Young would operate as the two shields for the defense. The fullbacks, Lee Yong and Kim Jin-Su, would be required to provide width when attacking. Lee Chung-Yong and one of Koo Ja-Cheol or Kim Bo-Kyung would be the primary “creators” for the side. Both would be expected to cut inside (or stay wide) to create. Of the two forwards, Son Heung-Min would be the one expected to drop a bit deeper to help defend.
Pros: Allows Korea more attacking presence up top (Son/Park), simple shape and directions, fairly easy to execute the basics
Cons: Shackles playmaking abilities of Ki, heavy emphasis on fullbacks for width, unfamiliar style of play
The only team that I can think of that really uses the 4-1-4-1 effectively is Bayern Munich. But, boy, is it effective. Pep Guardiola has re-shifted Bayern a bit from last season, but it hasn’t affected the team much. Bayern, in some ways, is a little bit City, a little bit Atletico (as discussed in the last section). They have Atletico’s defensive stability, but also City’s attacking prowess. Bayern’s keys would be one Phillip Lahm, and their quartet of powerful central midfielders: Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Thiago Alcantara, and Javi Martinez.Lahm’s combination of skillful passing and defensive solidity makes him a fairly unique player. He can single-handedly help shield the defense while also launch attacks. The four central midfielders are also capable of helping the defense, but have plenty of technical and attacking ability as well.
In attack, Bayern have two widely different options. The bigger, more physical Mario Mandzukic and the smaller, false 9 Mario Gotze. Bayern also has options out wide, with more natural wide players, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, and more “central” players, Xherdan Shaqiri and Thomas Muller. Defensively, Bayern play a fairly straightforward back four of: Rafinha, Dante, Jerome Boateng, and David Alaba.
How would it work?
Honestly, I don’t know exactly how it would work for Korea. Mainly because there is no player who has the skill set of Phillip Lahm. Stick Ki there and you get the passing, but not the defense. Han Kook-Young gives defense, but no offense. Park Jong-Woo, Lee Myeong-Joo, Ha Dae-Sung, all have something lacking. Similarly none of the midfielders have the same characteristics as Bayern’s four central midfielders. Ki is close, but doesn’t have the energy. Koo lacks the defensive ability. Park doesn’t have the technical ability. Nor Lee or Ha. Han doesn’t have the skill going forward. Kim Bo-Kyung isn’t really a pure central midfielder. Almost no matter who you pick you would have to sacrifice something.
Pros: Very flexible formation
Cons: Korea lacks the personnel to pull it off (seemingly)
A formation we haven’t seen from Korea much as of late, but one that presents great intrigue given our occasional struggles in attack and lack of a pure “10”. Personally, I feel that the 4-3-3 is a more defensive formation (although I’m sure Barcelona would disagree), largely due to one Jose Mourinho. Although a defensive formation isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Korea given the individual errors that occur and slightly lower quality of player (meaning none in the world or top class category). Plus it would seem to lean towards Hong’s strong suit, defense and organization.
For this formation I would point to Chelsea’s recent 1-0 win over Manchester City as a prime example of how I would want Korea to utilize this formation. While on paper, Chelsea were a very defensive team, dropping Oscar and including a trio of David Luiz, Nemanja Matic, and Ramires, in practice they didn’t look like one. Yes, there were times when they dropped 10 behind the ball, but against the firepower City has, or in Korea’s case Belgium or the potential round of 16 tie against likely opponent Germany, that is necessary.
The key feature to Chelsea’s side, was that the increased defensive presence allowed their attacking trio of Eto’o, Hazard, and Willian to press high and attack freely (although Hazard and Willian did drop deep at times). The other key thing, in my eyes, was that the front three was very fluid and flexible in their positioning. All rotated positions and drifted, making it harder to the City defense to pick them up.
How would it work?
Similar to Chelsea, the team is based around three deeper center midfielders. Ki Sung-Yueng would be the cog to launch counter attacks from, with Han Kook-Young doing a lot of the running and defensive cover. The third midfielder offers a bit more selection. Park Jong-Woo, while not terribly inspiring on the tour, could be an effective “shuttler” for the side, which is what he is best at (rather than a creator or holder). Park could help press the opposition midfield and defense higher up the pitch if possible. A more out of the box alternative would be Park Joo-Ho. Park Joo-Ho has been subject to defensive frailties at times, but has been very good this season on the attacking side of things. Park Joo-Ho could provide a secondary outlet for launching attacks if needed.
The attacking trio would consist of Son Heung-Min, Park Chu-Young, and Lee Chung-Yong. All three have pace and ball skills, which should allow them to really get at opponents and attack any space that they leave open. Similar to Hazard at Chelsea, Son has the skill to win games on his own. Lee can open up tight defenses, and if Park gets back on form, he has the talent to score goals.
Pros: Shores up defense, frees up attackers from defensive duties
Cons: Requires sacrifice of attacking midfielder, invites pressure, requires individual brilliance from attackers, reactive style
Should Hong Try One of These Formations?
In short, there’s not much reason to drastically change the formation. I can’t remember (or find) the exact quote, but I believe it was Spain coach Vincente Del Bosque who, when asked about formations, said something along the lines of that the formation itself is just a snapshot of the team at a given moment. Similarly, when asked pre-match about his formation and team, Jose Mourinho said, “Parking the bus has no relation with the players the manager chooses, it has a relation to how the team plays. You can play with six, seven, eight defensive players and be an attacking team.”
The formation Hong selects, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2, is largely irrelevant. As Mourinho said, it’s the instructions to the team and individual players that matter. The 4-2-3-1 can easily morph into any of these formations with a player staying a bit higher or dropping a bit deeper or moving a bit wider. Mourinho, as abrasive and annoying as he can be, is excellent when it comes to giving his team clear and specific instructions, and it’s rare that you see his side completely outdone. This was the main source of my disappointment with Hong and the US tour. There are potential excuses for the piss poor showings, but it struck me that Hong had not done a good job of preparing his teams to be successful and that he had not been prepared for the different situations that they may face. The team did not know how it should be playing.
My hope is that Hong spends the next month really working on, and setting a plan A, B, and maybe even C, for exactly how he wants the team to play. Where should players move, what are they looking for, how are they going to attack/defend, etc. I think Hong can easily take the same players and starting formation (4-2-3-1) and just adapt it each game to the opposition.
Below I have used the same starting XI and formation (4-2-3-1) with some simple directions on how it can be tweaked each match to face the opposition.
The formation largely operates as it normally does under Hong. The only change being that when defending Koo Ja-Cheol is expected to drop deep next to Ki Sung-Yueng, with Han Kook-Young moving more to the left. This allows Korea to retain more attacking threat as Son Heung-Min stays higher with Park Chu-Young. Lee Chung-Yong is expected to function as he normally does.
With Algeria being a bit, ahem, less technically savvy, the main idea is to retain possession and create chances without being completely open at the back. Han Kook-Young stays deeper to help the two center backs. Ki Sung-Yueng is allowed to more further forward to help play defense-splitting passes. Son Heung-Min and Lee Chung-Yong are allowed to cut inside to shoot with the fullbacks overlapping to retain width.
The formation the same, but a bit more rigid. Koo Ja-Cheol would play deeper, closer to Ki and Han to prevent Belgium’s creative players from having space to create or shoot from centrally. The three attackers are allowed to stay a bit higher to keep too many of Belgium’s midfielders and fullbacks from going forward. Son and Lee can stretch the play allowing more space for Park to exploit in the middle.