Some Possible Tactical Variations for Hong

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 this look for Korea?
football formations

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 this look for Korea?
football formations

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 this look for Korea?
football formations

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.

vs Russia (balanced, strong at the back, ready to spring forward on attacks)
football formations

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.

vs Algeria (focused on ball possession, forcing Algeria into own half)
football formations

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.

vs Belgium (tight at the back, creative and quick in transition)
football formations

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.

About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. Nice. That’s a lot of thought and tactics you got there, Jae. Thanks for your thoughts. The more I look at the personnel, the more it seems like a 4-3-3 variation would make most sense. I’m thinking something that looks more like 4-1-2-3 With HKY at CDM and KJC and KSY in the center with Ki being the slightly more withdrawn and Koo being asked to back track farther for defense. But, it’s very offensively heavy then I guess. Korea needs to get a little more diversity of skill sets. Lol. Too many AM’s and wingers.

    • I think that would be a bit like he 4-1-4-1 that I mentioned. It would be very offensive heavy, but something Korea might be able to get away with against smaller teams that sit deep and just counter (as long as the CB and HKY stay alert and ready).

      • Yes, I had your 4-1-4-1 in mind. Except to try to make it a little more balanced, I had HKY at CDM and KSY slightly withdrawn with KJC having more back tracking responsibilities. I don’t know if that would succeed in achieving balance, but it’s a thought.

  2. Right wouldnt’ a Barca / Guardiola formation have
    KJC – KSY
    — HKY
    as the midfielders?
    It kinda works actually – KJC poor man’s iniesta, KSY poor man’s xavi, and HKY as poor man’s busquets

    • I think you’re thinking along the lines of Daniel. That would be similar to the 4-1-4-1 formation (although I tagged it as Guardiola/Bayern). My 4-3-3 is a bit more Mourinho/Chelsea inspired for dealing with higher quality teams.

    • Yup, Jae is right. Jinseok, your thoughts are simliar to mine. I do agree with Jae’s thoughts against higher quality teams going more counterattacking 4-3-3. This is based on the personnel. It seems to me that until we get more legit strikers and more balanced box to box midfielders, we’ll have to rely more on a 4-3-3 variation.

    • An idea certainly. I went with SHM-PCY-LCY because that’s who I think Hong would pick. While these are things Hong probably won’t do, I tried to keep it somewhat close to what he seems to have planned in terms of personnel.

    • Yea, for a sec, I thought joonji meant a false 9, too. However, Joonji’s point was similar to the other Joon’s comment in the previous post. In fact, I was wondering if it was the same Joon? This is what I wrote in the other post regarding a similar/same proposal wanting SHM as the striker with a little bit of editing.

      SHM’s strength is not as a striker. He’s a winger who likes to cut in. While SHM isn’t nearly in the stratosphere of the likes of Ronaldo and Messi, that is the same reason Ronaldo and Messi who have the striker skill sets, play as wingers to create shots. For SHM’s skill set, it would probably be a little bit more shackling to his style of play to move up top. Of course, the difference is that Messi and Ronaldo could actually play striker if they wanted to. I agree that PJY is better as the shadow striker, but he’s really the only striker we’ve got. JDW is also not really the best as the up top primary striker. However, I’d be curious if it was possible to have JDW and PJY play duo strikers and simply shift back and forth based on circumstances. Shrug. Who knows. At this point there hasn’t been enough time to really see what would work best. Let’s hope we start seeing a consistent lineup and no injuries in the upcoming months.

      • agree.

        very clearly Son’s forte is running with the ball at his feet, usually on a counter attack. seems like a good majority of them are scored like this.

        taking this away from him would be a very wrong thing.

  3. Didn’t Ki play in the CAM position a couple times at Celtic? Even this formation is very weak defensively and a lot of people might disagree with this (I don’t agree much with it much either but it’s something I just came up with. I think Korea could use a 4-1-3-2 formation. Park Joo Ho left back, hong jeong ho and kim young gwon as first team center backs, and either shin kwang hoon or Lee yong as right back. The lone defensive midfielder would be Kim Ki-hee, Jang Hyun Soo, or Han Kook young. The left winger/midfielder would be Son heung min, Ji, KBK, or LKH. The center attacking midfielder would be Ki, Koo, Ji, KBK, or Lee Keun ho. The right winger/midfielder would lee chung yong or Nam Tae Hee. NOT GO YO HAN. The two strikers would be Park Ju Young and Kim Shin Wook.

  4. that 4-3-3 is really intriguing. It would allow Ki to play where he does at Sunderland where he’s doing real well, allows Han to play center like Lee Cattermole, and Park Joo ho can play in the left mid where he’s now had a goal and an assist at Mainz. Except it would be a shame sacrificing Koo, but he could probably come in for PJY or LCY based on game situation

  5. False nine would only work with PJY at the moment. Using KSW as a targetman on the front wouldnt be a bad option. Seriously, neither park or kim is a very promising front line option, but they are who we have. Great post, I appreciate your time and effort.

      • The point would be moot. The false 9, even if it sounds like an oversimplification, is simply that there isn’t a pure striker, so you use an attacking midfielder to take up striking duties. PJY wouldn’t be a false 9 for more simple reasons than his lack of vision or passing ability. He’s an actual striker. The purpose of the false 9 by Spain was because they were lacking in options at Striker that either fit the system, or were injured, or weren’t playing at a high enough level. If they put in a Villa or Torres or now Costa, they wouldn’t use a false 9 because they have an actual 9. PJY might be better suited as a shadow striker, but he’s still a striker.

        • I would argue that even that’s an oversimplification. There’s a big difference in how Spain used Fabregas as a false 9 compared to how Roma used Totti and how Barca use Messi in the same position. My point was that PCY, if he was told to operate like a “traditional” false 9, wouldn’t be very effective because he lacks the necessary abilities to do so. I agree though that PCY wouldn’t normally play as a false 9, but an actual 9 (which he is).

          • Lol. I was actually conceding that what my comment was an oversimplification. Yet, I think it holds true. I get what your saying and I agree with you. And I also know I’m sort of arguing semantics. You’re speaking specifically to the roles the false 9 plays and how PJY would not be able to play in that position give his skill set or lack thereof, and the way in which Totti, Messi, or Fabregas was used in that position even if not all in the same way. My point was simply (and it would apply even with your additional examples) is that teams don’t really use the false 9 formation when you have A) a legitimate number 9 or B) you don’t have a striker that is near the quality of the rest of your midfield and wingers and they have generally good finishing abilities. Totti, Messi, and Fabregas are all players that aren’t traditional number 9’s though one could argue Totti has been used as one before. The false 9 sort of inherently removes real 9’s from filling that position because the false 9 needs more the qualities of a winger or attacking midfielder in terms of dribbling and passing. It’s true that theoretically a real number 9 could be used in the false 9 position, but there’s a reason it doesn’t happen. Basically, I’m being long winded in saying that we’re actually both right… haha.

          • I meant, “B) [unless] you don’t have a striker…”

            I have the shorter version of our comments.
            You are saying that PJY can’t be a false 9 because he doesn’t have the skill set to be a false 9. And I’m saying he can’t be a false 9 because he is a real 9, and you don’t use a false 9 with a real 9. Both of our comments are true, and, between the lines, there is a good mutually reinforcing reason for that.

            By the way, to Kevin’s point, he is right though that the 9 position is in a sorry state currently for the KNT, whether the 9 was real or false. lol

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