Road to Russia: The Serbia Preview

He has done it. After the tepid 0-0 draws to close out World Cup Qualifying and two defensive nightmare friendly losses to Russia and Morocco, Shin Tae-yong has his first win as KNT manager. Even more importantly, he may have discovered the tactics that will get the most out of his current player pool. Before we preview the Serbia match, let me run down some important takeaways from the 2-1 victory over Colombia on Friday.

This is Ki’s team

Simply put, this team still needs Ki Sung-yueng firing on all cylinders. Playing without him in World Cup qualifying or with limited fitness in the friendlies clearly affected the squad’s buildup play and possession. In midfield there just isn’t anyone who has the calm, vision, and technique to spread the play and really get our attack going. Against Colombia we saw Ki in good form, calmly making passes to his teammates, maneuvering around defenders with ease, showing off his technique in tight spaces, and spraying long, accurate passes across the pitch. There is no doubt that Ki lifts the levels of his teammates when he is on the pitch.

Son is our striker

With Shin opting for a very surprising 4-4-2 formation, Son was paired up top with Lee Keunho. Son responded by turning in a man of the match performance and bagging a brace to give his side the victory. Both goals were nothing to write home about and a more skilled goalkeeper may have been able to save both of them, but they showed a striker full of confidence. Full of confidence is not how we’ve been describing Son in a KNT kit lately. On his first goal, Son kept his composure to turn the defenders, freeze the goalkeeper in space, and slot in through Christian Zapata’s legs. On the second, he got into space, received the ball, froze Zapata again, and took a pop with his right foot. Even more than that, throughout the match Son was looking to take on defenders, find space away from defenders, and shoot whenever he could. Putting Son in the position to attack with all his skill and speed has to be an unparalleled success for Shin.

Goalkeeping woes continue

It may just be me, but Kim Seunggyu has yet to impress me and prove that he should be the No. 1 keeper. On the goal for Colombia, he has once again suffered from a miscommunication with his defenders coupled with an inability to claim the ball safely in the box. On the play, a dangerous free kick is curled into the box. Kim comes to claim and is beaten to the ball easily by Christian Zapata. Kim needs to win the ball and punch clear of the box or trust his defenders to head away. That he can do neither is a problem. Kim is a liability on set pieces because he consistently fails to claim balls and leaves his goalmouth gaping. I wish Shin could see this happen over and over and look for other options between the sticks. I hope to see Lee Jinhyeon given a shot on Tuesday against Serbia. In the new year I’d love to see Gu Sung-yun and Kim Dong-jun called into the squad. Heck, even bringing back the veteran Jung Sung-ryong could be worth a shout. Anything to not see our keeper flapping at a cross and then picking the ball out of his own net.

Midfield tenacity frustrates Colombia

Go Yo-han is rightly receiving a lot of plaudits for his tenacious display in the midfield. He was given an assignment to frustrate James Rodriguez and he did so with aplomb. Another midfielder who showed tenacity was Lee Jaesung. Lee was winning 50-5os, drawing fouls, and getting stuck in all match. Having this kind of industry in the midfield frees up Ki to calmly keep possession and start the attack and allows Kwon the opportunity to move into dangerous attacking positions. Shin found a midfield that had defensive solidity, accurate passing, and quick transition into attack.

Spanish Coaches giving Shin a boost

The new Spanish coaches hired in the leadup to these friendlies clearly had a knock-on effect for Shin. Toni Grande and Javier Minano both worked with Vicente del Bosque when he won the 2010 World Cup with Spain and this pedigree can only be a help to Shin. If it was Grande who suggested the 4-4-2 or provided the lowdown on how to play against James Rodriguez from his time in Spain then he is already worth his salary. Having some experienced foreign tacticians in the film room will be beneficial moving forward, especially ones that have hoisted the World Cup!

Potential Korean Lineup

Will we see Shin the tinkerman or Shin sticking to what worked on Friday? Beats me, but here are those two lineups and which one I like better.

Shin the Tinkerman

Safety First Shin

Personally, I want to see a modified formation that still plays Son Heungmin as a striker. In addition, I would love to see if Kwon is ready to pair up with Son as an attacking midfield or false nine, if you will. In midfield, I want to see if Lee Changmin can drift in from the right and launch some long-range efforts like he does at Jeju. Finally, in defense I’m putting Go Yohan at RB to mark one of Serbia’s most dangerous wingers. It is certainly unorthodox and you can feel free to get at me in the comment section, but I stand by these choices!

The Opponent: Serbia

Serbia walked away 2-0 winners in China in their Friday friendly and while they enjoyed a comfortable scoreline, the highlights showed that there are ways to exploit them. Ways that Ki will actually excel at! You see, what China did successfully was launch long balls in behind the defense. If Ki can see Son or Kwon’s runs in behind from deep in the hole, he should be able to locate them very easily. China was able to connect on a few long balls and their finishing let them down. Son will be much more ruthless. Where are the danger areas for Serbia? Against China, their biggest threat was down the left flank with Filip Kostic. Kostic found a lot of space down the wings and had time to put crosses in looking for Newcastle’s Aleksandar Mitrovic. In my lineup I put Go Yohan at RB so that he can manmark Kostic and hopefully neutralize his threat. Serbia has just as much attacking talent as Colombia and will pose a stern test for us. Southampton’s Dusan Tadic knows how to get into the right positions in the box to score goals, Adem Ljajic lashed in a goal on Friday, Marko Grujic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are young talents, and Branislav Ivanovic is the defender that will be dangerous on set pieces. It will be another stern test against a possible World Cup group stage foe. Ulsan should be buzzing!

The Skinny

Korea vs. Serbia

International Friendly

November 14, 2017: 6 AM EST or 8 PM KST

Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium

TV: SBS, Naver

Sell-out Expected?

About Michael Welch 89 Articles
That Halfie Korean-American who loves football (I mean, soccer).


  1. Nice first column! I totally agree with you on Lee jaesung who really stood out for me with his all around play. He was buzzing all over, nice link up play, good decisions . I thought he showed a natural athleticism that allowed him to quickly shut down threats down his flank before they really got started. Might have been the star man for me

  2. Agree with the comments about the goalkeeper. I’d like our goalkeepers to be verbally active, directing players, being pushy if needed. Kim Seunggyu doesn’t have that personality. As for formations, I’d like to see Shin stick with the same 4-4-2 to see if there’s something really there or perhaps Columbia was really jet lagged after all?

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