With less than a month to go before the 2018 Russia World Cup kicks off, we thought that we would share our thoughts on our preferred XI and tactics as well as what we think Shin Taeyong might do when things actually kick off. I’m up first and then you can see what the other writers think in the coming days and weeks. So, let’s get it!
So, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Kwon Changhoon, who had a breakout season for Dijon in France’s Ligue 1 suffered an Achilles injury in the last game of the season. The full extent of the injury is not yet known as he will undergo further testing over the next few days, but regardless he will miss the World Cup. It is a cruel blow to the player as well as the national team which was surely relying on the midfielder for some additional attacking firepower. Kwon also joins the, unfortunately, growing list of players unavailable to Shin Taeyong. Another potential miss is Gangwon’s Lee Keunho who suffered an injury during the weekend match against Gyeongnam. Things didn’t look too good, but a club representative told the media that Lee suffered some tiny damage to his knee, but that it shouldn’t be a problem for his World Cup hopes (but he probably would miss a significant amount of the pre-World Cup training).
*Disclaimer* The final roster is of course still not set, Shin Taeyong may make changes. So, some aspects of our thoughts may turn out to be invalid.
Jae’s Preferred Tactics and XI
So, obviously our defense sucks. But, to use a Korean phrase it’s 어쩔 수 없다 (it’s unavoidable/can’t be helped), and there’s absolutely NOTHING Shin Taeyong can do to fix that. No formation change, no player on the current list or reserve list, no amount of training within the next 3 weeks can truly fix the defense. Negative? Perhaps, but true. So, instead Shin Taeyong should focus more on maximizing our attacking potential. This does not mean all-out attack, but rather ensuring our best attackers are on the pitch.
Strangely, considering I’ve been slightly negative on him overall this past season and didn’t think he would make the World Cup roster, that means putting a certain Lee Seungwoo on the pitch. Lee certainly carries a fair amount of rust from not playing a lot this season for Verona (plus the rust he had from the FIFA ban), but he can help the team as he can carry the ball (dribble), create, and score. The first two skills are very important to this team because really, there is no other player that can do that consistently. Of course, playing Lee Seungwoo means other issues, due to his lack of defensive workrate and physicality. The first thing is that Lee Seungwoo should not be used as a wide midfielder. Which means he’s up higher as a forward.
Son Heungmin is still an obvious selection, and dropping him to the wing is also a foolish idea, so we have a two-top attack of Son Heungmin and Lee Seungwoo. If the two can find some chemistry with each other, it could be a potentially explosive attacking duo. Lee’s ability to drop into the space between the lines and dribble/create could pair nicely with Son’s ability to burst into space.
The next area to tackle is midfield. Ki Sungyueng and Lee Jaesung are still must be in XI players. Lee Jaesung can play on either the right or left wing, but I’d rather keep him on the left (at least on paper). Ki Sungyueng is of course in the middle, and we’ll talk a little more about Ki in a moment. The right midfielder will, in my mind, have to be a more defensive option. If Lee Keunho is fit and ready for the World Cup, I’d go with him as, despite his advancing years, he still has a very high workrate and can offer a little going forward as well. If not, perhaps going with Ko Yohan would be the next best choice. A rightback by trade, Ko Yohan likely booked his ticket to Russia with his solid defensive showing against James Rodriguez, but he should help provide some defensive stability on the flank.
So, now let’s talk about Ki Sungyueng. The question, as always, with Ki is whether you want him deeper to him start attacking moves or a little higher up to help finish them. Ki seems clearly to be better when he is allowed to do the latter, and so I will also opt for him to play a little higher. The next question becomes – with two forwards and three midfielders selected – do you play a three-man backline with wingbacks or a four-man line? I don’t think Korea can play a three-man line despite some of the selected defenders have experience with it. The reason actually has more to do with the full/wingback options. As Korea, like many teams these days, relies on the fullbacks for width, it leaves big spaces behind and we don’t have players that can really command the flank all on their own. So, I’ll stick with the 4-4-2 that Shin Taeyong has been using.
So that means, we need a more defensive midfielder to partner Ki in the midfield. Jung Wooyoung is the natural choice, as he has some passing ability and is a more natural choice to sit deeper and help cover. Personally, I’m leaning maybe 60-40 towards Jung Wooyoung. The other option is Park Jooho. Park is having a decent recovery season with Ulsan, but is a little bit lacking in the passing area. On the plus side, as a former leftback, Park could help cover for Kim Jinsu/Lee Jaesung on the left defensive side.
Moving on, we hit the defense. I’ve already mentioned Kim Jinsu, and I will assume he will be ready to go for the World Cup. Kim Younggwon, while very hit-miss at times, will be my choice to anchor the backline. He is still probably our best “on paper” centerback, and he is experienced which does count for something. His partner is a little trickier. Jang Hyunsoo figures somewhere, but whether that’s at center or rightback is the question. I’ll opt for him at rightback as Lee Keunho should provide some attacking support going forward, allowing Jang to stay deeper and help cover. With Jang at rightback, I’ll put the slightly inexperienced Kwon Kyungwon as the other centerback.
The goalkeeper is kind of a shrug position for me because I don’t think any of the three (although I don’t watch the J League) are having standout seasons. Kim Seunggyu is the normal number 1, so I’ll go with him.
My Expectations From Shin Taeyong
I don’t think Shin Taeyong will go for a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, and will probably stick with the 4-4-2. Unfortunately, I don’t think Shin Taeyong will go for Lee Seungwoo in attack (nor Hwang Heechan), and instead will get stuck with the more traditional Son Heungmin-Kim Shinwook pairing. I think the midfield will largely be the same that I picked, but my gut feeling/worry is that without Kwon Changhoon, Shin may be tempted to go with the experienced Lee Chungyong at right midfield. Lee is of course a quality winger on his day, but he’s played so little the past few seasons, I worry. I also worry (a bit) that Shin will move Jang Hyunsoo into center defense with Kim Younggwon, and go with Lee Yong at right back.
So, my possible Shin Taeyong XI would look like: Kim Seunggyu; Lee Yong, Jang Hyunsoo, Kim Younggwon, Kim Jinsu; Lee Chungyong, Jung Wooyoung, Ki Sungyueng, Lee Jaesung; Son Heungmin, Kim Shinwook.
This would actually be a pretty standard 4-4-2 type team. Jung Wooyoung and Ki Sungyueng spraying the ball around wide. Kim Jinsu and Lee Yong trying to overlap on the flanks and lots of crosses and longballs aimed at Kim Shinwook. Son Heungmin trying to get on the end of loose balls and counters. Meh.
*Bonus* Another idea I had, but can’t see happening. Would be to run a 4-3-3 with a kind of double-pivot of Jung Wooyoung and Park Jooho in midfield, Ki Sungyueng with a free role and a very attacking trident of Hwang Heechan, Son Heungmin, and Lee Seungwoo.