Seongnam 1-5 Jeonbuk: Brilliant Jeonbuk Take Advantage of Seongnam’s Defensive Woes

Article by Ben Griffis

Seongnam FC hosted Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC on June 6th, 2021 in a rescheduled Round 15 matchup. The original match was postponed because of COVID protocols after Seongnam’s match against FC Seoul where one of Seoul’s players tested positive after the match.

Kim Nam-il’s Seongnam, after a solid start to the season with 4 wins and 3 draws from their first 9 matches, had been winless in the league since. They came into this match hoping to end this poor run of form against a fellow poor-form side in Jeonbuk.

Kim Sang-sik’s Jeonbuk, after topping the table for 12 straight rounds and going undefeated in their first 13 matches, lost 3 in a row and drew their previous game against Incheon United. While still in a title challenge with Ulsan, Suwon Bluewings, and Daegu, they entered this game 6 points behind leaders Ulsan Hyundai, with this match in hand.

For this analysis, I will focus more on Jeonbuk than on both teams, as I have done for previous match analyzes. The reason for this is that Jeonbuk controlled the game and possession for the entire match, and through looking at Jeonbuk’s play we can analyze the necessary points from Seongnam as well.

Starting formations and lineups.

Seongnam Substitutions:

46’       #8 Fejsal Mulić for #37 Hong Si-hoo
64’       #27 Lee Jung-min for #40 Richard Windbichler
65’       #11 Seo Bo-min for #6 Ahn Young-kyu
65’       #10 Jamshid Iskandarov for #18 Kim Hyeon-seong
65’       #19 Park Young-ji for #14 Lee Kyu-sung

Jeonbuk Substitutions:

46’       #10 Stanislav Iljutcenko for #19 Lee Ji-hoon
62’       #14 Lee Seung-ki for #11 Modou Barrow
62’       #7 Han Kyo-won for #5 Paik Seung-ho
76’       #13 Kim Bo-kyung for #3 Choi Hee-won
76’       #24 Kim Seung-dae for #17 Takahiro Kunimoto

Seongnam began the match in a 3421, while changing to a 342 after their red card and then a rough 423 after Windbichler came off. Jeonbuk lined up in a 442 which could easily shift to a 4411 or 4231 when one striker dropped back and depending on the height of the wingers. After Iljutcenko entered the game, he acted as an attacking midfielder and the wingers pushed up, ending the game in a 4231.

Jeonbuk used both center backs and both central midfielders in their buildup. The central midfielders shifted right or left depending on what side the ball was on to open up diagonal spacing. Seongnam did not press Jeonbuk’s players much until their own third, so Jeonbuk could pass freely and at a slow tempo.

Jeonbuk turned up the pace when they began their attack, usually attacking through the fullbacks on the wings or a long ball to a winger or Gustavo, who had freedom to roam into space. Jeonbuk were not averse to playing short passes on the ground, however. They used quick one-twos in the midfield to get around Seongnam’s rare presses.

Both fullbacks remained deep during buildup, keeping a noticeable back 4—something of a rare sight during buildup today. This, however, was the base for one of their key attacking movements in the first half. When the ball was with Hong Jeong-ho or Paik Seing-ho on the left side of the center back/midfield 4, Choi Young-jun would motion to Lee You-hyeon to push up, and Choi would slot in at right back in his place. As Lee moved up the flank, Modou Barrow would move a little narrower, bringing his marker, Choi Ji-mook with him.

Since the Seongnam players were already shifted to Jeonbuk’s left, the player with the ball—usually Koo Ja-ryong—could play a long pass down the wing for Lee to run onto, with no defenders near him. This movement occurred several times in the first half, and is illustrated in the image below.

Jeonbuk’s movement they used several times in the first half.

Since Seongnam defended in the 3421 they lined up in, they were able to shift a center back over to help Choi Ji-mook as he tracked back, so this specific movement didn’t lead to any chances directly. A variation on this movement involved bringing Gustavo or Lee Ji-hoon close to Barrow, and then using that overload—with Lee pushed up in Barrow’s position for support—to overload Seongnam’s left-sided space between their midfield and defensive lines.

This variation indirectly led to Jeonbuk’s opening goal, a brilliant free kick from Paik Seung-ho. When the ball was launched to Gustavo, the two Seongnam defenders pushed him while in the air and gave away a free kick some 30 meters from the goal. While Paik’s free kick soared into the top corner and Kim Young-kwang couldn’t do much about it, Seongnam’s defenders should not have given the free kick away to being with.

Seongnam began the game playing patient passes between their center backs and central midfielders. They had an interesting shape for the first 15 minutes, with the two wide center backs pushing 5 yards ahead of Windbichler in the middle and staying very wide, even for a back 3. The two central midfielders stayed deep and relatively narrow, creating an ‘M’ shape deep in their half. Jeonbuk were non-aggressive toward Seongnam’s M shape, allowing them to pass it amongst themselves. It appeared as though Seongnam wanted Lee Ji-hoon and Gustavo to press, drawing other players into a press and allowing this M formation to play passes around the Jeonbuk players, but Jeonbuk didn’t close down.

After passing around the M shape, one of the players would play a long ball to a wingback on the same line as the striker. Occasionally this worked and Seongnam had possession in Jeonbuk’s third, but all too often Jeonbuk won the first or second ball. Seongnam being unable to maintain possession was a major theme of the match, compounded by Jeonbuk’s successful counter-pressing throughout the match.

After the first goal, Seongnam was less patient in their buildup, and usually only one central midfielder stayed deeper. However, they still had difficulties retaining possession. After the red card to Kim Min-hyeok in the 24th minute, they played even more direct football. This only worked in the final stages of the game after a point was out of reach—Fejsal Mulić, a halftime change, had several decent chances in the last 15 minutes along with a well-taken consolation goal.

Kim Sang-sik changed his formation slightly at halftime by bringing on Stanislav Iljutcenko for Lee Ji-hoon. Iljutcenko played behind Gustavo while Barrow and Kunimoto stayed higher to form a 4231. Kunimoto and Barrow also were free to switch flanks in the second half, which appeared to cause confusion for Seongnam’s back line.

One of the times the wingers switched flanks was for Gustavo’s first goal in the 52nd minute. A midfielder played a long ball to Kunimoto over and behind Seongnam left wingback Choi Ji-mook. The right-side center back Ahn Young-kyu comes to help, but Kim Hyung-sung—the striker who had tracked back—left Lee You-hyeon unmarked for a back pass. Lee passes to Iljutcenko in the center of the box. Iljutcenko lets the ball run through his legs to Gustavo, who finishes the excellent team play with a goal.

Notice in Gustavo’s goal how Kim Hyung-sung, #18, allows Lee to receive the ball under no pressure. Lee then crosses it toward Iljutcenko, who is wide open in the box. Watch the goal again and notice how Windbichler was marking Iljutcenko, but doesn’t track his final movement and ends up a meter away from him. This allows Iljutcenko to let the ball run with no risk of Windbichler getting a slight touch on it.

Two key marking issues led to Gustavo’s first goal. His second goal came from a corner, and also stems from poor marking from Seongnam. Watch the goal below.

Iljutcenko and Gustavo are the only Jeonbuk players in the middle of the box, and are each marked by a Seongnam player, with two more around their zone. As Kunimoto takes the corner, Iljutcenko blocks off Gustavo’s marker and lets Gustavo run free. Gustavo gets a free header and doesn’t miss. While it is difficult for Gustavo’s marker to recover, Lee Jong-sung (#16 on Seongnam) was the extra man zonally marking the center of the box. Lee takes a quick look but doesn’t move from his spot until it’s too late and is in no position to make a challenge for the ball. Thus, while it’s hard for Gustavo’s marker to recover, Lee should have stepped back when he saw Gustavo running in order to pick him up.

If Iljutcenko’s block is a little difficult to see, follow this link to watch a longer replay, beginning at 01:46:10 in the K League’s official stream of the game (free in countries that don’t have K League broadcast partners).

Gustavo’s hat-trick goal started from Seongnam’s defenders switching off, coupled with a great play by Jeonbuk. Lee You-hyeon started the move with a throw in to Gustavo, who laid it off to Iljutcenko in space. Iljutcenko then plays a lobbed ball to Kunimoto over all 5 of Seongnam’s defenders who had shifted over to defend the throw in. Kunimoto has time to deliver a pass across goal to Gustavo. The ball is a little slow, so Gustavo gets to it at the same time as Lee Joong-min, but does well to get his body in the way to control it and take the defender out of the game. Gustavo’s able to score in the far corner to complete his hat trick.

Like the other goals, there are a few key defensive errors from Seongnam for this goal. First, all 5 defenders are slow to react to Iljutcenko’s pass—and we could argue there should have been a defender closer to the middle of the pitch as well. Next, focus on both Seongnam’s #5 Ma Sang-hoon and #2 Lee Si-young after Gustavo beats Lee Joong-min. Lee Si-young, being further from Gustavo, makes the right decision to not close Gustavo down, instead leaving that to Ma Sang-hoon. Ma does not close Gustavo down, though, instead jogging towards him, possibly thinking Lee Si-young would close him down. Because of this, Gustavo has no pressure on him for his shot.

Finally, Lee Si-young tries to close down Gustavo’s angle by blocking the near post. He doesn’t check to see that his goalkeeper, Kim Young-kwan, is also at the near post. Gustavo has an open angle to the far post, where Lee should have been.

Breaking up Gustavo’s 3 goals in a row was Fejsal Mulić. Seongnam won the ball back in midfield with a good challenge before Jamshid Iskandarov played a through ball to Mulić. Hong Jeong-ho rushes up to intercept the ball before Mulić can get it, but is too late to step up. This leaves a gap for Mulić to run into, and he does well to use his size to win the ball against a tracking back Lee You-hyeon. Mulić’s finish was as good as his run, a side-foot strike into the far corner. This passage was not the only time in the final stages of the match where Mulić won a direct pass in a dangerous position—however, it was the only real threat posed to Jeonbuk from these passes.

The final goal of the match—Gustavo’s 4th and Jeonbuk’s 5th—came from a brilliant piece of skill from Iljutcenko and, once again, poor positioning from Seongnam. After receiving a pass at the edge of the box, Iljutcenko quickly turns and finds Gustavo wide open and unmarked in the right half-space at the edge of the box. He has plenty of time to pick out his spot and beat the onrushing Kim Young-kwan.

Of course, Gustavo should not have been left unmarked. A player of his caliber who already netted a hat trick in the game should be marked when the ball is on the edge of the box. Choi Ji-mook was marking him, but was drawn to the ball when Iljutcenko received it, even though another defender was with the Jeonbuk player. Gustavo noticed this and called for the ball to cap off a dazzling performance from his team.

Final Thoughts

Jeonbuk dominated possession in both halves, but only in the 2nd half did they really dominate all phases of the game. They were effective at quelling Seongnam’s advances when they occurred, and their counter-pressing in the first third of the match—the only time they needed to counter-press—allowed them to keep the ball away from Seongnam. Seongnam were unable to keep possession for any period of time after the first 15 minutes, but their sustained possession early in the game was with their center backs.

Jeonbuk had an interesting movement pattern in the first half that led to a few attacking phases, but not too many chances. Their biggest chances came when they took advantage of Seongnam’s defensive mistakes and poor positioning, with some help from great individual skills.

Seongnam did well to finish the first half with 10 men, defending effectively to ensure they went into halftime just 0-1 down. However, Jeonbuk’s sustained possession against their 10 men quickly took its toll, and their defenders switched off many times in the latter stages of the game.

Kim Sang-sik will be thrilled with his side’s performance to end their winless streak of 8 games—their last win also coming against Seongnam. Kim Nam-il’s Seongnam are now winless in 8 after starting this season in great form, and this match shows some of the work they have to do to avoid dropping even further than 10th place.

Header image source.

Tancheon Sports Complex, where the match took place.

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