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Archive for April, 2010

Trouble for Ki Sung-yeung?

Posted by Seamus Walsh on April 13, 2010

Today Scotland’s Glasgow Celtic played out a 2-1 win against Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League at Celtic Park. In many ways it was an insignificant game. Celtic have first faltered and then essentially collapsed this season. New manager Tony Mobray was deemed a failure, and has since been replaced by former Celtic legendary player Neil Lennon. Celtic are 10 points behind fierce rivals Rangers in the league, and on Saturday they embarrassingly lost to Ross County in the cup.

These developments are even worse for South Korean player Ki Sung-yeung. He hasn’t played a single game for caretaker manager Lennon, not even featuring on the substitutes bench for the last three games. I’ve written before about what I think it will take for him to become successful in European football, especially in British football. Mostly, he needs to adjust to living in Scotland, then adjust to the style of football, the number of games played in the Scottish league (a lot more than in the K-League) and he needs to improve physically – he needs to get stronger and quicker. He has the talent, but it seems that Neil Lennon doesn’t think he’s ready or capable of helping Celtic improve on their poor season just yet.

Ki Sung-yeung needs to show Lennon what he's capable of

Lennon has also threatened a complete overhaul of the squad in the summer if performances don’t improve. What could this mean for Ki? With only a few games left, it’s hard to see him making much more of an impact this season as Lennon doesn’t seem to want to pick him at all. Mowbray was definitely a fan of the young midfielder, and gave him the responsibility of taking corners and some free kicks, as well as simply giving him game time. Ki is also not the first Korean player Mowbray had signed, as he also bought Kim Do-heon when he was manager of West Bromwich Albion.

So, with Ki’s ally and perhaps mentor Tony Mowbray gone, how does he fit into Neil Lennon’s plans for the future, if Lennon stays as Celtic manager for next season, which hasn’t been decided yet. I think it’s very hard to say. If Lennon appreciates Ki’s talents, maybe he just doesn’t think he’s ready to play every match just yet. On the other hand, it’s possible he’s just not a fan of Ki and will want to sell him on.

Ki Sung-yeung in action

I said before that the Scottish League would certainly help Ki improve his game so he could compete in one of Europe’s bigger leagues – most likely the English Premier League, as this seems to be his preferred choice. I hope he keeps working hard to constantly improve, and to fight for the team. He’s talented enough to be starting in the Celtic midfield but it needs more than just talent at this level. If Celtic do decide to sell him in the summer, I desperately hope he doesn’t go back to Korea. He needs to play regularly in a European team. If, for example, a team from the English Championship wanted to sign him I think he should jump at the chance. Playing for a team in the Championship means there’s slightly less pressure than the Premiership, which means he can focus on his game without worrying that any mistake he makes could have huge consequences. It also means he will have more chances to play regularly. This is what he needs more than anything. I hope he gets given the chance soon.

One thing is for sure, though, if he doesn’t play every game for Celtic before the end of the season, he will be less tired than a lot of players when the World Cup starts in June, which can only be good for Korea.

Posted in European football, Ki Sung-yeung | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Park Ji-Sung’s Best Position

Posted by Seamus Walsh on April 2, 2010

Something I’ve written about before on this blog is how Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has begun to deploy Park Ji-sung as a supporting forward to Wayne Rooney in the centre of the United attack this season. The most recent example of this was the match last week against Liverpool, which United won 2-1 thanks to a brave second half diving headed winner by Park himself (Highlights). The other recent occasion when Ferguson decided to play Park just behind Rooney was in the second leg against AC Milan in the Champions League, a match in which Park also scored to help United to a 4-0 win.

Ji-Sung Park heads United into the lead

Park scores the vital winner against Liverpool

Park may be more used to playing on the wing for United – the position he has played almost exclusively – but Huh Jung-moo the South Korean national team manager has played him centrally before. It’s clear that in these two examples where Park has played just behind Rooney recently he played superbly, adding the final missing ingredient to his game – goals. So what is his best position?

Well, I think a lot of this depends on the situation. With the squad Manchester United currently have I believe that they play their best football as a team when Park is playing centrally with Rooney. On the other hand, however, I think the opposite is true for the South Korean national team: they are at their collective best with Park out wide. I’ll now outline why I think these different strategies are right for each team, and also why it seems to be now that Park has become so important to both.

Firstly, Manchester United. The easiest and most practical way to analyse the strengths of a football team is to look at their results. Winning and scoring are good, losing and conceding are bad – simple. This week United played a crucial Champions League Quarter Final first leg away at Bayern Munich. It was always likely to be a tough match, as Bayern have strong players in all positions, and some incredible attacking talent. I believe it was the concern over what the likes of Franck Ribery could do in front of their home fans that led to Ferguson’s decision to play three more conventional central midfielders, with Park on the left and Nani on the right, and Rooney alone up front. With Rooney in the team United are always likely to score, which they did, naturally enough through Rooney early on. The five man midfield, therefore, was designed to protect the defense and to keep the attacking players of Bayern at bay, with Nani the best attacking outlet of the midfield five with his pace and directness down the wing.

This, however, was not to be enough in either attack or defense, and where I think Ferguson went wrong (Very rarely will I ever criticise Alex Ferguson) in this instance was to play Park on the left, leaving Valencia on the bench, and with three central midfielders. Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher are all fine footballers, but now that Scholes is no longer able to get forward at every opportunity to support the striker(s), all three of them tend to play very deep. This gave Bayern far too much possession, and they eventually made United pay, scoring the winner in the last seconds of the match. Once United did get hold of the ball they had no creative outlet, no way of breaking through the Bayern defense and getting the ball to Rooney in a goal-scoring opportunity. None of the midfielders looked like they were willing to run ahead of the others and support Rooney down the middle. This meant that they were only left with two options to get the ball forward. Either Nani had to dribble the ball up the pitch on his own and try and find Rooney in the box, or they had to start playing long balls and hope they caught the defense in a lapse of concentration. Neither of these tactics worked.

Had Ferguson decided to play with only two central midfielders, Fletcher and Carrick for example, with the pace and skill of Nani and Valencia on the wings and Park supporting Rooney up front, things might have been different. In this setup, Rooney is the focus of the attack, but Park provides another attacking option for the midfielders to pass to. He creates space with his runs, and adds another “layer” if you like to the United attack, which means they don’t have to resort to just punting the ball from defense to the other end of the pitch to create an attack. Also, Valencia offers more pace on the wing than Park, which can really stretch the opposition defence, again leaving more space for Park and Rooney to take advantage of in the middle.

This is why I consider Park’s best position for Manchester United at the moment to be in a central attacking position in support of Rooney. For the South Korean national team however, Park has to play a very different role for them to be successful in my eyes. The foremost reason is that south Korea do not and probably should not play with a lone striker, as Manchester United do with Rooney. I’ve written about the strengths of Park Chu-young before, but I do feel that he needs a partner up front to be at his best. Very few international sides would risk playing with a back three in this day and age, and South Korea certainly should never consider this, especially not considering their World Cup group, which leaves them with four in midfield.

Park and Rooney have complemented each other well in attack this season

The national side’s biggest strengths are their organisation and teamwork, but I would also add to that their playing style. South Korea like to play a short, fast passing game at high speed, relying on their fitness and dynamism to make up for the fact that they are often on average smaller than most sides they come up against. A key aspect of playing like this is stretching your opposition as much as possible, creating space for other players to run into and wearing out your opposition quicker. To do this a team has to play with two excellent wingers. In my view, South Korea only really has two players capable of doing this out wide: Lee Chung-yong and Park Ji-sung. Therefore, when Park is played centrally Korea lose one of their best assets.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the reasoning of playing your best player centrally so that they get the ball more, but this just won’t work for Korea. Firstly, without two quick, capable wide men the middle of the pitch becomes more crowded, which means Park wouldn’t get as much of the ball as hoped, and he’d have less time to do anything with it. Park is not the most creative player, that’s just not his game. With him on one wing and Lee Chung-yong on the other, however, things are very different. Korea have options to each side, they make the most of the whole area of the pitch, making things harder for the defending team, and there’s more space in the middle for Ki Sung-yeung to be creative – which is his natural game, and for Park Chu-young to drop deeper and evade his markers to make things happen in the danger areas.

So, we have to sides to Park’s game, and his ability to adapt to both teams and formations is what makes him so valuable to both his club and his country. He enables both teams to play their best all-round game. He may not get the most credit for his performances, but his tactical awareness, work rate and ability mean that when he is used properly, both teams he’s part of perform better, score more and get better results.

Posted in European football, Manchester United, Park Ji-sung | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »