Saturday, July 15, 2017

Season Recap and Early Preseason Thoughts

I'm digging through my old posts to refresh my memory so I have to apologize to myself for having to do so (its not a fun job re-reading several months stale match reports), as well as to the readers of the blog for the lateness and for any errors caused by fuzzy memory. I burned out a bit on things... not to mention the bitterness of the KNT situation.

Anyway, things look different in hindsight rather than during the season. Son finished the season strong but got reminded of his troubles midseason. Ki in my recollection spent most of the time on the bench but had 26 appearances. And I forgot YSY and KJS were in Europe this year at all.

And since I'm so late, I'll add some early preseason thoughts.

Son Heung Min -- Amazing that he was close to a move to Wolfsburg and what a completely different situation that would have been. Son took advantage of injuries to Lamela and Kane and benefited from the extra warmup that Olympics provided and started the season off on fire. Goals and PL POTM and things were going so well. Yet he struggled halfway through the season, perhaps running into post-Olympic wall like Ki did after '12. With Lamela getting injured, he soon got his chances and slowly started to find his form again, even if not quite as consistently great as his season start.

While his early start was more individual brilliance, he started to finally find some semblance of integration into Tottenham's attack and I think part was Poch realizing better how to use Son. Instead of trying to cast him into a direct replacement for either Lamela or Kane, he let Son excel in a more free role.

That said, Son will never be the guy to consistently unlock packed defensive lines with precise dribbling or passing and that remains a problem when Tottenham faces increasingly defensive opponents. Combine that with his streaky play and it won't be a surprise when he runs into dips of form again this season. But it feels like he's making progress toward becoming a more consistent player and hopefully his broken arm doesn't stop his improvement.

Ji Dong Won -- Played in every match and that showed his value to his team who struggled in the offensive end all season and his role only increased with injuries and poor form of other options. He really started to his groove at the end of the first half and so it was a bit disappointing for him to revert to some bad habits in the second. As Augsburg really struggled to create opportunities or even maintain possession, Ji (when CF) often drifts wider and deeper in search of touches where his lack of dribbling and acceleration show. That wasn't helped with him playing often out wide in a 4-1-4-1, reinforcing those bad instincts when he was asked to play forward.

Combine that his amazingly poor luck in front of goal (it feels like every shot is saved by a miraculous save) and a season where he played regularly felt frustrating at times, especially with the glimpse of hope before winter break reminding me of the type of player he could be. And the poor state of Augsburg play often left Ji isolated in attack.

With a year left on his contract, Ji has a lot to fight for, and I don't think he feels comfortable enough to try with a new team such that he'd move. Augsburg isn't overflowing with talent so he should get a fair amount of chances and at times the team just needs guys like Ji who work hard. But will Ji ever find again the form that marked his first season there, or will he remain a trusted but unexciting utility attacker?

Koo Ja Cheol -- Injuries and playing out of position really dragged Koo down this year compared to his bright season before. Koo is always battling, and that enthusiasm cost him both in terms of silly yellow cards and perhaps rushing back too soon from a nagging ankle injury. And things looked really bad when he fell awkwardly toward the end of the season and missed the last few matches due to injury.

Yet even in a down year, he showed that on a poor Augsburg side, he brought some consistency which they so lacked and that giant holes appeared in positions where he wasn't playing which showed his value to the team. When playing as a second forward or 10, Augsburg struggled to bring the ball up in attack. When he played out wide, they often gave up the center. Yet towards the end of the season, it seems that Augsburg found a fit for him in the 8 position where he had license to pitch in offense when it was struggling but use his fighting to win possession and help out on defense.

Koo was rewarded with an extension and he's been playing deeper CM role this preseason. As he gets older, playing deeper should allow him to continue to contribute as his youthful energy wanes. Playing a single role should also help him focus his skills but so much of his scoring is scrappy goals in the box; he's also not the most dependable defender as he roams to the action rather than stick to his responsibilities. With Kohr leaving and Baier getting older, Koo will have to handle a large burden this season but then again, he's carried that through so much of his Augsburg career.

Ki Sung Yueng -- I was surprised looking back at my recaps and his stats at how much he played. And he had some good runs in there too even though it seemed overshadowed by his waffling on moving to China and frequent stretches where he'd not make the squad or not play. The fact that he even considered cashing in on his career, his struggles with endurance at the end of the season, and minor surgery this summer seems to point to the fact that his problematic knee may be worse off than reported. Despite an obvious desire to win and avoid relegation, it seemed like he was rationing his effort at times.

The desire to control the game seems to be the variable that dictates Ki's performances and also differentiates his KNT play where he tries to lead the team. When he sits back, one would rather have a defensive battler in his spot as anyone can play safe passes. But when he drives the ball himself, either dribbling or with incisive passes, Ki shows the kind of player he was at Sunderland and in his POTY season. But the aforementioned rationing made the former passivity far too common this season. But when the season was on the line, he did help Swansea survive and only he and Clement might know what he pushed through to get there.

Ki will be wanting to find his best form ahead of WC so I think we should see a Ki more willing to fight to be in the XI. It's not reassuring when they go out and put a record signing in his position. But with Cork leaving, Britton looking like retirement planning with future coaching role in contract and Fer being an inconsistent player, Ki might not have to look for a loan to do so, especially if they stick with three CMs as they finished the season with. He's not off to a great start though already as he recovers still and will have a late start to the season. But I do think this may be the last we see of Ki in a top league if he decides to cash in post WC and move closer to his family.

Kwon Chang Hoon -- Although it was exciting for him to make a move to Europe, it was disappointing to see him move mid-season to a relegation candidate in Dijon, and even more so that he seemed unprepared with his manager commenting about his need to get match fit. But when he did get on the pitch he showed some good class at times. Unfortunately, he also showed that he has some ways to go in his integration as the language barrier may be to blame for him looking like he's not on the same page as everyone else. It's no wonder then that he had a limited role in their final matches... relegation danger isn't a time when managers take those kinds of liabilities on.

Fortunately for KCH, Dijon survived and he has a whole summer to learn and to earn a bigger role. I still think he has some ways to go before he earns the manager's trust so we'll see if his skills are enough for him to get a bit of leash or if he remains too risky for a very conservative manager.

Lee Chung Yong -- When Allardyce came on, what should have been a fresh start was disappointing as one could guess that LCY wasn't the right fit. And clearly he came close to leaving on loan, but LCY stuck around in the hopes of a fresh start with new manager even though he should have left, and probably that will be why he sticks around this fall too. It's a bit sad when one of his highlights was a last second sub, when he came on, took a corner kick and assisted the winning goal.

But more worrisome than his lack of time was how he looked when he did play. His pace is falling off dramatically and even his dribbling wizardry is starting to look more mundane. Given his low physicality and defensive shortcomings, he can't even shift deeper to extend his career and a winger with those problems can't cut in the PL.

Ahead of WC, we'll see if that will be enough motivation for LCY to seek regular play. I still think he has enough in the tank to help a Championship side or weaker Bundesliga team but he hasn't shown a strong interest in leaving even though he probably should have left Crystal Palace long ago.

Park Joo Ho -- Similar to LCY, I was so disappointed in how poor he looked in his limited showings and its no surprise he was pulled at HT in his one start. Part certainly can be attributed to Tuchel wanting to play wingbacks which PJH certainly is not, but in the limited minutes, he looked slow and limited.

Already he's been banished to the reserve team as Dortmund want him to find a new team but interest seems very limited. I still have to believe that he has value but not good tape for potential suitors to be watching. Unlike other Koreans with wives/children back in Korea, PJH will probably seek out European opportunities even at a secondary league but immediate resolution doesn't seem likely.

Hwang Hee Chan -- A soft promotion from Liefering to Salzburg looked like a big jump for HCH and he struggled at times. But a team like Salzburg can afford to be patient and keep expectations low, and when they sold their starting striker to China, HCH was more ready to take on the scoring burden. As part of a forward pair, HCH's shortcomings are less pronounced and allow him to use his physicality and pace in the soft spots of opponents and started to find his scoring touch at the end of the season.

His shot is still a hundred miles away from Son, is far from the smart player of Ji, but perhaps physical ability will allow HCH to keep improving. Salzburg will depend on his more, and with so much competition, the pressure will be on him to perform in CL qualifiers. But if he does well, he can use CL to springboard to higher competition. That said, Leipzig do not look interested at this point, so he does have some work to do to earn a transfer up to top league.

Kim Jin Su -- Another half season out of the matchday squad was enough for KJS to return to Korea in winter break. Looking back, it doesn't seem a great shame to have lost out the job to Toljan who has excelled and lived up to youth pedigree. Maybe he should have looked harder for an opportunity when his highlights were still fresh in people's mind. And yet sooner or later, his major shortcomings seem like they would have been exposed as they have been recently with KNT. A fullback, no matter how fast or good dribbler, is not going to play if he's always out of position and can't cross.

Yun Suk Young -- He must have the poorest agent. Signing for a six month deal for a Danish team that had a lot invested in LB was a bad sign and it turned out as badly as it looked with a cup match being the total of his time there. Of the two failed LBs, YSY looked more likely to handle European play but poor career choices never game him the opportunity to try.

Others I've kinda tracked

Kim Young Kiu -- A solid contributor for Melilla as he got plenty of minutes and was able to earn him a permanent move to Merida. But didn't excel enough to change divisions: Segunda B is still a long ways away from La Liga where he looked briefly so promising not so long ago.

Choi Kyoung Rok -- Struggled for playing time and when he did get some form, he got hurt and never found his way back. Disappointing for him so we'll see if St Pauli continue on (I doubt he costs much) but as of now, still depth option for St Pauli.

Park Yi Young -- Did well as a DM for St Pauli II, and earned a fill in for St Pauli at CB and FB and now is promoted to first team. He's played at DM and FB so far as that was recommendation coming from youth director but as of now, looks like a bench player rather than starter.

Lee Seung Won -- Apparently another Korean was waiting to fill in for PYY in St Pauli II when PYY moved up. I don't know that much about him but he also played as DM/CM. He's in first team training camp but I don't think that it will stay.

Seo Young Jae -- A Hamburg U21 kid who was promising, even filling in for first team during preseason when they had a run of injures at LB, had a major knee injury and has a rough time coming back. He slowly earned his starting spot back but Hamburg press weren't too enthused about his prospects of promoting. I thought he had aged out but he has another year to prove himself to Hamburg brass.

Hwang Mun Ki -- Playing in Portuguese second division, this young midfielder started off as youth depth. When Academica lost sight of playoff spots, he got more and more playing time to see what they had. It seems so far that he has a decent chance of being a regular.

Young guys

Lee Seung Woo / Paik Seung Ho / Jang Gyeol Hee -- We'd all like to believe that La Masia is the secret to making great players but we only look at the successes and not all the kids who don't pan out. Unfortunately, even if it were great, sometimes there's not a substitute for playing regularly and three bright stars are starting to dim, albeit in different ways.

LSW quickly became the brightest hope and he remains with Barca B for now so we'll see if he can parlay a decent U20 WC and biggest reputation into a decent opportunity. But Barcelona started to show its hand, leaving him to bench for UEFA Youth League, and not utilizing him for Barca B. He should leave in search of first team football, but perhaps he still has (unrealistic) hopes to get back on track with Barcelona.

PSH is a rough case as he not only got caught in the FIFA ban, but he also got stuck in a transitional year for Barca B as they sought promotion at all costs, and that meant letting young prospects like him behind in favor of more veteran players brought from outside to help in their promotion push. Apparently he's been told that he can leave for free.

JGH didn't even get a contract forward and had the misfortune of a major leg injury that seemed to stop his progression. Barca tried to convert him to LB but he was an infrequent player for Juvenil A team. He's now trialling with a Greek club and we will see where he ends up.

Lee Kang In -- In the good news department, he had another good year and was courted heavily but signed on to stay with Valencia, and rewarded by playing up to Juv B and promotion to Juvenil A this season. We will see how he adapts to new age group but he's making good progress.

Ahn June Hyuk -- Info on Roda is hard to find, but he was selected to Valencian regional team several times, but the fact that he remained with Roda rather than transferring to Villarreal tempers that. I don't know whats going to happen to him as I believe that he's too old now for Juv A.

Jeong Woo Yeong -- Joined Bayern's U19 team. We'll see how invested they are in him this season. He'll get a token trip with first team on Asian tour but of course he's far from that jump.