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2023 Preview: Can FC Seoul Finally Get Back to Where They Belong?

After three Final B finishes in a row, can FC Seoul return to where they belong? The new season brings new signings and new hope for FC Seoul who will be looking to return to prominence. The task at hand for manager An Ik-soo and his men heading into the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 season is to first drag the capital club out of the lower reaches of the table and back into the top six. 

What happened last season?

FC Seoul were, once again, embroiled in a relegation battle and only sealed survival on the final day as, although they were safe from automatic relegation, could have finished 11th with a defeat to Suwon FC and if Gimcheon beat Suwon Bluewings. FC Seoul finished as FA Cup runners-up after losing to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors over two legs. They actually found themselves 2-0 up in the first leg at home but were pegged back to 2-2 just before half time and then were beaten convincingly 3-1 in the second leg in Jeonju.

What happened in 2022 was all too familiar for FC Seoul fans. Their team tried to pass the opposition to death and had the lion's share of possession but were unable to break teams down and were often caught on the break. The 3-0 loss to Daegu FC on 18th September was a microcosm of their season, they failed to learn from their mistakes, got caught in possession, and were picked off on the counter. In the end, Seoul finished ninth on 46 points following 11 wins from 38, 13 draws, and 14 losses. They failed to win at home at all post-split and won just six in front of their own fans all campaign. 


What transfer business has been done over winter?

FC Seoul have been very busy in the winter transfer window with every position across the pitch being strengthened. The headline signings will be Hwang Ui-jo on loan from Nottingham Forest, Lim Sang-hyub from Pohang Steelers and Willyan Barbosa from Daejeon Hana Citizen, forwards who will be tasked with flanking or partnering Stanislav Iljutcenko up front. 


Swedish-born Syrian international winger Hosam Aiesh is another wide attacking option having signed from IFK Goteborg while Jeonnam Dragons' Kim Gyeong-min is another winter recruit. Lots of attacking options but how An Ik-soo keeps all these players happy will be quite the challenge.

FNR

The club have also added strength and depth at the back with right back Lee Si-young, left back Park Soo-il, and centre back Kwon Wan-kyu all signing from Seongnam FC. Behind them in between the sticks is Choi Cheol-won who has joined from Bucheon FC 1995. He will replace Yang Han-been who's contract ran out and departed for Cerezo Osaka in J1 League.

Willyan joins on loan from Daejeon Hana Citizen
A handful of players have signed new contracts, too, such as backup goalkeeper Hwang Sung-min, centre back Hwang Hyun-soo, utility player Go Yo-han, and experienced full back Ko Kwang-min.

There have been some notable outgoings as well with Cho Young-wook, Yoon Jong-gyu, and Lee Sang-min joining Gimcheon Sangmu for military service, and Jung Han-min has joined Seongnam FC.  

Existing squad and key players

With the new signings and new contracts, FC Seoul have a huge squad. Manager An Ik-soo will have his work cut out for him trying to whittle it down to 11 starters and seven substitutes. He now has four goalkeepers, three left backs, six centre backs, six central midfielders (eight including the holding midfielders such as Ki Sung-yueng and Jung Hyun-cheol) seven wingers or wide forwards, and four number nine-types - five including youngster Kim Shin-jin who is something of a utility player.

Iljutcenko (L), Osmar (C), and Paločević (R) are three of Seoul's five foreign players
FC Seoul, with five foreign players on the books, will have to rotate and decide who will start and who will have to come off the bench. Iljutcenko came off the bench a lot last season but he didn't make the move to the capital from Jeonju to be an impact sub, while Willyan and Paločević will be hoping they are both well thought of and can squeeze their way into the starting lineup. Hosam Aiesh is registered as Syrian and so will be treated as the "+1" in the "3+1" starting foreign player quota.

Adding to the selection headache are the players who have returned from military service and long-term injuries. Centre back Kim Ju-sung and central midfielder Han Chan-hee are back from Gimcheon while Ji Dong-won is back in training after missing almost the entirety of the 2022 campaign. 

Style of play, strengths and weaknesses

FC Seoul's style of play is possession-based with manager An Ik-soo placing particular emphasis on build-up and playing out from the back. But, at times, this became their own downfall as teams would pick FC Seoul off on the counterattack after getting caught in possession. One of the key issues was that goalkeeper Yang Han-been was a bit uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, but he has since left and Choi Cheol-won is a bit better in this regard.

What FC Seoul have been good at is creating chances and have often created enough to win two or three games. An on-song Iljutcenjko and Hwang Ui-jo will be as good a front two as you're likely to see in K League, though.


Realistic 2023 target

A top-six finish is the bare minimum for a club the size of FC Seoul. They have plenty of competitors, though, with Daegu FC, Suwon FC, and Suwon Bluewings all feeling as though they ought to be in Final A as well. If Seoul can get off to a good start and find a rhythm then they have an excellent chance but An Ik-soo will have soon to figure out what his best team is and get them singing from the same hymn sheet.

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