Hwang Hee-Chan 2019/20 – scout report
With all of the excitement surrounding Red Bull Salzburg’s attacking phenom Erling Haaland and Liverpool-bound Takumi Minamino, it seems unfair that Hwang Hee-Chan has fallen somewhat into the background. The South Korean forward has been in electric form this season with nine goals and seven assists in all competitions for the Austrian side and is yet another example of how Red Bull Salzburg’s scouting system appears to be lightyears ahead of many of its competitors.
Snatched from the clutches of Pohang Steelers, Hwang made his debut in 2016, coming off the bench to score twice in the Europa League against Lille. Despite this start to his career, and a promising 2017-18 season, Hwang found himself loaned out to Hamburger SV for the 2018/19 season, where he endured a relatively disappointing campaign with just two goals in 20 appearances for the German side. Nevertheless, he hit the ground running this season for Salzburg and has been a mainstay in Jesse Marsch’s side from the get-go.
Hwang is excellent in the final third with the ball at his feet, and for a forward with a reputation for his clinical goalscoring ability, his passing is a seriously underrated part of his game. In fact, he is arguably the most dangerous player within 20 yards of goal in the Austrian Bundesliga – his 3.68 deep completions per 90 minutes is the highest in the league.
Hwang is dangerous when dropping deep into the half-space to receive, turn, and link with Salzburg’s other attacking players and likes to have the ball at his feet facing the goal. By dropping deep he is able to receive the ball within 25 yards of the goal and be facing it, from which point he can look to attacks players with his dribbling, or look for a through pass.
He has a wonderful understanding of where his players are and will be, at any given time. Several of his assists this season have come from playing instinctive passes at the right time, knowing a teammate is going to be in a specific area at the time. Hwang is excellent at moving into areas and drawing defenders with him, creating space for his teammates, whilst retaining the ball.
Once he does this he plays a pass into the space which he has just vacated where a teammate can finish, often unopposed. His ability to play these passes without looking or setting himself means he frequently catches defenders off guard, which buys his teammates time to finish upon receiving the pass.
We can see an example of this in the analysis below. Hwang vacates the central space to receive the pass in the left half-space. He takes extra touches on the ball to allow his teammates to arrive in support, before playing a perfectly timed no-look pass into the central area he moved from for his teammate to latch onto.
Again against Wolfsberger, he demonstrated his ability to instinctively read the movements of his teammates to create and exploit space behind the opposition defence. Receiving the ball outside the opposition area, he drives inside towards their only defender. By doing this he knew Erling Håland was rushing forward and moving behind him into the space created by Hwang’s dribble inside.
Hwang is able to play the pass successfully to Håland as at no point in this attack did he look up to acknowledge his teammates run outside him, hiding his intentions from the defender.
All of Hwang’s goals this season have come from inside the 18-yard box, and he can finish with either foot. In fact, if we look at his shot map we can see that he barely takes a shot from outside the box.
Hwang is nevertheless a versatile finisher and is as comfortable rounding the goalkeeper to score as he is taking the early shot, his ability to evaluate the goalkeeper’s positioning is key to his excellent shot-to-goal ratio. From his 35 shots on target this season he has hit the target with 24 of these, and as mentioned earlier, has scored nine. This is a very strong ratio.
As explained in the above section, he is excellent at creating space for his teammates with his movement on the ball. However, his movement of the ball is as dangerous, and Hwang knows how to create his own opportunities as well. Salzburg’s tactics often revolve around playing two forwards. When playing alongside Håland, Hwang looks to play between full-back and centre-back. From this position, if Håland drops deep he is able to run in behind. Again there is an understanding between the two that when one is in possession they know where the other will make a run to. We can see this below as his strike partner receives, he instantly plays the ball over his shoulder. Hwang curves his run, initially dropping deeper to ensure his marker doesn’t drop deep, and that there is space for him to run into. His run is timed perfectly, and he splits his run in between the full-back and centre-back to receive the through ball.
Attacking players in 1 v 1 situations
Hwang is an excellent dribbler who uses his pace, strength and skill to great effect – whether that’s attacking a defender at pace, with space behind them, or using his quick feet and close control in tighter areas.
He showed the latter on the big stage in November against Napoli in the Champions League, dancing around Kalidou Koulibaly to force the defender to bring him down in the area, having dribbled past him with ease. He finished the evening completing five of his six dribbles, with Koulibaly stopping him just once.
When Hwang has space in behind to attack, he will look to attack it immediately. As soon as he receives the ball with a defender close to him, as we can see in the image below, he will take a big touch past the opponent and round them using his acceleration.
Overall his statistics in this department for Salzburg have been impressive. Hwang attempts 5.42 dribbles per game in all competitions and has an excellent 56% completion on these attempts.
Hwang is a quick, strong forward with excellent composure in front of goal. Although Håland and Minamino have been getting the headlines this season, Hwang deserves a few of his own and with Wolves already circling as the transfer window is coming up, there may be many more suitors queueing for the signature of a forward quietly going about his business and putting up excellent numbers with his goals and assists keeping his side in the driving seat in the Austrian Bundesliga.
Hwang is a well-rounded attacking talent, as the image above shows, and although he is at his best when playing alongside a second striker, I believe he has the ability to play in any position in a front three, or by himself as a false nine.
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