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Hwang Hee-Chan’s (황희찬) 2023/24: The Rise of the South Korean Player in Wolves

In the run-up to the match between Manchester City and Wolves, Pep Guardiola made a reference to Hwang Hee-Chan as the “Korean guy” during a press conference. This caused many to wonder if Hwang would respond with a statement on the field. In the 66th minute of the game, Hwang seized the opportunity and scored the winning goal, which put an end to Man City’s dominant run. This victory helped to secure Wolves’ position and keep them far from the relegation places for the foreseeable future.

Hwang’s career journey and development as a player has not been a linear one. Despite facing difficulties surrounding the club, he persevered to prove himself with Wolves. This has led to him becoming the senior-most attacking player in Wolves’ ranks, and by forming a crucial partnership with Matheus Cunha and Pedro Neto, he has become their top scorer and is now leading the team. We will take a closer look at how his season so far under Gary O’Neil has shaped him and his performance.

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Hwang Hee-Chan’s (황희찬) role in Wolves system: How Gary O’Neil’s dynamics helped him discover his best form

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Hwang’s role as an inside forward in O Neil’s system has certainly brought out an instinctive finisher out of him. When we look at Pic 1, we see that Hwang primarily operates on the left flank, receiving in the wide channels more often than not but what has brought the goals in him would be the freedom he has with the movements of players around him especially someone like Matheus Cunha.

With the maximum amount of shots inside the box and the goals closer to the box, this encapsulates Hwang Hee-Chan’s role as the box forward that has him and Neto alongside Cunha create a proper dynamic.

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Pic 2, 3 and Vid 1: Hwang’s role on the right wing and the sequence leading to his goal against Liverpool.

Hwang’s role against Liverpool displayed his versatility to play on either wing with O’Neil’s game plan largely depending on putting Neto against defenders he could get the best 1v1 outcomes but Hwang’s role with his ability to make blindside runs and finishing from anywhere inside the box is vastly important to create a synchronized attacking front 3.

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As indicated in Picture 2, O’Neil employed a man-to-man marking strategy, emphasizing transitions. He entrusted Hwang Hee-Chan with the role of a more passive pressing option who would typically hold his position or time his runs, regardless of whether Wolves were in possession or not. This becomes even more evident in the transition highlighted in Picture 3 and the video, where the formation shifted from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4. In this context, Cunha’s movement, synchronized with Neto’s ball-carrying, is most effectively complemented by Hwang’s precisely timed runs.

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Pics 4, 5 and Vid 2: Hwang’s role as the inside forward and his sync timed runs with Neto and Cunha

The Wolves’ match against Aston Villa serves as an excellent illustration of Hwang’s versatility. In this game, his dual role as the left-wing player and inside forward (as evident in Images 4 and 5) was notably apparent. Once again, he capitalized on his chemistry with Cunha and Neto, aligning with O’Neil’s tactical approach. The strategy was quite straightforward: isolate Neto in a 1v1 situation against the opposing team’s weaker link, which could be either on the left or right flank. Then, during the transition phase, observe his movements, as shown in Video 2, illustrating how he occupies the central zone and expertly navigates between the center-backs to execute a goal-scoring opportunity.

Hwang’s role is of utmost importance in both the 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 formations, as depicted in Picture 4. In these setups, a midfielder has the flexibility to drop to the ball side, assisting with the team’s progression and the advancement of fullbacks. This approach allows Hwang Hee-Chan to maintain a high position during periods of settled possession. Moreover, when Wolves find themselves deep within the opponent’s half, it presents an opportunity for a swifter transition, capitalizing on Neto’s ability to execute quick changes of direction and Cunha’s skill in drawing away defenders. Hwang’s innate talent for finishing plays is the crowning jewel that perfectly complements the team’s attacking strategy.

What more can Wolves fans look forward to from Hwang??

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With 5 goals already, Hwang Hee-Chan might be the most efficient goalscorer Wolves have found since the days of Raul Jiminez (now with Fulham) who led the team as the primary threat but Hwang perhaps will provide more of a functional forward role alongside 2 other functional forwards like Cunha and Neto.

The mention of Cunha and Neto coming often is a testament to the fact that Hwang’s ability to finish is what brings Pedro Neto’s and Cunha’s game to light even better than the previous years (even when Hwang Hee-Chan was there) and that’s down to O Neil able to profile his players well.

With projections saying he will hit the upper limit of the double digits marks in the Premier League this season, Hwang’s season will be one to watch for all fans.

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