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Why Bolton Needs Lee Chung-Yong to Start in Premier League Matches

Photo by Enter Key

Much has been made of Daniel Sturridge’s torrid start to his loan spell at Bolton, scoring in each of his first three appearances with the club. But with the arrival of Sturridge and his instant emergence as Bolton’s most dangerous finisher, it remains to be seen what Owen Coyle will do when it comes to naming his starting eleven for the remainder of the season.

Sturridge came off the bench in his first game against Wolves, scoring the game winner in injury time. Since then he has started alongside Kevin Davies at the top of Coyle’s 4-4-2 formation, which Bolton has used in every Premier League match this season. Johan Elmander, the club’s leading goalscorer this season, has moved to the right side of midfield, with Lee Chung-Yong making way.

Elmander has played in wide positions before, both under Gary Megson and for Sweden, and has proven to be an adequate if not exceptional option on the wide right. Nevertheless, Sturridge’s arrival, however successful it has been so far, leaves Coyle to have to make an important decision about who will start for his side for the remainder of the season. Kevin Davies is the club captain and his uncanny aerial ability gives the squad an invaluable direct attacking option, and Sturridge has shown his quality in his brief time at the Reebok; it’s highly doubtful either would be taken out of the lineup. Elmander’s early season run of goals has dried up, but sending him to the bench would surely dent his confidence; to complicate matters further, the Swede is out of contract at the end of the season and it would be naïve to think that losing his starting spot wouldn’t increase the likelihood that he would leave the club on a free transfer in the summer.

This, then, would seem to mean that Lee would be the odd man out in the current scenario. But when the South Korean came back following Asian Cup duty, where he helped his country to a third-place finish, Coyle described his return from the Asian Cup as like “getting a £10 million player”. Given his side’s poor January form as well as the madness of the winter transfer window, he might have actually been undervaluing the 22-year-old.

The numbers don’t lie: Lee departed for Qatar prior to Bolton’s match at Chelsea on Dec. 28 and Bolton proceeded to lose four of its next five Premier League fixtures, scoring two goals and conceding ten in that stretch. During that time Bolton were also underwhelming in the FA Cup, managing a flattering 2-0 home win against non-league York City and a lifeless 0-0 draw at home to a Wigan side that made eight changes to its lineup. Bolton faced a difficult and crowded winter schedule and has one of the thinnest squads in the Premier League, but the fact is that the team has gained 35 points in 21 matches with Lee this season (9-8-4) and 1 point in 6 matches without him (0-1-5). It would seem crazy to think that he would be the one to make way for Sturridge, but that is exactly what has happened thus far.

Lee, a £2 million signing by Megson in August 2009, has chipped in with two goals and seven assists in all competitions for Bolton this campaign, but his influence extends far beyond that; during his absence it became clear that he is the only natural right-winger in the Bolton squad. Coyle tried four different players at the position – Martin Petrov, Matt Taylor and young Benfica loanee Rodrigo, all left-footed, and Mark Davies, a natural central midfielder – with limited success. Lee has been nothing short of outstanding since arriving at Bolton; he brings quickness, creativity and constant attacking movement down the right side, does an excellent job of helping the fullbacks with their defensive responsibilities, and has also proven to be surprisingly skillful in the air. On as a substitute on Sunday, Lee won a key header over Everton’s Leighton Baines that Sturridge put away decisively, sealing the three points for the Trotters.

Against Everton, Coyle took Matt Taylor off and shifted Elmander to the left side when Lee came on; given that Taylor and Petrov haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire this season, this could be the best lineup potentially for Bolton going forward. Coyle’s desire for balance, however, could override any desire to start Elmander on the left. It isn’t the worst problem to have of course, and any injuries going forward would render this discussion moot. But at present moment, Coyle will have his work cut out juggling his attacking options – and any hopes of pushing for a European place could rest on what he ultimately decides to do.

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  1. Bolton

    May 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Without LCY, who was out for the entire year with a broken leg, Bolton was relegated to second division. Looking back to this article, I think not many people probably had any ideal back then, how right on the money this article was.

  2. Timbucktoothed

    March 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I am a Korean American and a football nut when it comes to Korean National team and Chelsea since I work for marketing department of Samsung. Anyways, Lee is an awsome mate. He signed a lot of autographs even after the hard day at practice with the national team in Qatar. He is never rude and very grateful for fan support. Hey Bolton Fans! I know you guys love Lee but Lee really is grateful for all the love he gets from Bolton despite him being an Asian an all (and not good looking either). Bolton fans are not racists. Screw those Glasgow racists punks.

  3. Jake

    March 3, 2011 at 7:33 am

    sorry ” asian ” which i did meen to put, but said african for some strange reason

  4. Jake

    February 24, 2011 at 7:43 am

    To be honest with you, we (bolton) do not depend on lee, yes he is our best player but we do have other players that can play in his position. They may not be as good but can certainly do the job, for instance January 2011, lee was in the african nations cup and was missing him thorugh out the month and late december.

    26th December

    Taylor (40)
    Elmander (86)

    (HT 1-0) West Brom

    Taylor was playing lees position and scored at this game.


    Moreno (54)

    (HT 0-0) Wigan

    Stam (80)

    Okay its only wigan but moreno who scored the only goal for bolton also played in lees postion.

    We did lose to Stoke (Bogey Team) Chelsea and liverpool also but that was expected.

    Lee was also rested when we played Everton last weekend, where bolton won 2-0 and managed perfectly without him. So in “trouble” evidentlly not, also Sitting 8th in the table, the lose of lee would be a big lose but we can find alternatives if need be.

    • Patrick

      March 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

      Asian Cup* He isn’t African 😛

  5. Bikku

    February 23, 2011 at 9:27 am

    i think owen coyle is just trying to give lee some rest. He has said that he is worried that lee has played continuously for more than two years without a break. Bolton wanderers no wonder seem helpless without lee as shown by them when lee went to asian cup. I think lee is the most influential player in bolton currently and in my opinion owen coyle knows that. As soon as he came back from asian cup, coyle put him straight back to the starting lineup. This means he was desperate for lee to return, so I think maybe he will bring him as a sub coming 2 or 3 matches then after that he will start lee from the beginning. I hope he does this otherwise bolton are in trouble.

  6. Jman

    February 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Lee Chung Yong is Bolton’s best player, have they forgotten that? Problem is, he’s been playing too much and he really needs a break. Either way, Bolton needs Lee to be at his best if they want to be successful.

  7. Jake

    February 18, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Taylor at LB instead of robinson i dont think so, that would be a disaster and coyle would never put him there. Elmander is good on his day but a hit and miss player (usually a miss player) but for some reason coyle as faith in the guy so probably will renew his contract at the end of the season, Id like to see Elmander sold and sturridge brought in. As for chungy he is probably our most talented player without a doubt and will be lucky to hold onto him, could see him moving t oside like liverpool. Super KD will be up there until he retires and will not be replaced until then, i have to say he is the heart and soul of the team and gives 110% every match. As for most bolton players they are underated, but once we get in europe again, offers will be flying in for the likes of chungy, cahill, holden, M.davies, Al absi etc.

  8. Clampdown

    February 17, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Nice article. Lee is highly under-rated.

  9. Earl Reed

    February 17, 2011 at 7:39 am

    It is definitely a difficult quandary, and it’s unclear if Bolton will be given any opportunity to purchase Sturridge from Chelsea…or even if Bolton would have the funds come summer to make the move permanent.

    I think Bolton should remain a 4-4-2 type team. Coyle will just have to juggle his lineup to keep players happy. I do think that Davies as center forward should be the mainstay, but you can do some mix-and-match around the perimeter between Sturridge, Elmander, Lee, and Taylor. Taylor is also a converted left fullback, and so you could technically spell Paul Robinson for a game if necessary.

    That being said, if Elmander is out of contract, he may be one foot out the door anyway…and the thing that would keep him around Bolton (an unimpressive 2nd half of the season leading to little outside interest) might be the reason to look for other options regardless. He’s working on two months without a league goal, as a matter of fact.

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