Bangkok United suffer disappointment but not disaster in ACL defeat

Bangkok United’s lineup may have been significantly different from the one that took the field against JDT two years ago, but it was the same story as they exited the AFC Champions League (ACL) in Preliminary Round 2 – this time against Hanoi FC.

However, not too many comparisons should be made given the very different circumstances. In 2017, the Bangkok Angels were clear favourites and dominated the match before losing in a penalty shooutout.

This year, Hanoi FC posed a very different challenge, with the Vietnamese champions fielding a team containing many of the Vietnam side that reached the quarter-final of this year’s Asian Cup, including the mercurial Nguyen Quang Hai.

Two years ago, overcoming JDT would have been an important statement in the club’s development and the disappointment was huge. This year, progress in the ACL felt very much like a secondary aim, with the Thai League (T1) title the priority.

In the end, the home side fell to a soft late penalty, converted by Nguyen Van Quyet at a time when Bangkok United were looking stronger.

Here are three ways in which Bangkok United can learn from the defeat to make a strong bid for the 2019 T1 title.

  1. Put the pressure on

Everyone knows that Bangkok United like to play expansive, attacking football and they have made a lot of fans as a result. However, the match against Hanoi suggested the need to do more off the ball to protect their own goal.

Hanoi looked like they had done their homework and, as Bangkok United tried to build, they constantly harried them into mistakes in a torrid first half. As the home side, it should have been Mano Polking’s side who were taking control, but they allowed themselves to be dominated by the visitors for much of the opening 45 minutes.

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Photo credit: Hanoi FC

The formation is very much designed to facilitate an attacking game but, when under pressure, there must be a different gear that allows the players to adopt a more aggressive approach to counter their opponents.

Hanoi managed to slice through the home defence time and again in the first half and only heroics from goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard kept Hanoi out. The Vietnamese side may be better than most teams Bangkok United will face in T1 but lessons must be learned.

  1. Find your range and support the strikers

When Hanoi tired in the second half, they fell deeper and deeper back, but Bangkok United’s passing accuracy began to desert them and many moves broke down due to stray passes or a failure of the midfielders to get forward in support.

On the occasions when Tristan Do managed to make progress down the right wing, he often lined up a cross to see only Nelson Bonilla surrounded by several defenders, with little else to aim at. The result was sometimes a cross easily dealt with by the defence or the need to turn back and build again.

IMG_3279

Photo credit: Bangkok United

Vander Luiz and Bonilla were both very lively, while Anon Amornlerdsak had some good moments in the first half. The three of them will cause a lot of headaches for T1 defences on this form. However, when faced with a packed defence, the midfielders need to offer more support to occupy defenders and provide alternative options.

Fitness issues kept Sanrawat Dechmitr out of the starting lineup and he will provide an added dimension, but it is clear that these players need more time to get to know each other’s games.

  1. Look on the bright side

After the defeat to JDT in 2017, Bangkok United suffered a hangover that seemed to last for the first third of the season. Having been T1 runners-up in 2016, another title challenge was the goal, but hopes quickly disappeared with five defeats in the first 12 games.

They proceeded to win 12 of the next 13 but it was too little, too late as Buriram strode to another title. Polking is very conscious of how things went after that loss to the Malaysian side and is determined to prevent a repeat.

The players would do well to look at the positive side of this defeat. There will be no arduous trip to China ahead of T1 Matchday One’s tricky visit to Sukhothai on February 24th. The rigged ACL draw would probably have ensured that the playoff against Shandong Luneng – featuring Graziano Pelle and possibly Marouane Fellaini – would have ended in defeat.

Achieving the aim of becoming champions of Thailand will mean direct entry to the group stages of the 2020 ACL and no need for the qualifying hurdles that ultimately place Southeast Asian teams at a huge disadvantage when it comes to the one-off matches away to sides from stronger leagues.

This defeat was disappointing and exposed some weaknesses in the side. But defeat in Sukhothai would be far more damaging in the grand scheme of things. It is time to turn full attention to what really matters this year.

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