The 2019 Thai League (T1) season kicks off on February 22nd as 16 clubs prepare for battle in what is sure to be another season of drama.
The reduction of the league from 18 to 16 teams will certainly add pressure on clubs at the wrong end of the table but here are the teams that should be in the top half but not quite good enough to mount a title challenge.
The War Elephant look ready to emerge from three years of mediocrity to once again challenge for a place near the top of the table.
Finishes of 4th, 6th, and 3rdplace from 2013 to 2015 marked Suphanburi out as a team on the rise, but they have since fallen away.
However, last year offered some promise as, despite flirting with relegation at times, they had the second strongest defence in the league. Finishing in 10th place was more to do with a limited attack and an inability to turn draws into wins. Suphanburi drew more games (13) than any other team in T1.
With a solid defensive foundation in place, featuring Anderson dos Santos, Thailand international Suphan Thongsong and goalkeeper Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool, Suphanburi now need to ensure they have the attacking weapons to climb the table.
Photo credit: Suphanburi FC
With Totchtawan Sripan joining as head coach, they have a strong tactician in place and he will have to get the best from his strikers. Cleiton Silva’s goals lifted them out relegation trouble last year and he has now joined on a permanent deal, along with Jonatan Reis, who was prolific for Prachuap in 2018.
Mark Hartmann is a strong alternative option up front and Totchtawan may be able to give Chananan Pombuppha a new lease of life.
Midfielder Kim Sung-hwan is a good signing from Port FC and Adul Lahso could again play a key role if he has fully recovered from the injury that kept him out for much of last year.
There is not enough quality to sustain a challenge for the top 3 but Suphanburi could surprise a few people and a place in the top five is not out of the question.
Player to watch: Jonatan Reis
Like Suphanburi, Chonburi have fallen on relatively hard times, but there are signs of promise. Since a third runner-up finish in four years in 2014, the finishing position has been dropping, reaching a low of 9thin 2018.
But with the many young talents at the club one year older, the future looks brighter, and there have been some strong looking additions to the squad. Lukian proved a reliable goal scorer with Pattaya United last year and another Brazilian striker, Patrick Cruz, comes with a decent profile.
Myanmar internationals Zaw Min Tun and Sithu Aung could make important contributions and Niran Hansson and Ekkachai Rittipan look like two decent acquisitions from within T1.
Photo credit: Chonburi FC
All eyes will again be on the attacking talents of Worachit Kanitsribampen who played a key role last season and the 21-year-old will look to push on and establish himself in the national side with the 2022 World Cup qualifiers on the horizon.
The squad looks to have more depth and balance than in the last couple of years and they could push themselves back into the top six.
Player to watch: Worachit Kanitsribampen
- Chiang Rai United
The sudden departure of head coach Jose Borges just months after his appointment was a surprise coming less than two weeks before the T1 kickoff.
The Beetles have been through an exercise in cost-cutting but they have retained a solid core of players. The departure of goal scoring centre-back Victor Cardozo is a blow but Brinner looks a reasonable replacement. In Bill, they have a dependable striker, while Lee Yong-rae is a key presence in the midfield holding role.
Photo credit: Chiang Rai United
There is creativity from William Henrique, Siwakorn Tiatrakul and Chaiyawat Buran, but the squad is somewhat lacking in depth.
Right-back Piyaphon Phanichakul misses out with injury for several months, and while the Chiang Rai squad looks strong enough to maintain their place in the top half of the table, they might not match the performance of the last two years.
Player to watch: Siwakorn Tiatrakul
- PTT Rayong
PTT Rayong’s one and only season in the top tier in 2014 saw them arrive with a nice new stadium but without the squad to keep them up. It has been a long wait to return but they certainly look much stronger than they did back then.
Victor Cardozo will bring goals and leadership from centre-back and Anawin Jujeen, Victor Igbonefo, Suttinun Phuk-kom and Korawit Namviset offer strong defensive experience.
Photo credit: PTT Rayong
Jung Hoon could be an important presence in midfield, while Ariel Rodriguez will hope to rediscover his best form in attack. Sarawut Masuk can provide creativity from the right and former Arsenal youth Jay Emmanual-Thomas will aim to relaunch his career and become more successful than most English strikers have been in Thailand.
PTT look the best equipped of the promoted clubs to make an impact and a finish in the top half certainly doesn’t look beyond them.
Player to watch: Victor Cardozo