Yoon Jong-hwan handed tough opening night as he begins Muang Thong career

All eyes will turn to the SCG Stadium on Saturday evening as Yoon Jong-hwan attempts to lift Muang Thong United out of their Thai League (T1) slump.

The new head coach has a job on his hands, with his club having lost five out of seven games this year. A tough start sees the Kirins host league leaders Port FC but a victory could trigger a turnaround in their fortunes.

Here are three things to look out for in this week’s T1 fixtures.

  1. Muang Thong need a reboot

It has been a dreadful start to the season for Muang Thong United – a club that boasts some of the best attacking talent in T1 and is usually expected to compete for honours.

They sit 15th in the table after seven games and are in need of a new manager bounce as Yoon Jong-hwan takes charge for the first time. The South Korean has a strong CV and his profile makes it a very promising appointment.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

However, the 46-year-old’s biggest challenge will be to manage upwards as well as downwards at a club that is notoriously difficult to work at. He has plenty of talent at his disposal and should be able to take them in the right direction if he is given time, space and support.

After three defeats on the spin, they have their work cut out as they face Port FC, who have struck nine goals in their last two games on their way to the top of the league.

Muang Thong do have the advantage of a stadium with only home fans as the away support has once again been banned. That it took until two days before the match to confirm the latest ban was another poor example of how T1 fans are sometimes treated…

  1. Chiang Rai hope to find home comfort

Chiang Rai United have been on the road for the last three games, a run that has seen them take seven points without conceding a goal. A good point at Buriram United was followed by wins at Ratchaburi and Chiang Mai, taking the Beetles into joint second spot in the table.

Poor air quality has delayed their return home, but they have taken just one point from two games at the Singha Stadium. To maintain their rise up the table, they will need to improve upon the form that saw Muang Thong United take three points from Ailton Silva’s side last month.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Rai will hope that William Henrique and SIvakorn Tiatrakul can keep up their strong recent form as they bid to ensure that Samut Prakan City return south with nothing.

The managerial instability that struck Chiang Rai at the start of the season does not seem to have affected them too adversely as their policy of keeping faith with a very stable lineup continues. Samut Prakan will have to work very hard to take something from this game.

  1. Totchtawan on a tightrope as Sintaweechai absence bites

The sudden collapse of Suphanburi’s form has coincided with an injury to goalkeeper Sintaweechai Hatthairattanakool and they have leaked 10 goals in three consecutive defeats having lost just one goal in the previous four unbeaten fixtures.

Head coach Totchtawan Sripan’s tenure at Muang Thong United ended around this time last year following a 6-1 humiliation at Prachuap FC. Now sitting bottom of the league at the War Elephant, Totchtawan needs to turn things around quickly if he is not to follow his predecessor Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok by losing his job.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

Pairoj led Suphanburi to safety in 2018 but quit after just five games in charge at Muang Thong this year. Totchtawan’s reputation was hurt by a poor spell at Police Tero last year and another failure would be another serious blow for a coach who was hot property in 2017.

Two years ago, Totchtawan was on his way to the last 16 of the AFC Champions League with defending T1 champions Muang Thong. When Nakhon Ratchasima visit Suphanburi on Sunday, he will need his players to rise to the occasion and start rising up the table again.

Mano and Totchtawan feeling the heat ahead of crunch T1 clash

The pressure is building on several head coaches in the Thai League (T1) ahead of a break for the country’s New Year celebrations.

Muang Thong United and Ratchaburi have already seen a head coach depart this year and there is definitely pressure on Bangkok United’s Mano Polking and Suphanburi’s Totchtawan Sripan after unimpressive starts to the season.

Two matches  from this weekend’s schedule – Chiang Mai Vs Chainat and Buriram United Vs PTT Rayong – have been postponed.

Here are four things to look for on T1 Matchday Seven.

Old rivals meet in difficult times 

Three years ago, Mano Polking and Totchtawan Sripan had a thrilling battle for the T1 title as head coaches of Bangkok United and Muang Thong United respectively. Muang Thong eventually prevailed after being pushed all the way by Polking’s exciting team, with the two teams sharing 11 goals in their two league games.

There’s a very different feel about Saturday’s clash between the two. With Totchtawan now at Suphanburi, there is no talk of them being title rivals but Bangkok United’s expected challenge to be champions is under serious threat after a series of poor results.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The Bangkok Angels’ 4-2 defeat at home to Chonburi in midweek was their third game without a win and only Buriram United’s own indifferent form ensures they remain just four points off the leaders.

Meanwhile, the wheels have come off at Suphanburi, with consecutive defeats by Trat and Chiang Mai following on from a four-game unbeaten start to the season.

Both head coaches find themselves under significant pressure ahead of this one. Whatever the result, Totchtawan is likely to keep his job but another slip from Bangkok United might cast doubt on Polking’s future after almost five years at the club.

Swatcats need more firepower to punish struggling Muang Thong 

It looks like the perfect time to host Muang Thong Utd, with the Kirins having lost their last two away games without scoring a goal. Muang Thong have failed to score in each of their four defeats this year.

However, Nakhon Ratchasima have their own problems in front of goal, having netted just once in the last three games. The arrivals of the attacking talents of Amadou Ouatarra and Henri Doumbia have yet to address the Swatcats need to balance a stubborn defence with an efficient attack.

Leandro Assumpcao will hope to pile on the agony for his struggling former side but a 0-0 score line would surprise few.

Chonburi looking for three in a row

In an incredible turnaround, Chonburi have gone from rock bottom to rising stars, having won two on the trot and scored seven goals in the process. They needed a late winner to beat Prachuap after blowing a two-goal lead while they had their share of luck against Bangkok United in midweek with two deflected strikes giving them a two-goal lead.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

The Sharks will hope that the change of fortunes continues this Sunday at unbeaten Sukhothai. The Firebats have drawn five of their six matches so far and on form, you have to say another draw would be on the cards.

But if the Chonburi that showed up at Thamassat Stadium in midweek are as focused on Sunday, we might just see a third victory in midweek in a row for Chonburi. 

Simone needs a quick rebound 

Much optimism was generated by Ratchaburi head coach Marco Simone’s debut win at home to Muang Thong Utd. But the feelgood factor was short-lived as the Dragons were defeated at Samut Prakan City in midweek, while some perspective on the victory over Muang Thong was provided by Chainat’s subsequent win over the same opponents.

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Photo Credit: Ratchaburi FC

As always, Chiang Rai Utd will pose a challenge and the Beetles have problems of their own having won just one match so far this year. The mood in Ratchaburi will soon turn dark if Simone cannot conjure up a positive outcome in this one, while the pressure will also build on Chiang Rai head coach Ailton.

Muang Thong test awaits Marco as he aims to breathe fire into Dragons

Ratchaburi’s latest head coach Marco Simone has a tough task in his first match in charge of the Dragons as Muang Thong United visit the Mitr Phol Stadium on Thai League (T1) Matchday Five.

The AC Milan legend has had a modest coaching career to date and faces a big challenge in his attempt to outlast the previous five head coaches.

Here are four things to look out for on Matchday Five.

  1. Marco starts with Muang Thong test

The appointment of Marco Simone as Ratchaburi’s new head coach was met with understandable scepticism by many, with the very brief stay of Christian Ziege still fresh in the memory.

Like Ziege, Simone had an excellent playing career at several top clubs but has achieved little as a manager. With Ratchaburi on a three-game losing streak and low on confidence, the Italian must quickly lift spirits before in-form Heberty Fernandes takes aim at his former club.

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Dragons fans must hope that Simone’s fluent French can get more out of Yannick Boli and Steeven Langil, while Pairot Eiam-mak may well be replaced in goal following a series of howlers.

Not many expect Simone to see out a contract that lasts until the end of the season, but this game will give an early indication of what he might bring to a club whose ambitions have not been matched by performances over the past 18 months.

  1. Can Havenaar get Bangkok United scoring?

Mike Havenaar arrived at Bangkok United with a strong reputation but the former Japan international’s struggles to adapt to the climate and reach match fitness saw him left out for the first three games of the season.

The striker finally got a chance when his side fell behind to Buriram United two weeks ago. While it was too little, too late to save the game, he did enough in his brief cameo to suggest that he can be quite an asset in the games to come.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The Bangkok Angels have a reputation as a free-flowing attacking side but have found the net just three times in four games. Nelson Bonilla has scored two of them but after a trip the USA to play for El Salvador, head coach Mano Polking may be tempted to turn to Havenaar for his first start at Nakhon Ratchasima.

The Swatcats have yet to win at home this season and Bangkok United will be desperate to keep it that way after the dispiriting defeat at home to Buriram. Havenaar may just be what’s required to break down a resolute Swatcats defence as the visitors try and stay near the top of the table.

  1. Sharks need to get their bite back

Chonburi’s 3-0 defeat at Suphanburi two weeks ago came due to a listless performance from a team that has started to look very different from the one that drew at Buriram on Matchday One.

The Sharks are now bottom of the T1 table and host leaders Prachuap on Saturday, with another defeat unthinkable.

There must be room for change in the side that has been underperforming and goalkeeper Chanin Sae-ear’s position must be under threat after some uninspiring displays.

A victory in this game could relaunch the Sharks’ season and lift the players back to the levels they are capable of. A defeat would see them stay bottom and begin to seriously contemplate a season-long battle to beat the drop.

  1. Sukhothai out to prove more than a point

Sukhothai head coach Ljubomir Ristovski has not surprisingly toughened up a side that conceded 63 goals in 2018, with his new team losing just two goals this year. However, they have also netted just twice to leave them looking pretty toothless in attack.

The loss of the prolific Nelson Bonilla was always going to have an impact but Petar Orlandic looked a decent replacement, having played for Red Star Belgrade as recently as 2017.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

The Montenegrin striker has struggled in front of goal so far, but he has been getting into the right positions. Fire Bats fans will be hoping that the near misses soon turn into goals.

Port FC will be a tough opponent on Saturday but the atmosphere at the Thung Thalay Luang Stadium can lift the home side as they seek to take their first win of the year.

Bangkok United face Buriram in what could be crucial early season showdown

Bangkok United host Buriram United in the big match of Thai League (T1) Matchday Four, with the champions taking on the team expected to be their number one challengers this year.

Buriram will be buoyed by the midweek AFC Champions League victory over Jeonbuk Hyundai but the Bangkok Angels know they could open up a five-point gap if they can beat the Thunder Castle for the first time in almost five years.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday Four.

  1. Another early test for Mano’s men

Taking on your biggest rivals in the first few weeks of the season is tough, with new signings bedding in and fitness still to hit the top levels. Bangkok United overcame Muang Thong United a couple of weeks back and now face another team who usually get the better of them.

Mano Polking’s side have lost defender Mika Chunuonsee and playmaker Vander Luiz to injury, making an already challenging task even tougher. Centre-back Everton Saturnino will need to provide strong leadership at the back as they try and keep a third clean sheet in a row. Nelson Bonilla’s goals have won them the last two matches and all eyes will again be on him to make the difference.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

A slow start to the season had Buriram looking less likely to run away with the T1 title again but Wednesday’s victory over the K League champions completely transforms the morale of the team and they will approach the game with confidence.

There were signs that striker Pedro Junior is starting to hit his stride and Supachok Sarachat has made an excellent start to the season, with four goals already to his name.

This game could potentially have a huge impact on the direction of the title race and it is difficult to predict how it will go with neither side yet to hit top form. A draw would surprise few.

  1. Can JET defy low expectations?

When PTT Rayong signed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, much was made of his connections to Arsenal – a club at which he failed to make the breakthrough. A quick look at his Wikipedia page had many writing him off as another foreign has-been, coming to Thailand for an easy pay day.

But his performance in PTT Rayong’s 2-1 victory over Samut Prakan City last weekend has started to change perceptions. The English striker was in outstanding form as he scored the opener and set up the second goal.

He poses a challenge that defenders in T1 are unaccustomed to. He is obviously physically imposing and his schooling at Arsenal has clearly equipped him with the skills to effortlessly drift past defenders without appearing to change pace.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

Robbie Fowler, Jay Simpson, Jay Bothroyd and Leroy Lita are some of the English strikers who have failed to make a positive impression in the Thai League. At just 28, Emmanuel-Thomas is far from a jaded veteran and has the talent to revive his career with the right attitude.

Port FC host PTT without their top defender David Rochela and JET will fancy his chances. His strike partner Ariel Rodriguez was frustrated at the Englishman’s insistence on going it alone at times last weekend but if the two of them click, they could well form one of the top strike pairings in the league. 

  1. Suphanburi and Chonburi aim to put false starts behind them

Suphanburi and Chonburi were two teams that looked like they were better equipped to push back into the top half of the table after some promising close season acquisitions.

But both clubs have had underwhelming starts to the campaign, with neither having won a game yet. The War Elephant at least remain unbeaten but they show no signs of ridding themselves of their point sharing tendency, having drawn all three matches so far. They have scored just once – a penalty – but have looked solid defensively, conceding just once and that was a special strike from Sukhothai’s Kabfah Boonmatoon.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

It is Suphanburi’s attacking game that must improve if they are to start climbing the table. Cleiton Silva netted from the penalty spot last week but Jonatan Reis has rarely looked like scoring.

They may just have found the right opponent, with Chonburi’s shaky back line having conceded seven times in three games. Nevertheless, the Sharks proved unpredictable last year and sometimes performed well away from home when least expected. They won as many on the road as they did at home and the 2-2 draw at Buriram United on Matchday One has been their best result of this campaign.

This is another very tough one to call and neither side will wish to contemplate a defeat.

 

 

Muang Thong must stop the rot as pressure builds on Pairoj

Just two games into the 2019 Thai League (T1) season, Muang Thong United head coach Pairoj is already the subject of speculation over who will succeed him

After two 1-0 defeats for the Kirins  at the hands of 2018’s 6th and 2nd placed teams, Thai football’s most eligible head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang was linked with the Muang Thong job, forcing him to dismiss the possibility.

While it is an absurd over-reaction to question coach Bae’s credentials so soon, it is clear that nothing less than a win is necessary when his team host Chiang Mai on Saturday.

Here are five things to look out for on T1 Matchday Three.

  1. Time for Teerasil’s return to scoring form

The return of Teerasil Dangda created much excitement for the Muang Thong United faithful in the close season. After a year on loan at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the Thailand legend was back and it was the equivalent of signing a new top striker.

But after two games in which the overloaded Muang Thong front line has failed to deliver, it is surely time for Teerasil to unlock the opposition defence. When a combination of Teerasil, Heberty Fernandes and Adisak Kraisorn fails to provide goals, there is something amiss.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Pairoj was seen as a safe but uninspiring choice of head coach when appointed. At the moment, he simply looks uninspiring. Goals from Teerasil may just help him start to turn things around.

  1. No room for Trat fall

 Bangkok United successfully negotiated a huge hurdle when they beat Muang Thong United last weekend. As well as earning three points against a potential title rival, they also rid themselves of a damaging psychological barrier with their first ever home win over the Kirins.

Now that they have reinforced their pretensions to be serious title contenders, Mano Polking’s side must ensure that they can travel to tricky places like Trat and come away with a victory.

The newly-promoted side proved a difficult opponent for Ratchaburi on Matchday One and were only denied victory last week by an added-time equaliser from Chainat. Lonsana Doumbouya will give the away side’s backline a challenge and a vociferous home crowd should be in attendance.

Title wins are built on wins in fixtures like this and this is Bangkok United’s chance to make an early statement.

  1. Buriram must take sting out of Killer Wasps

Thai champions Buriram United have made an inauspicious start to the T1 campaign, taking just two points from two games. They have also failed to score in the last two fixtures, having drawn 0-0 at Suphanburi last weekend and lost 3-0 to Urawa Reds in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

On Sunday, they host T1’s joint leaders Prachuap FC, who have taken six points out of six without conceding a goal. With expected challengers Bangkok United potentially five points ahead of them by kickoff time, there is no margin for error for Bozidar Bandovic’s side.

Prachuap are looking good again and will approach the fixture without fear but this is surely the time for Buriram to flex their muscles.

  1. Dragons and Swatcats in early battle for supremacy

It may not be a fixture that immediately catches the eye but Ratchaburi vs Nakhon Ratchasima could be a hugely significant match for the sides involved.

The hosts’ excellent home record was severely damaged last year in a season to forget, while Nakhon Ratchasima’s positive start to 2019 was swiftly punctured by a home defeat to Chiang Rai United last week.

These are two clubs who aspire to be in the top half of the table and head-to-head clashes like this could be hugely influential in deciding which team is battling against relegation and which is sitting comfortably in mid-table.

Ratchaburi’s Matchday One hat-trick hero Yannick Boli was just about stifled by Port FC’s Elias Dolah last weekend. With Kang Soo-il fit again and possibly joining Boli up front, Swatcats defenders Chalermpong Kerdkaew and Lee Won-jae will have to be at their best to help their side take at least a point.

  1. PTT need to turn things around

Samut Prakan City sit on top of the T1 table alongside Prachuap FC – two unlikely pace-setters in a league with many twists and turns to come.

At rock bottom sit PTT Rayong – a club that’s invested much in ensuring that their second T1 adventure did not end like the last one – after one season.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

It is vital that PTT start to put points on the board to prevent the season becoming a slog to survive. With T1 champions like Anawin Jujeen, Koravit Namwiset alongside talents like Victor Cardozo and Ariel Rodrgiguez, PTT should be aiming for the top half rather than survival.

The visit of Samut Prakan City on Sunday is a challenge that could have a profound effect on the season ahead. A third straight defeat for the hosts would be hugely damaging, while a win could be the launchpad for better things to come.

Buriram need new boys to make their mark in tough ACL opener

Buriram United begin their 2019 AFC Champions League (ACL) campaign under something of a cloud, having failed to win either of their first two Thai League fixtures.

The Thai champions are in Japan to face Urawa Reds, who lifted the trophy just 16 months ago, so they have their work cut out to get off to a positive start.

However, Buriram upset the odds by taking a point away to Guangzhou Evergrande on Matchday One last year and will be hoping for a similar outcome in Saitama.

Here are three things to look out for in Buriram United’s ACL clash with Urawa.

  1. Strikers have to step it up

While Diogo Luis Santo was scoring and putting on a man-of-match performance for JDT and Edgar Silva was scoring for Daegu against Jeonbuk Hyundai, Buriram’s new strikers drew a blank at the weekend.

Diogo and Edgar made for a formidable strike pairing in 2018 but they have since moved on, while Buriram wait for their replacements to prove themselves. Mali’s former West Ham striker Modibo Maiga hit the net in the Thailand Champions Cup last month but has yet to get off the mark in the league, while Pedro Junior’s late arrival means he has had little time to adjust.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Most clubs in East Asia lean heavily on their foreign strikers for goals and now would be a good time for this pair to show what they are made of. Former Vissel Kobe and Kashima Antlers forward Pedro may be more likely to start given his familiarity with Japan and the fact that he has looked the sharper of the two.

Whoever has the opportunity is unlikely to get too many opportunities so they will have to make the most of any that come their way.

  1. Hosogai injury opens door for Xuan Truong

Injury has ruled Japanese midfielder Hajime Hosogai out of Buriram’s ACL squad, scuppering a sentimental return to the club where he spent the early years of his career. Hosogai won the ACL with Urawa Reds back in 2007, before his career took him to Germany for several years. Buriram no doubt had this kind of occasion in mind when they signed the 32-year-old from Kashiwa Reysol.

However, as one door closed, another one opened and the first two league games of the season have seen starts for Vietnam midfielder Luong Xuan Truong. With his country riding the crest of a wave in international football, the 23-year-old would love to make an impact on this stage and demonstrate that he is a more than adequate replacement for Hosogai.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

While he has recently been outshone by international team-mates like Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Quang Hai, Xuan Truong has long been considered one of the top young talents in Vietnam and he has made a solid start to life in Thailand.

With Jakkaphan Kaewprom also having fitness issues, Xuan Truong is line for another start and, with Asia watching, he will be determined to prove he belongs in this tournament.

  1. Urawa form leaves door open

At this stage of the tournament in particular, Japanese sides often see the ACL games as a time to rest players and tinker with the lineup. Buriram benefited last year when Cerezo Osaka sent a second string to Thailand and the hosts duly won 2-0.

Urawa have taken just one point from their opening two league games and were defeated at home to Chanathip Songkrasin’s Consadole Sapporo at the weekend. It would be no surprise to see Urawa’s starting lineup looking somewhat short of full strength as they try and ensure their top team is ready for Saturday’s trip to Matsumoto Yamaga.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Whatever team Urawa plays, it will still be a huge challenge for Buriram to come away with a point or more. The visitors have yet to see their new strikers click and are not in the best shape to get a result,

However, if Bozidar Bandovic can instill the spirit that that saw them go unbeaten in the away fixtures in the group stage last year, Buriram may just do enough to take a point.

Bangkok United host Muang Thong in clash neither side can afford to lose

It is only Matchday Two of the 2019 Thai League (T1) season but a huge clash looms large as Bangkok United host Muang Thong United.

Both clubs made unimpressive starts last weekend and will be desperate to earn their first victory of the campaign.

Bangkok United were lucky to escape from Sukhothai with a 1-1 draw, while Muang Thong’s much vaunted strike force drew a blank in a 1-0 defeat at home to Prachuap FC.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday Two.

  1. A match neither can afford to lose

Bangkok United have made no secret of their title ambitions and Saturday’s game at home to Muang Thong United is exactly the kind of fixture they must win to make their fans believe. They have a poor record of winning crunch games like this so a victory is essential.

A draw would be disappointing and a defeat would feel pretty disastrous in the context, with all pre-season optimism disappearing. On the other hand, taking three points from a close rival will instil belief that the team is finally coming together.

Muang Thong, meanwhile, are determined not to finish among the also-rans as they did last year and the returns of Teerasil Dangda and Mario Gjurovski energised the fans. However, head coach Pairoj Borwornwtanadilok was already having his tactical acumen questioned after he set up his team in a baffling formation last week, featuring four strikers in various forward positions.

The 1-0 loss came against a decent Prachuap side but it punctured some of the optimism that had been building.

The Kirins boss would probably take a draw but Bangkok Angels head coach Mano Polking must know that anything other than a win will see the pressure continue to build.

  1. Sharks face old foe in new guise 

Chonburi can no longer look forward to a derby clash with neighbouring Pattaya United now that Samut Prakan City have stolen their rivals and transported them to the outskirts of Bangkok.

It is still a local rivalry of sorts, with Samut Prakan province lying just a few kilometres from the Chonburi border, so it will be interesting to see the dynamic that develops over time.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

On the pitch, Samut Prakan may be sitting two points above their rivals after beating Chiang Mai at home last week, but Chonburi have taken great heart from a battling performance at Buriram. The Sharks were 2-1 and a man down at the home of the champions when Kroekrit Thaweekarn fired in an equaliser to earn a great point.

Patrick Cruz may be ready to make a start up front alongside the talented, if temperamental, Lukian and Worachit Kanitsribampen will again be a threat in attack.

Samut Prakan could stay top of T1 with a win but Chonburi have to be favourites to beat the club formerly known as Pattaya United.

  1. Weakened Port face Boli challenge

It is never a good time for Port FC to lose their top defender David Rochela to injury but it looks particularly poorly timed when one of T1’s top new attacking talents is coming to the PAT Stadium.

Yannick Boli took T1 by storm last Friday as he hit hat-trick that gave Ratchaburi a 3-2 victory over Trat to kick off their campaign. Boli’s movement and variety of finishing was the highlight of an otherwise patchy performance from the Dragons, whose backline was bullied by Lonsana Doumbouya.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

Steeven Langil also impressed with his skill and direct running, suggesting that Ratchaburi will be fun to watch in attack this year but may not be the strongest at the back.

Not only are Port without Rochela, but new midfielder Go Seul-ki also misses out after last week’s straight red card in Chiang Rai. Port dug in for a goalless draw in Chiang Rai  and they will have to keep things tight at the back again if they are to keep out Boli.

There should be a party atmosphere after the season launch festivities and the team will hope to keep that going with a home win.

Bangkok United’s Bonilla must be ruthless on return to Sukhothai

The Thai League (T1) season kicks off on February 22ndafter a break of almost four months.

Every club will be determined to ensure they do not get off to a poor start as 16 teams battle for prizes, prestige and survival.

Here are five things to look out for on T1 Matchday One.

  1. Bonilla must make triumphant return

El Salvador striker Nelson Bonilla made a huge impact in his first T1 season at Sukhothai last year. While his goals helped keep his team up, he will hope to be fighting for the title with Bangkok United rather than to avoid relegation in 2019.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The first match of the campaign sees him make a speedy return to his former club with no room for error. Bangkok United’s underwhelming pre-season has cast doubt on their title aspirations after the capture of the likes Bonilla, Tristan Do, Peerapat Notchaiya and Anon Amornlerdsak raised expectations.

It is vital that Mano Polking’s side quickly remove any doubts over their credentials by making a strong start in Sukhothai. Anything other than a win will see the pressure build on Polking just one game in.

  1. Sharks bid to upset champions

It doesn’t get tougher than a trip to Buriram United, something Chonburi are facing on Matchday One for the second time in three years. In 2017, the Sharks stunned the home crowd by taking a 2-0 half-time lead.

The hosts recovered and two late strikes sealed a 2-2 draw before Buriram went on to have another successful year and clinch another title. Chonburi look stronger on paper than last season and arguably two years ago and this is a big early test of their progress.

An expected defeat will not be particularly damaging in the circumstances but taking one or three points would be a huge boost to morale for a club that has seen regression for the last four years.

With a squad that has a good balance of youth and experience as well as some strong looking new recruits, Chonburi can certainly hope for better than last year. And where better to start than by taking something from the home of the champions who have lost the attacking strengths of Diogo Luis Santo and Osvaldo.

  1. Muang Thong take on nemesis 

The mention of Prachuap FC might be enough to make any Muang Thong United fan break into cold sweats. The newly-promoted club inflicted humiliation on the Kirins with a 6-1 victory early in the 2018 season.

The thrashing was enough to cost head coach Totchtawan Sripan his job, and Prachuap then completed an unlikely double by winning 2-1 at the SCG Stadium in July.

Muang Thong have added some quality to their squad and can afford to be cautiously optimistic about the season ahead. However, they must first face their fears when familiar foes come to town.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Prachuap have lost the two strikers – Jonatan Reis and Lonsana Doumbouya – that did so well for them in 2018 but they have signed Matheus Alves, who knows how to beat Muang Thong. The Brazilian striker absolutely destroyed the Kirins as his hat-trick contributed to a 5-1 League Cup victory for former side Chonburi.

Prachuap will hope that Matheus can bring that form to the SCG Stadium on Sunday, while Muang Thong will hope that they can start the year by burying a hoodoo.

  1. Early test for Port Lions

Port FC took a big step forward in 2018 as they went from mid-table to top 3. They will hope to at least maintain their position in 2019 but face a tough opening to the campaign with a trip to Chiang Rai United.

The Beetles may have seen their costs cut significantly since the spending spree of 2017 but they have kept the core of their team together and they can still produce the goods when it matters. Their 0-0 draw in the AFC Champions League playoff at Sanfrecce Hiroshima demonstrated their fighting spirit and they will again make for tough opponents this year.

Port will be delighted to have seen their rivals endure 120 minutes of struggle in the cold of the Japanese winter before losing out in a penalty shootout on Tuesday. It certainly wasn’t ideal preparation for Sunday’s hosts and Port will be determined to take advantage.

  1. Old, new, borrowed…

Samut Prakan City have taken their place in T1 without the conventional need to earn their spot in the top tier. They simply acquired the licence of Pattaya United, moved the club, renamed it and took most of their players with them.

Chiang Mai FC, meanwhile, battled their way to the top with a promotion from T2 last year. However, the Lanna Tigers have not given the impression of being prepared for life in T1, with a scramble for enough loan deals to keep them up, principally from their brothers in Boon Rawd Brewery backing – Chiang Rai United and BG Pathum United.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

Samut Prakan certainly look to have the stronger of the two squads even if they have lost a couple of Pattaya’s better players. It will be intriguing to see how Chiang Mai’s patchwork of loanees adapt to life in T1 but on-loan (from Chiang Rai) playmaker Ekanit Panya and striker David Bala (signed from BG…) ensure that they have the brains and brawn to do some damage.

This might not be the headline match of the opening weekend but it certainly carries a lot of interest as two of the season’s more unpredictable sides do battle.

Thai League 2019: The top four

The 2019 Thai League season kicks off on February 22ndwith a clash between Ratchaburi and Trat FC – two clubs that are unlikely to be challenging for prizes this year.

But the following two days will see the true contenders open their campaigns as they battle for T1 supremacy. We may well see the same four teams make up the top four as in 2018, but the order may be somewhat different.

  1. Bangkok United

The club’s motto for the season is ‘The time is now’ and it does seem that it might be now or never for Mano Polking’s side.

The Bangkok Angels have been building towards this moment since 2014 and, with better balance and depth than ever, this is the time to deliver.

The teams who have denied them over the past three years look slightly weaker than they have done, while Bangkok United’s recruitment has been decisive and impressive.

Pre-season form has been a cause for concern, with the 5-1 thumping by Consadole Sapporo a warning and the AFC Champions League exit to Hanoi FC an indication that things have not fully clicked yet. But it is obviously better to get these defeats out of the system before the T1 season gets underway and lessons will have to be learned.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

There are plenty of options in attack and striker Nelson Bonilla will surely net at least 25 to 30 goals if he stays fit. Anon Amornlerdsak should also prove a valuable addition as the 21-year-old attacking midfielder sets about trying to fulfil the potential he has shown since his Buriram United debut back in 2014.

Tristan Do’s energy down the right flank will be a vital outlet and he adds a dimension that has perhaps been missing from the squad.

There remains a psychological barrier as there has frequently been frustration in clashes with Buriram. If they can overcome this, the title they have been chasing may finally be theirs.

Player to watch: Nelson Bonilla

  1. Buriram United

Thailand’s champions are aiming for a sixth title in seven years and few would bet against them. They have a strong head coach in Bozidar Bandovic, a solid defensive unit marshalled by Andres Tunez, creative wing-backs and youthful talents like Supachai Jaided and Supachok Sarachat in attack.

Buriram showed few signs of weakness as they romped to the title in 2018 but, of course, they had Diogo Luis Santo in top form.

Diogo’s departure for JDT was a bombshell for fans and the subsequent loss of Osvaldo has created another gap to fill. Buriram’s squad still looks strong but Diogo’s boots will be very difficult to fill, the Brazilian having made such a huge impact since his arrival in 2015.

Buriram fans will not need reminding of the 2016 season when Diogo was missing through injury for most of the year. A fourth-place finish, humiliation in the AFC Champions League and the absence of silverware was the end result.

Buriram like to keep a lean squad and it was perhaps a little too lean that year. They have made good use of the ASEAN quota, with Philippines international Javier Patino ready to play more than the bit-part role he took in the second half of last year. Azkals left-back Stephan Palla could slot into a three-man central defence and Vietnam midfielder Luong Xuan Truong could develop into a key player.

Former Japan international midfielder Hajime Hosogai brings years of Bundesliga experience and Jakkaphan Kaewprom will keep pulling the strings in the centre of the park.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

It will be interesting to see if Supachai is given the opportunity to play up front or if he will continue to occupy a deeper role. Veterans Modibo Maiga and Pedro Junior haven’t signed to play second fiddle to a 20-year-old Thai striker but it would be a shame to see Supachai sidelined when he is in such an exciting stage of his development.

While the core of a successful side remains, this looks like it may be something of a transitional year, leaving them more vulnerable than they have been since 2016. The battle at the top should be closer and Buriram might have to miss out this time around.

Player to watch: Supachai Jaided

  1. Muang Thong United

The club’s motto for the season is ‘Football’s coming home’ – bold, somewhat illogical and sorely lacking creativity, but the sentiment is clear.

Muang Thong are looking for a revival of sorts, having finished in fourth place in 2018, a whopping 28 points behind champions Buriram.

There is no doubt about the attacking strength of the squad. Teerasil Dangda returns after his year in Japan, while Heberty Fernandes and Aung Thu’s talents are well known. Adisak Kraisorn is fit again and the precocious Korrawit Tasa may also have a role to play.

And then there is the return of prodigal son Mario Gjurovski. The Macedonian playmaker is now 33 and played very little in 2018 as he endured a nightmare spell at Bangkok Glass. However, if back to full fitness, he will be capable of game-changing moments of genius.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

In midfield, it is a big season for Sarach Yooyen, who has failed to get back to the outstanding form of 2016 since suffering a serious injury early in 2017. Still just 26, he can make a huge contribution if he can rediscover his confidence and energy in the engine room of the team. With the deep lying Charyl Chappuis, Lee Ho and Wattana Playnum also vying for midfield places, Muang Thong will need Sarach to push forward more.

It is all change in defence but the addition of Vietnam goalkeeper Dang Van Lam could be crucial. He can provide the commanding presence that was missed without Kawin Thamsatchanan last year.

Muang Thong still look short of a team that can win the title but they should give a better account of themselves than in 2018.

Player to watch: Sarach Yooyen

  1. Port FC 

Port moved smoothly into the top three last year as their investment paid off. Surprisingly, they don’t appear to have built from a position of strength and this may be a season of consolidation rather than progress.

The core of the team is still in place and this continuity will certainly help in the early stages of the season, while other clubs are struggling to find their best XI. However, the only significant additions to the squad have been Go Seul-ki in centre midfield and the playmaking skills of Sumanya Purisai.

Go Seul-ki certainly has a bit of quality, as he proved in three years at Buriram, and looks an upgrade on the departed Kim Sung-hwan. Sumanya had an outstanding season at Bangkok United last year but it is unclear how he will fit into this side.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Nurul will again be a potential match winner but must temper his tendency to hit the deck under the slightest contact if he is to progress beyond his current abilities.

The biggest problem Port have is the lack of depth up front. The goal scoring burden remains firmly on the shoulders of 33-year-old Dragan Boskovic. If he is injured, strong back-up options just aren’t there.

Port’s best XI will still be good enough to beat most of their T1 opponents but they probably need more depth and tactical flexibility to achieve the consistency to win the title.

Player to watch: Nurul Sriyankem

Thai League 2019: Teams 5 to 8

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.

  1. Suphanburi

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.

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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

  1. Chonburi

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.

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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

  1. 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.

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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

  1. 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.

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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