The 2019 Thai League (T2) season kicks off on February 22ndwhen Ratchaburi host newly-promoted Trat FC.
With the league having been reduced to 16 teams from 18, we will not see quite the same scramble to survive as last year when five teams were relegated.
However, with three teams going down, there will still be a lot of clubs at risk of slipping into T2.
Here are the teams that may take up the bottom four positions.
- Nakhon Ratchasima
The additions of Bernard Doumbia and Amadou Ouatarra will provide some much-needed pace and movement in attack but the Swatcats have not really strengthened elsewhere.
Head coach Milos Joksic is a great survivor in the Thai game and has proven time and again that he knows how to set his teams up to get results. However, the uninspiring brand of football may not be good enough to avoid a battle to beat the drop.
Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC
Despite a relatively comfortable looking 7th-place finish in 2018, the Swatcats scored fewer goals than anyone but bottom side Air Force United. Doumbia and Ouatarra may add goals alongside veteran striker Leandro Assumpcao, while continuity elsewhere might help them make a strong start.
However, it is hard to see Nakhon Ratchasima hitting the heights of seventh place again.
Player to watch: Amadou Ouatarra
- Trat FC
New boys Trat have made some acquisitions that seem very much geared towards a battle for survival. Defensive midfielder Pichit Jaibun seems to be something of a specialist among relegation-threatened sides but he has failed to help Chainat and Air Force stay up in recent years. In the same position, Kriangkrai Pimrat is another unimaginative addition who is past his best.
Photo credit: Trat FC
Hopes will be pinned on strikers Lonsana Doumbouya – who impressed with Prachuap last year – and veteran Bireme Diouf. Adefolarin Durosinmi provides pace in attack and may be a valuable squad member.
Former Chonburi centre-back Kim Gyeong-min is a solid signing, as is the loan deal for Muang Thong United’s Nukoolkit Krutyai. But Singapore’s 35-year-old defender Baihakki Khaizan is another of many players on the wrong side of 30. Trat will be hoping that experience wins the day and that many clubs will not relish the trip to the seaside town in the east.
They should certainly win their share of points at home but every away trip is a distance to travel.
Player to watch: Lonsana Doumbouya
Chainat survived by the skin of their teeth in 2018 and thanks to some very dubious refereeing calls in their final game of the season. Their recruitment has been underwhelming. The talented striking trio of Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Bireme Diouf and Bernard Doumbia have moved on, while the gifted but erratic playmaker Gorka Unda and Brazilian journeyman striker Ricardo Santos arrive.
Dutch winger Leandro Resida could be a key player if he can quickly adapt to his new environment as Chainat will need him to hit the ground running. Philippines midfielder Adam Reed and former Buriram striker Dennis Buscheming have also joined but neither name creates great excitement.
Photo credit: Chainat FC
Laos’ attacking midfielder Soukaphone Vongchiemkham may be able to establish himself in the side to provide the creativity. As Buriram found out in their cup tie against Sisaket last year, Soukaphone also has a great shot on him.
Ultimately, Chainat’s squad looks a bit thin on quality and they may not be able to count on a referee to save them this year.
Player to watch: Soukaphone Vongchiemkham
- Chiang Mai FC
Chiang Mai’s long-awaited arrival in Thailand’s top tier threatens to be something of an anti-climax after a close season that has involved bringing in cast-offs (many on loan) from sister clubs Chiang Rai United and BG Pathum United.
Their fellow Boon Rawd brewery-backed clubs haven’t exactly given them the cream of the crop as BG aim to return to T1 at the first attempt, while Chiang Rai seek to consolidate their place among the top five teams in the country.
Seemingly unable to recruit enough of their own players, Chiang Mai have depended on loans, e.g. goalkeeper Narit Taweekul from BG and midfielder Gionat Verzura from Chiang Rai. They have also secured permanent deals from their friends, with striker David Bala arriving from BG and Mustafa Azadzoy making his loan deal from Chiang Rai permanent.
Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC
There has been a late boost, with the loan return of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Ekanit Panya from, yes, Chiang Rai. His precocious talent adds extra quality but it might not be enough.
Fans from around the country will relish their long-awaited away day in Thailand’s second city but it may be the only one they have in a while.
Player to watch: Ekanit Panya