The 2019 Thai League (T1) season kicks off on February 22nd with a clash between Ratchaburi and Trat FC.
Three of 16 teams will drop into T2 in 2020 so competition for places in the safety of mid-table will be fierce.
We may see some familiar names among those who are not good enough for the top half of the table but possess enough quality to stay in the top tier.
Ratchaburi have been hit hard by instability in their coaching set-up. Following an impressive four years in which they finished no lower than seventh, the Dragons slipped to 12th in 2018, narrowly avoiding relegation.
This season of discontent came after Christian Ziege quit as head coach just weeks after being appointed. Rene Desayere took over but also lasted a matter of weeks before Lassaad Chabbi managed to see out the season.
Incredibly, something similar has already happened again, as Manuel Marquez Roca quit shortly after being appointed, claiming to have received an offer he couldn’t refuse from elsewhere.
Ratchaburi fans will now hope that the inexperienced Spaniard Francesc Bosch can help the club get back on the rails and again make the Mitr Phol Stadium a place to fear.
Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC
Kang Soo-il was a key figure last year and if the Korean striker stays fit, he should provide plenty of goals. Ivorian striker Yannick Boli looks a decent acquisition and Swedish-Filipino midfielder Amin Nazari could be a shrewd signing. Former Auxerre and Guingamp winger Steeven Langil has been a journeyman for a number of years but has an impressive CV.
Yotsak Chaowana impressed at Air Force United last year and could be an important addition. Unfortunately, Azkals midfielder Manuel Ott’s start at the club will be delayed for several months by injury.
The squad might not possess the quality of a couple of years back, but there is continuity in the core of the team and if the new men click, they should stay out of trouble.
Player to watch: Yannick Boli
- Samut Prakan City
In another depressing episode in Thai football, Pattaya lost its football club last year as their licence was taken over. This effectively enabled a brand-new club to simply take their place in the top tier.
Samut Prakan have held on to the bulk of the Pattaya United players, which should give them a reasonable degree of continuity but there is uncertainty over who exactly will provide their support.
The squad looks decent and they will hope that dynamic midfielder Peeradol Chamratsamee can rediscover the form of two years ago, having missed most of 2018 through injury. Attacking midfielder Picha Autra needs to be more consistent but he can be a real asset on his day.
Photo credit: Samut Prakan City
A key arrival could be 22-year-old midfielder Nopphon Ponkam, whose form for Police Tero earned him a call-up to the national side last year and on-loan right-back Jakkit Wachpirom should have something to prove after his two years in Japan. Slovenian centre-back Aris Zarifovic is an interesting addition, while Brazilian strikers Carlao and Ibson Melo will have to step up a level if they are to keep the club out of trouble.
The upheaval could have a negative impact but the quality of the squad should be enough to keep them in T1 with something to spare.
Player to watch: Nopphon Ponkam
The loss of star striker Nelson Bonilla will obviously have an impact but Sukhothai look to have found a potential star in former Red Star Belgrade man Petar Orlandic. At 28 years old, the Montenegrin should still have some good years ahead of him.
Crucially, the club have held onto talisman John Baggio, whose hard running in attack torments defences across the country. Philippines attacking midfielder Iain Ramsay’s arrival should add creativity on the left.
Photo credit: Sukhothai FC
Another important addition to the squad could be centre-back Joel Sami, who arrives from Ratchaburi. The former Congo international gives leadership and organisation to a leaky defence, while Indonesia international Yanto Basna might provide important back-up. Head coach Ljubomir Ristovski’s ability to organize the defence will be crucial, having impressed when he stopped the rot at freefalling Navy FC last year.
The Firebats were extremely erratic in 2018, alternating scintillating attacking performances with shambolic defensive collapses. They will need to strike a better balance this year if they are to avoid another relegation battle.
Player to watch: Petar Orlandic
Last year’s surprise package are likely to have a difficult second season, with the club no longer plucky underdogs.
They have retained most of the players that took them to a sixth-place finish in their first T1 season last year but they have lost the two men who scored most of their goals in Lonsana Doumboya and Jonathan Reis.
Matheus Alves will be expected to provide the goals but the Brazilian will need to be more consistent, having impressed only in flashes at Chonburi last year. Supot Jodjam – so prolific in T2 – finally gets another chance to prove himself at the top level and, at 28 years old, he will surely do his best to prove he belongs.
Former Uzbek international Artyom Filiposyan could form a formidable centre-back pairing with Adnan Orahovac as the Killer Wasps look to build from the defence.
Photo credit: Prachuap FC
Chitpanya Tisud’s season was cruelly cut short by injury last year but the attacking midfielder could be a real star if he is back to full fitness.
It is hard to see Prachuap hitting the heights of last year but their home form will be key to ensuring they are still in T1 in 2020.
Player to watch:Chitpanya Tisud