Chiang Rai United have the perfect opportunity to maintain their position as Thai League (T1) leaders when they host Ratchaburi on Matchday 22.
The Beetles went top of the table in spectacular style by beating champions Buriram United 4-0 on Wednesday and now have their fate in their own hands.
Muang Thong United can continue their surge up the table if the beat Nakhon Ratchasima at home, while Suphanburi will hope to provide further torment for struggling Bangkok United.
Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 22.
- Chiang Rai’s big chance
When millions of baht were invested in Chiang Rai United’s squad in 2017, it seemed a gamble designed to win the T1 title in that year.
They reached two cup finals – winning one – but a fourth-place T1 finish was not what the owners had in mind. Assets were sold off, though there was still enough in the coffers for big-name signing Cleiton Silva.
Chiang Rai managed to lift the two domestic cups in 2018 but finished one place lower in the league with five points fewer than 2017, while Cleiton flopped and was loaned to Suphanburi halfway through the season. When head coach Alexandre Gama left at the end of the 2018 season, things looked ominous, especially when his replacement Jose Borges left before the 2019 domestic season had even begun.
Photo credit: Chiang Rai United
Chiang Rai haven’t performed exceptionally well this year but they have kept pace as the title favourites have fallen well short of expectations. The Beetles will never have a better chance, and Ratchaburi’s visit on Saturday will give an indication of how they handle the pressure of leading from the front.
The recall from loan of 19-year-old playmaker Ekanit Panya has given Chiang Rai an extra dimension and he may provide the flair required to win tight matches in the run-in.
Ratchaburi should be confident after turning around a 2-0 deficit to beat Samut Prakan City on Wednesday but if Chiang Rai really want to lift this title, victories in matches like this are absolutely vital.
- Muang Thong aim to close in on rivals Port FC
While the top clubs have recklessly thrown away points week after week, Muang Thong United have surged up the table by taking 19 points from the last seven matches and now sit just six points behind third-placed Port FC, who they meet next week.
If the Kirins can see off the challenge of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday, they will go into next week’s showdown with realistic hopes of a Top-Three finish – an unthinkable outcome after a defeat at Chonburi left them in the bottom three six weeks ago.
Photo credit: Muang Thong United
The arrival of Alexandre Gama has demonstrated the impact a good coach can have and he has found a way to get Muang Thong’s underperforming squad winning again. Given the implausible twists and turns of a dramatic season, if the Kirins can win every game between now and the end of the season they could yet be the unlikeliest ever T1 champions.
Port FC are back in the title reckoning after a wretched run of form and will hope to keep that up with a win at free falling Prachuap FC. But a defeat could see them reeled in by their bitter rivals when they two sides clash at the PAT Stadium next weekend.
- Suphanburi aim to pile on the misery for Bangkok United
Bangkok United have had a terrible time of late. Just one win in six T1 matches has seen them slip to fifth place and they also exited the League Cup in agonizing fashion last week.
After blowing two points at home to Nakhon Ratchasima last weekend, a midweek defeat at Chonburi has surely spelled the end of an anticipated title challenge that has failed to take off despite the failings of those around them.
Photo credit: Suphanburi FC
A visit to Suphanburi is not the fixture they need at this time, with the War Elephant fighting for their lives and unbeaten in five – conceding just one goal in that run as new signings Alvaro Silva and Miki Seroshtan have tightened up the defence. Bangkok United head coach Mano Polking has a huge job on his hands as he tries to lift a side whose morale is at rock bottom.
Suphanburi have hit form at the crucial time, while their opponents have chosen the worst possible moment to hit a slump.
- Last year’s heroes on the brink
When Prachuap FC won four their first six matches of the 2019 season, it looked like business as usual for the club that had surprised everyone by finishing 6th in 2018, following promotion from T2.
However, the Killer Wasps have gone into a tailspin by winning just two of the 15 matches since. They are now in the relegation zone and will remain there if they can’t quickly turn things around.
Photo credit: Prachuap FC
Their signings in the transfer window have yet to make an impact and attackers Jean-Philippe Mendy and Maurinho were kept out of the starting lineup by Siroch Chatthong and Supot Jodjam in Wednesday’s defeat at Nakhon Ratchasima.
Port FC visit on Sunday, having revived hopes of winning the title with two narrow wins since Choketawee Promrut took over as head coach. The visitors have no margin for error as they fight to stay in touch at the top, and the hosts could slip into serious trouble with another loss.