5. Muang Thong United
Muang Thong United made a shockingly poor start to the 2019 campaign and went through two head coaches before Alexandre Gama arrived to turn things around in spectacular style. Gama remains at the club, unlike a large number of the players who helped him move the team from the relegation zone to a fifth-place finish.
Unfortunately, the squad turnover may see them unable to surpass that position in 2020, with first –team regulars Heberty Fernandes, Teerasil Dangda, Oh Ban-suk, Suphanan Burrerat and Bruno Gallo among the departed, while solid back-up squad players like Charyl Chappuis, Adisak Kraisorn and Sanukran Thinjom have also moved on.
Key players like goalkeeper Dang Van Lam, midfielder Sarach Yooyen and experienced striker Derley will be vital as they try and steer the team through another year of transition. Their leadership will be important as there will be a need to give youth a chance.
There are plenty of promising Thai youngsters that already have first-team experience and Gama is well known for developing young talent. Much is expected of new Brazilian striker Willian Popp, while Australian Jesse Curran could prove a strong addition on the right flank.
In the playmaking role, Saharat Kanyaroj has a big opportunity to prove that he can step up a level. At 25, it may be now or never, having developed his career at PTT Rayong over the past three years. Saharat is clearly a talented player with an eye for a through ball and a powerful shot. He has the potential to be a revelation if the team sets up to allow him to express himself.
If they have a strong start, Muang Thong can aim higher than fifth, but this may be a side that proves stronger in the cup competitions than over the 30-match slog of a league campaign.
Last season: 5th
Player to watch: Saharat Kanyaroj
6. BG Pathum Utd
‘Too good to go down’ was what everyone thought when BG were struggling back in 2018 but, ultimately, they couldn’t save themselves despite being among the wealthiest clubs in the league.
Not surprisingly, they have bounced straight back up and they have since added quality to the squad that finished 13 points clear at the top of T2 last year.
The return from loan of Thitipan Puangchan adds energy to the midfield, while Victor Cardozo and Alvaro Silva provide experience and leadership in defence.
The form of central midfielder Chaowat Veeachart will be of interest given his last T1 season came in 2017. Chaowat spent 2018 with Gamba Osaka U23 before returning to Thailand to help with BG’s promotion push. He certainly has the potential to have something of a breakthrough season that could push him into contention for the national side.
Up front Barros Tardelli has the opportunity to prove he can be as prolific in T1 as he was in T2, and Malaysia veteran Norshahrul Idlan adds depth alongside two Thai veterans – Surachai Sareepim and Chatree Chimtalay.
Last season: 1st (T2)
Player to watch: Chaowat Veerachart
7. Samut Prakan City
Having taken on the Pattaya United licence and shifted the club miles from home, Samut Prakan City were not the most popular club among neutrals when they kicked off their first T1 campaign in 2019. However, the first half of the season saw them surprise everyone with their title-chasing form and earn admiration for their playing style.
Unfortunately, form fell off a cliff following the injury to inspirational midfielder Peeradol Chamratsamee as limited squad depth proved their downfall. Nevertheless, a sixth place finish was more than respectable and the appointment of 2016 J. League manager of the year Masatada Ishii highlights ambitions to stay among the top clubs.
Much will be expected of wide man Jaroensak Wonggorn following a breakthrough season last year and his impressive form in the recent AFC U23 Championship. Pedro Junior should be a decent replacement for Ibson Melo and further signings like Nattapol Malapun, Ernesto Phumipha and Yuto Ono add quality in depth – something that was missing last year.
If the players have bought into Ishii’s methods and Peeradol can stay fit, Samut Prakan should be looking at Top Eight at least and a higher finish is not out of the question.
Last season: 6th
Player to watch: Jaroensak Wonggorn
Ratchaburi have assembled some excellent attacking options and the continuity of keeping their three Francophone players together could be a significant bonus if they can stay fit. Steeven Langil, Lossemy Karaboue and Yannick Boli all impressed in 2019, but the team’s overall performances did not match the excellence of some individual displays.
There have been some useful looking additions to the squad in midfielders Chitpanya Tisud and Luke Woodland, centre-back Yeo Sung-hye and striker Apiwat Pengprakone. It will also be interesting to see if 18-year-old Leon James gets an opportunity, following a youth career at Leicester City.
Nurul Sriyankem has joined from Port FC and it has to be hoped that he will recapture the form of 2017 and 2018. Nurul could be quite an asset as part an exciting front line.
The key this year will be to ensure there is better balance and this is complicated by uncertainty over the head coach position…. again. At the end of 2019, Nuengruthai Srathongvian – set to be T1’s first female head coach – was on the Ratchaburi bench and there were reports of her appointment for the following season.
There wasn’t a head coach in sight at the season opening event and it seems former assistant Somchai Maiwilai has quietly taken the reigns.
Last season: 8th
Player to watch: Nurul Sriyankem