- Buriram Utd
Despite being under par for most of the season, Buriram United came within minutes of a sixth title in seven years in 2019. Losing a late goal to a relegated team to deny them another T1 crown will still hurt and will surely add extra motivation.
Looking at the other contenders, none look significantly stronger than last year, so Buriram may not need to improve by much to regain their title. Bozidar Bandovic remains as head coach and he has brought in two foreign strikers who will surely do better than those that arrived in 2019.
Nacer Barazite has surprisingly been maintained and may have the opportunity to show that a slow start after arriving mid-season does not mean failure. Jeong Jae-yong may add energy to the midfield which lacked dynamism last year and, of course, the young Thai attacking trio of Supachok Sarachat, Supachai Jaided and Suphanat Mueanta are all one year older and wiser.
Buriram will have to rediscover the spark that made them dominant in full flow and resilient when they faced a tough opponent. With no AFC Champions League (ACL) to sap the energy levels, Buriram can be expected to return stronger and while they may be run close, they look best equipped to be champions.
2. Port FC
Port FC went a little overboard on the transfers during the close season, buying in bulk when a few quality additions were all that were required to improve a team that has the potential to be champions.
The strategy seems to have been partially to weaken rivals Muang Thong United by taking their best player, Heberty Fernandes, and experienced squad members in Charyl Chappuis and Adisak Kraisorn. But it has also been to hoover up some promising young players – Jaturapat Satham, Chatmongkol Thongkiri and Kanarin Thawornsak – as well as bringing in good attacking players under appreciated by their clubs – Tanasith Sripala and Nattawut Sombatyotha – and the less explicable – Tanakorn Dangthong.
Managing the squad will be a challenge and there will certainly be a few players upset by their limited playing time. However, there is real depth to the squad, which may be one of the biggest assets in a long season.
Failing to win their ACL qualifier at home to Ceres Negros was a blow, and how to get the best out of Heberty will be the biggest challenge. In his two biggest outings – against Ceres and against Chiang Rai Utd in the Champions Cup – Heberty has had plenty of the ball but seemed to be trying to do too much by himself.
Port consistently operated a 4-2-3-1 formation last season and it is unclear where someone who prefers a roaming role will fit in. If they can get the Brazilian firing, the Klong Toey side will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
3. Chiang Rai Utd
Chiang Rai United have to deal with the tag of being defending champions and will become a team to beat’ for all of their opponents. They also have to manage the twin demands of domestic football and competing in the ACL.
Few expect them to defend their T1 crown, after the surprise triumph in a strange 2019. To put it into perspective, their win percentage of 53 per cent last year was lower than any side to make the Top Three from 2016-2018.
Nevertheless, they took advantage as the usual suspects fell away and their biggest advantage this year is that they have held together most of the squad, many of whom are still developing.
The loss of William Henrique was a surprise as he seems to have dropped a level by joining Prachuap. Otherwise, the core of the title-winning squad remains and the recent victory over Port FC in the Champions Cup suggested they would again be contenders.
Last season: 1st
Player to watch: Ekanit Panya
4. Bangkok Utd
Bangkok United were hard hit by injuries to some of their top players in 2019. They could reasonably have hoped for better luck this season, but they have already been hit by the news that striker Nelson Bonilla will have to sit out the first half of the campaign. Brazilian striker Brenner has arrived as a short-notice replacement, but he will do well to match the quality of the El Salvador international.
The Bangkok Angels look in decent shape otherwise, and the fact that the only other significant arrival has been midfielder Hajime Hosogai, could work in their favour as continuity could help them develop the consistency that was sorely lacking last year.
Nevertheless, without the proven qualities of arguably the league’s best striker, Bangkok United may lack the firepower to become champions. Brenner is something of an unknown quantity, while Chananan Pombuppha has yet to prove himself as a prolific goalscorer.
Vander Luis and Anon Amornlerdsak are two fine attacking midfielders and will have to weigh in with their share of goals if Bangkok United are to mount a sustained challenge.
Mano Polking’s side will surely take a sixth successive Top Five spot, but they may not have the strength in depth required to claim an elusive T1 title.
Last season: 4th
Player to watch: Anon Amornlerdsak