The 2020 Thai League kicks off this weekend, with Chiang Rai United defending the title they surprisingly won in 2019.
There will surely be a determined challenge from Buriram United as they attempt to win it back, while Port FC, Bangkok United and Muang Thong United will all be hoping to compete for top spot.
BG Pathum United, Police Tero and Rayong FC will aim to make an impression following promotion and several sides will fancy their chances of breaking into a Top Five that has featured the same sides for the past two years.
Here are five things to look out for on T1 Matchday One.
- Samut Prakan aim to topple jet-lagged champions
An opening day match against the reigning champions may look a tough way to start the campaign, but Samut Prakan City may be in luck. Chiang Rai Utd have had a nine-hour flight to recover from following their AFC Champions League clash at Melbourne Victory on Tuesday.
Masatsada Ishii takes charge of his first competitive fixture in Thailand and a victory over fellow Japanese, Masami Taki, would be the perfect start for the man who won the J.League as head coach of Kashima Antlers.
Taki has a job on his hands to lift his players after the 1-0 defeat in Melbourne – a match that showcased their fighting spirit and physicality, but also exposed the toothlessness of the attack in the absence of injured playmaker Ekanit Panya and the departed William Henrique.
With Jareonsak Wonggorn, Picha Autra and Peeradol Chamratsamee, Samut Prakan may have more guile than their opponents, but jet lag or not, Chiang Rai will put up a fight as they begin their title defence.
2. Bangkok United must avoid another slow start
Bangkok United have been there or thereabouts for the past four years, but they are repeatedly hurt by slow starts to their campaigns. The great expectations of 2019 were quickly punctured as they won just two of the first six games, and the Bangkok Angels must do better to take the pressure off.
They host Prachuap FC on Saturday, a match they will be clear favourites to win. Mano Polking’s side have the advantage of stability in their squad, with midfielder Hajime Hosogai and striker Brenner the only significant additions. Prachuap, on the other hand, have made a number of signings.
The Killer Wasps will hope that the attacking duo of William Henrique and Bruno Mezenga can bring back memories of 2018, when Lonsana Doumbouya and Jonatan Reis formed one of the most deadly partnerships in T1. In 2019, Prachuap had four different foreign attackers – none of whom impressed.
Prachuap upset the odds by winning at Muang Thong United on Matchday One last year. Bangkok United must go all out to avoid such a result and reverse a trend that has seen them win just once on Matchday One in the past four years.
3. Tragedy casts shadow over Port Vs Nakhon Ratchasima
There will be a minute’s silence at every match this weekend as Thailand remembers the innocent victims of a massacre last week. This will be particularly poignant at the PAT Stadium as Port FC host Nakhon Ratchasima.
On the pitch, Port FC will be looking to make a statement of intent following a mixed pre-season. Defeats to Ceres Negros in the AFC Champions League qualifier and to Chiang Rai United in the Champions Cup suggested that all may not be well in Klong Toey.
Confidence was restored with a comeback win over Muang Thong United in the final of the Leo Cup, and Choketawee Promrut’s side must now build some momentum with a home win over the side that finished 13th in 2019.
Teerasak Po-on has taken over at the Swatcats and he faces a tough assignment on his competitive debut, though he has plenty of T1 experience from his time at Chiang Rai Utd and PTT Rayong.
With Port very much aiming for the title, while Nakhon Ratchasima have the more modest target of staying out of relegation trouble, this clash offers fans the first indications of how realistic these objectives are.
4. Buriram bid to flex their muscles
A trophyless 2019 was a bitter disappointment for a team that had won five of the previous six T1 titles. Buriram United are unlikely to give a repeat performance.
Early signs are that Bernardo Cuesta and Ricardo Bueno will prove better options in attack than last year’s imports, while Jung Jae-yong should bring more energy to a midfield that was too pedestrian in 2019. A solid Thai core remains, and Supachok Sarachat has grown into a key player in the playmaking role.
With renewed determination to make up for last year, Buriram provide tough opposition for newly promoted Police Tero. Tero have not been especially active in the transfer market, with the Brazilian striker Matheus Alves an underwhelming addition given his poor form at Prachuap in the first half of last season.
The home side would be more than happy with a draw in this one, but Buriram will want to get off to a winning start to send a message to their fellow title hopefuls.
5. BG target immediate impact
BG Pathum United fans are no doubt still scarred by their shock relegation in 2018. Back in the top tier, they will want to stay as far as possible from the bottom three as possible, starting in week one.
The visit of Muang Thong United immediately brings back the glamour to the Leo Stadium and also makes for a very difficult opening match. The Kirins have lost several players but Alexandre Gama’s coaching should ensure that they are always competitive.
In attack, Derley has looked good in pre-season, while Brazilian striker Willian Popp and Uzbek midfielder Sardor Mirzaev are two eye-catching signings.
BG have a muscular backline and a strong looking midfield, with Thitipan Puangchan and Chaowat Veerachat at its heart.
This should be an intriguing battle between two clubs who will feel they are due better days.