It´s only hours left until the start of the new league season and I´m making a go at foreseeing the future of each participant. I have a very good sense of how I see the upper half panning out but I must admit, it gets tougher and tougher the closer to the bottom three I get. Especially as I didn´t watch any League 2 last year I have very little to base this on more than gut feeling, 2018 results and transfers made during the winter. Anyway we´ll jump right into it from the top and make our way down.
- Bangkok United
Four consecutive top-4 finishes (4-2-3-2) and I think the time has come for Mano Pölking´s team to make that last push and overtake Buriram at the top. They looked the most well organised team in the league last year and with some very good activity in the transfer market (Nelson Bonilla a contender for the golden boot, I mean 25 goals for Sukhothai is just silly, and Tristán Do just adding heaps of quality to the squad) to fine tune an already impressive style of play, I think they will have the consistency to grab the top spot in the end. Oh, and Danish-Filipino goalkeeper, Michael Falkesgaard is a level above the rest in this division.
- Buriram United
We´re safe to assume the dominant force in Thai football will be in it to the very end and going from 16 points clear to a second place finish in one year sounds a massive decline. However, despite adding some big names (Modibo Maïga, Hajime Hosogai and Pedro Júnior) I still think losing the outstanding player in the league (Diogo, of course), and then the player who was supposed to take over much of his responsibility (Osvaldo) at the very end of the transfer window, could well mean 10 points less in a full season. Bangkok United adding around 9 to their total tally is equally fathomable and the huge difference from last year is then gone with the wind.
- Port FC
Surprisingly inactive in the transfer market but the few additions made looks like they´re carefully selected to improve overall quality and add some depth, especially, in central midfield (Ko Seul Gi and Sumanya Purisai). With the team´s biggest problem last year being a lack of consistency, having tougher competition in it´s key area on the pitch might be just what´s needed to grind out those extra few points and consolidate last year´s top 3-finish.
- Muangthong United
First, we need to address the club slogan for the year, “Football´s Coming Home”. Could be top, top banter but, unfortunately I don´t sense even a whiff of irony in it. The club that likes to consider itself the biggest one in Thailand finished one point shy of rivals Port last year and claim to be gunning for its 5th league title. I really don´t see that happening, despite the very impressive offensive signings of Mario Gjurovski and Aung Thu. Departures (Naoaki Ayoama and Tristán Do) are too big and the team is looking extremely unbalanced and top heavy. Hope of improving on last year´s position is very much reliant on new goalkeeper, Vietnamese international Dang Van Lam, challenging Michael Falkesgaard for the place as the best in the league.
Showed more potential during parts of 2018 than their 10th place finish suggests. So did Kim Sung Hwan who´s joined the club after his debut year in Thai football at Port and will try to become the playmaker he´s moved south to be. But most of all, the front two is second to none in this division. Cleiton Silva has stayed on following his loan spell from Chiangrai United and even though he´s failed to reach the heights of his Muangthong days since returning from his adventure in China, he´s still a proven goal scorer and will get his fair share as usual. Alongside him, he will have the second best attacker in the league last year, Jonatan Reis. Between them, they bagged 40 league goals in 2018 and two attackers with their technical ability will be more than a handful for any defence.
- Chonburi FC
This is a club that slowly but steadily is making its way back to the top of Thai football. Played some very nice football last year and have had an extremely active transfer window. If the pieces fall into place early on they will be able surprise quite a few people this year.
- Chiangrai United
A tough opponent for any side, formidably illustrated by the team forcing Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a penalty shootout in the ACL playoff earlier in the week. However, the club seems to be in a bit of disarray with the departure of newly appointed manager José Borges less than two weeks before the start of the new season and have suffered a tough transfer window so I expect them to drop a couple of spots from their 5th place last year.
- PTT Rayong
Based on the fact they won the T2 last year, are backed by a big company and have made a couple of truly great signings, I think the seaside town will have a great first year of T1 football to look forward to. The standout signings are former Chiangrai centre-back Victor Cardozo, who will lead from the back while getting a couple of goals to his name, but also, and most of all, one of my own personal favourites ever to come through the Arsenal academy, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. JET has the ability and physique to dominate many opponents in the league and I think he will make a huge difference, assuming he finds his place in a very different culture than he´s used to.
- Nakhon Ratchasima FC
The Swatcats had a surprisingly successful 2018, finishing in an impressive 7th place. However, they were merely 5 points ahead of Bangkok Glass in the relegation zone and 1 ahead of 10th placed Suphanburi. This year will likely be tougher but the club has addressed the problem it had with getting the ball in the back of the net by signing a couple of more than capable attackers (Bernard Henry and Amadou Ouattara) and should have no problem securing another mid-table finish.
- Ratchaburi Mitr Pohl
Shouldn´t be as close to the relegation zone as they were last year (12). A few players have moved on but they´ve all been replaced and the team is looking stronger on paper. Especially, Yannick Boli, nephew of former French international Basile Boli, who brings some much-needed edge to the front line.
- Samut Prakan City
The club has kept most of the squad that saw former license holders, Pattaya United, finish 8 in the previous year. Even despite having lost Lukian to Chonburi, the new entity should avoid relegation and stay in the top division in its first ever year of football.
- PT Prachuap FC
Losing both Jonatan Reis and Lonsana Doumbouya should mean any hopes of finishing in the top half of the table are gone, let alone repeating last year´s impressive 6th place finish. Could fall even harder and end up in the T2 in 2020 but there are still a few clubs that look worse off than Prachuap, who still have some quality in the squad.
- Trat FC
Finished second in T2 last year behind PTT Rayong and will struggle but, ultimately, I think their signings have been good enough to make the step up to T1 manageable. My judgement may be impaired by the fact that I´m writing this on a lovely island in the Trat district but I see at least another year in the top division in their future.
- Sukhothai FC
Dangerously close to relegation (4p) last year and, despite being very active in the transfer market, the loss of Nelson Bonilla to Bangkok United will prove to hard.
- Chainat Hornbill FC
Pulled off a great escape to stay ahead of Bangkok Glass in the final round of last year´s T1. I´m not the one to make accusations so I´ll just say the referee in that final game was… unlucky and that made Chainat lucky enough to get their second soft penalty of the night and secure the win needed to stay up with the final kick of the season. But, their luck will run out and relegation is on the cards.
- Chiangmai FC
The final team to win promotion last year will also be the first to get relegated. The squad simply doesn´t look strong enough, despite sister clubs BG Pathum United and Chiangrai United loaning out everything they can muster.