Thaileague 1, 2020, preview. Team 1-4

The day has finally come for the start of the new league season and, with that, our preview comes to an end with the four teams expected to battle it out at the very top of the table. Here’s teams 1, 2, 3, and 4:1

1. Buriram United

Suffered immensely from the sale of Diogo to Malaysian JDT but still only failed to retain the title due to a complete mess up ending in a draw against already relegated Chiangmai FC. The experience of not having the supreme Brazilian bail them out of every possible hardship will undoubtedly be valuable as the young domestic set of players look to take the next step to begin an era of renewed dominance in Thailand. Two new South Americans, Argentinian Bernardo Cuesta and Brazilian Ricardo Bueno, will have until the summer window to try their luck as the club keeps searching for suitable foreign attacking options. If these don’t work out, like more than a few before them, wunderkind Suphanat Meuanta is more than ready to keep breaking records and become a regular starter before even celebrating his 18th birthday, supported by his older brother, Supachok Sarachat who is edging ever closer to moving to a bigger league and would love to pack a gold medal once he’s finally on his way. The back line is intact and the only question mark is Jung Jae-yong, who has arrived to replace Hajime Hosogai, but the resume of the South Korean newcomer suggests it’s a the kind of uncertainty any club in T1 would relish. The title is really Buriram’s to lose going into the season.

Player to watch: Suphanat Meuanta

 

2. Bangkok United

Regressed in 2019, despite some very good signings ahead of the season, and it looked like Mano Pölking was out the door. The club has showed unusual restraint and maintained faith in their manager, as well as kept the squad intact, yet bringing in Brenner as a replacement for top scorer Nelson Bonilla who is out for half the season with and injury, and some unquestionable quality in Hajime Hosogai as a loanee from Buriram. The consistency should pay off and Bangkok United looks like the most likely obstacle to the title returning to Buriram.

Player to watch: Anon Amonlerdsak

 

3. Chiangrai United

The most unexpected of champions, but not an undeserved one. A team built over time that is thoroughly solid in every part of the pitch and will continue to be just that. Held on to every key player except Willam Henrique who left for Prachaup, but the way this unit works it shouldn’t weaken Chiangrai the way it would most other teams in the league. An untested new Brazilian winger in the form of Mailson has been brought in as the replacement but Sivakorn Tiatrakul and Ekanit Panya provides enough support to Bill up front for the new arrival to be given time to settle in. Very unlikely to repeat the feat from last year but will make a proper go at it and put some pressure on at least.

Player to watch: Ekanit Panya

 

4. Port FC

Steadily improving after returning to T1 and finishing 9th in 2017. Consecutive 3rd place finishes since, topped off with an FC Cup win, the clubs first piece of silverware in a decade last year. Big spending during the transfer window, with the massive shock of bringing in bitter rivals Muangthong’s biggest star Heberty Fernandes as the piece de resistance, and everything ready for that final step to claim the title? Not really, big name players have been brought in in the form of Charyl Chappuis, Adisak Kraisorn and the aforementioned Heberty, its just that none of these players bring what Port have been lacking when trying to challenge for the crown. In fact, it’s hard to see any one of them significantly improving the team, especially as Port managers always seem to be under strict orders to play the biggest names, rather than the best players available. 2020 will probably not become the fight not to win the league we saw in 2019, and the more well-functioning competitors will probably end up leaving Port in the dust.

Player to watch: Tanasith Sripala

Thaileague 1, 2020, preview. Team 5-8

Now for the ones who will be looking towards the highest region of the table with dreamy eyes, and should be positive about what the 2020 season may bring, but who I still predict will fall short of the big boys at the top. Teams 5-8:

5. PT Prachuap

Now an established T1-side, following a fantastic debut season but struggling somewhat for large parts of the second one after losing their two foreign attacking aces to league rivals and failing to find proper replacements. This window, the club has been very active, possibly building the best ASEAN contingent in the country, bringing in a very solid AFC player in former Buriram and Ratchaburi midfielder Yoo Jun-soo and making the one of the most surprising move of them all in signing William Henrique from reigning champions Chiangrai. If the Brazilian striker Bruno Mazenga, who was heavily linked with Buriram in the fall, turns out to produce what his record suggest he’s capable of, all the pieces are there to be the team truly challenging to break into the top four. Just like Trat, the geographical location of the southernmost team in T1 also brings a logistical advantage that makes for a particularly prominent home advantage.

Player to watch: William Henrique

 

6. Ratchaburi Mitr Pohl

Climbed a fair bit in the table from 2018 to finish in the top half in 2019 and nearly even bringing home some silverware but losing the FA Cup-final after some questionable VAR involvement. The managerial madness that is the Ratburi status quo has started early this year, with supposed head coach, the would be first female to hold that position in T1 Nuengruthai Srathongvian, nowhere to be found during pre-season, but at least there’s enough consistency in the squad, that’s pretty much intact with all three foreign attackers, including the star performer Steeven Langil, still at the club, while both dept and quality has been added to try and improve even further this year.

Player to watch: Steeven Langil

 

7. Muangthong United

Muangthong has dropped numerous important pieces of their puzzle, allegedly due to some financial strain at their main backers, SCG, including but not limited to: Hebery Fernandes, Bruno Gallo and Teersail Dangda. Gambling on replacements like Willian Popp and Sardor Mirzaev, it’s up to manager Alexandre Gama, who already saved the club from an embarrassing relegation battle in his first half season in charge, to do what he does best, create a collective of players who will do anything to get something from every game. But there’s little that speaks in favour of this season being about more than rebuilding to come back stronger in the future.

Player to watch: Sardor Mirzaev

 

8. Chonburi FC

A very poor start to 2019 prompted Chonburi to act by a change in leadership that saw them leave the relegation zone comfortably behind. To build on this, the club has resorted to short term planning by bringing in a collection of ageing high profile T1 players. However, the likes of Teerathep Winothai and Dragan Boskovic may well have just enough dry powder left for one last hoorah and be the leaders that the younger talents at the club need and what they have is enough to aim for a mid-table finish.

Player to watch: Dragan Boskovic

Thaileague 1, 2020, preview. Team 9-12

As many teams have invested heavily to climb higher up the table, some must fail. The lower middle region of the table is where dreams will fizzle out and die. I give you, places 9-12:

9. Samut Prakan City

Was long the big positive surprise in their first season in existence after taking over Pattaya United’s license to join T1. However, a managerial change and heavy injuries halfway through 2019 saw them produce results more in line with what was expected beforehand. Jaroensak Wonggorn will be guarded much more closely now that the defenders definitely knows about him but he will not have to shoulder all of the creative responsibility, as Ibson Melo’s surprise move to Sukhothai has been properly addressed with the signing of Pedro Júnior, whose performances at Buriram may have been inconsistent but at times of the highest quality.

Player to watch: Pedro Júnior

 

10. BG Pathum United

As expected, BG had no trouble comfortably bouncing back up after the shocking relegation to T2 in 2018. The defensive signings, especially picking up free agent Victor Cardozo, should make them a very tough nut to crack for any side in T1, but there is considerable uncertainty about the attacking prowess, with the supposed top scorer Barros Tardeli lacking T1 experience. Also, the midfield will rely much on the performances of Thitipan Puangchan and, even though he is the very best Thai player in his position, he was denied the opportunity to stay in the J.League against his expressed wishes, and players who are forced to stay when they want to leave rarely put in their best performances. There is a very high possibility that the expectations will not at all be met in the first year back in the top flite.

Player to watch: Thitipan Puangchan

 

11. Sukhothai FC

  1. Sukhothai FC

Following a season defined by draws, Sukhothai need find a way to decide games without sacrificing their defensive balance. Easier said than done, but the recruitment has seen a couple of very promising attacking additions to the squad. Not only a potential domestic breakthrough player of the season in attacking midfielder Pongpat Liaorungruengkit but Ibson Mel, coming from a superb season at Samut Prakan, and Evandro Paulista, with solid experience from East Asian football, will be joining forces with one of T1s truly outstanding performers in recent years, John Baggio, in the front line. This could break either way as the offense has been all about Baggio, and while the skipper will have no problem with sharing the spotlight for the good of the team, Ibson Melo is also a player who wants to see a lot of the ball and combining two players like often results in neither playing to their full potential. It’s unlikely that Sukhothai will be safe from relegation until late in the year this time around as well.

Player to watch: Pongpat Liaorungruengkit

 

12. Nakhon Ratchasima FC

The disappointing 2019 ended with a managerial change, seeing Teerasak Po-on take charge following his impressive work at now disbanded PTT Rayong. The new boss has already had the full extent of the off-season to implement his ideas and will likely be given ample time to see them bear fruit, but the players available has remained pretty much the same, with Bernard Henry making room for Dennis Murillo as the most eye-catching altering of the squad, and they can produce an upset against any team in T1, especially in front of their passionate home fans, but the kind of solidity needed to stay comfortably clear of the relegation zone will be hard to create quickly enough in the tough competition they face.

Player to watch: Amadou Ouattara

Thaileague 1, 2020, preview. Team 13-16

The long mind numbingly dull wait is over and the first week of T1, 2020, is finally upon us. The customary promotion/relegation chaos is over, as is the equally chaotic exercise known as the Thai transfer window. Hence, its time for a look at this year’s participants and figure out what we may expect from them in terms of performance. Starting with the bottom four:

13. Trat FC

A very impressive first year in the top flite produced a mid-table finish, but the team suffered heavy losses, especially in the form of T1 top-scorer Lonsana Doumbouya who moved to the Chinese second division, and risk suffering a hard case of second season syndrome. Still, what they haven’t lost is the advantage of a geographical location that usually keeps big away followings from turning up and “Prince” Adefola Durosinmi, they also brought in a solid replacement for Doumbouya in the form of Ricardo Santos, along with some interesting ASEAN names, which should still be enough to avoid relegation, if only just.

Player to watch: Prince Fola

 

14. Police Tero FC

First runners up in T2 last year, has kept a solid core of players and added some decent names to it. Will not go quietly in what is looking like it will be a fierce relegation battle but I still see them dropping right back down in the end.

Player to watch: Arthit Boondjinda

 

15. Suphanburi FC

Finished in the relegation zone last year but was given a wildcard to stay in T1 after PTT Rayong dropped out. The big signings didn’t turn out too well and the strategy during this window has involved making good use of the ASEAN-quota. If the pieces turn out to fit it could be all well and good but will struggle to remain in the top flite this time around.

Player to watch: Felipe Amorim

 

16. Rayong FC

Snatched the final promotion spot from T2, despite suffering a 7-0 beating at Police Tero on the final day of the 2019 campaign, after Sisaket only almost managed to parry their 12 point reduction but in the end came up 2 short of a top three finish. Rayong, in a sense, replaces local rivals PTT, who terminated senior team operations and withdrew from T1 at the end of 2019. The outlook on promotion is gloomier than that of PTT last year. Some pretty underwhelming transfer activity, bringing in a new frontline, with ageing T1 journeyman Bireme Diouf joining as the marquee signing from Trat and giving AFC Ajax academy graduate Leandro Resida a second go at the Thai League following his not too impressive spell at Chainat. Can basically just hope to put up a good fight against relegation.

Player to watch: Leandro Resida