Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TPL Preview Part 2

Nakhon Ratchasima
Their finishing position this year is probably the most difficult of any to predict. Optimistic fans of the club will look towards 2014’s average attendances and they’ll see the title race as being a two horse race between themselves and Buriram United. On the other hand, the more pragmatic Swatcat won’t have forgotten that Korat were promoted from one of the weakest first divisions in years and, they’ll regard a season of consolidation and a 12th placed finish as a reasonable return. With new signing Bjorn Lindemann, they are guaranteed goals from midfield. Lee Tuck has shown in the first division that he knows where the back of the net is. The Englishman now has to replicate that in the top flight after a disappointing six months at Air Force in 2014. There was talk of Nicola Anelka and then Frank Ohandza joining the Swatcats. Instead they ended up with Ghanaian Dominic Adiyiah. His claim to fame is having his goal-bound header saved on the line by Luis Suarez in the dying minutes of extra time during the 2010 World Cup quarter final in South Africa.

Key Player: Bjorn Lindemann

Last Season: 1st (Division 1)

In 2011 when Navy were relegated from the TPL, a lot of Thai football fans thought they’d gradually slip through the first division into the regional league and we’d never hear of them again. Against the odds though, Navy have returned to the top table after they pipped Bangkok FC to the third promotion spot. Their squad still has a first division look to it although they have added plenty of height with Georgie Welcome (1.92m) from BEC Tero and Australian defender Michael Cvetkovski (1.90m). Angello Machuca has the ability to make the step up from the lower leagues but his questionable temperament could be his downfall. Realistically, survival should be their goal.

Key Player: Georgie Welcome

Last Season: 3rd (Division 1)

This year they’ll play at the Thephasadin Stadium, which is more suitable than them playing at a sparsely filled Rajamangala. The club no longer has any ties with the Saraburi province and they are back to their roots in Bangkok. As a result, support has dwindled and it seems it’s only a matter of time until the club succumbs to a similar fate that TTM have encountered in the past couple of years. Their squad still has reasonable depth to it but many of the better players have been slipping out the exit door. Highly rated Chananan Pombuppha and Narong Jansawek have been allowed to leave while the only overseas player left from last season is Anthony Komenan. Stefano Cugarra Teco is still holding the reins but I get the feeling he could be ousted if results don’t go his way in the early weeks.

Edit (12-2-15): Despite several press reports stating that Osotspa were moving to the Thephasadin, it now appears that they will remain at the Rajamangala.

Key Player: Apipoo Suntornpanavech

Last Season: 11th

As a new season beckons, the Khlong Toei club has had another change of name and a clean sweep of the majority of the playing staff. Most fans don’t know what to expect this coming season but the appointment of Somchai Chuayboonchum indicates the club owners are aiming for survival. On the playing front last year, the season was littered with peaks and troughs. Off the field, the club were summoned by FIFA for not paying a former player’s wages while crowd trouble at Muang Thong saw the club deducted nine points and almost relegated as a consequence. This former problem has rumbled on through the close season and was only resolved a few days ago. The return of fan favourite Diarra Ali was a welcome boast for the Klong Toei Army as was Hironori Saruta’s decision to sign on for another season. Gorka Unda has impressed in pre-season friendlies and if Brent McGrath can get up to match fitness, then Port should be able to stay clear of affairs at the wrong end of the table. 

Edit (14-2-15): The club have new owners. A well known insurance company has invested in the club so expect Port to have more money to spend in the mid-season transfer window.

Key Player: Gorka Unda

Last Season: 13th

The Dragons claimed and impressive fourth placed finish last year and the TPL’s top scorer, Heberty, netted 26 times. There were many interested suitors for the Brazilian but he’s elected to stay at Ratchaburi. He’ll be joined upfront by fellow country man Bruno Lopes and if recent signing from Bangkok Glass Flavien Michelini can find some consistency, then they will be an attacking force to be reckoned with. Former Barcelona youth coach Alex Gomez was going to take over from Ricardo Rodriquez after he left to join Bangkok Glass. However, that task is now in the hands of Martin Freeman lookalike Josep Ferre after health problems caused Gomez to leave his position. Their squad appears too slimline to achieve another top 4 finish, but the top half is certainly attainable.

Key Player: Heberty

Last Season: 4th

Saraburi begin their first season in the TPL after finishing runners-up in Division 1 in 2014. The club now hold all the attention in the town after Osotspa returned to Bangkok when the floodlights at the provincial stadium were deemed unfit to host TPL football in 2014. That problem has now been resolved so Saraburi won’t have to relocate. The TPL newbies have made some astute signings with plenty of TPL experience arriving in the form of Douglas Gardozzo, Bireme Diouf and Guy Hubert. Winger Bernard Henri has taken many plaudits in the lower leagues and this is the time for him to shine at the top level. Finishing in lower mid-table would be a decent return in their TPL maiden season. 

Key Player: Bernard Henri

Last Season: 2nd (Division 1)

It was a welcome return to action for Sisaket after they spent 2013 in the wilderness while a courtroom battle was settled. A team had to be virtually assembled from scratch for 2014 and their target of survival was gleefully achieved. This off season has seen another revamp of the squad with only a handful of players remaining. Despite the signings of a couple of experienced Bulgarians, the new players arriving don’t look any better than the ones that have departed so another campaign of fighting relegation looms. The fans of Sisaket have made their presence felt throughout the country and they are one of the most welcome set of fans anywhere. Their passionate support will be vital to their survival. 

Key Player: Lyuben Nikolov

Last Season: 12th

If Suphanburi overachieved in 2013, then it’s fair to say they underachieved in 2014. With one of the highest wage bills in the TPL, finishing 20 points adrift of winners Buriram would not have impressed their president. The appointment of Velizar Popov never worked out and he has been replaced by Sergio Faras as head coach. The Brazilian has won an impressive list of honours with the most notable being the AFC Champions League with Pohang Steelers in 2009. Suphanburi’s season will depend on how quickly he settles into the Thai game. On the playing front, they’ve brought in Carmelo Gonzalez and Prathum Chuthong from Buriram while the highly rated Marcio Rosario remains as does the lesser rated Sergio van Dijk. With these new recruits, Suphanburi will be striving to break into the top 3.

Key Player: Carmelo Gonzalez

Last Season: 6th

The Grim Reaper continues to linger around the rickety old away end at the TOT stadium waiting to take the soul of this football club into the afterlife. The last couple of seasons have seen TOT get off to a flying start only for them to severely plummet mid-season before scraping a couple of late season victories to survive. Long term foreigners Lee Jun Ki and Takahiro Kawamura have extended their contracts and keeping this pair fit is TOT’s best route to survival. Bas Savage is still there and the impish Juninho has returned for a second spell in Lak Si. The lack of accomplished goalscorer means TOT will need to defend well and eek out several narrow wins to stay up. 

Key Player: Takahiro Kawamura

Last Season: 15th

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