Thursday, February 20, 2014

Opening Weekend Preview


Buriram Utd v Songkhla Utd (18:00)
Chiang Rai Utd v Bangkok Glass (18:00)
Chonburi v Police (19:00)
Muangthong v Chainat (20:00)
Suphanburi v Ratchaburi (19:00)

Air Force v TOT (19:00)
Army v Bangkok Utd (19:00)
Samut Songkhram v BEC Tero (18:00)
Singh Tarua v PTT Rayong (20:00)
Siskaket v Osotspa Saraburi (18:00)

*Please note the new kickoff times.

In the last four seasons, Buriram Utd, Muangthong Utd and Chonburi have been the contenders for the TPL crown. They trio have already opened their seasons and this weekend the other 17 TPL sides kick off their campaigns. So which teams are most likely to break the stranglehold held by the big guns?

The three most likely challengers would be Suphanburi, Bangkok Glass and BEC Tero. Suphanburi have certainly splashed the cash and it's hard to image that it was only a couple of years ago that they were floundering in the second tier of Thai football. New coach Mano Polking has an astute knowledge of the Thai game and expectations are high in Suphanburi.
Bangkok Glass and BEC Tero have spent big over the last few seasons without ever fulfilling their promise. It's hard to see either winning the TPL crown but their fans will at least want them to be challenging the top three.

For the remaining 14 clubs, the prospect of a relegation battle is far more likely than a top three finish. With five teams set to drop out of the league, the dangers of demotion are apparent.
Osotspa Saraburi, Chainat and Chiang Rai probably have enough to avoid the pitfall and they'll be aiming for a top half finish. Chainat apparently have a budget of B200 million while Osotspa have a decent squad but will play their first few games at the Rajamangala while their floodlights are being upgraded.

Police and Army don't seem as strong as last season and fans of both clubs aren't feeling particularly optimistic. In particular, supporters of Army have been fairly unimpressed with what they've seen in pre-season. Nonetheless, they should have enough to finish mid-table. Army will be lead by former Leicester City defender Matt Elliott while Police have appointed Carlos Roberto de Carvalho whom many of you will remember from his time at Bangkok Glass and Muangthong Utd.

For the three new boys, Air Force, Singh Tarua and PTT Rayong, the realistic objective will be staying afloat this term. The outcomes of Air Force and Singh Tarua could depend on goals coming from the two strikers that dominated the Division 1 goal chart last season. Leandro Luz of Singh Tarua topped the list while Bangkok's Lee Tuck finished second. The Englishman has since transferred to Air Force and has so far impressed in pre-season friendlies.
At PTT Rayong, a very famous striker has regularly been linked with a move to the PTT Stadium. The man in question is none other than Italian legend Alessandro del Piero. So far, he hasn't signed and the failure to make the marque signing might work in the team's favor. Remember Robbie Fowler at Muangthong!!
PTT will be lead by Peter Withe whom older readers will recall as the man who scored the winning goal in the 1982 European Cup Final. And of course, Withe was the coach of the Thai national team in the late 90's and early 00's.

Samut Songkram have managed to stay in the TPL for the last two seasons despite being plagued by financial troubles. They've usually been scrambling for players at the last minute but this time they are fully prepared player wise. A thing that might work against them is that they won't be able to play on their notoriously waterlogged pitch for a portion of the season.

On paper Bangkok United have plenty of experience with their most notable capture being Leando Tatu from Steaua Bucharest. The Brazilian made a couple of appearances in the UEFA Champions League last season.

There is nothing about TOT, Songkhla, Ratchaburi and Sisaket to suggest that they won't be involved in affairs at the wrong end of the table. TOT, Songkhla and Ratchaburi were all pretty woeful in the second half of last season and they need to gather points early doors if they are to survive. It's been a rough couple of years for Sisaket fans and it's good to see them back in the TPL. There is no doubt they'll take a great travelling support wherever they go but it's doubtful they'll be celebrating many away day successes.

Division 1

Ayutthaya v Ang Thong (16:00)
Siam Navy v BBCU (18:00)
Trat v Chiang Mai (18:00)

Nakhon Pathom Utd v Krabi (17:00)
Nakhon Ratchasima v Bangkok FC (18:30)
Phitsanulok v Khon Kaen (Phichit) (18:00)
Phuket v Pattaya (18:30)
Roi Et Utd v TTM Customs (16:00)
Saraburi v Sriracha (16:00)

Picking the three TPL bound sides from this group is nigh on impossible. If you were to ask ten different people which three sides will win promotion, I'm sure you would be given ten different answers. 

The game between Nakhon Ratchasima and Bangkok FC is the same opening day fixture as 2013. The duo finished in fourth and fifth last season so they'll be expected to be in the running again. Bangkok were pipped on the last day and the failure to win promotion has seen them lose top scorer Lee Tuck. His goals will be a major loss but the Iron Bulls have acquired their own lucky piece of white heather with the loan deal of Diarra Ali. The Muangthong loanee has tasted promotion with Suphanburi and Singh Tarua in the last two seasons. The Bulligans will be hoping that Ali can complete the hat-trick this year.
Korat have also lost their goal getter from last season. Yasuke Kato has gone to Samut Songkhram but the Swatcats will be optimistic that Ivan Boskovic can fill the boots vacated by Kato.

Since Phil Stubbins arrival at the helm in the latter stages of last season, Ayutthaya have massively improved. If they can transfer their end of season form from 2013 into 2014, then the will be serious promotion contenders. The signings of experienced foreigners Michael Byrne and Berlin Ndebe-Nlome will be a boost too.

Pattaya United were the only side demoted from the TPL last season. They'll be aiming to emulate Singh Tarua who themselves bounced back at the first attempt in 2013. The Dolphins have been given the heart and soul of Sriracha FC as they have been deemed by the bigwigs in Chonburi to be the province's second club. The sad news for Sriracha is that they are to be a Chonburi youth side, The club are no longer based in the town and will play their games at the IPE Stadium in Chonburi. The small band of loyal Sriracha supporters haven't taken the news kindly and we all hope they can refind their identity in the near future.

The four new boys from the regional leagues are Ang Thong, Roi Et United, Chiang Mai and Phitsanulok. It's probably asking too much for them to make it back-to-back promotions but there is enough in the tank to suggest that they won't making a quick return to Division 2.
Chiang Mai's last venture into the first division in 2011 ended disastrously when they were relegated despite starting the season as title contenders. Their first division campaign almost didn't get started for 2014 when their owner proposed to keep them in the regional league. After a bit of ego caressing, he didn't follow through with his plan much to the relief of the fans of the club.
Roi Et and Phitsanulok have been banging on the first division door for a few years and they finally entered after negotiating the playoffs at the third attempt. Mid-table seems a realistic outcome for the pair and Ang Thong would surely except the same fate. Home form will be key to all the newbies.

Out of the rest, it's difficult to predict the challengers. Saraburi are always strongly tipped by sections of the Thai press. They've managed to retain their key player Bernard Henry from last year so the Warlords could be a good shout. Krabi will be hoping that John Mary and Erivaldo can form a partnership that will provide them with goals. Former Chiang Rai United coach Teco has now had time to stamp his mark on his new Phuket side and things need to improve after a disappointing campaign in 2013.

Khon Kaen will again be looking to Matius Recio to provide the goals to keep them out of trouble and similarly Siam Navy will need new boy Ludovik Takem to do a similar job in Sattahip.

BBCU have a good selection of foreign players but whether their Thai contingent is strong enough remains to be seen. For Trat, TTM and Nakhon Pathom, they don't appear any stronger than last season so I expect they'll finish in similar positions as last term.

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