Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TPL 2015 - Chapter 1

The Top 7

What is one thing that the top seven clubs have in common?
Answer - They all have foreigners as head coach. It appears the days of teams being led by ‘Ajarn Somchai’ are a thing of the past. The new breed of foreign coach has evolved preparation and coaching. Training sessions consisting of games of ‘monkey’ while Somchai’s ear is glued to his mobile phone just won’t cut it anymore in the Thai top flight. Pre-match team talks telling players that they must fight stronger than the opposition are about as much use as a 21 year old kid giving a pep talk to a line of security guards before they commence their 12 hour shift.

Anybody who follows Gary Stevens on twitter must admire his dedication and enthusiasm towards his role as head coach of Army United. He meticulous planning and preparation for games has saw his side unexpectedly rise to the top of the pile after their first five matches. Whether they remain there come the end of the year would be a tall ask, but a Top 6 finish must be a realistic target.

In second place behind Army is Bangkok Glass. Apart from a disappointing showing in the AFC Champions league qualifier at Beijing Guoan, it’s been a promising start under new coach Ricardo Rodriguez. The only league points dropped by Glass came in a home stalemate against Muang Thong United. BG probably don’t have enough depth in the squad to mount a sustainable title challenge and the same could be said of Suphnaburi despite the fact that they are looking a better prospect under the guidance of Sergio Farias. The War Elephants continue to be one of the best supported clubs in the league and they can also boast an unbeaten start to the season. 

Reading the comments prompted by many of the Thai football experts, they predict it’s a two horse race between Muang Thong and Buriram United for the title. I do tend to agree and even the anti-Buriram brigade can’t help but be impressed by their start in the AFC Champions League Group stages. Their league form has been solid yet unspectacular though. Last season at this stage, Buriram were languishing near the relegation zone. Once they were eliminated from the AFC, they overhauled their season and shot through the field to become champions. Buriram have made good signings and are stronger this year. The thing that could hinder them would be a couple of their foreign stars getting injured or losing interest.

As for Muang Thong, they’ve been scraping narrow victories in a resembling fashion to that of Manchester United under Louis van Gaal. The question now is can they slip into top gear or will they eventually be found out? I would say the former although I still think Buriram are a stronger proposition. 

I was impressed with both Ratchaburi and Bangkok United when I saw them at the Army Stadium last month. Ratchaburi lost 3-1 but for the first hour, they were the better side while Bangkok United should have put their game with Army to bed before Melvin de Leeuw equalized deep into injury time. The 2014 TPL Golden Boot winner Heberty is already leading the scoring charts this year with five goals. 

Slow Starters

Chonburi started brightly with a 3-1 opening day win at Saraburi, but since then three draws and one defeat leave them languishing in 10th place. They have scored the same amount of goals as leaders Army United yet on the other side of the coin, they’ve conceded as many as basement dwellers TOT. That shows you where the majority of their problems lie. Also as I alluded to in the opening paragraph, the appointment of Jadet Meelarp was a backwards step. 

Meanwhile, with an almost identical record are BEC Tero. They have only recorded one win and that was 2-0 over Thai Port after both goals were gifted to them by the Port keeper. Tero’s promising youngsters have been playing for club and country constantly over the last 12 months and it’s no surprise they are slightly jaded this term. Also the recruitment of Dae Ho Son and Bojan Beljic never worked out and the duo have apparently been made surplus to requirements after only a handful of games. 

It’s also somewhat surprising to see Chiang Rai United fifth from bottom after an encouraging campaign in 2014. They are averaging only one point per game despite not having the toughest of fixture lists. Similar to Chonburi, they’ve netted and conceded in every game so tightening up at the back is required.

Relegation Battle

At this moment in time, it’s hard to argue a case against the trio of Saraburi, Navy and TOT not being demoted come the end of the year. Out of the three of them, I’d say Saraburi would be the most likely to survive. They’ve fought well in their opening five matches but they’ve just come up short in the defensive department. They have the worst goals conceded record in the league leaking ten goals in five outings. Next up, they face fellow strugglers Navy and a win in this could ignite their season. Navy have been stout defensively, but going the other way has reaped only one goal and that was a dodgy penalty awarded to them at Nakhon Ratchasima. 

Below the struggling duo are TOT with a grand total of zero points. They have lost every game by only one goal but worryingly for them they’ve yet to play any of the big spenders. Juninho and Gong Young Sun have had their contracts ripped up and TOT must plough on with only three foreigners and a collection of Thai players that look short of TPL quality.

The team just above the relegation zone is Thai Port. A new ownership agreement days before the season kicked off has started to improve their profile off the pitch. The new owner isn’t shy to take the spotlight yet on the pitch her investment came too late to make any impact to the early proceedings. Their current coach ‘Uncle Chuay’ appears to be heading for the exit door before proper financial backing arrives during the mid-season transfer window. Fans of the club hope this forthcoming investment will see them move up the table away from danger.

It’s been a mixed start for Nakhon Ratchasima. They’ve had two victories in games you’d have expected them to win and three losses against sides that finished in the top half of the TPL last season. Reading between the lines, there seems to be a split in the ranks amongst the players and some supporters feel head coach Sugao Kambe is out of his depth in the TPL. As with Port FC, mid-season investment will potentially see them over the line.  

It’s probably a bit unfair to include Chainat, Osotspa and Sisaket in this group just now. They appear to be mid-table fodder but once injuries start piling up and players lose form then any of these three could be sucked into the relegation scrap. Chainat should be fine provided the front duo of Mika Murcy and Alex Maiolino maintain their early season promise. Sisaket have won both their home games while they’ve lost all three on the road. The losses won’t have impressed them but they will take comfort in that they ran MTU, BG and Buriram close and only lost by a narrow margin. With Osotspa, I just don’t know what to expect. 

The TPL resumes this weekend kicking off v Chiang Rai Utd v Buriram Utd on Friday evening.