Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TPL 2015 - Chapter 2

When I wrote Chapter 1, the focus was on 'The Top 7, Slow Starters and the Relegation Candidates.' In the five games since, nothing major has really changed although the pecking order has varied slightly.

One Horse Race?

The current title holders, Buriram United, have risen to the top of the table after winning their last six TPL matches. They've scored ten goals in their last two games (15 in three if you include the 5-0 mauling of Guangzhou R&F in the AFC Champions League) and barring a massive self implosion they appear to heading to another title. The Thunder Castle can boast the best defensive record and they've found the net the most times out of all 18 competitors. Diogo also tops the TPL scoring charts with ten goals. 

Muang Thong United have crept into second place after three successive wins. It was a sluggish start from the Nonthaburi club, but they have shaken off the cobwebs and they now appear to be the strongest contenders to Buriram. They did keep four clean sheets in their first five attempts but none in their last five must be a slight concern. 

Suphanburi and Bangkok Glass started brightly but failure to beat sides near the bottom of the table suggests that winning the title is a bit out of their reach. Suphanburi lost up in Chiang Rai and could only draw at Siam Navy last time out. BG were the first side to drop points against TOT when they lost 2-1 there at the beginning of April.

The other three sides in the leading pack are Ratchaburi, Bangkok United and Army United. Realistically none of these sides will win the league and if I was to make a comparison with the major European leagues, I'd describe this threesome as teams battling it out for Europa League qualification places. 

Last year's runners up Chonburi have only lost once but seven draws have left them languishing in 9th place. There seems to be an air of complacency about Chonburi and a second half surge for the title like they had last season seems unlikely. 

The Exit Door

There is a saying in football that a manager is only ever three games from the sack. Well, in the case of Gary Stevens that certainly proved true when the former Tottenham Hotspur man was placed on gardening leave after early pace setters Army United suffered defeats to Osotspa, Nakhon Ratchasima and Bangkok Glass. It's still uncertain whether or not Stevens will return to his coaching role. Two victories and an increased level of effort from certain players since his enforced absence would indicate that he won't be returning to the Home of Gentlemen. 

BEC Tero have failed to live up to expectation this year and two recent defeats prompted Tero to part company with Bozidar Bandovic. After a third placed finish last year and with a host of promising youngsters on their books, big things were expected of Tero. The youngsters haven't quite blossomed yet and some poor recruitment has contributed to leave Tero in the bottom half of the table.

Another coach that has bitten the dust is Somchai Chuayboonchum who was replaced at Port by Paiboon Lertvimonrut. Incidentally, this same departure and replacement was mirrored at Samut Songkhram last season when they tumbled out of the TPL. Also after five years at the helm of Saraburi, Totchtawan Sripan called it a day after he found the going too tough in the TPL. He was replaced by Mika Lonnstom who is best recognized for the colorful clobber he brings to the touchline. The Finn has the job until the end of Leg 1 and he'll need to meticulously study the 'Tony Pulis Guide to Survival' if he's any chance of keeping them up.

Relegation Dogfight

The bottom three places are still filled by TOT, Navy and Saraburi. This trio have been strongly tipped to go down and two of them are in danger of being cut adrift unless results improved. TOT picked up seven points in the last cluster of games to move within one point of safety. Saraburi have yet to win and are rock bottom on two points. They look okay going forward but defensively they are all over the place. The opposite could be said of Navy who are solid enough at the back but toothless at the other end. If you amalgamated Navy's defence with Saraburi's attack, then the hybrid could survive. Unfortunately both appear to be heading straight back into the first division. 

Just sitting above the drop zone are Chiang Rai United and Thai Port. In a recent clash between the pair, Port won 2-1 and I have to say the CRU were abysmal on that day. They earned a top half finish in 2014 but they look well short of getting anywhere near the top half again this term. Home form should keep them up and the same must apply to Port who have collected all nine of their points on home turf. Away from home it's been a disaster with six defeats and only two goals scored. There have been rumors linking Port with David Rochella and Thiago Cunha. They would certainly improve the squad if they were signed but for me there are too many substandard Thai players that need to be moved on and replaced in the upcoming window.

Osotspa, Chainat and Sisaket seem to be doing enough to remain mid-table while Nakhon Ratchasima have eased relegation fears after picking up eight points in April. They have yet to keep a clean sheet, but nevertheless they seem to be finding their feet in the top flight after a shaky start.