Chiangrai United (1st in 2019)
Obb: Chiangrai United improved their squad depth from the title-winning season but not really in terms of quality. They’ll miss William Henrique’s X factor in the final-third. Defending should not be an issue for these well-drilled groups but scoring goals surely will. Additionally, the AFC Champions League will mentally and physically draining - leading to a possible slow start to the season. Add to that, the fact that they’ve replaced Ailton Silva with Masami Taki - a coach with no previous experience at challenging or defending a league title.
Gian: I am not convinced that the defending champions can repeat the feat this season, and I would expect them to struggle a bit. Playing in the Champions League is likely to take a toll on them, and they are yet to show that they have the squad depth to cope with those challenges. Additionally, it appears to me that the only thing keeping some of the promising young crop of Thai players at the club right now is the ability to showcase their talent on the continent. Chanathip Songkrasin joined Consadole Sapporo during the summer transfer window of 2017 after showcasing his talent in the Champions League with Muangthong, and I won’t be surprised if the same happens for the likes of Ekanit, Siwakorn, Phitiwat, and Shinnaphat for Chiangrai
Buriram United (2nd in 2019)
Gian: Excellence is very much the standard at Buriram United, and it is hard to see the club’s hierarchy accepting another mediocre season. It is true that their signings thus far have been slightly underwhelming, and it is hard to argue that their side isn’t one of the weakest Buriram have fielded in recent years. However, the top brass at the club aren’t afraid to change things - be it the players, the staff, or anything else - to make sure their side isn’t competing among the best. Having won before matters, and it is clear that their domestic cup wins helped Chiangrai United last season. Buriram’s “winning precedent” will give them the kind of intangible advantage and staying power that could make the difference over a 30-game season.
Obb: The disappointment of 2019 will motivate the Thunder Castle to a successful 2020. Bozidar Bandovic’s men will be consistent as usual yet I can’t help but feel injuries will trouble them especially with some Thai players (i.e. Supachok Sarachat & Suphanat Mueanta etc.) who barely had any rest till now. Buriram United’s central midfield options don’t excite me at all and I can see them struggling to break down smaller teams, just like they did last season (away draw versus Sukhothai FC, for example). Stylistically, the signings of attackers Bernardo Cuesta and Ricardo Bueno is fitting of the club’s preference for the “bigman-smallman” front-2. Franck Ohandza and Frank Acheampong - Javier Patino and Carmelo González - Diogo Luis Santo and Gilberto Macena or later Jajá Coelho - are all examples of a successful striker partnership Buriram tends to go for. If Cuesta and Bueno can learn to play together (there is yet to be proof of that, thus far) and keep the key Thai players injury-free, then Buriram can, and likely will, win the league. But it’s a reasonably big ‘if’ at the moment.
Port FC (3rd in 2019)
Obb: The Thai League top 5 is significantly stronger than the majority but, quality-wise, it’s very close amongst my 3rd, 4th, and 5th. This prediction could blow up in my face if Port FC go on and lift the treble in 2020. Madam Pang spared no expense in the market, perhaps inadvertently putting head coach Choketawee Promrut under immense pressure from the get-go. However, I am a firm believer that the system comes first and in that regard the Lions are still miles behind. The FA Cup champions do not have Bangkok United or Chiangrai United’s continuity and I don’t see how they can tactically outsmart the likes of Buriram United of Muangthong United when it matters most.
Probably the best squad in the league man-for-man, the reason they aren’t favorites to win it comes mostly in the poor organization and scattershot transfer policy the side have shown thus far. We still don’t know where Heberty is going to play, how Chappuis fits in, or how many of their new young players are actually going to get a chance to develop at their new club.
Regardless, excellent players are talented players. Even if “used incorrectly,” Heberty is going to show up and score plenty of goals for Port. Their firepower is enough to overwhelm most teams in the league. The only reason they don’t place higher in the final standings is because they have always tended to struggle against their fellow title challengers, only picking up 2 of a possible 18 points against the top four last season. This failing is mostly down to organization and discipline, and there is no indication that this aspect of their game will change in 2020.
Bangkok United (4th in 2019)
Gian: Mano Polking’s side haven’t drawn as much fanfare as they did last season after their transfer market splurge, but that may be to their advantage. The squad has had more time to gel together, and the addition of Hajime Hosogai will greatly help them with playing out from the back. They certainly look a better and more cohesive side than last season, but depth continues to be the worry. Bangkok United were unlucky with injuries last season, but the way the side struggled without the energy of their fullbacks and the creative talents of Vander Luiz is worrying. Being able to pick up results even without key players is a crucial characteristic of champions, and it's still uncertain if Bangkok United will be able to achieve that.
Obb: The Angel’s most smartest move in 2020 may not even be former Japanese international Hajime Hosogai or Brazilian striker Brenner, but thier decision to keep the team together. Head coach Mano Polking followed up his biggest shopping spree with his worst league finish since 2015. A year later, things seem to have fallen into place. They don’t have to bother themselves with the AFC Champions League playoff, and the ensuing heartbreak of not qualifying, anymore. Although it’s just a pre-season tournament, a few Bangkok United players have stepped forward and spoke of the positive push they have received from the Selangor Asia Challenge triumphant.
Muangthong United (5th in 2019)
Gian: It looks like it is going to be another transitional year for the Kirin, who sold many important players in their squad, including Teerasil Dangda, Charyl Chappuis and Heberty Fernandes. The side also missed out on some targets and were only able to recruit players very late in the window. Any success this season will depend on how quickly Alexandre Gama can bring in new faces from the club’s academy to pad out the squad. Thankfully for the Kirin, gifting a coach who has a track record for youth promotion with a talented crop of players is going to pay dividends - but maybe not in the short run. There is enough talent in the squad and enough tactical nous from the coach to make the pairing a success, but they may have to rely on being defensively solid in order to pick up points given the lack of punch going forward.
Obb: Last season, Alexandre Gama showed everyone what a genius he is by reviving the relegation-doomed Kirin from 15th to 5th which includes a run of 8 unbeaten games and a home victory over fierce rivals Buriram United for the first time since 2016. With all that said, you can probably understand how much I rate Gama. Yet, working against the 2-time T1 league champions is losing club legend Teerasil Dangda to J1 League’s Shimizu S-Pulse and, most importantly, Heberty Fernandes’s loan to Port FC. The Brazilian striker’s 11 goals and 12 assists will be missed. Shifting their team-building focus to academy players is an admirable decision but kids tend to be inconsistent, regardless of their individual quality. The playing squad is rebuilding and they may have to spend another year outside the top 3.
Gian’s 2020 Top 5
- Buriram United
- Bangkok United
- Port FC
- Muangthong United
- Chiangrai United
Obb’s 2020 Top 5
- Bangkok United
- Buriram United
- Chiangrai United
- Muangthong United
- Port FC