Football Tribe Thailand
Buriram United continued their poor start to the new season with a draw against league leaders Port FC. This may not be the result the Thunder Castle wanted but it is definitely one they deserve. Bozidar Bandovic’s tinkering, especially the role of Kevin Ingreso, pulled them over the line against a good Port FC performance. Here’s how they did it.
The home team made one change from the beating at Ratchaburi FC – young striker, Suphanant Mueanta replaced by the versatile Kevin Ingreso. The Philippines international, starting for the first team this campaign, added extra solidity to the side and played a key role in nullifying Port FC’s left-flank duo of Bodin Phala and Kevin Deeromram. In possession, Ingreso operates as an attacking midfielder, cutting in-field with his left foot, occupying the opponent’s inside-left channel.
On the opposite flank, Bandovic also told his left-winger to tuck inside with Supachok Sarachat and Ricardo Bueno taking turns out wide or playing up top with Bernardo Cuesta, who is the designated striker. This pattern of movement allowed Buriram to play with two strikers and two creators behind.
To offer width, fullbacks Sasalak Haiprakhon and Narubadin Weerawatnodom are expected to bomb forward at every opportunity – Buriram’s first real chance came on the 6th minute when Cuesta diverted Sasalak’s delicious whipped cross straight at goalkeeper Rattanai Songsangchan. Providing cover is the double-pivot of Ratthanakorn Maikami and Jae-Yong Jeong. Instead of joining the attacks, these two defensive midfielders would hold their position and, together with the center-backs, formed what many would call a “Magic Box” – an impenetrable fortress that acts as the last line of defense against counter-attacks.
Out of possession, Buriram tends to drop back into their own half, switching to a 4-4-2 shape with Ingreso now playing as a right-midfielder. Bodin Phala and Kevin Deeromram are quite an attack-minded fullback-winger duo. Sergio Suarez, arguably Port FC’s most dangerous player, also likes to drift wide and is extremely effective at initiating plays from the left-flank. Still, with the help of the “Magic Box”, Ingreso managed to stop, or at least stall, Port FC’s main attacking outlet, enabling Narubadin to get back in position.
What makes all this tactical mumbo jumbo so interesting is that this is the first time, this season, we see Bandovic adopt such a pragmatic approach. Obviously, with it being against a fellow title-challenger, it makes sense for Bandovic to turn to a slightly more “safety-first” tactic. Still, it can also be seen as an attempt to conceal their defensive vulnerability.
In previous seasons, Buriram might have been happy to sit back, invite Port FC forward so they could strike back on the break. Supachok finished off a breathtaking counter-attacking move to put Buriram ahead 2-1 the last time the 2 teams met at the Chang Arena in 2019. Not only that, but Pedro Junior also netted a fine counter-attacking goal at the PAT Stadium.
However, Bandovic’s team is just not as reliable at the back anymore. Sergio Suarez was under no pressure at all as he carried the ball forward inside Buriram’s half, before slipping a well-timed through ball onto the path of Heberty Fernandes. Siwarak Tedsungneon, standing almost on the goal line, couldn’t get to Heberty quick enough and was easily rounded by the Brazilian who proceeded to put Port ahead after 23 minutes.
Supachok equalized immediately after the kickoff but had to be carried off due to a nasty gash on his eyebrow after contacting Rattanai’s elbow. That was Supachok’s 4th goal in 4 games – undeniably Buriram one positive so far this season. Bueno and Cuesta continue to be on different wavelengths, and there were a few arguments on the pitch too. Without the Thai international, Buriram’s intensity and cutting edge in the final third declined.
Somehow Buriram United found themselves in a position where they can’t score but are also leaking goals at the other end. And like I’ve said in the preview for this game, the overall structure of the squad is still there – they are just missing that X-factor at both ends of the pitch.
Bandovic made the sensible decision to steady the ship instead of going to war and it is evident by the best player on his team; Kevin Ingreso. The 27-year-old played most of the game in the hybrid role detailed above, before later moving into central midfield after Jakkphan Kaewprom’s introduction. Buriram was in such disarray that every time Bandovic makes a tactical change, a new crack opens up for Ingreso to deal with.
It’d be interesting whether or not Ingreso will get to keep his place and duty after such a strong showing. Or, on the other hand, Bandovic may see this as a one-time solution and switch his tactical details once again to clear up the bigger picture.