Port travel to Bangkok Utd on Saturday for their first away trip of the T1 season. An unbeaten start for Port sees them sitting pretty in 5th place, while the ambitious Angels languish in 10th after a surprise loss to newly-promoted Thai Honda. Nevertheless, the 2016 TPL runners up go in to Saturday’s clash as heavy favourites to rediscover their form and take all three points at Thammasat Stadium.
As well as bringing you this preview, The Sandpit also caught up with Bangkok Utd coach Mano Polking, who was kind enough to share with us his thoughts about his team, and the upcoming clash with Port. You can see the full interview here.
Players to Watch
Mario Gjurovski (20) has been consistently one of the best players in Thailand for about 5 years. The Macedonian attacking midfielder netted 59 goals in 121 games for Muangthong between 2012 and 2015, before he shocked everyone by choosing not to renew his contract and move across the city to Bangkok Utd. Mario scored 12 in 30 last season, and is showing no signs of slowing down. He also really knows how to celebrate a goal, as this classic shorts-on-the-head machine-gun maneuver demonstrates. He got a red card for his troubles, but in his defence, who among us wouldn’t take a sending off for a chance to strip down and mow down a few rows of ‘Yamaha Ultras?’
Dragan Boskovic (7) is Bangkok Utd’s other free-scoring attacking midfielder. The powerful Montenegrin has scored 33 in 61 since 2015, and his direct physical style on the left flank is sure to present a tough challenge for either Meechok (20) or Nitipong (34) at right back, neither of whom is particularly robust.
Jaycee John (22) is a quick striker with a frankly outrageous goal-scoring record at some of his former clubs, and 29 goals in 41 games for Bangkok Utd. Born in Nigeria, John moved to Bahrain aged 19 and has gone on to represent his adopted country 47 times, meaning he counts as Bangkok Utd’s AFC foreigner. Dolah (4) and Rochela (22) will have their hands full with John, who can both hold the ball up and play on the shoulder of defenders to great effect.
Sanrawat Dechmitr (29) is a skillful central midfielder who seems to play much better for his club than his country. When I’ve seen him play for Thailand he has been pretty poor, but coach Mano Polking seems to know how to get the best out of him when he plays for the Angels. Bangkok Utd’s captain will attempt to provide the all-foreign attacking foursome with the ammo they will need to rediscover their scoring form.
Mano’s Formerly Awesome Foursome
It will be interesting to see if Bangkok Utd manager Mano Polking continues to keep faith in Gjurovski, Boskovic, John and Brazilian forward Gilberto Macena as an attacking quartet.
The Angels must be the only team in T1 who don’t regularly opt to use one of their foreigners in either central defence or central midfield, and so far with only one goal in their first three competitive matches, the gamble is not paying off. Still, the team that finished second in 2016 must not be underestimated. They undoubtedly have the ability, and – as Mano ominously warned us – a point to prove.
Bangkok Utd’s poor early season form has probably been the surprise of the season so far. They were stunned in their AFC Champions League Qualifier by unfancied Malaysian outfit Johor Darul Ta’zim, who held the Angels to a 1-1 draw and then triumphed on penalties. Then, on the first week of the season, they secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory against habitual strugglers Siam Navy. After 25 minutes, Jaycee John (22) used his power to shrug off a defender, then showed excellent composure to give his side the lead, and in the second half Bangkok Utd held on for the win, despite sustained pressure and a couple of near misses from Navy. Unconvincing. In week 2, a late goal by a typically well-organized Thai Honda ended Bangkok Utd’s unbeaten league record which – remarkably – had stretched all the way back to May 2016.
Having scored just 2 goals in 270 minutes of competitive football so far in 2017, Bangkok United’s greatest strength in their memorable 2016 campaign has so far been their greatest weakness. They just can’t find the back of the net with the regularity we are used to seeing. Port’s chances of getting a surprise result at Thammasat Stadium will likely rest on this trend continuing.
The Starting XI – The Old Over The New
We have started to notice a trend in manager Jadet’s team selections this term. Experience is being preferred to youth.
Nitipong (34) has been preferred to Meechok (20) in both games so far, although there is still a possibility that Meechok isn’t fit enough to play the full 90 minutes after picking up a knock in pre-season. Could Nitipong now be picked over Meechok on merit after being awarded the official Man of the Match award in last week’s 3-2 victory over Suphanburi? We don’t think so. Nitipong has been excellent going forward in both of the first two games, but has never looked completely comfortable defending. With Dragan Boskovic (7) on the left wing for Bangkok Utd, we’re going to continue to stick to our guns and say that Meechok – if fit – has to be picked.
Rattanai (17) is the exception to the youth over experience trend. The young ‘keeper had a great game against Ratchaburi in week 1, but made his first mistake in a Port shirt to gift Suphanburi an open goal in week 2, failing to hold on to the ball after a collision with Rochela. Rattanai didn’t let the error effect the rest of his game though, making an excellent stop early in the second half and looking comfortable for the rest of the game.
Ahead of Rattanai, Rochela (22) and Dolah (4) are set to continue in the heart of defence, whilst Panpanpong (19) must now be considered first choice left back after a solid defensive display and an assist for the opening goal, whereas Piyachart’s (23) only contribution after being brought off the bench was to almost gift Suphanburi a late penalty. We expect Piyachart to be warming the bench for the full 90 this Saturday.
Midfield is once again the big question mark. 30 year old Adisorn (13) was picked over a host of new younger signings who most observers think outperformed him in pre-season. 20 year old Tatchanon (39) has been particularly impressive since his move from Army, but he didn’t make the squad in week 1 and was an unused substitute in week 2. 23 year old Wanchalerm (40) also looked good, but veteran Ittipol (7) has so far kept him out of the match-day squad.
Adisorn certainly didn’t disappoint with his work-rate against Suphanburi, even making T1 team-of-the-week on one website, but surely a stronger, more technical Tatchanon is the right option in the long run? We will have to wait and see, but it seems likely that Jadet will keep faith in Adisorn to partner Siwakorn (16) in midfield, with The Sandpit’s Man of the Match against Suphanburi Suarez (5) in the attacking midfield role.
On the wings, Pakorn (9) and Genki (18) will surely continue in the side. The skillful Pakorn and the hard-working Genki perform very different roles for the team, but both made hugely important contributions in Sunday’s win.
Up front, Kaludjerovic (10) did what he does best, pouncing on a goalkeeping error to score his first league goal for Port. His goal-poaching is undoubtedly an asset to the side, but Tana (99) looked impressive coming off the bench, scoring a swashbuckling equalizer and giving Jadet a tricky decision to make. Perhaps the biggest threat to Kalu’s starting place, though, is new signing Josimar (30). With the transfer window now closed and Josimar confirmed as Port’s fifth foreign player, Josimar is available for selection, and will surely be in the match-day squad, if not the starting XI. It seems most likely, however, that Kaludjerovic will be preferred against Bangkok Utd, with Tana and Josimar set to come off the bench if Port need a goal. To most Port fans’ and referees’ relief, Josimar’s inclusion should also mean that Wuttichai ‘The Card’ Tathong (14) does not make the subs bench for a while. Phew!
Predicted Starting XI
The Key Battle
Dolah vs. John
Elias Dolah, who is only playing his first season in a strong T1, is going to have to be at his best to keep Bangkok Utd’s Jaycee John quiet. Whilst Dolah will be expected to dominate John in the air, Bangkok Utd like to play the ball on the floor, and John’s dribbling as well as his runs in behind the defence will make for a testing day for the Thai-Swede. If he and the rest of the Port defence are up to the challenge, Port have every chance of coming away from Thammasat Stadium with a result, but if John is at his unplayable best, Port may find themselves just trying to keep the score respectable.
The match will be shown live on True Sports 2 and True Sports 2 HD at 20:00 on Saturday 25 February, 2017.