Port travel to Chiang Rai on the back of two clean sheets and fantastic performances against Buriram and Ubon. It really seems as if Port can compete with the very best in the league at PAT Stadium, but unfortunately the same can’t be said when they travel. Port have only played twice away from home in 2017, deservedly losing 6-2 against Bangkok Utd and 5-1 at Thai Honda. If Port are to hold on to their place in the top half of the table, they will need to stop the rot away from home. Unbeaten Chiang Rai would be a good place to start!
Players to Watch
I’ve never quite believed the hype about the ‘Thai Busquets’ Tanaboon Kesarat (17), but the fact is that he is a national team regular and the highest paid Thai player in the league. Reportedly earning an eye-watering B700,000 a month after being signed from Muangthong, Tanaboon plays at defensive midfield for Chiang Rai, although he has been used almost exclusively as a centre back for Thailand. Personally, I have always thought that he is too weak to be a centre half and not skillful enough to play in midfield, but the majority of the Thai football community seems to disagree with me, so… Yeah, I guess he must be pretty decent.
Thitipan Puangchan (8) is another former Muangthong player who has thrived at Chiang Rai. Often picked as captain of what is thought of as the golden generation of Thai players at under 23 level, Thitipan’s career stalled at Muangthong where he couldn’t find his way in to the First XI regularly. He has had a new lease of life at Chiang Rai though, where he has started to fulfil his early promise as a box-to-box midfielder who offers something going forwards and defending. He even scored a hattrick against Super Power on the opening week of the season.
The Brazilians. It must be said I don’t know much about this lot, but they look pretty damn good. Rafael Coelho (9) is joint top scorer in the league with 6 goals, and with 2 of Vander Souza (10), Felipe Azevedo (11) and dual-nationality Brazilian-Australian Henrique Silva (15) contributing to the attack, the Port defence will have plenty to think about. Then at the back there is Everton Saturnino (28) who seems fairly solid alongside Thai national team player Prathum Chuthong (5), although if Chiang Rai do have a weakness, it is likely to be in defence.
19 points from a possible 21 with a +15 goal difference tells you all you need to know! Chiang Rai have been on fire so far in 2017, with their only draw coming away at Ratchaburi. They were very fortunate to come away with a win at Navy before the international break – going two goals down and scoring three (all from set-pieces) in the second half – but bounced back with a comfortable 3-0 win away at Thai Honda last week. I’m trying my hardest to be positive here, but with their home form flawless, and our away form what it is, you would have to be pretty mental to predict a Port win here!
Starting XI – Dropping the Dead Wood
Things have changed a lot with regards to Port’s best XI since the beginning of the season.
Our excellent young goalkeeper Rattanai (17) has picked up a serious injury on international duty and is expected to be out of action for a month and a half. Whilst in normal circumstances this would not be a big problem as second choice Worawut (36) would step in and get a run in the team, there are reports that Worawut himself may have picked up a knock and is now doubtful for Saturday’s game. Whilst most Port fans would be quite happy to see Worawut between the sticks – particularly after his encouraging (if slightly too punchy) performance against Ubon – third choice ‘keeper Weera (1) is a walking disaster. He showed a staggering level of ineptitude in his only appearance of the season, and quite frankly I wouldn’t trust him to clean Rattanai’s boots without dropping them, let alone keep goal for the First XI. Please be fit, Worawut. Please!
In defence, Dolah (4) – despite a couple of quality performances – has not adapted to T1 as quickly as we might have hoped, meaning that Todsapol (6) could well come in to the starting XI when fit. However, as Todsapol did not even make the bench at Ubon, it seems likely that Dolah will continue to partner captain Rochela (22) against Chiang Rai. After excellent performances against Navy and Ubon, Dolah needs to keep up the good form if he is going to keep his place.
Panpanpong (19) has been looking more and more a T1 left back with every passing game, proving to those who didn’t think he would make the grade at Port that he is indeed a player who can attack as well as defend. As one of his pre-season doubters, I’m happy to be proven wrong!
Nitipong (34) has been a revelation at right back, usurping the younger Meechok (20) with some fabulous displays. A goal and two assists for a right back is quite something after just 7 games, although he has also picked up 3 yellow cards, which points to the fact that he can struggle defensively against the better teams in the league.
Defensive midfield has been the most contentious spot in the team, and to my surprise erstwhile utility man Adisorn (13) has come in and really put a claim on the spot. His displays against Buriram and Ubon have been top-notch, exhibiting an exemplary work rate and tenacious tackling. As an advocate for the ridiculously under-used Tatchanon (39) in midfield, I still believe the youngster is the right man in the long term, although I will no longer feel worried seeing Adisorn’s name on the team sheet. As long as he’s playing well, the spot should be his.
Adisorn will of course partner The Sandpit’s Player of the Month for March Siwakorn (16), whose place in the side is as assured as his consistent performances. Suarez (5) will very likely continue in attacking midfield, despite arguably failing to live up to the promise he showed in pre-season. I believe improved performances from the skillful Spaniard will come, as he undoubtedly has the ability to thrive in T1.
Up top, Josimar (30) still divides opinion despite getting off the mark by scoring the winner against Ubon. Personally, I think the Brazilian brings a lot to the team with his aerial challenges and his hold-up play, and if the goals continue to come now that Josimar has got the ball rolling, he could be the striker Port have been after for years.
After two seriously lackluster performances in the last two home games, Port’s weakest link at the moment has to be right-winger Pakorn (9). With the ability he has we should never be talking about dropping Pakorn, but if he doesn’t step up and put in 100% every week, something has to be done. The rest of the team can’t prop up lazy players in T1, so unless Pakorn can carry his own weight the bench should be doing it for him. Against top of the table Chiang Rai, I would play Nitipong (34) in his more natural position at right wing, and bring Meechok (20) in at right back, with Suarez (5) taking over set-piece duties. Whether or not this is the best permanent solution, it will serve as a wake-up call for Pakorn. Go hard or go home!
At left wing once again will be Pakorn’s polar opposite. Genki (18) works as hard as any player in the league, and when he was replaced by Tana (99) on Monday, Port really missed their Japanese terrier. Whilst Tana is always a goal threat, he belongs at centre forward not out on the left wing where he is too far away to utilize his goal-poaching prowess. Genki does an important job for the team, and in one of Port’s toughest away fixtures of the season his hard work will be more important than ever.
Rochela vs. Rafael Coelho
With 6 goals to his name in 2017, Rafael is going to take some stopping. Fortunately, Port have El Capitan David Rochela at the back. If anyone can keep the Brazilian and his teammates shackled, it’s Rochela. Lest you doubt the raw ability of either player, Rafael has represented Brazil at under 18 level, whilst Rochela was an under 17 World Cup runner up with Spain. Let battle commence!
The match will be shown live on True Sports 6 at 18:00 on Sunday 9 April, 2017.