Port FC vs Muangthong: The View from the (Empty) Away End

 

With North and South Korean relations starting to thaw, we decided that it was time to follow their example and reach a truce, albeit temporary, with the auld enemy. So I pulled off my helmet, put down my weapon and strode out into no man’s land, where I met Muangthong fan and occasional English language correspondent Gian Chansrichawla, to get his thoughts on Saturday’s hotly anticipated clash at the PAT…


Tell us the story of MTU’s season so far. Are you happy or unhappy with the way it’s gone?

Muangthong’s 2018 season was always going to be incredibly difficult. Losing Theerathon, Teerasil and Kawin has decimated the spine of the team, and we have massively regressed from the peaks we hit during the start of Totchtawan’s second season.

We have finally emerged from mid-table with the appointment of Radovan Curcic, but I don’t think he can overturn the massive lead that Buriram and Bangkok United have at the top of the table.

Seeing the inner workings of the club for the first time makes the experience of this season totally incomparable to the previous ones. I disagree with some of the players we’ve sold and some that we’ve signed, but overall I wouldn’t call the campaign a disaster.

 

You’re one of 10 clubs to change coach so far this season. Has the change helped?

I think our situation is slightly different than the other nine teams. The club hierarchy wanted to keep Totchtawan, who brought stability to the club. Whether he “jumped before he was pushed” or simply didn’t think he could rebuild the squad after the mass exodus during the off-season will probably remain a mystery.

We stuck with caretaker coach Santi Chaiyaphuak for a while, which I think was a good decision. He experimented tactically and tried to freshen things up, but his inexperience showed and he wasn’t able to fully exert his authority over the team.

Radovan Curcic’s arrival has brought new hope to the team. He clearly sees Muangthong as a stepping stone in his career and has publicly mentioned how he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic, who won the Thai League with Muangthong in 2012. We don’t have the best style in the league, but we are certainly playing with more discipline, which seems like the natural product of having a giant Yugoslav staring you down from the touchline.

The best part of having him has been the three-way translation that goes on in the press-room, from Serbian to English courtesy of Radovan’s assistant, then from English to Thai from Santi. Seeing words being slowly lost in translation is at least amusing if not decidedly worrying.

 

Which players should we be looking out for? Who’s most likely to do the damage?

Heberty dropping deep and Jaja running in behind has been the clutch for Muangthong this campaign. It’s predictable but almost unstoppable. Additionally, Tristan Do has been moved from right-back to right-wing under Radovan, and has been incredibly effective.

 

And which players are your weak links?

Our defense has been atrocious all season, and I don’t expect it to get better unless we make some major signings. I’m not a big fan of Charyl Chappuis but he is supposedly a good footballer so we’ll just leave it at that.

 

Where do you think MTU will finish in the league?

I think where we are now, in fourth place, is where we will end up. I don’t see us closing the gap on either of the top two, and Port just have too much firepower. Maybe Radovan will pleasantly surprise me, but as of now, I don’t see that happening.

 

How do you rate this 2018 Port team? Which players are you most worried about?

Port are fantastic to watch this year, and I think they could have a very strong finish in the league. With a stronger defense, they could be genuine title competitors this term.

I really worry about the three attacking midfielders Nurul, Pakorn, and Suarez. Seeing how Sukhothai tore us apart in our last home game, I don’t want to think about how much fun these guys are going to have on Saturday. It could genuinely end up being a  knife-through-butter situation, which is something I don’t want to think about.

 

Port v MTU is probably the most intense rivalry in Thai football, and the atmosphere at the PAT on Saturday will be pretty insane. Do you think the MTU players will be intimidated? And do you agree with the decision to ban away fans this season?

Some of the players might be affected, particularly those in defensive positions. Small mistakes will get amplified in that cauldron, which could definitely harm certain players. I think the atmosphere would be greatly elevated with a vibrant away section, but I also understand the safety risk involved. It may come at the detriment to the players, but an intangible factor going against us is a far better alternative to a points deduction.

 

Finally, give us your score prediction.

Port’s attack is fantastic and I think Heberty and Jaja will have to pull us out of a sticky situation again. I’ll go with a 2-2 draw.

 

Big thanks to Gian for his contribution! You can read Dave’s somewhat less balanced, some might say unhinged, preview here

 

Tim Russell

Tim Russell

The founder and editor of The Sandpit, Tim has been in SE Asia since 2003 and in Bangkok since 2012, where he runs a travel tech business. Tim has followed Port FC since 2014, and is also a fan of his hometown club Coventry City, and French club AS St-Etienne. He has written for the likes of Football365, ITV.com, NME and The Quietus, and is a regular contributor to God Is In the TV. He's a keen photographer and his work can be seen on his website.

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