Reigning Thai League 1 (T1) champions Chiangrai United celebrate the return of domestic football with a home victory over Prachuap FC – their second win of the season. Chotipat Poomkeaw emerged as the home side’s outstanding player thanks to his winner but a major concern regarding Chiangrai attacking prowess remains.
Masami Taki fielded a 4-3-3 formation but kept the core players that shine in the 3-4-3 which has been the Beetles go-to shape for many seasons.
The versatile Chotipat Poomkaew found his way on the right-wing, having begun the season predominantly as more of a right-wingback. New signing Jaja Coelho is still unfit so Akarawin Sawasdee starts up top alongside target man Bill Rosimar. Completing the midfield alongside Lee Yong Rae and Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul is 20 years old creative midfielder Ekanit Panya who has recovered from a lengthy injury.
One notable aspect of Chiangrai United’s play is how comfortable Taki’s men are when it comes to switching back and forth between the 4-4-3 and 3-4-3 formations as seen in the picture below. In this early moment of the game, Chiangrai United is in control of possession and about to launch an attack onto the visitor’s low-block 5-3-2 formation.
In these circumstances right-back Shinnaphat Leeaoh would tuck inside to form a back-3 alongside the centre-back pairing – creating a numerical advantage over the opposition strikers who might plan to initiate pressure in hopes to win back possession.
In the meantime, left-back Suriya Singmui would push forward, looking to provide width and stretch Prachuap FC’s defensive shape open, thus allowing Ekanit to occupy the inside-left channel where he can work his magic – be it by assisting or scoring himself.
Filipino international Iain Ramsay started the match on Prachuap FC’s left flank but, faced with Chotipat’s pace and relentlessness to sprint towards the space behind, was forced to track back and provide extra defensive cover. Up against the quicker Chotipat, Ramsay dropped deeper and deeper, which reduced his threat on the counter-attack, and ended up playing as his team’s second left-back.
On the 10th minute, Prachuap FC’s right-back Seeket Madputeh was dragged out of position by Ekanit’s movement towards Chiangrai’s goal. This left a huge gaping hole down the flank which Suriya to advanced into with ease, following a long ball over the top from defender Sarawut Inpaen.
Suriya reached the byline and delivered a cross aimed at Chotipat, arriving with momentum, at the far-post. Unfortunately his header hit the side-netting but, due to his desire to get inside the box for the final ball, Chotipat would get many more chances from this area and eventually scored the match-winner.
Out of possession, the team defend deep in the 4-4-3 or 4-4-2 formation. To pull this off, Ekanit would position himself on the left-winger or the left-sided midfield while Chotipat might hold his position or drop slightly backward to form a 4-4-2 shape.
Like all of the Chiangrai head coach before him, Masami Taki wants his team to play the pressing game whenever the situation is advantageous for them. Below is an example of how Chiangrai front-3, led by Chotipat, started pressing after Prachuap FC played a back pass. Under pressure and with no safe passing option nearby, left-back Adul Muensaman was forced to hoof the ball away, thus returning possession back to Chiangrai.
When the chance to press doesn’t come, Taki’s side is happy to sit in a medium-block, keeping the space between one another compact to stop opponent from stringing passes through them. In this situation, the team is in a 4-4-2 shape with Ekanit and Chotipat as the wingers. The front-2 does not chase after passes but holds their extremely narrow position to block off central spaces.
Apart from William Henrique, Prachuap did not have any pacey forwards on the field that night hence it was almost impossible for them to push Chiangrai backwards to their own goal. The Killer Wasp’s backline and 2 deep-midfielders weren’t proactive or comfortable on the ball enough to untangle Chiangrai’s defensive shape. Frustrated, they choose to launch long ball forwards which more often than not only returns possession to Chiangrai.
In search of the solution, Prachuap FC boss Thawatchai Damrong-ongtrakul turned to on new-signing Chutiphon Thongtae to add more passing ability in midfielder. Forwards Kittisak Hochin and Amorn Thammanam were also brought on to inject pace in behind Chiangrai backline but all 3 substitutions failed to make any difference and the match finished 1-0 to the home team.
Chiangrai United weren’t exciting but very functional. All of their starting XI that night were part of the club’s league winning side in 2019 therefore consistency and great tactical understanding is to be expected of them.
It was this greater squad cohesion and tactical flexibility that gave Chiangrai the advantage over a Prachuap side new faces – and Chotipat was the key player who offered Chiangrai this privilege.
Bill, Akarawin and Jaja Coelho are all big penalty area strikers and aren’t known for their pace. The club is yet to find a replacement for William Henrique so coming up against stronger side who can defend higher up the pitch, exploiting Chiangrai strikers lack of speed, will be a huge test – one I fear Masami Taki does not have to parts to solve. Prior to the lockdown, Chiangrai United suffered a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Bangkok United, a team with the exact profile that Chiangrai should fear, and the fans will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that experience.