After a long wait, which included having their match called off due to a last minute Covid-19 case, BG Pathum United (BGPU) finally returned to the field away at PAT Stadium.
Up against fellow title challengers, and the pressure to bounce back from last week’s forfeit, Port FC fielded a star-studded XI in search of three points. Unfortunately, it was the visitor who got to celebrate when Chenrop Samphaodi, an ex-Port FC striker, netted the winner in the 13th minute.
Head coach Jadet Meelarp was relieved of his duties for the third time by Port FC the following Monday. To shove the blame entirely on Jadet is unfair considering he only took charge during the lockdown. Truth is, desultory transfer activities and questionable team selections have always been Port FC’s biggest issue since Nualphan Lamsam’s takeover in 2015.
Look no further than Jadet’s predecessor Choketawee Promrut who, despite winning the club’s first trophy in 10 years, left during the lockdown – stating his frustration with the club’s hierarchy over player recruitments and team selections.
And it is this mismanagement that cost Port the points on Saturday. In this tactical analysis, we’ll be examining the Port Lions’ selection mistakes and how that affected the players’ performance and the football on show when competing against BG Pathum United’s midfield and defense-heavy formation.
In recent years, Port FC’s transfer and selection policy seem to be “Buy the best, play the best” and not much was different versus BGPU. Heberty Fernandes and Sergio Suarez, arguably two of Thai League’s most dangerous attackers, started up top in a 4-2-3-1 formation that innately turns into a 4-4-2 (We’ll get to that later).
Pakorn Prempak returns for his 4th start of the season while Kevin Deeromram pushed forward from fullback to left-wing in place of Bodin Phala who, for many, was the standout player last weekend.
South Korean midfielder Go Suel Ki comes in for the injured Siwakorn Jakkuprasat alongside Kannarin Thawornsak in the centre of the park. Filipino left-back Martin Steuble filled in for Kevin while Elias Dolah got the nod as Tossapol Lated’s centre-back partner.
Nitipong Selanon and Rattanai Songsangchan remain at right-back and in goal, respectively.
Even before going into Jadet’s gameplan, we can see the flaws in the system that is a result of the players selected.
One-dimensional wing play. For at least the past decade and a half, wide players are encouraged to drift inwards and shoot or combine with teammates to create chances. The advantage of using an inverted-attacker is clear, hence its popularity across all levels of the game and the extinction of the traditional winger.
Bordin Phala, Tanasith Siripala or Nattawut Sombatyotha are all solid options but neglected for the inverted-attacker role. Therefore, playing the left-footed Kevin on the left and right-footed Pakorn on the right is somewhat of a missed opportunity and greatly reduced their unpredictability going forward.
Front-2 lack synchronization. Despite listed as a no.10, which is his preferred position, Sergio Suarez often ended up as the furthest player forward for Port. The Spaniard’s strike partner, Heberty, is also not a natural striker – he was only converted to the position when he joined Ratchaburi FC in 2014 and has since spent most of his time as a wide-forward in a front-2 or front-3 system.
The issue here is not entirely that Suarez and Heberty are too much alike, but that the two just don’t complement each other. When Heberty drops to link-up play, he glides past opponents with ease, then goes for goal himself more often than not. Meanwhile, when it’s Suarez turn in the drop deep, Heberty is usually nowhere to be seen in around the penalty box or can’t time his runs onto Suarez’s through ball correctly.
There are instances this season where the pair did combined to frightening effect, for example Heberty’s goal at Buriram United which was assisted by Suarez’s delightful killer pass, but those moments are largely far and few between.
Restrained midfielders. With the front-2 operating on a different wavelength and offering little help in buildup play, Kannarin and Go Suel Ki was left isolated and outnumbered in midfield. This meant Kannarin can’t make support the attack with iconic box-to-box run while Go is afforded time to pick out a pass.
Now that we’ve taken a brief look at Port’s selection issue, let’s discussion the their main problem – Jadet’s flat 4-4-2 formation.
One identifiable aspect of Jadet’s football is his preference to have the players spread out across the pitch with the intent to stretch open opponent’s defensive shape. And he is not wrong here. Expand when you have the ball but contract into a compact shape without it is the most basic tactic concept of the game.
However, in the age of ‘press and possess’ football where teams aim to control possession and also win the ball back as quickly and effectively as possible, simply spreading out is not enough anymore. Today, overloading has become another key tactical leverage.
Teams with better players will have a tough time when being outnumbered in different areas across the pitch and that is what happened due to Jadet’s flat 4-4-2.
BG Pathum United weren’t outstanding on Saturday and they did not need to be. By simply sticking to there formation, the Rabbits already won the numerical advantage over Port FC and thus could defend with relative ease – forcing the home side to try their luck from distance.
Port is outnumbered 3v2 up front (green), 3v2 in midfield or even 4v2 when Mitsuru Maruoka dropped back to support (blue). Kevin and Pakorn were shadowed by Santipharp Chunngom and Daniel Toti, respectively (orange). Both wingers playing on the same side as their stronger foot meant its difficult for them to shake off their markers or drift inside to combine with the central midfielders (who were outnumbered by default by BGPU’s players).
With the midfielders and strikers stifled, Port’s better moment came when left-back Martin Steuble ventured forward with the ball along the inside-left channel. We are not sure whether this is a tactical instruction from the sideline or improvisation by Steuble but the plan worked as it helps even out the numbers in midfield.
In the example above shows Port FC hitting BGPU on the counter-attack. Steuble were allow to carry possession forward with any pressure from the BGPU players who are unsure whether to closed Steuble down (and risk exposing the zone they are protecting) or simply back off.
Steuble’s pass found Heberty in his preferred no.10 space and resulted in a shot. 5 minutes later, Steuble charged into this inside-left channel yet again, this time taking a shot from range that tested the keeper. And just as Port looks like they might’ve found a chink in Dusit Chalermsan’s gameplan, the team just stop targeting that area.
Bordin Phala’s 66th minute introduction gave Port the much needed creativity. Sneaking behind his marker into the penalty area, the left-winger’s header nearly set up an equalizing goal for Suarez just 7 minutes from time.
On the 89th minute, Bordin skipped past right-wingback Santipharp, put in a near post cross, only for Suarez to missed the target. That was Port’s last chance of the game before the final whistle.
The flat 4-4-2 formation not only isolate Port’s players in attack but also slowed down the side’s transition to a compact shape which left huge gaps when they are defending.
Above is a snapshot before BGPU’s goal. Port is defending in a flat 4-4-2 with both strikers taking a passive role – not blocking passes to the central zone or pressuring BGPU’s defenders in buildup play. Singaporean international Irfan Fandi was given plenty of space to carry to ball forward time and time again. Here he was able to pick out attacking-midfielder Mitsuru Maruoka between the lines.
A neat through ball set Chenrop Samphaodi up for the goal but not after a brilliant touch from the former Thai U23 international to get away from Elias Dolah.
A flat shape means there is no dimension to the players positioning thus making it difficult to apply pressure. Simply put, standing in a straight line is a big NO-NO.
In this instance, centre-back Todsapol Lated and Steuble (A) rushed in to press Maruoka on the turn. This means if Maruoka’s pass slipped through, and it did, there would be no one to cover behind, and that’s exactly what happened. Steuble pressing Maruoka from the side is an disadvantage and it would be better for the team if he had drop to provide cover in position (B).
It is not a coincident that Port conceded in this manner. In the 3rd minute of the game, Maruoka picked up possession in similar area, played it back to midfielder Sarach Yooyen who exchange passes with Chenrop and, with a bit of luck, found his way through on goal. Luckily, Rattanai Songsangchan was quick off his line to denied a clear goal-scoring chance.
It remains to be seen what changes will be implemented by new head coach Sarawut Treephan. Nonetheless, the selection issue needs sorting out as soon as possible. If Heberty and Suarez are to start together, Sarawut must give them clear direction on and off the ball. This flat 4-4-2 formation, with its unassertive nature, must go.
Port FC have many things going for them; passionate supporters, great matchday atmosphere, financial stability, quality players, extensive squad-depth…but time is not one of them. Lots of work to do for Sarawut and it begins this Saturday to bottom of the table Trat FC. The White Elephants are yet to pick up a single point from 6 games this season. Anything less than a convincing win and things could turn sour at PAT Stadium.
But all of us already knew that.