BG Pathum United (BGPU) ended Bangkok United (BUFC)’s unbeaten run in a tight tactical battle on Sunday thanks to a header from defender Victor Cardozo and a Manuel Bihr own-goal. For the second week, the Rabbits’ pragmatic approach had earned them another victory despite not looking exceptional.
Meanwhile, this is another home defeat for BUFC against a physical and direct counter-attacking side (similar to last season’s losses to Hanoi FC, Chonburi FC and Buriram United, etc.)
In his post-match conference, BGPU head coach Dusit Chalermsan declared this win to be more significant than the previous week’s three points against Port FC (Dusit’s former employer and fellow title challenger). Take into account the fact that this was BGPU’s first win at the Thammasat Stadium in 10 years and sent the club to the summit of the 2020 Thai League table, then Dusit might be correct.
Like many meetings between title challengers, the game turned out to be an evenly matched one which was ultimately decided by who made the least mistakes.
And so, this week we’ll be exploring BUFC and BGPU’s disciplined tactical setup and how they, to a certain extent, cancelled out one another.
Both teams fielded a starting XI that boasted the individual quality within their squad rather than with the aim to stop the opponent from playing.
Being the possession-heavy side that they are, Mano Polking’s squad is filled with quick and technical players. The aim here was to have the ball, play out from the back, and hit BGPU’s defensive block with rapid combination plays.
On paper, the side set up in a 4-3-3 formation but shifted into a lopsided 3-3-4 in possession by pushing right-back Tristan Do forward to right-wing. Anon Amornlerdsak and Vander Luiz possess skills, pace and vision to make pinpoint passes. Nattawut Suksum, the side’s only ‘natural striker’, possesses the speed to get in behind the opposition’s defence and is also diligent when closing down opponents.
Protecting the front-4 are central midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong and Thossawat Limwanasathian. Left-back Peeratpat Notechaiya did not offer much going forward but covered for Vander and against counter-attacks down his flank well. Hajime Hosogai, arguably BUFC’s standout player on the night, would drop in between centre-backs Everon Goncalves and Manuel Bihr to help control possession.
As for the visitors, experienced striker Surachat Sareepim came in for the injured Daniel Toti at left-wingback. Dusit went with Surachat, instead of a conventional left-sided player, because of his “pace and power, something [BGPU] can use to stop Tristan Do,”.
But other than Surachat, BGPU still stacked their defence with 3 towering centre-backs (Andres Tunez, Victor Cardozo and Irfan) and 4 central midfielders.
So how did BUFC and BGPU’s lineups and formation affect the team?
In possession, BUFC would look to build out from the back in a 3-3-4 shape. For the most part, Mano’s side were able to carry the ball past the first third of the pitch with relative ease thanks to their 3 v 1 numerical advantage (Blue). Hosogai positioning himself between the centre-backs, Everton and Bihr, meant BUFC could circulate possession more fluidly and accurately. Goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard is also famous for his ball-playing ability thus acted as an extra passing option when BUFC needed to recycle possession before setting off on another attacking move.
In midfield (green), its a 4v3 battle against BUFC. Left-back Peerapat toned down his attacking urge and would generally hold his position around the left-side of midfield instead of bombing ahead. Thossawat and Anthony did look to get on the ball, pass it around neatly, but offered little help when it came to forward runs.
In the final third, BUFC’s pacey front-4 faced off against BGPU’s back-3 which is converted into a back-5 in defence. Anon and Nattawut attacked the inside channels while Vander and Tristan took care of the left and right flanks respectively.
Still, BUFC struggled to pass their way through the midfield area, where they were often outnumbered, thus unable to feed the ball to the front-4. And even when the ball did reach one of the four attackers, the likes of Anon and Nattawut couldn’t win their individual battles against Irfan , Tunez or Cardozo who were providing extra cover in the heart of the back-5.
BGPU wasn’t really intense when it came to pressing from the frontline yet they were quite aggressive when decided to. The visitors defended on the half-way line and only initiated the press when BUFC made a back-pass.
In those instances, 1 of the 4 midfielders (typically Sumanya) would join Chenrop as a front-2, making the pressing more effective with more numbers.
However, with Hosogai in the side, BUFC was able to nullify BGPU’s high press by simply having the former Japanese international pushed forward back into midfield while Chenrop and co. charged forward. Hosogai’s movement, with the right timing, gave BUFC an extra man in midfield and more options for the centre-backs to pass to, thus breaking BGPU’s press.
Sometimes Vander would drop to receive the ball in midfield, cancelling the numerical disadvantage, but this left the frontline even more outnumbered.
In the image above, Peerapat pushed ahead of Vander, creating space for the Brazilian to move in the opposite direction and receive the ball. However, the positional switch did not unsettle the BGPU backline and Vander was shoved off the ball by Santipharp.
A quick one-two with Chaowat Veerachat set Sumanya through on goal but the 33 years old playmaker couldn’t beat Falkesgaard one-on-one.
In contrast to the home side, BGPU had a difficult time playing out from the back and often resorted to long balls towards their lone striker. BGPU’s poor buildup play was largely down to Nattawut and Anon’s relentless pressing – not allowing Irfan the space to dribble forward or the gap for Tunez to play vertical passes.
BUFC and BGPU cancelled one another out in and out of possession meant most chances and all the goals in this game came from quick transitions and we could see this from the opening 5 minutes of the match.
BGPU started pressing BUFC after Peerapat’s back pass. Getting away from pressure, the ball circulated to Bihr on the opposite side of the pitch but the Thai international was still forced to clear the ball away. Anon couldn’t control the ball and was intercepted by Tunez. Thitiphan picked up the loose ball, turned inside, and tried his luck from distance.
A few minutes later, Tristan received a quick long throw from Falkesgaard on the halfway line, slipped a neat through ball to release Anon in space. The Thai U23 cut onto his favourite left-foot and shot for the near post but BGPU goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom stood his ground well.
BGPU’s opener came after BUFC failed to clear their lines from a freekick while their second started from a quick freekick – Bihr was extremely unlucky Chaowat’s pass deflected off this foot and over Falkesgaard.
The creative Sanrawat Dechmitr came on for the injured Anthony Ampaipitakwong but it was a change many expected to see from Mano Polking anyway – especially when his team was chasing the game. Striker Chananan Pombuppha and winger Rungrat Phumichantuk came on for Anon and Thossawat but both substitutes floundered against the physicality of BGPU’s back-3.
Similarly, BGPU’s substitutes also made little to no impact off the bench. Right-back Sarawin Saengra, midfielder Chaowat and striker Siroch Chatthong are all like-for-like change.
I think it’s fair to say BUFC lost the game on the slightest margin of error. If Hosogai had cleared the ball into row Z or the ball didn’t deflect off Bihr’s foot then they might not have lost the game. Because to be fair, if we take away the counter-attacking chances that happened after BUFC already conceded the goal, we could say BGPU didn’t create significant goalscoring opportunities by themselves.
BUFC were unlucky. They must not let this defeat undermine their morale. But more importantly, they can’t afford to be ‘unlucky’. Not at home. Not against a fellow challenger. Not with the quality in their squad and the long time they have been together.