MD 12 Preview: BG Pathum United close in on ACL qualification

BG Pathum United aim to all but seal a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League (ACL)  when they host Chonburi on Thai League (T1) Matchday 12.

A victory over the Sharks would ensure that they are at least nine points ahead of Ratchaburi – one of only two sides who could knock them out of the Top Two at the midway point of the season. Assuming both sides win this weekend, the only way for the Dragons to catch BG would be to win the next three matches, while BG lose all of theirs, including the clash between the two of them on Matchday 15.

Elsewhere, Totchtawan Sripan hopes to get off to a winning start as Bangkok United head coach when he takes his new club to Trat, while Buriram United look to earn back-to-back-wins when they travel to Sukhothai.

Here is a look at some of T1’s biggest matches on Matchday 12.

  1. BG eye ACL spot

The league leaders could book a place in the 2021 ACL group stage if they emerge victorious from their match at home to Chonburi on Saturday. A win combined with Ratchaburi dropping points at home to Samut Prakan City on Sunday would be enough to ensure they are in the Top Two at the season’s midway point – when the ACL slots are decided in this unusual season.

Even if the Dragons also win, it would take an unlikely sequence of results to deny BG following their excellent run of form. 

But Chonburi remain in the running for an automatic qualification place, though a slot in the ACL qualifiers reserved for third and fourth place finishers may be more likely. The fact that they have much to play for should ensure that BG do not have it easy against the Sharks.

BG come back from the international break boosted by the imminent signing of Diogo Luis Santo, as they gear up for a title charge in the second half of the season. But their first priority is sealing that ACL slot and they may do that with three games to spare.

  1. Totchtawan targets turnaround at Bangkok United

Totchtawan Sripan’s arrival at Bangkok United sees him trying to rescue the season for his stuttering new club, while also rebuilding his club career following a couple of miserable experiences.

Totchtawan was the hottest coaching property in the country after winning the T1 title with Muang Thong United in 2016 and then leading them on a thrilling run to the last 16 of the 2017 ACL. But the wheels came off rather spectacularly in his third season and he quit following a 6-1 defeat at Prachuap, having seen many of the team’s playing assets move on.

Short and unsuccessful stints at Police Tero and Suphanburi followed, before Totchtawan joined the national team set-up as assistant to Akira Nishino.

Clearly, the 48-year-old feels he has unfinished business at club level and takes on the daunting challenge of helping a talented but underachieving Bangkok United squad arrest the slump that has seen them take just one point from their last six matches – dropping from first place to ninth in the process.

Mano Polking came close to making Bangkok United trophy winners on several occasions before falling just short. Totchtawan will be hoping to give an early indication that he is the man to take them the final step when his side face Trat.

Anything but a win will immediately put pressure on a coach who has much to prove following the disappointment of his last two T1 appointments.

  1. Sukhothai hope to keep Buriram at a distance

Approaching the halfway point of the season, Sukhothai sit six points above Buriram United, having played one game more. It is a scenario that no one would have predicted at the start of the season.

Just as unlikely would have been the idea that the Fire Bats would be the side with a stronger chance of clinching an ACL berth. But that is the situation as the home side look to stay in contention for a third or fourth place spot after 15 matches, with second place now looking beyond them.

If Ibson Melo is fit again, his partnership with the effervescent John Baggio will be key to unlocking the Buriram defence. The pair have already scored 17 goals between them, making them the most prolific duo in T1.

However, Buriram’s Marko Scepovic has put an uncertain start to life in Thailand behind him by notching four goals in his last three outings. Buriram’s 5-1 thrashing of Rayong last week may not have been a surprise but it will have lifted the confidence of a team that had failed to win its previous four T1 matches.

The visitors have changed head coach and Alexandre Gama is under pressure to deliver. Sunday would be a good time for him to show that the victory over Rayong was a turning point and not a false dawn.

  1. PAT return for Port

Port FC make an unexpectedly early return to their home stadium for Friday’s match with Suphanburi. The floodlights have allegedly been repaired and special dispensation has been granted, meaning that Port no longer have to make the arduous trip to the Leo Stadium for their home games.

Suphanburi are the first visitors to the PAT Stadium since Muang Thong United were denied the chance to even start their game last month due to a pre-match power cut. 

The War Elephant are unbeaten in three and thumped free falling Police Tero 5-0 last time out. Suphanburi have recovered well after a three-match losing streak threatened to derail their season.

But Port are on a four-match winning streak, albeit all of those victories have come against sides that came into their matches struggling for form. It is a different story this time around as Suphanburi come to town on the back of consecutive victories.

Port will be desperate to mark their return to their spiritual home with a win that would strengthen their case to make the all-important Top Two when the season reaches halfway.

Paul Murphy

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