Chiangrai face tough decisions ahead of another FC Seoul clash in ACL

Chiangrai United have a lot to reflect on as they attempt to recover from Tuesday’s humbling 5-0 defeat to FC Seoul in the AFC Champions League (ACL).

The Thai champions face the same Group E opponents again on Friday and need to think hard about how to avoid a similar fate.

The Beetles trailed 1-0 at half-time on Tuesday but a second-half collapse highlighted a gulf in class despite the fact that their South Korean opponents ended the 2020 K League session in eighth place.

There are several things that Chiangrai could consider doing if they want to take something from Friday’s Matchday Four fixture.

  1. Give Jaja some help

Chiangrai clearly missed injured striker Bill and there was a definite need to offer more support to lone striker Jaja Coelho who is not the best fit for such a role. 

Assuming Bill remains unavailable, Jaja is again likely to start up front, but Chiangrai will have to think about how to get the best out of him. The Brazilian lacks the pace and the work-rate required of an effective lone striker.

While his strength may be enough to brush aside some defenders in the Thai League, he was easily crowded out by FC Seoul’s backline at times and made little impact. 

It may be good idea to push Ekanit Panya into a more advanced role to harry the Seoul defenders and try to make more space for the striker. Jaja has the qualities to finish off any chances he gets but he is unlikely to create them for himself when he finds himself surrounded every time the ball is played forward to him. 

FC Seoul’s defence can be exploited as Chiangrai noticed when they finally took the game to them after going 2-0 down. However, they will need a less predictable approach and Ekanit could be the second striker that pulls that defence out of shape and allows others to get in behind.

There are, of course, risks in such an approach and Seoul clearly have the players that can hurt Chiangrai on the counter. However, all is almost lost already. Chiangrai can win back some pride by going for victory instead of damage limitation.

  1. Midfield shake-up

Chiangrai United did not win the 2020 Thai League title by having the best players. They won it by having the best team. Much of this was down the midfield balance offered by Phitiwat Sukjithammakul, Lee Yong-rae and Siwakorn Tiatrakul. 

Phitiwat is something of an all-rounder, Siwakorn a creator and Lee the enforcer. Unfortunately, Siwakorn was only fit for a place on the bench on Tuesday, while Lee was given something of the runaround by the team from his home country.

The South Korean resorted to fouling far too often and could arguably have been yellow-carded at least twice before the referee finally lost patience. 

If Siwakorn can last at least an hour, he should slot in alongside Phitiwat, with Lee perhaps being rested ahead of two more games next week. 

Chotipat Poomkaew may also be given a start to add more attacking urgency if Chiangrai decide to adopt a more attacking approach. The 22-year-old has impressed at times this season and surely deserves an opportunity at this level, having seen the team struggle so badly on Tuesday.

The midfield needs more energy after seeing that meek surrender. The Beetles are known for their battling qualities when they play in Thailand. They need to show this with Asia watching.

  1. A goalkeeping change

There are two schools of thought when it comes to dealing with a goalkeeper following an error-strewn performance. One suggests that the manager should back him in order not to harm his confidence further. The other suggests that the manager should protect him in order not to further damage his confidence. 

Protection is perhaps what Saranon Anuin needs, especially given that Friday’s match comes against the team that fired five past him. 

Saranon could not be blamed for the opener on Tuesday, but his inexplicable blunder allowed Jung Han-min to score the crucial second before a weak parry from a free kick went straight into the path of Yun Ju-tae, who tapped in the third. A couple of minutes later, Saranon was arguably slow to get down to Yun’s shot from the edge of the box as number four went in.

It has to be stressed that the goalkeeper was not exactly helped out by some static defending. The Chiangrai players stood and watched at the third goal while Yun Ju-tae was first to the rebound. The defenders were also at fault for the fourth and fifth as they offered space and time for their opponents to set up their shots.

There may be scope for other changes in defence but it is Saranon’s place that seems most vulnerable, with Apirak Worawong waiting in the wings. Apirak has plenty of first-team experience and started the first two matches of the campaign. This might be a good time for him to return.

Paul Murphy

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