Muang Thong sets sights on cup success as BG protect unbeaten run

Muangthong United hope to finally end BG Pathum United’s domestic unbeaten run when they host them in Sunday’s FA Cup Round of 32 tie.

The T1 leaders have yet to be defeated this year despite having been playing in T2 in 2019. You have to go all the way back to August 2019 for BG’s last loss, making this a daunting prospect.

Buriram United face Police Tero in a battle between two T1 strugglers, while Nongbua Pitchaya have a test of their T1 credentials at home to Prachuap.

  1. BG stand in way of Muangthong recovery

Mario Gjurovski’s reign as Muangthong United head coach began with a bang and a swagger as his side defeated Police Tero and Buriram United, scoring six times in the process.

Since then, the Kirins have taken just one point from three matches and scored just twice. Performances have not been particularly bad and the defeats have come at Chiangrai United and Port FC – two of the toughest fixtures of the season. Muangthong were particularly unlucky at Chiangrai, while they were not exactly outplayed at Port on Wednesday.

However, Gjurovski cut a frustrated figure in the post-match press conference – a stark contrast with his genial presence following his debut at Tero. There was also confirmation that WIllian Popp, Sardor Mirzaev and Chatmongkol Thongkiri would miss the cup tie against BG through injury.

Gjurovski clearly energised his players on his arrival and he now faces the significant challenge of lifting morale ahead of a match against the country’s top team at the moment.  He must also do so without some of his top players.

BG have won with dominance, grit and guile this year, showing strong determination and resilience when necessary. Muangthong will no doubt try and attack their solid defence but without a dependable goalscorer, they might find it tough to breach the Rabbits’ formidable back line.

  1. Cup specialist Gama leads Buriram’s bid for revenge

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Buriram United’s season has gone so badly, but it got off to the worst possible start with a defeat at Police Tero on Matchday One. That performance and result perhaps set the tone for what followed and leaves them 18 points off BG in top spot with just 13 games of the T1 season gone.

Things did briefly go well for Tero after that Matchday One victory, but they have hit a seven-match winless streak, having taken 12 points from their first five matches of the season.

For serial trophy winners like Buriram, this is arguably a more important game as they seek to restore pride and prestige to a club that is not used to being mid-table halfway through the season. They have already missed the opportunity to qualify for the 2021 AFC Champions League, and the FA Cup perhaps represents their best hope of salvaging something from the season.

Head coach Alexandre Gama certainly knows a thing or two about winning the FA Cup, lifting the trophy once in his previous stint at Buriram and then twice at Chiangrai United. The Brazilian will surely relish this opportunity to bring back memories of his original trophy-laded spell at the club and indicate that there are better times ahead.

Tero may also be more focused on ensuring that their stuttering league campaign gets back on track.

  1. Runaway T2 leaders face T1 test

Nongbua Pitchaya are strong favourites for promotion to T1, having built an eight-point lead at the top of the T2 table. They have the opportunity to see how they match up against T1 opponents when they welcome Prachuap to the northeast on Saturday.

Both of these teams excelled in the other domestic cup competition last year. Nongbua had an excellent run in the League Cup, beating Port FC and Ratchaburi en route to the semifinal where they were defeated by Buriram United.

Prachuap went one better by lifting the trophy with a penalty shootout win over Buriram in the final. Much has changed in terms of both personnel and the Thai football landscape since then, but it may give both clubs a taste for more cup success. 

Hovering just three points above the T1 relegation zone, Prachuap have other concerns but, as they discovered last year, a good cup run can also lift confidence in the league. Nongbua will obviously prioritise promotion but they will be keen to take a T1 scalp as a measure of their readiness to move to the top tier.

It makes for an intriguing clash as Nongbua get another chance to showcase their new stadium. 

Paul Murphy

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