Port and Ratchaburi face-off in ACL crunch match

A place in the 2021 AFC Champions League (ACL) group stage is up for grabs when Port FC host Ratchaburi on Thai League (T1) Matchday 14 on Sunday. 

A point would ensure that Port get Thailand’s second spot and join BG Pathum United, while the Dragons need a win just to keep their hopes alive.

Bangkok United face Buriram United in a fixture that would normally have more riding on it, while Police Tero can take a huge step back in the right direction when they play bottom side Rayong.

Port have ACL prize in reach

While a draw would be sufficient for Port to clinch their ACL slot, they will surely want to earn their reward in style and make it eight T1 victories in a row. Port’s incredible run of wins now includes four consecutive clean sheets.

That tight defence will be tested by a side that are the second top scorers in the league (Port are top), though the visitors may be without their top scorer, Yannick Boli. The Frenchman is set to join Port during the mid-season transfer window, so there will be a difficult decision to make. It seems improbable, though not impossible, that he will start in a fixture that will go a long way to deciding his future club’s fate. The absence of the suspended Steeven Langil already leaves them short of attacking options.

With or without Boli, Ratchaburi will have their hands full trying to contain Port’s formidable firepower. Nelson Bonilla’s return to form was confirmed by his outstanding strike against Muangthong United last week, while Adisak Kraisorn and Sergio Suarez are also netting plenty of goals. Kevin Deeromram’s suspension is a blow, but they should have most other regular starters available.

Port would have expected to be in this position at the start of the season, but for Ratchaburi it has been a great achievement having finished in eighth place last year. Philip Roller’s strong form has been a key driver and he will have to be at the top of his game to help his side pick up the three points they need to stay in contention for an ACL group spot. Even if they win this one, they also need to win next week’s clash at home to league leaders BG, while also requiring Port to drop points in their rearranged fixture against Chiangrai United.

Port are certainly favourites to be participating in the ACL next year, while Ratchaburi may have to settle for a place in the qualifiers.

United in underachievement

For a few years, Bangkok United Vs Buriram United was one of the pivotal fixtures in the T1 calendar. Both sides were chasing for the title and the results of clashes between the two often went a long way to determining who would become champions.

Needless to say, Buriram have been the more successful side as the Bangkok Angels have failed to beat the club from the northeast since 2014. But Bangkok United currently find themselves three points above Buriram, albeit the home side are in fifth spot, while Buriram are down in eighth.

It is strange to see the two sides struggle like this given that they have been permanent fixtures in the Top Five since 2015. They both may yet complete the season among that Top Five, but neither is likely to challenge for the title given that BG have built such a strong lead over both. 

Bangkok United and Buriram both look set to make several changes to their foreign quota in the transfer window and this may affect the lineups as the clubs look ahead to life without a number of their overseas players.

There may have been a change in head coach at Bangkok United but they have continued to struggle for form since Mano Polking left. Just one T1 win in eight matches tells its own story and the recent failure to overcome an out-of-sorts Police Tero was emblematic of their troubles. 

Buriram’s decision to change their manager has also failed to result in immediate improvement, with Alexandre Gama overseeing two wins and two defeats to date. 

While there is no title to fight for, this match will still provide a strong indication of where the teams are heading over the rest of the campaign as they look for clear signs of progress under new management.

Tero look to move out of danger

Without a win in eight matches, Police Tero’s stalling season could become a disastrous one if they don’t start winning games like Sunday’s home clash against bottom side Rayong.

These clubs have had significant contrasts in their trajectories in 2021. Rayong have gone from losing their first nine matches to losing just one of the last four, picking up their first seven points in the process. Masami Taki has helped the Dragon Horses turn things around after looking like relegation certainties with less than a third of the season played.

However, Rayong remain in bottom spot – six points from safety. Tero are nine points above Sunday’s opponents but the recent record of both sides suggests the outcome is far from certain. The visitors’ upturn in fortunes will certainly have Tero concerned. In a worst case scenario, they could end the weekend just three points above the relegation places. 

Tero need to recover the form that saw them start the season with four wins from five matches. A defeat this weekend would really set the alarm bells ringing at the Bangkok club.

Trat face Swatcats in basement battle

We may be less than halfway through the 2020-21 campaign but Sunday’s match between Trat and Nakhon Ratchasima could have a significant influence over who drops into T2 next year. 

It is 14th against 15th as two sides currently in the relegation places battle to lift themselves up the table. Victory for either could trigger the kind of recovery that is necessary but defeat could be the beginning of the end.

Trat started the season with seven straight defeats but a mini-revival saw them take seven points from three games. That proved a false dawn as three more losses followed – two of which were against fellow strugglers Rayong and Prachuap. Trat really can’t afford another damaging reverse against a club that is also fighting for their T1 life. 

Like Trat, Nakhon Ratchasima have won just two T1 matches this season. They can take some hope from their last three matches on the road, however. They have taken five points from tricky fixtures at Muangthong, Buriram and Samut Prakan. 

Avoiding defeat will be the Swatcats’ priority, but a victory seems essential for the home side. Something has to give.

Paul Murphy

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