As if to celebrate winning the 1st leg of the Thai League season, if there is such award, BG Pathum United (BGPU) finally put an end to the Diogo Luis Santo transfer saga when they announced that the Brazilian striker will be joining their title challenge for the second half of the campaign.
The Rabbits currently stand on top of the Thai League table, undefeated ahead of matchday 16, and hold the joint-best goal difference record with second-place Port FC.
Guarded by the towering presence of Andres Tunez, Victor Cardozo, Irfan Fandi (prior to his injury) and, to the surprise of many, Chatree Chimtalay, BG Pathum United managed to collect 9 clean sheets from 14 games this season. However, Dusit Chalermsan’s men have had a tough time scoring from open play and often resort to relying on penalties or Andres Tunez and Victor Cardozo’s aerial advantage in set-pieces.
Diogo Luis Santo arrives as the solution with his status as one of the best foreigners to ever played in Thailand. In this tactical piece, we’ll be exploring what the former Buriram forward can bring to the LEO Stadium and how BGPU and coach Dusit might have to adapt to their new talisman.
A goal-machine with plenty of creative spark
Diogo is expected to slot straight into Dusit’s front-2 formation which uses wingbacks and 3 centre-backs – very similar set up to Buriram United which saw him scored 101 goals in 104 games.
As sacrifice, BGPU was forced to let go of Toti, the Spanish attacker who has earned himself hero status during his 5-year spell at LEO Stadium. Diogo is no doubt a much more prolific goal-scorer compared to Toti and, thanks to his eloquent touches in tight spaces, equally as creative when crafting chances for others. However, work-rate is a crucial element in Dusit’s gameplan – an area where Toti slightly beats Diogo in my opinion.
Pairing Diogo with an industrious striker like Chenrop Samphaodi and having the latter carry out the majority of the dirty work seems like the most sensible option for Dusit. Despite having only 2 goals and 2 assists under his name from 8 matches, Chenrop’s determination to chase after a loose ball or lead the press, for example, has won him a place in the starting XI.
Diogo is someone who can turn the game around on his own and by fielding Chenrop alongside him, it will allow the Brazilian to focus on doing what he’s good at.
A change in wingback role
Diogo formed a great understanding with many of his strike-partners at Buriram, such Gilberto Macena or Jaja Coelho, but his true partner in crime has to be left-back Theerathon Bunmathan, now representing J1 League’s Yokohama F. Marinos.
During their time together at Buriram United, one of the team’s most iconic go-to pattern of play was for Diogo to drop in the inside-left channel aka the left-side half-space (yellow) while Theerathon pushed forward, hugging the touchline.
This creates an overload in Buriram’s favour, allowing them to unlock opposition defence via numerical advantage. Once he receives the ball in the half-space, Diogo would often release Theerathon through with a quick give-and-go pass or turns towards goal and curl in a shot himself. Trying to negate Buriram’s dominance down the left, the opposition would shift towards Diogo and Theerathon and in turns expose the opposition flanks which Buriram can attack with a long diagonal ball.
Though the difference is in the details, BGPU happens to play with a similar formation which involves a back-3 and marauding wingbacks. Hence why we can expect to see Dusit deploy Diogo in similar ways.
However, to get the best out of Diogo, their brand-new talisman in the title race, Dusit might need to tweak a few tactical instructions for his left-wingback.
Saharat Pongsuwan is Dusit’s first-choice left-wingback at the moment – only 2 absences from 14 league games thus far. The 24-year-old fits into the “tough-tackling and energetic” profile, a contrast to Theerathon who possess much more guile and technical attributes. Another trait that separates the two, and perhaps the most important aspect when involving Diogo in the equation, is Saharat’s preference to cross the ball from a deep position. Theerathon, on the other hand, is can accelerate past his man to deliver a cutback from the byline, put in a swerving cross from the flanks and a chipped pass from deeper position.
Apart from Saharat, Dusit also used target man Surachat Sareepim as a left-wingback. Thanks to his physicality and previously playing history as a fullback, Surachat was extremely effective in nullifying Tristan Do in the away fixture against Bangkok United. Still, that was a one-off tactical decision and Sarachat hasn’t played their since hence why it’s doubtful we’ll see the 34-year-old next to Diogo.
Winger Pathompol Charoenrattanapirom, a brand new signing from Chiangrai United, could make an attack-minded wingback, but whether he maintain his standard while playing out of position and taking on more defensive responsibility remains to be seen.
Last but not least, and the youngest option in BGPU’s squad is 20 years old Supasak Sarapee. Fast, quick feet and slightly lightweight, the academy graduate is the closest BGPU have to a young Theerathon in terms of the player profile.
This poses quite a dilemma for Dusit; Saharat is the safest choice but offers little support to Diogo going forward. Surachat and Pathompol could do a job against specific opponents in a one-off game while Supasak fits the profile needed to potentially bring out the best in Diogo but is still inexperienced, thus consistency might be an issue.
Added dimension when storming the opponent’s box
It’s a welcome bonus for any team to have a goalscoring defender but it is worrying if the side has to rely on set pieces and penalties for goals. Unfortunately, BGPU falls into the latter category as their top scorer is Victor Cardozo (9), follow by his centre-back partner Andres Tunez (5).
With his undoubted quality, Diogo can return the goal-scoring responsibility back to the strikers and ultimately elevate BGPU into a more well-rounded team.
Anyhow, the interest question here is not “how many goals can Diogo score?” but “what type of goals can Diogo score?”
Most of the strikers’ work is done off-the-ball i.e. shaking off a defender or making runs to create space for teammate etc. and by playing Toti and Chenrop up top, BGPU can often look lost and toothless in attacks.
Wing play is an important part in BGPU’s gameplan, especially down the right flank via Santiphap Channgom, so it would be wise to have players who can feed on crosses (high or low) and cutbacks. Toti and Chenrop are not the tallest, hence both are reluctant to make a run for the far-post cross. Being a natural midfielder, Toti tends to slow down runs on the edge of the box, staying centrally, waiting for cutback pass or rebound from the opposition goalkeeper.
Chenrop, on the other hand, tends to sprint for the near-post 9 times out of 10. This could be predictable, as was evident in the FA Cup defeat to Muangthong United where Lucas Rocha was able to read Chenrop’s movement and block off his attempts with ease.
Good news is, Diogo offers something different – a new dimension that’s been lacking all this time.
Standing at 182cm tall, Diogo is capable of leaping to a header at the far post and with his excellent touch and balance, is deadly when converting low cutback pass from the byline. Because of Diogo’s movement, BGPU’s wingbacks can mix up the type of crosses which in turns add an element of unpredictability and result in a more dangerous attack.
The closest thing to a guaranteed-success
There is no such thing as guaranteed-success but there is no saying to someone of Diogo’s calibre. This makes him the closest thing to a guaranteed-success for BGPU at this moment in time. The club and player will need time to adapt to each other but as an outsider looking in, the environment is there for Diogo to succeed. A few minor tweaks in tactics and player selection is all they need go on and dominate the league.