Ratchaburi will have to tighten up in defence if they are to earn a vital three points in their AFC Champions League (ACL) match against Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) on Friday.
Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat in the Group G opener against Pohang Steelers was not a huge surprise, but it piled the pressure on the Dragons to defeat the Malaysian champions on Matchday Two.
Ratchaburi’s limited quality was exposed by a Pohang side in cruise control, and the Thai club will have to find another gear if they are to win their first ever ACL points.
It is less than two weeks since several JDT players were involved in Malaysia’s 1-0 victory over Thailand in a 2022 World Cup qualifier. This may be Ratchaburi’s chance to restore some pride for their country against the top team in Malaysia, but to earn a good result they must consider the following:
Focus on defence
Over the years, defending has never been Ratchaburi’s strong point in the domestic game, and there were familiar weaknesses on display on Tuesday. The score line did not fully reflect how easily Pohang were able to work their way through the Dragons’ defence and only several impressive saved from goalkeeper Kampol Pathom-attakul kept the result respectable.
Against a strong opponent, the Thai side chose to select a very attacking midfield and two full-backs who are generally more comfortable going forward.
Options are limited in a thin squad but it was strange to see Nukoolkit Krutyai apparently fourth in the central defensive pecking order, while Patomchai Sueasakul started on the bench instead of in his customary deep-lying midfield role.
Ratchaburi’s attacking options aren’t what they were in the first half of last season and they would do well to focus on their solidity at the back if they want their chances of progress to last beyond Matchday Three.
It was clear that Pohang had done their homework and identified Ratchaburi’s danger man. Steeven Langil was heavily marked and came in for some rough treatment as the South Korean side shackled the Dragons’ most creative player.
Langil battled hard but often looked isolated and lacking the support that might have created other distractions for the Pohang defence, Ratchaburi’s movement across the front four has to be more fluid and less predictable if they want to avoid a similar fate against JDT.
There were a few occasions when new striker Junior Mapuku linked well with Langil but they didn’t do enough to trouble their opponents over the 90 minutes.
Over the past six months, Langil has been shorn of the three teammates with whom he had real on-field chemistry. The departures of Yannick Boli and Philip Roller, along with the apparent ACL exclusion of Lossemy Karaboue, have hurt and served to leave Langil looking less effective.
JDT put on a decent performance on Matchday One as they pushed Nagoya Grampus all the way and were unlucky not to take a point. In the final minute of a 1-0 defeat, Brazilian striker Bergson had the ball in the net, only to see the goal controversially ruled out for a push.
Bergson was one of many JDT players to have given the referee a difficult night as Nagoya edged to victory. There were plenty of exaggerated falls and sneaky fouls as the Malaysian champions showed how to employ some of the dark arts, without being heavily penalised.
Ratchaburi have to be ready for this kind of match on Friday as they will have their patience and composure tested by gamesmanship. The referee will be an important figure in clamping down on play-acting and persistent fouling, something Tuesday’s referee in the JDT match failed to do in an erratic performance. Ratchaburi must stay focused on their own game and avoid losing their cool in the face of provocation.
JDT are a well organised and compact unit and they will press the Dragons hard when they have possession. This will be another testing 90 minutes and Ratchaburi need to raise their game if they are to take anything from this one.