Traditional Number 9 in Thai League
Thai people have been fans of the English Premier League for a long time as it was the only league broadcasted in the country back in the day. They sought to learn its tactics, aspired for their national team to play a similar style of football, and often discussed strategies to achieve success like the English national team. In this article, I compare the Thai League with the English Premier League to explore why Thai League teams use traditional number 9s.
During the 2022/23 season, I worked as a video analyst for Leo Chiangrai United FC in the Thai League, my first venture into professional football. Having not watched a single match before, I formed my main conclusions about the league: it is slow-paced, has a low amount of ball in play, and teams do not press aggressively from the front.
Let's take a look at some statistics to see if they support these observations (stats from the full 2022/23 Thai League season and after Matchday 36 of the English Premier League):
Let's start with PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action). The Thai League's PPDA number is lower than the Premier League's, suggesting that Thai teams press more aggressively than their English counterparts. However, I can safely say that most teams here decide to press in the second third of the pitch.
Premier League teams have 92.75 losses per 90 minutes compared to 82.75 in the Thai League, with 18.12 and 14.20 losses in their own third, respectively. Combining these numbers with the higher average number of passes and forward passes in the Premier League (396.63 passes per 90 minutes and 131.8 forward passes) against the Thai League (326.60 passes and 116 forward passes), it implies that Premier League teams focus more on building from the back but also lose the ball more frequently. On the other hand, Thai teams aim to get the ball as far forward as possible and primarily start playing in the second or final third.
The average recoveries per 90 minutes are 77.15 and 66.18 for the Premier League and the Thai League, respectively. In the second third of the pitch, the numbers are 31.64 and 26.11 recoveries per 90 minutes. For the final third, it's 11.70 and 8.57 recoveries per 90 minutes, respectively. These numbers suggest that English teams make more efforts to regain possession compared to Thai teams and are more successful in doing so.
I have gathered data on the heights of foreign number 9-ish strikers who played in the 2022/23 Thai League season. The average height from 21 players is 186.5 cm. If we expand the sample to include all strikers, the average height becomes 185.1 cm from 24 players.
So, why do Thai League teams use traditional number 9s? I would say the tactical trend of the league forces teams to rely on the service of a big striker.
Teams in the Thai League typically press in the second line with 4-5 players, which means the entire defensive line stays back and doesn't have much space to play into when attacking the last line. Unlike in the Premier League, where teams often comfortably leave 2 players back when pressing and sometimes keep the spare men up at the halfway line.
When the ball is progressed, the attacking team cannot play the ball behind the defensive line because the defending team sits deep after failed defending in the second third. The only option is to find the striker, have them hold the ball, wait for midfield support, play to the flanks, and then cross inside the box. This style suits big strikers who can both hold the ball and excel at meeting crosses. The players with the most goals this season are precisely this type of striker. Thus, it confirms what I have observed: the statistics support the eye test.
Overall, Thai League is an interesting competition to watch, arguably the best league in South East Asia. One of the most popular, if not the most, sports for the Thais besides volleyball and badminton. Many coaches and analysts say we have a bunch of great players from an individual perspective, but not tactical. Fingers crossed we stand a chance to taste the World Cup feeling real soon.
It is my pleasure to walk you guys through a little bit of football on another side of the World. If you like my content in any way and would like to support, then you can buy me a coffee via the link on my instagram bio or give me a follow on instagram and LinkedIn.
Leo Chiangrai United’s Video Analyst