Xisco stars as Leroy Lita struggles on opening weekend in Thailand
Former Newcastle United striker Xisco Jimenez struck a brace as champions Muang Thong United sent out a warning to their challengers with a 4-0 victory at Bangkok Glass on the opening day of the Thai League (T1) season.
The title holders were clinical in front of goal as the Glass Rabbits again fell short against the Kirins. Big spending Chiang Rai United share top spot with Muang Thong after matching their scoreline at home to Super Power Samut Prakan, while 2015 champions Buriram United needed a second-half rally to rescue a point against Chonburi.
Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday One:
1. Xisco shines in Muang Thong rout
The champions made a statement of intent with a ruthless demolition of Bangkok Glass at the Leo Stadium.
Muang Thong took just seven minutes to open the scoring when Xisco smashed in from close range after Theerathon Bumnathan's free kick had caused chaos in the box. Theerathon was also central to the second goal as his cross from the left was headed home by Cleiton Silva.
Perfect season start!great & important win!happy to contribute with 2 goals.⚽️⚽️//Inicio de temporada perfecto!victoria importante!⚽️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/iMW0bXJF56- Xisco Jimenez (@XiscoJimix) February 11, 2017
Xisco's second came after a solo run took him through the Bangkok Glass defence before finding the net with a scrappy finish. Peerapat Notchaiya rounded off the scoring with a late fourth.
It was a menacing display by the Kirins, highlighting their considerable attacking options, with playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin in lively form, and the front two getting off the mark.
For Bangkok Glass, it was the same old story. Last season, they lost six out of six games against the teams around them in the top four. This did not bode well for a change in that pattern.
2. Chiang Rai revolution up and running
Chiang Rai United were the talk of Thailand after their spending spree during the close season. They got their campaign off to an excellent start with a convincing 4-0 home victory over Super Power Samut Prakan.
However, it wasn't one of Chiang Rai's new signings who made the difference, but midfielder Thitipan Puangchan, who netted a hat trick.
Thitipan signed for the Beetles from Muang Thong last summer, more for his combative qualities than his goal scoring. But the home fans were delighted to see him on target three times before new boy Felipe Azevedo added the gloss in the last minute.
While a long season lays ahead for the ambitious club from the north, they couldn't have asked for a better start.
3. Genki denies Ratchaburi after Manucharyan goes missing
Genki Nagasato struck in the seventh minute of added time as Port FC earned a point on their return to the top tier after an entertaining match at home to Ratchaburi.
Dragons skipper Carlos Santos put the visitors ahead with under 15 minutes remaining when he headed in from close range.
With just minutes left on the clock, the referee awarded the hosts a penalty for handball before his assistant advised that the offence had been outside the box. Protests and discussions continued for several minutes as the game descended into farce. The teams eventually restarted and the delay create the seven minutes required for Nagasato to head in the leveller.
Drama in the game had been preceded by confusion over the whereabouts of Ratchaburi's new striker Edgar Manucharyan. It had been reported on Friday night that the Armenian international had left the club, with rumours on social media suggesting that Port FC would be his destination.
When asked about Manucharyan's whereabouts, Ratchaburi head coach Pacheta told ESPN FC, "You have to speak with Fluke [team manager Tanawat Nitikarnchana]. It's a decision of the club. I don't buy and sell the players."
The club's Director of Football, Robert Procureur, was more forthcoming as he told ESPN FC, "Edgar is a good player, but there is a problem with his behaviour. He has been fighting with the club president, and he has created some other problems already, so it is more of a discipline problem than a quality problem. He has had problems with many people already, so it was difficult to keep him."
Procureur was disappointed by the loss of concentration that saw his team drop two points, but he is focused on the challenge of making Ratchaburi one of the top sides on the country.
"Our target is to bring this team to the top but we cannot do it in one year," said Procureur. "I will bring in young boys because the older players are not ready to play in a team that can be champions.
"I am looking everywhere to find players with quality but they will need one or two years to be at the top level. I have a target to make the team champions in three years."
4. Ubon off the mark against Lita's Sisaket
T1 newcomers Ubon UMT United won 2-0 at local rivals Sisaket as former Swansea City and Reading striker Leroy Lita made a disappointing start to his career in Thailand.
Lita almost opened the scoring early in the game when his powerful shot was turned wide. But it was the visitors who took the lead with a fine finish from Tiago Chulapa after just 12 minutes.
Lita had a chance to level in the second half but shot just over the bar from a well worked free kick.
Kosovar playmaker Bajram Nebihi then sealed the three points for Scott Cooper's side when he slotted home a penalty with 13 minutes remaining.
It was an impressive start to life in the top division for Ubon. Alongside AFF Suzuki Cup hero Siroch Chatthong, Tiago and Nebihi look like they will be a handful for many defences.
5. Solvi saves Buriram
Buriram United were staring an embarrassing defeat in the face when they were 2-0 down at the break at home to an energetic Chonburi side.
The Sharks had run them ragged in the first half. Prince Amponsah had an early goal controversially ruled out before the visitors missed several chances. Nurul Sriyankem finally made the breakthrough when he slotted home after rounding Siwarak Tedsungnoen, and quickly followed up with a second.
The hosts struggled to make inroads in the second half but Jaja Coelho's close range volley pulled a goal back after 75 minutes. And just three minutes later, former Iceland international Solvi Ottesen headed home for a debut goal and an equaliser for a 2-2 draw.
Buriram still look a shadow of the side that dominated Thai football from 2013 to 2015, but they will be encouraged by the comeback. They will surely look better when the likes of Diogo Luis Santo and Rogerinho return to the starting lineup.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK