FLC Thanh Hóa
A preseason full of changes for last year’s runners-up started with the departure of manager Ljupko Petrović, who was replaced by Romanian Marian Mihail.
Mihail’s first challenge will be who his no.1 keeper is. Trần Bửu Ngọc (Can Tho) was signed initially to replace Nguyễn Thanh Thắng, but Bùi Tiến Dũng’s fine form for U23’s means he’s been elevated from 3rd choice and there’s no doubt the fans want to see his name on the team sheet.
Having led for most of the last campaign only to lose out on a head to head record, Thanh Hóa, looked to experience as they push for their maiden VLeague title, with Nguyễn Xuân Thành, Trịnh Quang Vinh, Nguyễn Minh Tùng and Bùi Văn Hiếu all signing, while the stand out acquisition is National team creative midfielder, Vũ Minh Tuấn (Quang Ninh).
Faye will lead the line again, joined by Nigerian Ofere, after Uche was released.
Prediction: This talented, experienced squad, will certainly be in the mix but can they find a winning formula on a regular basis? The season has begun with a disappointing AFC Cup campaign, managing just one win, and losing twice after having led in both of those matches.
Hà Nội F.C.
Still in with a shout on the final day of the last campaign but ultimately finishing 3rd was a huge disappointment for the team from Vietnam’s capital. Coach, Chu Đình Nghiêm, oversaw some drastic changes as club legends Gonzalo (HCMC FC) and Samson (Buriram), who have led the line for six seasons, both departed. Oseni, who scored 8 in 9 for Hanoi last year will be the main striker, while the club held on to Nguyễn Văn Quyết and U23 hero Nguyễn Quang Hải.
18 year old, Đoàn Văn Hậu and 20 years old Đỗ Duy Mạnh will look to build on fine national team performances and claim regular first team football, especially with defender Alvaro Silva also moving on.
Prediction: If coach Đình Nghiêm can find a consistent back 5, there is no doubt this talented young squad will be competing for the title.
Can the ‘Leicester of Vietnam’ do it again? Challenging for the title again would have been a huge task in any situation, given the enormity of their success last year, but things were made much harder by want-away top goal scorer, Caludercir. Pushing for a lucrative move to China, Claudecir was asking to be released from his recently signed 2-year contract. The club of course dug in, wanting either a hefty transfer fee or the player to pay 500,000 euro to be released.
Wander Luiz (Long An) was brought in quickly and will pair up with experienced striker Suleiman. Dinh Thanh Trung, 2018 player of the year, led the club to their maiden Super Cup victory over SLNA two weeks ago, in a particularly underwhelming performance.
Prediction: They have the talent but it will be hard to repeat last year’s success without Claudecir.
TP Hồ Chí Minh
After a run of just two wins from the last 18 games of the 2017 campaign, it was no surprise that the ambitious chairman Lê Công Vinh rang the changes, and in quite an unforgiving fashion. Alain Fiard was replaced by the former national team coach, Toshiya Miura, while no fewer than 13 players were released, including foreign players Victor and Da Sylva.
Signings were in the pipe line before the season’s end, with Tran Phi Son (SLNA), potentially the best signing of the break, and full-back Sam Ngoc Duc (Hanoi) exciting early acquisitions. Gonzalo (Hanoi) will add leadership to the squad, while Tavares & Gustavo are both new to the VLeague.
Prediction: If they can gel quickly there is no doubt this new look squad can challenge for a top 4 spot.
Hoàng Anh Gia Lai
Gia Lai welcomes back Lương Xuân Trường and Nguyễn Hữu Anh Tài from loan spells in Korea. The duo rejoin a fantastic array of young players, including Cong Phuong, Xuan Truong, Tuan Anh, A Hoang, Dong Trieu, Van Thanh, Ngoc Quang, Van Toan and Trần Minh Vương
Even though the oldest player in the squad is only 24 year (GK Pham Van Tien), there is still plenty of experience, with 5 players featuring in both the last national team squad and the successful u23 Squad.
Kim Jin-seo from Korea and Romario Gordon from Jamaica replace Henrique Mota (Chiang Mai) & Mobi Fehr as the foreign palyers.
Prediction: the club are targeting the 2019 Title and will hope for a strong showing this year. The fans may expect more, and large crowds on the team’s travels will happen across the country.
Best of the rest
Times are changing at the port city with a number of senior players hanging up their boots. This meant head coach, Trương Việt Hoàng, looked to youth players Hoàng Dương, Văn Trung (both Viettel), Hoang Nam and Thanh Long (both HAGL)
The strike partnership of Stevens and Fagan is intact and their experience, along with the commitment of keeper’ Dang Van Lam, will be vital in supporting what seems to be the most inexperienced squad that Hải Phòng has had in recent times.
Prediction: A solid mid-table performance.
SHB Đà Nẵng
Former national team captain, Nguyễn Minh Phương, has taken over the reins after Lê Huỳnh Đức stepped down. Minh Phương will be hoping exciting midfielder, Võ Huy Toàn, can stay injury free and provide the ammunition for the front three of Merlo, Perieira and Hà Đức Chinh.
Cameroonian defender Ewonde Epassi has been brought in and will look to add stability to the inexperienced squad.
Prediction: Expectations are reportedly not high this season in the boardroom, so a mid-table finish should suffice.
Sông Lam Nghệ An
Tipped to struggle by many after losing the influential Phi Son (HCMC FC), last year’s cup winners may cause a few surprises along the way if this year’s AFC CUP is anything to go by. Led by Quế Ngọc Hải, SLNA top their group after a draw and two wins, including one against SE Asian powerhouse Johor, although a broken arm against Tampines, has ruled out no.1 GK Trần Nguyên Mạnh.
Michal Olaha has looked particularly lively in the AFC Cup, often working tirelessly leading the line. Quite under the radar though, coach Nguyễn Đức Thắng may have pulled off the shrewdest signing of pre-season, recruiting Brazillian Osmar Fransciso. Back in 2015, Osmar joined HAGL for the back end of the campaign and impressed with 5 goals in 7 appearances.
Prediction: mid-table but will upset a few of the big teams throughout the campaign.
Than Quảng Ninh
The northern team have suffered a few big loses, with the release of Patiyo Tambwe and Rod Dyanchenko after being deemed too old, even though they bagged a combined 22 goals last season. However, the biggest lose may well be the creativity of Vu Minh Tuan (Thanh Hao). The 3 departed players hit 28 of Quang Ninh’s 42 goals last season. Coach Phan Thanh Hùng will hope Nghiêm Xuân Tú rediscovers his form of 2016 that earnt him trials in Germany to support the new front pairing of Joel Vinicius and Eydison (Danang/Long An).
Prediction: Having risen to a solid top 5 team, constant departure may see Quang Ninh struggle to threaten the top half this campaign
Sanna Khánh Hòa BVN
Accepting an invitation for the end of season Mekong Club Championship, Khanh Hoa surprised many in the region, convincingly seeing off Boeung Ket Angkor (Cambodia) and Lao Toyata (Laos) before falling to defeat against Thai giants, Muangthong Unioted. Striker Youssuf Toure impressed throughout, and it’s quite surprising he didn’t get a move to a bigger club.
Most of the squad remains the same, with striker Trương Công Thảo (Saigon) joining young signings Nguyễn Trung Hiếu (Long An) and Nguyễn Hữu Cảm (Lâm Đồng).
Prediction: Another solid campaign should see them secure a top half finish
Promoted as VLeague 2 Champions, Nam Dinh’s pre-season took a while to get in to full swing as the club were awaiting official confirmation of their status and subsequent funding for their first top flight since 2010. Much of the squad from the last campaign will be trusted with securing survival, with the addition of Henry Shakiel (SLNA), Neil Benjamin and naturalized veteran keeper Esele. Nam Dinh also made the late signing of shamed Long An Keeper, Nguyễn Minh Nhựt, after he completed his year long suspension for his antics in that infamous match against TP.HCM.
Prediction: Survival depends on how quickly they adapt to top flight football. Last season they certainly played nice football with a well-organized defence compared to recent campaigns. They will also be backed by large crowds in Nam Dinh City.
Becamex Bình Dương
The once great (and financially powerful) Binh Duong is just a distant memory. The club now focuses on youth and this inexperience showed last year as they failed to impress, finishing 11th. All eyes will be on National team striker and 2017 top goalscorer scorer, Anh Duc, to lead his team to safety. New foreign players, Kortzog & Tanidis, are both unknown quantities in Vietnam and will need to adapt to the hot conditions quickly.
Prediction: The relegation battle will go to the wire
Just 6 weeks before the campaign was set to kick off, Saigon parted company with manager Nguyễn Đức Thắng, who had previously led the side to the top flight back in 2015 (as Hanoi FC). Long An playing legend Phan Văn Tài Em, fills the hot seat. The move surprised many, especially as the team performed so well to finish 5th last season. They have lost both foreign players Fernades and Patrick, replacing them with Duagary (Binh Duong) and Da Sylva (HCMC FC).
Prediction: Could potentially get dragged in to the relegation play-off.
XSKT Cần Thơ
Coach Đinh Hồng Vinh replaces the fired Vũ Quang Bảo, for his first experience of the V.League. He has recently been the Assistant with the Vietnam U20 team that went to the FIFA U20 World Cup.
There are rumors circulating that their foreign signings are still not finalized, with Patiyo confirmed as joining from Quang Ninh but Nsi’s future is still unknown, while Rod Dyachenko was also spotted recently at training.
Prediction: It’s going to be a very long season again
Update: It has been confirmed that Nsi will start the season with Can Tho
Update 2: In a bizarre twist Nsi did not sign for Can Tho amidst rumors of high wage demands. Rod Dyachenko signed and lined up with former Quang Ninh strike Partner Patiyo in the opening match.