Despite the opening day home defeat to traditional rivals Taipower, Premier League champions Tatung should not be written-off yet.
When Taipower’s Xiang-Wei squirmed the ball under Tatung ‘keeper Shih Shin-An to snatch a 93rd minute winner for Taipower, it was hard not to make assumptions about what that would mean for serial winners Tatung. In a small league, with the quality of the top and bottom teams poles apart, any hiccup against a title competitor is hard to come back from.
Recent history certainly suggests as much. Last season, Taipower themselves lost just twice and it cost them dearly. Both defeats came against Tatung and resulted in them missing out on the title by just three points.
In this context, it would be easy to assume that Taipower’s win, coupled with Tatung’s player losses, already means that Tatung are a spent force as title contenders. However, 2020 is a different animal to previous seasons, and there are reasons to believe that defeats may not be punished as harshly this year.
While the coronavirus hasn’t stopped Premier League matches from being played, it has disrupted teams’ training.
Speaking with Taiwan Football News, Tatung’s manager Chiang Mu-Tsai described the difficulties teams are having behind the scenes: “Due to COVID-19, some of the Tatung players need to do isolated training sometimes. It’s becoming hard to train the whole team together, especially coordinating.”
The limited time teams are able to spend together as a unit might go some way to explaining the increased defensive frailties seen at the weekend, as we saw an average of 4.5 goals scored per game. If all teams’ preparations are similarly disrupted, it is feasible that we might see some erratic results and top teams dropping more points this season.
Secondly, the loss of some of Tatung’s key players to Taiwan Steel could contain a silver lining for Tatung. While Chiang acknowledged that the transfers have initially left Tatung “needing to work on our defenders and strikers,” a strong Taiwan Steel side could make for a more competitive league.
If Taiwan Steel take a seat at the top table (and don’t flatten all before them, as some are predicting), then we could see them, Taipower and Tatung all taking taking points off one another. If Taichung Futuro live up to their billing, then they too could join in the mayhem and contribute to a league that is more forgiving of defeats than in previous seasons.
Of course, all of this depends on Tatung proving that their defeat was indeed just a blip and that they are still the league’s apex predator. Chiang himself is bullish on his team’s prospects, stating that he considers “in general, the team is better than last year,” and that they will “never give up” in their defence of the title.
If Chiang is correct, we are unlikely find out this weekend. Tatung will play the Red Lions, who were thrashed 4-0 by Hang Yuan FC in their first game and picked up just one win last year.
Barring a catastrophe, Tatung would be expected to beat them in any circumstances. However, assuming they avoid the potential banana skin, the game could give the team some valuable time together as a cohesive unit and provide a confidence-boosting springboard for their title defence.
[All matchday images used with the kind permission of Tatung FC]