As we progress into the final stretch of the 2019/20 season, the hopes of promotion start to become a reality for some teams.
One club with such ambitions is Brentford, who look the likeliest side to spoil Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion’s promotion parties. This being considered, I am going to explore how Brentford would cope tactically if they were to find themselves in the Premier League next season.
Brentford currently deploy a 4-3-3 formation and the Bees have been known since their promotion to the Championship in 2014 as one of the most entertaining sides in the division.
However entertainment hasn’t always led to results. The difference in this Brentford team to sides in the past is the tactical shape and desire to defend that goes with all the fluid, forward thinking football.
David Raya, Pontus Jansson, Ethan Pinnock ,Christian Norgaard, Mathias Jensen and Bryan Mbeumo were all purchased in the summer of 2019 and make up over half of manager Thomas Frank’s preferred line-up.
40 games into the Championship season and Brentford have conceded just 33 goals, the best total they have managed since promotion to the Championship. This would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the clubs transfer business, having built a completely new and experienced defensive spine to the side.
All four players here are vital to how the team defend. David Raya is your typical sweeper keeper, good with his feet and quick off his line. The Spaniard allows Brentford to play a high line, keeping them compact as a unit while the energetic front-three press high.
The centre-back partnership of Pinnock and Jansson has only allowed 9 goals to be scored against them in 16 matches. Frank would have liked the pair to have played with each other more often with stats like that, but Jansson being sidelined for months and Pinnock having a rough start to life at the club meant it wasn’t to be.
Pinnock and Jansson’s partnership stands very tall, both are 6ft 4′, giving Brentford a new ability to defend their own box when under pressure in games. Couple that with their desire to defend and Jansson’s leadership qualities as captain they’re very well equipped to keep the ball out of the net.
Christian Norgaard has perhaps been Brentford’s most important purchase and symbolises the difference between this side and those from previous campaigns.
Norgaard, who has worked under the manager before at Brondby, is a master in the art of breaking up opposition attacks. The Dane often sits at the base of the inverted midfield triangle and is vital to keeping the team’s shape. He then picks the right time to actively seek winning the ball back for Brentford before releasing the ball quickly to those more creative and attack-minded.
On the ball, Brentford like to transition through the thirds with pace. Once Jansson or Pinnock pick up the ball the full backs will look to edge their way up the pitch, while Norgaard drops back in search of the ball from the centre backs.
Once Norgaard receives the ball this will trigger both Jensen and Da Silva to move out wide looking for space, which allows them to link up with the full back that Norgaard is often looking to find.
This transition allows Brentford to beat a high press by overloading the wider areas of the pitch.
Once in the attacking third of the pitch Frank likes his wingers to come inside at times and act as two Number 10’s, giving the midfield options to pass to them in the pocket of space between midfield and defence.
Benrahma and Mbeumo will then have the option of their full backs who are always looking to overlap and cut the ball back to the onrushing front three, or they could take a shot with the space they’ve been allowed. They also are able to bounce the ball off Ollie Watkins, who is always looking to play in small triangles with the other members of the forward line.
Brentford’s BMW (Benrahma, Mbeumo, Watkins) front three have scored 70% (49/70) of the West Londoner’s goals in the Championship this season. The deadly nature of Brentford as a team and the BMW is the ability to score goals in many different ways.
The front three, much like Liverpool’s, are happy to rotate to cause defenders confusion and create a goal in any way possible. Benrahma has taken the Championship by storm with his agility, dribbling and unbelievable range of skills, attracting interest from the Premier League in the process. Watkins has scored many goals within 12 yards and has the most headed goals in the Championship this season, while Bryan Mbeumo shows pace and a direct goal threat having accumulated 15 goals already in his first season in English football.
So, how will Brentford cope with Premier League football should they get there?
Brentford have a starting XI that could surprise a few in England’s top tier, the ability to score from set pieces (the most prolific in the Championship) , on the counter-attack and through possession based play means the Bees wont struggle to score goals.
Their new found defensive resilience gives them the potential to sit deep against higher quality opposition and then allow their prolific front three to pose their own threat. However, Brentford would need to improve on their strength in depth.
Frank has a plethora of young talent in his squad but they could struggle if relied on to play a considerable amount of minutes if injuries were to hit the squad.
In addition, it will be key that Brentford fans and the club as a whole adapt to expectations in a much tougher division.
The Bees are a team who play great football and often dominate possession committing many numbers forward. Against top opposition in the Premier League, Brentford may need to adapt their play in some areas to make sure they’re not vulnerable to the play of world class, clinical footballers. It is the job of the fans to understand this, accept possession may come at a premium against some sides and make their new home at Lionel Road a fortress.