Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Brentford: Flying High Under Thomas Frank

Posted on 22 October 2021 by Ewan Lury
The Brentford Community Stadium- Photo Taken by Rob Petrucco

“Hopefully we continue developing as a team and as a club.” – Thomas Frank

Whilst Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are top of the league, Arsenal are having a resurgence under Mikel Arteta. Patrick Vieira has also worked to create a young and exciting Crystal Palace side.

West Ham continue to fight on all fronts under David Moyes. Nuno’s Spurs are well, Spurs, and Watford will have a new manager by the morning.

Yet Thomas Frank is the Manager on everyone’s lips. He has brought a Brentford side into the Premier League and made them the most exciting team to watch not only in London, but the whole league.

Even more scary is that he thinks that his side can keep getting better.

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Brentford’s free-flowing football has captivated fans across the country because of their willingness to flood men forward against even the mightiest of opposition.

In an intense away clash against rivals West Ham, the game headed into stoppage-time at 1-1 with Brentford having a free-kick on the right-hand side of the Hammers box.

Most newly-promoted teams, against a side competing in Europe, would take the free-kick short and try and keep possession, committing only their striker in the box, happy with a 1-1 draw.

But as Mathias Jensen whipped a dangerous ball into the box, six Brentford players attacked it, with Wissa delivering the vital blow to grab a massive win against a top club.

You might look at this and think that this is just a one-off moment in a London derby. But it isn’t.

Frank’s Brentford, unlike many of the teams that enter the Premier League for the first time, have the same attitude to football matches that the big clubs do:

We are here to get a result. Damage limitation is never an option.

When Brentford played Liverpool earlier this season, they took 12 shots as they bounced back from behind twice to get a late draw against one of the best teams in the country.

Men were constantly flooded into the box and their tactic of exposing Trent Alexander-Arnold’s aerial ability (for the second goal, they had three men on him at the back post) worked perfectly.

More striking than any of this was that the second goal was scored from a rebound after Pontus Jansson, Brentford’s centre-back, hit the bar from open play.

Jansson’s ‘assist’ wasn’t a long-range strike or a header from a corner, but a shot from a ball into the box after he had joined the attack in an attempt to get his side back in the game.

This was a clear demonstration of Brentford’s desire to stay in every game and continue to throw men at the opposition to break them down.

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Brentford are having success for two reasons. Thomas Frank’s footballing philosophy is near on perfect for the Premier League (not quite perfect yet as they didn’t

punish Chelsea last weekend), and he has the team to play the system.

Aggressive forwards mixed with some big and powerful midfielders, not to mention Bryan Mbuemo’s quick feet, creates a team that is able to overrun teams for sustained periods of the match.

In the last 20 minutes against Chelsea, Brentford forced The Blues into a formation that they struggled with against Manchester City, the 5-3-2.

This wasn’t luck. Tireless pressing and a high line meant that Werner and Lukaku were isolated up top.

Brentford constantly had men on the overlap and were able to push aside the inexperienced Chelsea centre-backs Malang Sarr and Trevor Chalobah.

If it wasn’t for Edouard Mendy, Brentford may have won the game by 2 or 3.

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The system isn’t new for Brentford, it made them the team to watch in the Championship last year.

Norwich and Watford are Championship specialists, but Brentford’s loss in the 2020 Play-Off Final seemed to spur them on to reach new heights last year.

They developed a system that might not work all the time in the Championship but is currently working to great effect in the Premier League.

I asked Frank about whether the extra year in the Championship after their Play-Off Final loss to Fulham helped him develop his philosophy:

“As a club and as a squad, I think we definitely learnt something from the first year and then the next two years in the Championship. That gave us a better opportunity to develop our style and the players, so they were hopefully even better prepared to go into the Premier League and play at the highest level.

“I would say that we definitely had quite a few good players, especially Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins. I’d still like them to play in our team now! I think we will be looking really strong, and I would have a big headache about which one I’d have to choose!”

 

Frank’s team lost their two star-players after that Play-Off Final, Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma.

They signed Ivan Toney, who broke the record for goals scored in the Championship (31) and Vitaly Janelt, a defensive midfielder who is quickly establishing himself as one of the hottest young prospects in the Premier League.

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Toney has already proven his worth in the Premier League, dominating defenders in the air well as contributing to a goal in every two games (I feel bad about the amount a certain £50million defender was attacked after coming up against him so I won’t go into detail).

Their other signings since joining the Premier League this year so far look equally savvy.

Kristoffer Ajer looks a steal at £14million, Frank ‘The Tank’ Onyeka is already a fan favourite and Yoanne Wissa averages a goal every 28.5 minutes in the league this season.

We have seen teams get promoted to the Premier League before and overhaul their squads, as opposed to the systematic signings at Brentford.

In Fulham’s dire 2018/19 season, they made 16 signings and spent an astonishing £100million in their quest to stay in the Premier League, thinking their players who had been brilliant in the Championship couldn’t step up to the task.

The signings included Jean Michael Seri, who was once compared to Kante. That ended well…

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Brentford don’t need to worry about a relegation battle this year. What they need to worry about already is next year.

‘Second-season syndrome’ is the idea that teams thrive in their first Premier League season, and then they are found out and exposed.

Previous casualties include Chris Wilder’s disastrous Sheffield United side of 2020/21 (23 points all year) whose defensive style of play and lack of ability to score goals was exposed countless times.

Bielsa’s Leeds United side look like they are suffering from the syndrome as well, with their expansive style of play, similar in many ways to Brentford’s, not reaping the same rewards this year.

Panic signing Daniel James and lacking a good enough back-up to Patrick Bamford means Leeds may only stay up because of the frailty of the teams around them.

The Brentford Community Stadium ahead of a Carabao Cup Clash- Photo Taken by Rob Petrucco

Thomas Frank and Matthew Benham are no doubt already looking ahead at next year and thinking of who can help bolster the side.

Rash decisions and panic-buys don’t happen at Brentford and I’m sure there are already names and agents that have been contacted.

And if I was a player (like every bloke at the pub, a terrible knee injury cost me my career), I would be looking at Brentford and Thomas Frank and going: “that is a team, a manager and a system which I want to play for”.

Brentford face Leicester this weekend, and my money, as it will be in most games this season, will be on Brentford.

The question that everyone is asking though: ‘Will Brentford not just beat Leicester, but be the next Leicester?”