The automatic race for promotion from the Championship into the Premier League continues to thrill even the neutral. Brentford has won all their games following the restart except one, and sit 1 point behind second-placed West Brom. Derby, on the other hand, looked like they were going to sneak into a playoff position. However, they are now winless in five and would need a miracle to reach the 6th spot. Nonetheless, this fixture promised to be an exciting one, with sides who like to take the game to their opposition.
Brentford took an early lead through top scorer Ollie Watkins before Jason Knight equalised. Just before half-time though, Brentford deservedly retook the lead through a combination of Said Benrahma and poor keeping Ben Hamer. The second Benrahma goal, however, was pure genius. The Frenchman drifted inside before curling one into the far side of the net. That’s how the game finished, and Brentford went back to London with 3 points.
This tactical analysis will consider how the game played out, and how each side set-up tactically. It will use analysis to highlight things such as Derby’s high press, the 3v3 match-up in central midfield and how Brentford looked to gain an advantage in wide areas by creating overloads. Firstly, the analysis will consider the line-ups of each side and how they aimed to set-up from the start.
Derby lined-up in their expected 4-2-3-1, with some variation with regards to the players in that set-up. Tom Lawrence started in the left-wing position with Duane Holmes dropping to the bench. Rooney continued to play in the deeper role, as he looks to dictate play in this area. However, for this particular fixture, it might have been wise to push Rooney further forward and bring Graeme Shinnie, for example. Whilst Rooney offers a lot going forward, defensively he does not make the same contribution.
Brentford started in their favoured 433. Rads Rasmussen and Rico Henry like to attack and provide width, as well as support the midfield in deep-progression. Benrahma and Mbuemo, as a result, are afforded freedom, knowing that Brentford will not be lacking in natural width. They like to drift inside and get in support of Watkins, looking to create chances for him or themselves.
The tactical analysis will now consider the use and execution of Derby’bs pressing game.
The Derby press
One of the tactics that were noticeable was the use of Derby’s press, especially higher up the pitch. As we are aware, Brentford are one of the better passing sides in the league. It was important for Derby to be able to win the ball higher up the pitch before they were able to get the ball into their creative players like Benrahma. Therefore, Derby looked to initiate their press on the edge of Brentford’s box, making it difficult to play out.
The way Derby did this was by the front four each pressing their opposing player in possession. For example, if Henry in the left-back position received the ball, he was immediately closed down by Jason Knight, the right midfielder. Not only would they look to apply pressure to win the ball, the would also look to close down any passing lanes. This created a situation where the press was successful even if the ball had not been regained, as it would have forced Brentford towards their own goal.
The tactic was one that was working for Derby throughout the game. However, when Derby relaxed the press, Brentford was able to take control and win the game. An analysis of the statistics identifies that in the period where Brentford scored their second and third goal, Derby allowed them nearly 53 passes before making a defensive action. This was because Derby allowed Brentford to build-up from the back. In this area, Brentford possesses technically gifted players and the movement means they are able to create space for each other. Therefore, the tactical analysis has shown that whilst Derby engaged in a high press, they were able to limit the threat Brentford posed. Once they stopped engaging in the high press, Brentford was able to take control and win the game.
3v3 in midfield
One of the key battles in this game took place in midfield. It was evident from the start that it would a 3v3 man midfield. As a result, whichever side was able to win this battle would win the game. The tactical analysis will consider why both sides decided to play this way. It will also use analysis to show how this battle panned out.
Firstly, it is important to highlight that Derby played with 2 players sitting and 1 further forward. In contrast, Brentford played with 1 player sitting and 2 players as number 8s either side. Derby decided to play this way as it allows Rooney, the main creative force in the side, the freedom to try and dictate play from deep. However, Brentford was able to minimise the threat of Rooney in the same way Nottingham Forest did. The two number 8s would press Rooney depending on which side of the pitch he was on, and as a result, nullified his threat. This also meant that they never vacated space in behind them, as the job of marking Rooney was not given to either player but to both. Therefore, in this instance, the tactical analysis has shown that Brentford gained the upper hand.
Another way in which Brentford won the midfield battle was by stopping the supply to Louie Sibley. Norgaard, who played as the deepest midfield, positioned himself near or in front of Sibley, making it difficult for him to receive the ball and turn. This was key in winning the game, as the analysis will show. Sibley is often the link between the midfield and attack. By stopping the supply to him, it makes it difficult for them to be a real attacking threat. The wingers in Derby’s system play very narrowly so they are forced to play through the middle. Therefore, the tactical analysis has shown that Brentford was able to win the midfield battle by nullifying Derby’s main threats.
Brentford gaining overloads out-wide
A key feature of Brentford’s game was their ability to gain overloads in wide areas. Often, one of the central midfielders would push out-wide and look to create 3v2 situations. The tactical analysis will analyse in greater detail why Brentford did this, and how it helped them win the game.
The main reason for Brentford employing this tactic was to play quick, interchangeable football in wide areas and look to get in behind. Either central midfielder would often drift into wide areas when in the possession and look to gain a numerical advantage. From here, they would link with the full-back and winger before Derby could get cover across. In doing so, they were able to penetrate in behind the full-back and get into dangerous areas of the pitch.
Another reason why they used this tactic was to hopefully draw the centre-back out of position. As the image above shows, Matt Clarke is the closest player to the Brentford midfielder. In this situation, it makes sense for him to push onto the player to stop him receiving the pass. However, this creates space in behind once again that can be exploited by Ollie Watkins, or an on-coming midfielder. Ultimately, the purpose of Brentford looking to gain an overload in wide areas was to draw the opposition out of shape. As a result, they would be able to create space in behind to penetrate.
In conclusion, Brentford were deserved winners in this fixture. The tactical analysis has shown that they were able to nullify Derby’s main threats in Sibley and Rooney, by matching them in midfield and focusing heavily on the shape. They pressed Rooney when he received the ball, limiting his influence on the game, and made it difficult for Sibley to receive the ball in the half-space. By doing this, Derby had very little attacking threat.
Brentford was also able to create space in tight situations, which allowed them to get in behind. This was particularly useful in moments of the game where Derby sat back and looked to defend, as it might they could continue to apply the pressure.
Where Derby did enjoy success was in their pressing. They made it difficult for Brentford to play and the moment they eased off the pressed, Brentford took control with two goals. With only one game left and three teams still vying for an automatic position, Brentford will be hoping results go their way and secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.