This season Brentford look to gain promotion to the Premier League and under the progressive philosophy of Thomas Frank, they currently place in a playoff spot and are perhaps unfortunate not to be placed higher in the EFL Championship.
The graphic below provides an analysis of Frank’s matchday selection, it shows how he has looked to establish a clear starting 11 in his preferred formation, where the only real rotation has been between the three centre backs. For the rest of the team, there are very distinguished starters, this approach has helped increase the cohesion and understanding of Frank’s tactics which is visible when Brentford play.
Frank’s prefered starting 11 has a variety of ages but the majority have been with Brentford for a number of years, Dalsgaard, particularly provides a wealth of age and experience.
For those who have not followed Brentford this season, Frank favoured setting up the team in a 4-3-3 system. The diagram below illustrates Frank’s style at Brentford where the midfield keeps a compact structure while the full-backs are for most of the game are those closest to the touchline.
What the previous diagram illustrates is the strength of the passing lanes between the defenders, but crucially as well as the link between the centre-backs and goalkeeper. This link is prevalent in the diagram as Brentford play out from the back including taking short goal kicks.
Frank has adapted his tactics due to the recent rule change regarding short goal kicks as he looks for new ways to beat an opposition press. Brentford starts with the two centre-backs inside the box to tempt the opposition forwards to press high, this creates space in between the lines for the ball to be progressed to Norgaard who now has the time to find the right pass often looking to release one of the wide forwards.
In this instance, the forward is making a well-rehearsed run in behind the defender and into the vacant space. Unfortunately, in this example, Brentford does not convert the opportunity into a goal but it provides a demonstration of their ability to build-up from a short goal kick.
Frank has also used tactics at Brentford where they build-up with four players deep, with an extra midfielder dropping in. This approach is more secure if Brentford were to turn the ball over at this stage but the full-backs still remain high and wide as Frank’s team look to exploit any wide space created by the opposition being drawn into central positions.
While this article has already mentioned Frank’s preference for Brentford to progress down the flank this can be predictable and teams may look to counter this by playing a tight horizontal structure in defence.
Here the opposition has compressed the space around the ball by aggressively pressing with three players. This heavy press on the ball side means the far side full-back has to form a three with the centre-backs leaving space on the opposition wing. Brentford has adapted to exploit this by using the strength of their defenders in possession to quickly move the ball to the far side and attack this space.
This tactic can be represented in the data this season as Brentford average 11.97 deep completions and 7.35 through balls per 90, ranking them second and third highest in the division respectively. These metrics in combination with the heavy possession previously mentioned show Brentford tactics to use possession to draw in the opposition before exploiting the space left behind, often in Brentford’s case with their wide forwards.
Frank’s use of full-backs has often meant that the frontline for Brentford consists of five players. This tactic gives freedom for the inside forwards to cause a menace in the channels and while in this example they are not directly involved, their runs in the box cause enough confusion for Watkins to be able to find space between the two centre-backs to convert the cross.
Although the previous scenario did not illustrate the direct impact the wide forwards can have for Brentford the graphics above helps to portray their involvement. The diagram on the left shows Benrahma to be the most involved player in attack, averaging 10.8 successful attacking actions per 90, while his counterpart Mbeumo also ranks very highly. While when the diagram on the right is considered it is clear the wealth of goals and attacks coming from wide positions.
This diagram illustrates Brentford’s performance in relation to the rest of the teams in the Championship, the closer the point is to the edge of the graph the better Brentford have comparatively preformed.
Of course, the key statistic when assessing how good a teams attack is by how many goals they have scored and Brentford lead the way in the division. Clearly, in reference to this diagram Brentford perform admirably in the majority of the measures that contribute to a team’s performance in attack, especially in regards to the more advanced passing statistics.
This season Brentford have been pressing high up the pitch recovering the ball in the final third 11.52 times per 90 minutes, the third-highest in the league.
In this situation, Brentford’s attackers look to press beyond the opposition defensive line and hastily press the keeper to force an error which in this instance they were able to do with the keeper passing the ball out of touch.
This tactic can prove costly as seen against Huddersfield who looked to frustrate all game. In this scenario, Brentford looks to press high with four players, including one of the central midfielders, but when the goalkeeper is able to successfully distribute the ball to a team-mate, Brentford are left very short in defence.
Brentford’s tight midfield structure and high press leave the full-backs incredibly isolated and in this case on the far side, Huddersfield has created a three on one. They quickly exploit this opportunity and score from this play and lead having been on the back foot for the majority of the game.
The defensive weakness in Frank’s system is its ability to be caught on the break and as in the previous example in that match, Huddersfield looked to exploit this multiple times.
Often Brentford’s press could be bypassed by the goal kick finding the striker who then attempted to play a teammate in behind. Brentford’s aerial win rate is only 33.83%, the lowest in the league, which means this scenario is far more frequent then Frank would want.
Brentford reliance to combat this is on the full-backs to be incredibly active in defence to keep the threat of these counters under control. The above diagram emphasizes how important the full-backs are in the system with Henry and Dalsgaard averaging 7.85 and 6.73 successful defensive actions per 90 respectively.
While Brentford is weak in transitions due to the height of the defensive line, once settled in the defensive structure of Frank’s tactics, they are very stable and hard to break down. The 4-1-4-1 provides two rigid lines with Norgaard in between, who plays a vital role in breaking up attacks between the lines averaging just over eight successful defensive actions per 90 minutes.
As with attack, it makes sense that the assessment from a data perspective begins with considering how many goals the defence has conceded where once again Brentford show their strength having only conceded 33 so far this season. While the performance in this radar might not be as outstanding as the previous in this article Brentford still stand up well in the data in many defensive metrics. Although the teams duel success across a variety of measure is concerning and something that should be worked on, especially defensive duels where Brentford only win 60.49%.
Frank has been incredibly successful at delivering his vision at Brentford and encouraging the players to buy-in to his philosophy, while Brentford may only be positioned in a playoff place, they top the division for goals scored and are joint second-best for goals conceded. With the model, Brentford have on and off the pitch, it will only be a matter of time before they are playing in the top division in England.