It’s less about the fact that we lost to the team top of the league in midweek and more about the manner in which we went about it that has heightened fears that this team may be on course for relegation. Out of form, out of confidence, out of a plan, at the moment, we are relying on teams around us to be as bad, if not worse, than us in order to keep our heads above water.
Another game against a team in automatic promotion contention provides little hope that we can pick up the win we so desperately need. While a positive result might be too much to ask of this team right now, the very least we can ask for is a level of intent, and pride, to the performance that we put into this game. We have made ourselves too much of a soft touch in recent games, let’s at least make things vaguely difficult for a good team in Brentford.
Having seen over the past few games just how much more threatening the team looks with two up top, if Mark Robins persists with the 3-5-1-1 formation that he has started with recently, it will raise some questions as to what exactly the manager has perceived as the lessons he has learned over the course of the campaign. As much as individual errors have cost us recently, setting up with such little attacking intent has invited pressure and made it difficult for us to cause opponents problems at the other end.
After making some big selection decisions ahead of the last game, Mark Robins is in a difficult situation as to whether to revert one or two of those changes or to double-down on players who underperformed last time out. This is a particular issue in defence, where Kyle McFadzean put in a calamitous performance against Norwich City having replaced Leo Ostigard, who had put in a calamitous performance against Cardiff City. Mark Robins may have to accept that we don’t have enough quality to name a completely infallible side and instead work on a system that covers some of the deficiencies in our squad.
Moving to two in attack will not improve our attacking threat but should help the defence relieve pressure on itself by providing a more reliable out-ball. Just who makes up the two is an area of doubt – Tyler Walker didn’t look sharp last time out, Maxime Biamou is playing through injury, Viktor Gyokeres hasn’t convinced, Amadou Bakayoko seems to be completely out of the picture for a starting place – but the focus should be on who can provide the best outlet and energy levels in attack, which probably makes Biamou and Gyokeres the favourites to start.
It seems likely that Jamie Allen will be the sacrifice for an extra striker, however, it is possible that Callum O’Hare is dropped so that we can play a flat, combative three in midfield rather than risk getting outnumbered against a possession-hoarding Brentford side with a two-man midfield and a number 10. With Liam Kelly back, there is extra physicality to call upon, whether he can play in the same team as Matty James remains to be seen.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting with Brentford, back in October, was a typical defeat for this side against one of the better teams at this level. Mark Robins made little concession in terms of style to Brentford’s quality, which allowed them to force errors from us in possession and meant we offered little attacking threat. Somehow, we made it to 0-0 at half-time, only for Ivan Toney to twice punish some timid Sky Blues defending early in the second-half to make it a comfortable win for the Bees.
The Manager – Thomas Frank
The Dane has steadily turned a pleasing-to-watch but light-weight Brentford side into one of the most complete teams at this level. While maintaining an attractive brand of football, Frank has made Brentford much more robust across the pitch, as capable of beating teams with their athleticism and physicality, in addition to their technical ability.
Having missed out on promotion last season and lost key attacking players over the summer in Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins, Brentford have added a little more intensity at the cost of a level of aestheticism this season in their quest to get into the top-flight. While they remain as capable as before of creating chances and scoring goals, the emphasis individual improvisation has been reduced in favour of structure in service to top-scorer, Ivan Toney.
Who To Look Out For
As the Championship’s top-scorer and assist-maker, Ivan Toney is clearly the man we’ll need to contain in this game. 55% of Brentford’s goals this season have either been scored or assisted by Toney, emphasising his importance to this team. The former Peterborough United forward is the complete package at this level, not only physically powerful but quick, an excellent finisher and a driven, competitive character who can both create and score his own goals.
When backed up by a well-drilled and technically-brilliant midfield, Toney is an especially dangerous attacking weapon. Central midfielder, Josh Dasilva is a key cog in Brentford’s creative unit, both a physical presence and an excellent technician who can both glide and bludgeon his way past opponents. Out wide, the pace of Bryan Mbeumo, the directness of Sergi Canos and the skill of Tariqe Fosu provide Brentford different ways to create space for Toney. Additionally, the passing ability of Mathias Jensen and Emiliano Marcondes provide further different points to Brentford’s attacking threat.
With full-backs, Henrik Dalsgaard and Rico Henry providing additional attacking support, the solidity of Brentford’s defence – marshalled by the dominant, athletic presence of Ethan Pinnock – has been another cornerstone to their success over the past two seasons. An injury to Pontus Jansson has robbed Pinnock of a settled partner, however, in Mads Sorensen and Winston Reid, they have two serviceable options for that role.
In goal, David Raya is probably one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship and perfect for Brentford’s system. Excellent with the ball at his feet and claiming crosses, Raya isn’t completely infallible but provides that extra level of confidence at the back that makes this Brentford side especially hard to find weaknesses in.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Although this is the kind of game where if Brentford turn it on, we are unlikely to have an answer, the demand here is that we at least play with a level of belief and determination that gives them something to think about. Whether it’s by being really resolute at the back and forcing them to work for their goals, or by throwing caution to the wind and getting bodies forward in the hope of unsettling Brentford’s defence, it would be nice to see some of the more positive elements we’ve seen from this team this season enacted in this game.
Specific concerns are just how are the defence copes with not only Ivan Toney, but the quality of movement in Brentford’s attack. It is likely to force us to sit deep in order to deny them space in behind, but it is still going to require concentration and a robust attitude in order to prevent Brentford from picking holes in a deep-lying defensive unit.
At the other end of the pitch, we need to be more direct and clinical than we have been in recent games. It is unlikely to be the pretty, intricate football that Mark Robins seems to wants to see this team produce but against this quality of opponent – and on a terrible pitch – the focus has to be on the ends rather than the means.