Brentford’s case for the defence in their Premier League promotion push

4 min

Brentford may not have been able to demonstrate their free-flowing brand of football against Huddersfield Town last weekend but their other promotion credentials were certainly on show.

While it’s hard to look any further than the impressive front three of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins for their surge up the table, the Bees’ defence has been just as impressive, if not so much headline-grabbing.

Indeed, boss Thomas Frank admitted after the game his ‘famous BMW’ was not the tuned version but went on to praise his side’s ‘solid foundations’ in claiming a point at the John Smith’s Stadium.

READ MORE: How Brentford’s front three are firing the Bees towards a Play-Off place

Whether the result will have a fundamental bearing on Brentford’s final league position remains to be seen but as the old adage goes, if you can’t win the game, don’t lose it.

Certainly Saturday would have been the type of encounter which previous Brentford incarnations would have lost had it not been for a new-found defensive solidarity that has seen them become the meanest backline in the division.

At the same stage of last season the Bees had shipped 39 goals compared to 21 this campaign and have 10 clean sheets already in comparison to the 12 collected for the whole of last term.

“This is the one single thing I am the most proud of over the past year,” Thomas Frank told London Football Scene.

“We knew that we had to do something about the defensive side of our game as in the last five Championship seasons we have conceded far too many goals.

“We were conceding too many soft goals, making mistakes and not tracking back enough.

“I had one big aim at the start of this season and it was to be the best defensive side in this division and when you aim for the sky you maybe reach the stars but that was my plan.

“I’m a little bit surprised we are this good – not because I had doubts but because we have done unbelievably well.”

Naturally Frank cites incessant training ground drills and in-depth video analysis sessions as key to Brentford’s continued success but also believes ‘the desire to defend’ was something that had to be instilled into every player, from forward to back.

What is perhaps even more impressive though is that the squad’s entire mentality change, combined with a formation tweak from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3, has not detracted from Brentford’s attacking prowess, but perversely complemented it.

“All the tactical elements as a unit, a back four and how they connect with the keeper, the midfielders and the strikers and how we defend as a team has been bang on this season,” Frank said.

“If you are pressing forward and you try to press as high as possible then that is an offensive way of thinking defensively.

“I think our back four has the highest defensive line in the division – we like to defend as much as possible away from our goal to make it easier on ourselves and generally all the players love to defend more and more now.”

Brentford’s ‘Moneyball’ transfer strategy has also seen wholesale changes to the team’s personnel over the past year, leading to a number of the club’s prized defensive assets making big-money moves away from Griffin Park.

And while the likes of Chris Mepham, Daniel Bentley, Ezri Konsa and Romaine Sawyers left, Brentford’s recruitment strategy appears to have improved the side defensively, as well as perhaps inadvertently finding a commodity that money often can’t buy – real character.

READ MORE:  Thomas Frank on the ‘Moneyball’ technique driving Brentford’s transfer activity

“Ethan Pinnock has done brilliantly since he’s come in, David Raya is probably the best goalkeeper in the division, Christian Norgaard plus our captain Pontus Jansson has really raised the level of our defensive strength,” Frank explained.

“In modern football there are not many leaders, not when it really hurts – there’s not that many personalities that raise their voice constantly.

“Not just on the pitch but in the dressing room, the training pitch, the treatment room and Pontus (Jansson) has been amazing for that.

“It’s also given extra energy to the likes of Henrik Dalsgaard in terms of leadership because he was not the main man now.”

But just how far can Brentford’s defence take them?

Currently conceding just 0.75 goals per game, it is a better ratio than seven of the previous eight Championship sides to be automatically promoted to the Premier League with only Middlesbrough’s 0.67 goals per game for the 2015-16 campaign, better.

Of course, goals still win games but not conceding them will mean you won’t lose and that can be just as important – especially for a run-in.

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