How Brentford have built a squad capable of reaching the Premier League

5 min

Ollie Watkins’ late Brentford winner against Middlesbrough combined with Leeds United’s defeat to Nottingham Forest means the stage is set for a mouth-watering encounter between the two sides on Tuesday night.

And while the Bees would arguably have been content with a Play-Off place this campaign, they are currently just two points adrift of second-placed Leeds going into the Griffin Park encounter.

Brentford’s rise to automatic promotion-challengers this season has been nothing short of impressive, particularly as they were only able to pick up four points from their opening five games, leaving them 19th in the table.

The early season 3-4-3 formation looked promising at times, with the 3-0 win over Derby County being one highlight, but it brought too much inconsistency with away defeats to Preston North End and a goalless draw at home to Stoke City quickly following.

And, despite quickly reverting to a 4-3-3 thereafter, it was as late as November that Thomas Frank’s side eventually made their mark in the upper half of the table.

Of course, formation changes are only effective if players are in positions that allow them to flourish and express themselves – something Frank is acutely aware of, particularly when it comes to his side’s front three.

Brentford’s ‘BMW’ trio of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins have the look and statistics of a Premier league frontline.

French U21 international Mbuemo, who joined the club in the summer, has quickly and impressively adapted to the physicality of the Championship, to date contributing to 17 goals (11 goals, six assists).

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

Meanwhile, Ollie Watkins is enjoying his best season so far, slotting in effortlessly in the centre forward position vacated by Neal Maupay, finding the net 20 times as well as a hat-trick of assists.

Then there is Said Benrahma, who boosted his goal tally with a hat-trick in the recent mauling of Hull City. 

On paper, the Algerian is the least prolific with eight goals and six assists but he is undoubtedly the main playmaker due to his incredible ability to weave through the opposition.

Whilst the frontline have gained the majority of the headlines, Brentford’s midfield has been equally as vital in their push for promotion.

Romaine Sawyers’ departure to West Bromwich Albion in the summer was seen as a potentially massive blow to Brentford’s hopes this term.

However, the club’s ‘Moneyball’ approach to the transfer market has off-set any damage with the arrival of Danish international Mathias Jensen from Celta Vigo for a reasonable price of £3.5m.

And Frank also utilised his Danish connections to sign Christian Norgaard, a player he worked with before at Brondby, for just £2.8m from Italian club Fiorentina.

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

Both have slotted into Brentford’s midfield perfectly, alongside Josh Dasilva – the highly-rated Arsenal academy player who joined the club for free in 2018. 

The England U20 international has thrived alongside the Danes, claiming his first professional hat-trick in the 7-0 thrashing of Luton Town at the end of November.

Any side chasing promotion also knows a solid defence is just as key to success – a leaky backline will ensure dreams stay just dreams.

After being left frustrated by his side’s rearguard failings last season, Frank revealed to London Football Scene last month that his main objective this season was to be ‘the best defensive side in the division’.

So far this season his side are exactly that in conceding just 25 goals – an average of 0.81 goals a game – with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds in second, conceding 29 goals to date.

Rather ironically, Leeds offloading of defender Pontus Jansson has been a fundamental factor in Brentford’s new-found defensive solidity.

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

Although Jansson’s absence through injury in the last few games has been felt, fellow centre-backs Ethan Pinnock and Julian Jeanvier have come to the fore.

In front of them, David Raya has been exceptional between the sticks for the Bees since his summer arrival from Blackburn Rovers, having kept 10 clean sheets so far this season.

Brentford’s strength is not just in their starting XI but their entire squad as shown in their FA Cup fourth round performance against Premier League high-fliers Leicester City.

That game saw the Bees field a young and inexperienced side – with six of the starting 11 aged 20 or younger, with the Foxes narrowly progressing through to the next round with a 1-0 win.

Regardless of how Tuesday night and the rest of the campaign plays out, this final season at Griffin Park is already going to be a memorable one.

As Brentford prepare to say goodbye to their home of 115 years, what a fitting finale it would be if the final game played there ushered in Premier League football. With this side, it is more than possible.

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