Not that it really went away, but football is back – and we’ll kick things off just five miles south of where we made history 54 days ago, helping a side who suffered heartbreak on the same turf open their new home. For the first time in 2020/21, it’s preview time!
When? Sunday, 6th September, 12pm
Where? Brentford Community Stadium
What? League Cup Round One
How can I watch/listen?– Sky Sports Football
Setting the scene
This is it. Well, sort of; it is next Saturday, but this should be a decent warm-up for it. That said, Brentford will be without a whopping nine players (five first team regulars) through international duty – as well as, in all likelihood, stars of 2020/21 Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrahma, who will be sold if the price is right and were not involved in the Bees’ final friendly against Oxford on Tuesday. We might have a decent chance, you know.
Mind you, Wycombe’s first Championship squad is still a reasonable way off being fully assembled. The four senior signings so far – who will still be integrating – have only taken us up to 20 first team players (assuming Cameron Yates is classed as B team). We’ve also had “a couple off with knocks,” Gareth Ainsworth revealed on Friday.
The tie has feel of half competitive match, half friendly. Ainsworth won’t see it like that, but as long as we give the best possible account of ourselves then does the result really matter? Besides, if there was ever a season when we could do without a cup run, it’s this already ridiculously congested one – any team that makes it from Round One to Round Four will have to play eight games in September alone.
Manager: Thomas Frank (appointed October 2018)
Top scorer 2019/20 (all competitions): Ollie Watkins (ST) – 26
Most assists 2019/20 (all competitions): Saïd Benrahma (LW) – 10
Style of play: Possession-based, lots of width, suck opponents in
2019/20 League Cup performance: R1 (lost to Cambridge)
The danger man: Ivan Toney (ST)
He’s also the new man, having arrived in West London just this week for an initial £5m fee that could rise to double that. Quite simply the best player in League One last season, Toney topped the third tier scoring charts with 24 goals – a remarkable nine more his nearest challengers – at an average of 0.76/90, from an xG of 19.92 (0.63/90). His acrobatic finish for Peterborough in the rollercoaster 3-3 draw at Adams Park last October showed the instantaneousness and inventivity with which he can – and will – punish you. A near-complete centre-forward, the 24-year-old matches up favourably with the man he’s been brought into replace, Watkins, and you’d put good money on him ending 2020/21 as the Championship’s leading marksman.
Ivan Toney statistical overview
What to expect
Whatever side Brentford put out, don’t expect them to deviate too much from the principles underpinning their recent surge to the cusp of the Premier League: In an attacking sense, those are playing out from the back; using possession to draw their opponents in and leave space behind; and getting the ball wide to create. Defensively, their base 4-3-3 becomes a 4-1-4-1 and the full-backs are heavily involved – as they are going forward, effectively forming a front five much of the time. The Bees boasted the second meanest defence in the Championship last season, conceding just 38 goals – only champions Leeds conceded fewer – but there was one particular weak spot that I’m sure we’ll have picked up on: Brentford won only a third of their aerial duels, the fewest in the second tier.
See here for a deep tactical look at Thomas Frank’s Brentford from EFL Analysis
It will be intriguing to see what Frank’s (better haired) opposite number tries, though. We will need to tweak our approach to afford us a tad more possession as much as anything, and while that’s clearly not an overnight job, it’s a must if we’re to avoid absolutely knackering ourselves chasing the ball to the extent we did – and were able to cope with – in League One. Personally, I’m most intrigued to see what goes on in the final third; in Uche Ikpeazu, we have ourselves a target man whose mobility could facilitate greater fluidity in the attacking phase and pave the way for a triangular front four, in effect (more to come on that next week…).
How much of a say will varying fitness levels have in how this one pans out? It’s hard to say, but Ainsworth reckons it will take up to a month before players reach “real fitness levels and standards” and admitted that some “might be a week behind” – and those who were barely or not-at-all involved in our play-off campaign have either effectively or actually not kicked a ball competitively for six months. Equally, how will Brentford react to a turnaround of only 33 days from the end of last season (could it actually work in their favour?) and will they be suffering from any kind of Wembley hangover? We’ll soon find out.
The number of players missing should make this easier to predict – but it never is at this stage! This is a slightly changed version of the team that started versus Oxford in the week. Something worth picking up on: Brentford have no right-backs available, so left-back Rico Henry will likely continue on the opposite side of the back four.
David Wheeler and Jason McCarthy have seen less pre-season action than most, while Daryl Horgan may not be thrown in from the start as he’s already played the equivalent of three full games this season (he should be match fit, but his season started on 1st August!). Whether Ryan Tafazolli is the first choice centre-back going forward or not, he’ll be playing a fair amount of games alongside Anthony Stewart, so they need to get right to work on forming that partnership (although Darius Charles will, one assumes, need game time on a regular-ish basis). Adebayo Akinfenwa continues to work his way back to fitness following knee surgery.
In the middle: Charles Breakspear
Header graphic: Dan Clark
Enjoy what you just read?