Looking ahead to the first-ever Championship edition of the Marcus Bean / Sam Saunders / Alfie Mawson / Nikki Bull / Terry Evans / Jason Cousins / Pretty Much Anyone derby
Three cheers for no international football until the end of March! Yes, it’s been wonderfully pride-instilling to see a Wycombe player in regular action for a country ranked inside the world’s top 40 – he was their man of the match against England at Wembley as well – but it’s also been bloody nerve-wracking and we could do without any more of that for a while, thank you very much. Club football > international football anyway, and it’s time to run the gauntlet of nine games in 29 days before Christmas – starting with the visit of last season’s beaten play-off finalists and rightfully one of the 2020/21 promotion favourites. Oh, and Gareth Ainsworth’s back … is well enough for him to be back!
|As it stands (actual)||22nd||11th|
|As it stands (expected*)||21st||1st|
|Last time out||L 2-0 v Forest (A)||D 0-0 v Midlesbrough (H)|
At a glance
Manager: Thomas Frank
Top scorer: Ivan Toney (10)
Most assists: Bryan Mbuemo (5)
Style of play: Play predominantly in own half**, short passes, attack equally down both flanks
**Brentford have made a league-high 57% of their total passes in their own half – in stark contrast to Wycombe’s league-low 29%. Clash of styles? What clash of styles?
The main man: Ivan Toney
Toney has been in the Championship two months, but already he’s tearing it up, notching ten goals from an xG of 7.01 (for context, Wycombe have managed just over 10 xG overall) . He averages just shy of a goal per 90 and sits behind only Blackburn menace Adam Armstrong in the scoring charts, having raced into double figures after just ten games. At the rate he’s going, he’ll be in the Premier League next season even if Brentford aren’t.
Have we found our feet?
Almost. Clearly we’re in a much better place than we were coming out of the last international break. We have a proper spine now: Josh Knight and Anthony Stewart are forming a solidly complementary partnership at centre-back; Curtis Thompson has bossed game after game alongside the revelatory Dennis Adeniran in midfield; and we’ve got our focal point back in Akinfenwa. We’re staying in games for their full course actually making life difficult for opponents. We dominated Watford and Birmingham for long spells and showed against Sheffield Wednesday a defensive robustness in the face of onslaught that had been severely lacking early in the campaign.
It’s all coming together nicely and we belong at this level. Probably the only major remaining issues are how to play – and create and succeed – without Bayo and how to ensure Joe Jacobson is given adequate protection at left-back at all times. The former may be a case of tweaking the system to involve the exciting Anis Mehmeti as more of a number 10 and improving his understanding with Scott Kashket; the latter will likely just entail having someone to perform a ‘second left-back’ shielding role when David Wheeler is needed elsewhere In the words of Gaz, we’ll get there.
The table does lie
It’s a term that can be overused to the point of cliché, but Brentford are in a bit of a false position. They are notoriously slow starters – and perhaps that was to be even more expected this season as they had to get going again barely six weeks on from Wembley heartbreak – and sit 11th on 16 points, but the underlying performance data pins them as a top two side. They rank second on xG for (19.1) and against (9.7), face the second fewest shots per game (9.4) and have the joint third best goal difference (a simple early indicator of overall performance) with five. They’ve scored 17 goals – only Blackburn (21) have scored more – which, relative to their xG, would suggest they have been slightly wasteful and unlucky so far.
Recent Brentford history tells us to expect those figures to move closer together and probably start going in the other direction (i.e. actual goals exceeding xG). They ranked first for defensive performance in finishing two points off promotion last season and have been one of the Championship’s top attacking outfits in four of the last five campaigns. Regularly produce their best over a full 90 minutes and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be at least a top six side come May.
What do Bayo and Miley Cyrus have in common?
Now that we’ve had time to take it all in, we can safely say that Bayo has come into the Championship like a wrecking ball. He’s causing chaos, no two ways about it. Ben Foster was left struggling for words after Watford – fielding two centre-backs who’d been Premier League regulars for them – just could not come up with an answer to the ultimate target man. A few days later, Sheffield Wednesday were similarly bullied by his very presence, before the 38-year-old icon went and won more aerials (22!) in the win at Birmingham than he had in any League One game last season.
After his extraordinary exertions at St. Andrew’s, he was out of steam and unable to start at Forest – and with Uche Ikpeazu injured again, he was especially conspicuous by his absence. As mentioned, we are going to have to come up with a way to cope better without our long-standing talisman – but that’s not going to happen overnight. For the time being, with our MO being to put points on the board to survive, it’s fine to rely on him – and we should embrace BeastMode. Brentford skipper Pontus Jannson is among the league’s better centre-halves in the air and said to be so hard he’d head a brick – all well and good, but he’s never faced the ultimate target man. No one will be surprised if the big man has another big afternoon.
Daryl Horgan only played the equivalent of two full games in his three appearances for the Republic of Ireland, but he’ll need looking after as his season started way back on 1st August. Garath McCleary looked super sharp in his half-hour cameo at Forest and could well start in Horgan’s place. With Bryan Mbuemo, one of the league’s top creators so far, on the Brentford right, it would be wise to shift Wheeler back to that protective left-midfield role.
Whatever 11 Thomas Frank names, it will look very different to the one we faced in the season-opening League Cup tie which Brentford won on penalties. None of David Raya, Henrik Dalsgaard, Jansson, Vitaly Janelt, Josh Dasilva or Mbuemo were involved that day for various reasons. The latest hot prospect to roll off the Bees’ production line, striker Marcus Forss – who dispatched the winning spot-kick in the aforementioned shootout and will no doubt be buoyed after scoring on his Finland debut in a memorable win over France last week – is a heck of an option to have on the bench.
In the middle: Lee Mason
Games: 6 (3 Premier League, 1 Championship, 2 League Cup)
Yellows (/game): 14 (2.3)
Header image: Dan Clark