In recent seasons, newly promoted sides have started providing a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. Sheffield United broke the mould in the 2019-20 campaign, securing a respectable ninth-place finish, and Marcelo Bielsa’s hard-working Leeds United followed suit last year, landing the same spot as they edged in to the top half of the table at the first time of asking.
Against all the odds on offer in the bet exchange, the surprise outfit this year looks set to be Brentford. After a season or two of flirting with promotion, the west London outfit finally climbed up to the Premier League via the play-offs last year, beating Swansea City 2-0 in the final at Wembley Stadium to return to the English top-flight for the first in over 70 years.
Thomas Frank’s men have performed admirably in the Premier League so far this season, albeit not even 10 games in, and have received plaudits from fans and pundits for their attacking intent, which has already led to a cracking couple of games this season — arguably none more so than the enthralling 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the Brentford Community Stadium.
But just how have the Bees exceeded everyone’s expectations and became this year’s surprise outfit? Read on as we take a look.
A switch in style
There has been a clear change to Brentford’s style of play, but not to one where Frank’s men have their backs to the wall in a desperate bid to pick up points through grinding out results. They are still an attack-minded side. However, their main focus is less on the slow build-ups through a possession-based, vertical tiki-taka and more on being a solid unit off the ball and hitting hard on the counter when on it. The onus is on getting the ball up to frontmen Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbuemo faster than ever before and it is working well for the Bees with just one defeat thus far.
Playing to their aerial strengths
Brentford have replaced the slow build-up out from the back and through the thirds with a more direct approach, and whilst that might not be as attractive as passing the ball out from the defence in to the back of the net, so far it is working in their favour to the same effects. Only Sean Dyche’s Burnley (178), the epitome of route one football, have won more aerial duals than the Bees (137), who average almost 20 successful contests in the air per match! That said, despite only being 5’8’’, no forward has won more duals than Toney (41), and his ability to bring the ball back down to the playing surface or beautifully flick it on to one of his teammates has proved a real asset to Brentford.
They take their chances
Seven games in to the 2021-22 season and only Premier League leaders Chelsea (15.3) and Rafael Benítez’s Everton (14.0), who are fifth level on points with the Manchester sides and Brighton & Hove Albion, have a better shot conversion rate than Brentford (13.9). Their ability to take the few chances they get has won them crucial points so far this season, just ask Liverpool — who they scored three times against with just four shots on target. But while that is a positive for the time being, Brentford do need to try and create more chances as, as things stand, the west London side have had fewer attempts in open play than most of the league.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to see if Brentford can keep up this good form for the duration of the season. That, of course, will be no easy feat, but credit must be given to Frank and his men for their performances thus far!