For those of you who haven’t already read this on either the Bees United website or David Anderson’s own blog site here are our joint answers to the top ten questions relating to the how’s and why’s of Brentford FC last season as well as an early sneak preview of how we both feel we might perform next season.
I hope you enjoy this and we would both welcome your comments and feedback.
1. Chairman Cliff Crown rated last season as a 7/10. Do you agree with him?
DAVID: I do. I also went with a 7 when asked to score the season.The majority of fans seem to be in the region of 4-6 out of 10 so 7 may be a confusing answer to them and seem far too generous when looking at the strength of Brentford’s data and where underlying performance suggests Brentford should finish in the table. (Most datasets point to Brentford being a top 6 side). Therefore, the main reason behind such a high score is adversity. The disruption throughout the season with Dean Smith leaving, the Thomas Frank transitional period and the tragic death of Rob Rowan is going to impact any group, let alone a young one. Key injuries to Watkins and Mokotjo and a couple of players proving they weren’t worthy of the faith showed in them at the start of the season, all lead to a squad, that combined with departures over the course of the year felt like it was getting thinner and thinner. To still finish 11th in a league as difficult as this cannot be taken for granted.
GREVILLE: At halftime at Ipswich on 18th September with Brentford seemingly cruising to a comfortable victory that would have seen the Bees firmly established at the top of the table, I saw promotion on the horizon. On 22nd December as we took on Bolton with the Bees in free-fall in 19th place having lost 8 of their last 10 games, I was simply praying for mid-table mediocrity and yet when we won for the first time in decades at Middlesbrough on 9th March I started dreaming about the Playoffs again. What a ridiculous rollercoaster of a season. We all know the reasons why our form tailed off so dramatically due to injuries, the loss of Dean Smith, unforeseen circumstances and even acts of God. A young team lacking leadership floundered and struggled to cope with these massive body blows and it required firm and decisive action from Thomas Frank to right the ship. The Directors of Football intended the squad to be lighter in numbers but higher in quality, but injuries, player sales and a lack of sufficient cover in key positions took their toll. The decision to rely upon Macleod and McEachran to anchor the midfield also totally backfired. Watkins’s lingering toe injury hampered his effectiveness and it is fortunate that the likes of Konsa, Mokotjo, Sawyers, Canos, Maupay and Benrahma took up the slack and provided massive quality and much promise for the future. Last season was not a vintage Championship and our tally of 1 point out of 6 against the eventual title winners Norwich, which should really have been 4 but for an astonishing Maupay miss and yet another Bentley cockup, demonstrated just how narrow were the margins between success and failure. We recovered well, finished strongly and were brilliant and unstoppable on our day – which made matters even more frustrating – but we really should have achieved more. 2018/19 will always go down as a massive lost and wasted opportunity in my book and I would therefore rate the season as no more than 5/10.
2. 433 v 343 v 352 – Have Brentford nailed it or is there still work to do with the formation?
GREVILLE: When Brentford abandoned their long-established 433 formation in mid-December they were languishing in 19th place with a mere 22 points after 22 games and had lost 8 of their last 10 matches. In those 22 games the Bees had scored 33 goals and conceded 34. Since switching to 343 Brentford climbed to 10th place in the Championship gaining 42 points in 24 games (including Bolton), scoring 40 times (including the Bolton “goal”) and conceding only 25 times. End of discussion! 343 allows for extra central defensive cover with one of the centre halves (initially Barbet) coming out from defence to link with the midfield. The two wingbacks rampage forward acting as auxiliary wingers supporting the front three and the two central midfielders rotate, with one playing deep and the other moving forwards. It is a flexible formation as against Leeds we played a 523 with withdrawn fullbacks for the majority of the first half in order to take the sting out of our visitors. The 343 totally suits our players and has resulted in our winning more points, scoring more goals and conceding less. It also meant that we no longer had to rely upon the sporadically effective Lewis Macleod and Josh McEachran. We will need to recruit two additional central defenders and ensure that all our midfielders are mobile, strong and can play both attacking and defensive roles but for me the decision is an absolute no-brainer. 343 rules!
DAVID: Brentford haven’t quite nailed 343 yet, it’s still a work in progress. We clearly saw significant improvements as a defensive unit, mainly down to an eye opening switch in shape for Brentford fans which grew in its overall effectiveness as the season progressed. Expected Goals Against plummeted and there was much more solidity in the approach to games The home match v Stoke City was a high point and the single most complete performance I believe I’ve seen at GP. Limiting Stoke to a single shot, (which unfortunately flew into the top corner), it was fair to say Brentford dominated both defensive and offensive aspects of the game. A lot of that was down to the updated system.
There were still games in which it felt like Thomas Frank didn’t trust the side enough to change away from the new 343 shape, even though he possibly wanted to or the situation required it. In some instances, a 352 system could have also offered the extra midfield protection in those tough northern away games when the side seemed to give up big chances through tactical inefficiencies, lack of concentration, fatigue or errors. The ultimate aim is to not to be locked into a solitary system or a single way of playing, but to be able to switch between the 3 or a 4 at the back methods, depending on opponent or available personnel. Phase two on the route towards that is having both the time to work with, but also the right players able to cope with the required tactical, intellectual and physical demands placed upon them.
On reflection, it bodes well that Thomas Frank has shown that he can come up with solutions to solve on field problems and do so with a limited squad. It has been a delight watching some of the tweaks in shape, combinations and phases of play, and seeing the Head Coach’s ideas unfold this year are all positive insights into what could be a fruitful future.
3.Brentford had one of the best home records but also almost the worst away from home. Why?
GREVILLE: Brentford have always enjoyed a decent home record and looking at the confines of Griffin Park, it is easy to see why. A small, narrow pitch with raucous home fans close to the touchlines baying their support has ensured that no away team enjoys their trip to West London. The Bees use the pitch well, invariably dominate possession and put opponents under the type of pressure that not too many teams can withstand. The likes of Maupay, Benrahma, Canos, Watkins and Sawyers are always going to create chances. No wonder the Bees enjoyed their best ever Championship season at Griffin Park last season winning 14 of their 23 home games and scoring 50 goals. Away form home things were totally different. In their previous 4 seasons since promotion to the Championship Brentford won 11, 9, 7 and 9 away games – a more than decent record. In 2018/19 they won 3, the last of which was in the “game that never was” at Bolton. Why did their record decline so greatly? Brentford play the same brand of attacking football both at home and away and sometimes they did not treat their opponents with enough respect and got caught on the break generally with both full backs caught up the field and the centre halves exposed. A young team lacked resilience and organisation and also conceded goals in spurts, particularly at QPR and Preston. There were too many individual errors particularly by Bentley. The move to 343 helped with 16 goals conceded in the last 11 away games (not including Bolton), compared to 20 in the first 11 away games, but that was still far too many and there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done before the start of next season. A young team like Brentford can also lose heart and confidence more easily and perhaps the fact that Brentford only obtained 3 points from their opening 4 away games when they fully deserved all 12 meant that even subconsciously they went into away games almost expecting the worst. Things can, must and will improve next season.
DAVID: This question has so many possible answers. Squad size, playing style, formation, goalkeeper errors, injuries and luck only begin to scratch the surface. I recently tried to look at some of the reasons below.
4. Bentley or Daniels, or Neither?
DAVID: Bentley has had a difficult season. In fact, it’s been an awful season. In his own words it has been one to forget. Analysing the goals he’s conceded over and over again, I believe it’s fair to say his actions have directly lead to 10 goals . And that’s being generous. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what has gone wrong for Bentley, with off field issues, a change in goalkeeper coach and a young side transitioning all mooted as reasons behind his drop off and not being able to do the fundamentals. Expected Goals conceded (which looks at the post-shot probability of a goal being scored) suggest he should be around the 38 goal mark. Bentley has conceded 45. Good goalkeepers are not producing numbers like this. They’re saving their teams goals and over performing against what they are expected to concede. His game has dipped to such a level that I’d be concerned going into the start of next season with him as Brentford Number 1. Daniels has been better. His numbers are the inverse of Bentley’s with Expected Goals Conceded suggesting he should have been beaten around 16 times, he’s conceded 13. There’s a more assured feel across the back line when Bentley is out of the side and it’s difficult to admit how disruptive he feels. It’s gotten to the stage that you’re almost waiting for him to make a mistake. Both Daniels and Bentley can be upgraded massively and from a position of absolute ruthlessness, I believe both should be moved on if top six aspirations are serious. The talk around David Raya at Blackburn is not filling me with a huge amount of confidence either. Raya feels too small at 6ft and when Blackburn came to GP last year, he himself was guilty of the type of error we’re trying to eradicate. How much of an upgrade, if any, would he be against the current pairing? Goalkeepers can both benefit or take the brunt of certain team styles. If a team defends deep, a goalkeeper may gain unfair plaudits from having to make a low number of saves from low quality shots. Defenders and Midfielders are doing their share of blocking and limiting the shots faced. If you’re a goalkeeper in an expansive side that looks to press high and dominate the ball in the opposition’s half, the side may become susceptible to counter attacks and one v one goalkeeper-striker situations. This can make you look bad. A possession heavy team that looks to press high without that ball and engage as early as possible is the strategy Brentford favour. As a result of this and when counter-pressing fails, giving away set-pieces and corners become a huge concern due to the sides make-up and weaknesses aerially. Having a goalkeeper that struggles with the basics, such as commanding the box and decision making, are flaws the side cannot afford to continue to drag around. For Brentford, this is where we end up. The style can make the goalkeeper look worse, but in Bentley’s case, the majority of his errors are coming from set piece situations, poor technique and questionable decision making. However much or little it is down to style, great deals of those insecurities were removed when Daniels came into the side. Daniels himself isn’t the answer to this conundrum and it feels like an area to heavily invest in or maybe exploit the options raised in the following question.
GREVILLE: When Dan Bentley signed a 4-year contract for the Bees in 2016 for an initial £1.1m fee you could see what the game plan probably was. Develop and improve him for 3 seasons and then probably sell him for a profit this summer. He initially impressed, came though a sticky spell in 2017, but the wheels came off last season which started badly with his misplaced clearance gifting Andre Gray a goal in the Watford preseason friendly. It really didn’t get much better for him as his season was punctuated with a series of costly and confidence sapping errors with at least 9 goals down to him – and that’s a generous estimate. His excellent distribution continued to play a major part in our swift breaks from defence but his loss of form was a mystery. Could it be attributed to the new goalkeeping coach or was there another cause? Bentley has recently announced that he and his partner are about to have a Rainbow baby and this might help explain why perhaps football was not his main priority last season. If we sell and replace him now he is damaged goods and is unlikely to net us much of a profit. Maybe therefore we could give him the benefit of the doubt and keep him as first choice in the hope that he recovers his lost form and confidence? If that was the case he would need to extend his contract as otherwise we risk losing him on a free transfer in a year’s time. I think this is too much of a gamble and that he will be sold and replaced this summer – but not by Luke Daniels. The perennial reserve goalkeeper was unfortunate to be dropped by Thomas Frank as soon as he took over from Dean Smith and, apart from one poor match at Swansea, did little wrong and appeared to be growing into the job, ending the season with 4 clean sheets in his last 10 games, conceding only 12 times (not including the cancelled Bolton match). He was calm and consistent but his distribution (a key requirement for a Brentford goalkeeper) was not as quick or sharp as Bentley’s. Daniels has spent 2 seasons away from his family and I expect him to return to the North of England and find a first team berth elsewhere.
5. Should Brentford change their loan policy?
GREVILLE: There was a time when loanees played a crucial part in Brentford’s recruitment policy. Harlee Dean, Adam Forshaw, Alan Judge and Jake Bidwell all came on a try before you buy basis. The likes of Tom Adeyemi, Marcello Trotta, George Saville, Alex Pritchard, Jon Toral, Sergi Canos and John Swift gave us good service too. Everything changed in 2016/17 when two nondescript loanees in Callum Elder and Sullay Kakai came and went without making any impact and since then the Bees have totally relied upon their own players. This is quite understandable, as why should they pay inflated loan fees to develop another club’s players when they have a lot of promising young B team players of their own to bring through whose pathway would be blocked by loanees? I am in agreement with this policy but sometimes when you see the influence that an elite loanee such as Harry Wilson, Tammy Abraham or Mason Mount can have on a team you start to wonder whether Brentford should dabble in the loan market. The truth is that we cannot compete for players of this calibre so why go for second best given how high the bar has been raised in terms of the quality of the players that we are now looking to sign? If we could find a gem of a loanee with an option to buy him, then perhaps we should reconsider but otherwise we are right to rely upon developing our own players as the number of B Team players making their first team debut last season clearly indicates.
DAVID: This is a tough question but I’m edging towards the side of yes. Well, relaxing it. The arguments against tend to be along the lines of developing another clubs assets or how loans are similar to leasing a car. You’re paying for it, of course, but are never going to own the vehicle, with the actual owner reaping all of the long term rewards. What I’m getting at is that there should be a nuance to the decision as it does go against long term stability for short term impact. Whether or not to loan players should not be a strict yes or no policy, more an assessment of how much improvement can be gained within the squad. Does paying a potential loan fee and covering part of the wages for the right player increase the probability of the squad making the playoffs or gaining promotion? Is having a more open mind and allocating an amount of the annual budget for a potential loan a better use of some of the transfer or wage kitty? Remember, there are players that are always going to be impossible for Brentford to own in the current guise, but in the short term, specifically an elite defensive minded player (along the lines of a Kristian Bielik), there could be players that fit the missing pieces and therefore pass the cost benefit analysis. I’m never going to be able to own a Ferrari, but for a short period, I could maybe lease one as I up climb up the social ladder (And fall rapidly down soon after it’s return). It’s a far more aggressive variant, but we only have to take a look at the manipulation of the market at Derby and the impact their loan army has had on their season.
6. Most Undervalued player of 18/19 & Most Exciting B Team Prospect?
DAVID: Moses Odubajo is my choice of most undervalued player: he had a solid return from injury. He’s had plenty of defensive cover due to the 3 at the back system but still has played both full back/wing back positions effectively. Mainly covering on the left for Henry, he physically grew stronger with every minute on the pitch. In an attacking sense, Moses could feel a bit hard done by with his final season numbers.
Expected Assists (xA) assigns a value to passes based on their likelihood to creating a goal.
His xA total for the season is around 2, yet he registered no assists.
His xG total for the season is around 1, yet he scored no goals.
It’s fair to say Odubajo could have registered both assists and goals had it not been down to wasteful finishing by teammates (very Brentford), being faced with an in-form goalkeeper or missing the target with his attempts on goal. A decision has been made to not trigger an extension to his contract, which proved widely unpopular and certainly surprised a number of people. It does go to show that being 100% physically fit and also a perfect fit, in terms of personality, you have to be, to succeed in the precarious world of football. The decision makers believe that other options both internally or externally are better value.
Theo Archibald is my most exciting B team propspect: Theo went on loan to League Two’s Forest Green Rovers and came back a man. Physically imposing, a left footed technician with pace to burn, Archibald is much more than just a prospect and could step into the first team if required. A powerful, 21 year old, he feels like a Thomas Frank type player. Intelligent and versatile enough to cover both attacking and defensive sides of the game, he’s equally comfortable at Full-Back or in the Wide Forward positions. It’s time for his career to gain speed, so here’s hoping his versatility doesn’t work against him and whether with Brentford or not, he makes a further dent on league football. His progression points to 19/20 being a great year for Theo Archibald.
GREVILLE: If by “undervalued” you mean someone who is taken for granted, and just gets on with his job with metronomic efficiency and totally without fuss, the obvious answer is Kamo Mokotjo who thrived on the change to a 2-man central midfield and effortlessly shared the defensive and attacking load with the wonderful Romaine Sawyers. He plugged the gaps and even managed to score 4 times including a quite brilliant team goal at Rotherham. Hopefully he will extend his contract after the African Cup of Nations, otherwise he is likely to leave in the Summer. A mention too for the recently departed Moses Odubajo who arrived and left without fanfare, overcame his long-term injury horrors and played effectively on both flanks in 30 league games. It is a testimony to the conveyor belt of talent emerging from the B Team that it is hard to single one player out. Marcus Forss showed that he can score goals in the Championship, Mads Bech Sorensen steadily improved the more he played in the first team and Patrik Gunnarsson, Jan Zamburek and Jaakko Oksanen all impressed in their cameos. For me the most exciting prospect is Luka Racic who resembled an embryonic Chris Mepham when making a couple of late season appearances. He won his headers, read the game well and was strong in the tackle but, most noticeably; he was so calm, composed and comfortable on the ball as he played his way out of trouble. He is really one to watch for next season.
7. Indispensable players going into season 19/20? Who must DOFs ensure we keep?
GREVILLE: Since our promotion to the Championship we have been privileged to watch so many star players who at the time we felt were indispensable and then worried about the effect of their potential departure. How could we possibly thrive or even survive in this league without the likes of Jota, Max Colin, Andre Gray, Alan Judge, Scott Hogan, Ryan Woods, Lasse Vibe, Chris Mepham and Philip Hoffmann? OK, I was joking about the last named one! None of them play for Brentford any more and yet we have managed to finish in the top half of the table for the past 5 seasons. Of course I would like Romaine Sawyers, Kamo Mokotjo, Ezri Konsa, Neil Maupay, Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins to still be at Griffin Park next season but I trust the Directors of Football to manage these complex situations well and if we do sell some of the above – and it would be some and not all next season – then I am confident that the model will continue to work and that those that leave will be replaced by a new coterie of even better players and our progress as a club will continue. So my answer is “none.”
DAVID: Said Benrahma & Neal Maupay are my nominees.So where have we reached with the pair? How do you replace the irreplaceable and is it silly to think of them as indispensable, knowing how successful succession planning has been at Brentford?
The quality of Maupay and Benrahma is now as such that if they were sold, there could be the breaking of transfer records to bring in players able to immediately replicate their output. Maupay has contributed 35% to Brentford’s overall league goal total. Of Brentford’s non-penalty Expected Goals total, (the value of all of the chances created excluding penalties) Maupay amassed approx 43% of the teams total. This does make sense; Brentford’s system is heavily focussed on creating chances for the player at its tip. Maupay is the only genuine central striking option, and if fit, he starts every game and is almost never subbed. That being said, this is a large amount of exclusive output, and in terms of shots, the most reliant any side in the Championship is on a single player. Maupay is a special talent but he could be more ruthless in front of goal. In terms of the amount of chances he converts, he’s weaker than that of the other strikers around the top of the scoring charts. What sets him apart from Tammy Abraham or the experienced Billy Sharp is his all round game. His work in deeper central areas in terms of off the ball pressure, possession regains and forcing opposition into riskier passes. What price do you put on his off the ball work as well as replacing 25 Goals and 8 Assists?
Leading the way for Assists in his debut season in the Championship, Said Benrahma too has had an awesome year. With his directness and the ability to receive the ball in half spaces on the turn, he’s raised the bar with not just wide play but also what Brentford fans thought was physically possible with the ball at your feet. 10 Goals and 14 Assists is a fantastic return and Said has outperformed his underlying numbers in terms of Expected Assists and Expected Goals from the shots he’s taken and chances he’s created. He very much could be one of those exceptional talents that continually do this, looking destined for a future starting for a side in one Europe’s top 5 leagues. Whether that is with Brentford, or without remains to be seen. As great as they have been, they’re not irreplaceable. Nobody is. They’re heavily relied upon and very good but still developing young players. Neither is the finished article with both able to significantly improve efficiency in front of goal. Especially Benrahma, as for instance 64% of his shots have come from outside the box for a return of 3 goals. Shot location and selection, you say,? A work in progress.
Brentford feels at a tipping point. As talent levels increase at the top end of the squad, the money involved to replace said talent will inevitably increase with it. It’s the scouting of players at a higher tier which brings with it the greater risk in outlay and the more to lose if the transfer doesn’t unfold as planned. With the extra outlay, more of a guarantee in future performance is built into the price. And while you wouldn’t trust anybody much more than the Brentford decision makers with spending money, nothing is guaranteed in football.
8. You have a blank cheque, which one player from the Football League would you advise Lee Dykes to put to the top of his scouted list?
DAVID: Technically he’s not owned by a Football League club, so I’m cheating a bit here and in doing so struggling to look beyond Kristian Bielik. Having spent the season on loan from Arsenal in the third tier at Charlton, he has shown himself to be able to comfortably step up a division. He’s a defensive monster, producing stand out numbers all season. He’s incredibly versatile and not only organizes, tackles, heads and intercepts anything that comes his way, he is highly technical on the ball, able to progress possession to advanced teammates. On top of all of this he’s also a danger in the opposition’s box leaving very little that he can’t do. Having made it to the League One Play-Off final, he should cap off a superb year for the Addicks and is the kind of classy and shrewd defensive minded player Brentford have missed all season.
GREVILLE:The days of being in the know about player arrivals through boardroom leaks are long gone and I no longer have any idea beyond rumour and scuttlebutt who our intended targets are. I would expect that any creative or attacking players would come in from overseas where, as clearly demonstrated by the likes of Maupay and Benrahma, there are still bargains to be had – if you know where to look. As far as the EFL is concerned I would be targeting the lower divisions to see if we could find another Tarkowski, Hogan or Watkins. A left sided central defender is a priority and there has been talk of interest in Ethan Pinnock at Barnsley but I prefer Matt Clarke at Portsmouth, a massive unit who defends well but has a delicate touch on the ball and enjoyed a great season, winning 13 Player of the Season awards at the club. With Barnsley promoted and Pompey staying down, Clarke will definitely be leaving for the Championship as he has many suitors, including the likes of Stoke and Swansea. I just hope that we are one of them. Given the identity of Lee Dykes’s former employers I also had a look at Bury and there is an undiscovered jewel at Gigg Lane in Danny Mayor. Bury played some scintillating one touch football last season when gaining promotion from the fourth tier with Mayor, a skilful two-footed attacking midfielder always the fulcrum. He is 28 now but a late developer who would thrive playing with better players. I would love to see him given an opportunity at a higher level.
9. Josh McEachran and Lewis Macleod – failures or victims of circumstance?
GREVILLE: I cannot think of another Brentford player who has polarised opinion amongst fans as much as Josh McEachran with his thread on the Griffin Park Grapevine running to an amazing 348 pages. There was much excitement when he signed for the club In July 2015 for a reported £750K fee but even at the time I saw his signing as a gamble, given that he had never kicked on anywhere after falling out of favour following his meteoric start as a Chelsea wunderkind. Perhaps things might have gone better for him had he not fractured his foot twice in his first season but that really set the tone for his four year stay in which he never fully established himself as the match winner he was hoped to be, suffered a series of ill-timed and lingering injuries and in all played barely 100 games. He was capable of brilliant defence splitting passes and tore Aston Villa apart on one glorious January evening back in 2017, but we saw them all too seldom. He could put in a tackle when required but he seemed to lack energy and mobility and perhaps even hunger, and rarely lasted a full 90 minutes. He was undoubtedly a good player who seemed unsuited to the hurly-burly nature of the Championship and he could not cope with the switch to the 343 formation and faded from the scene. It will be fascinating to see where he emerges next season and if he can finally, at the age of 26 fulfil his undoubted promise. Lewis Macleod must be wondering what he has done to deserve the ill fortune that has dogged him since he arrived to a fanfare of trumpets from Glasgow Rangers in January 2015 for a fee approaching £1million. Due to a seemingly never-ending series of injuries, both minor and major, he played a mere 41 games in all. Perhaps the Bees should have been forewarned, as Macleod had been no stranger to injury whilst at Ibrox. Finally fully fit for the 2016/17 season, he impressed as an attacking midfielder who became our set piece specialist before incurring a season-ending knee injury at QPR. His last 2 seasons at Griffin Park were also dogged by injury although he scored twice in the early part of last season and headed a crucial late equaliser at West Brom before succumbing to yet another hamstring injury. He too is looking for a new home next season. Both McEachran and Macleod can only be deemed failures but in my opinion the failure was not of their own making. McEachran is a leopard who cannot change his spots and has not shown he can be relied upon to become a team leader or major influence, and as for Macleod, he never really got started – but should Brentford have done better due diligence upon him and realised that he was far too risky a proposition to sign?
DAVID: Both players’ time at the club will be looked back on as failures. Their performances on the field have odd dashes of positive moments but their Brentford careers are mostly filled with nothing but disappointment. Because of this, neither will be missed. At all.
Lewis Macleod can be afforded the unlucky one with injuries tag as there has been some truly bizarre problems over the years. When he has manage to get onto the pitch, he boasts some impressive creative numbers and chipped in with 4 goals and 5 assists. The problem has always been getting him on the pitch. 2334 Championship minutes is his Brentford legacy and that is where it’s hard to view his time at club with anything other than frustration. Josh McEachran is arguably the only failed result in terms of succession planning since Brentford’s return to the second tier. Almost every important player that has moved, striking fear into fans about the future, has been replaced by another player that has simply performed to a higher level and has bluntly, been a better player.
When McEachran and Macleod fluttered their eyelids against Rotherham on the first day of season 18/19, their performances had to be viewed with plenty of caution. These are players that have a long history of not playing football matches, so to pin hopes on them performing at a high level across a large chunk of 46 Championship games would be them achieving something extraordinary and highly unlikely.
While better at progressing the ball into the final third than Ryan Woods, McEachran is not robust enough to perform week in, week out in the way the now Stoke City player did. He neither has the off the ball discipline, nor the athleticism to regularly complete 90 minutes at Championship level. A head coach starting him almost rules out one of the three allotted substitutions before a ball is kicked.The thought that McEachran could replace Ryan Woods alway struck me as a bizarre stance. It went so wrong that Thomas Frank had to devise an entirely different shape for the team to play, dropping the deep lying playmaker role entirely. Many make arguments backing McEachran, using the very case of victim of circumstance or he’s been unlucky with injuries. The brutal truth is that football has passed him by and quickly turned into a sport of elite athletes during his critical development years. If you’re not an elite athlete, the game has very few openings.
He’s brilliant in training, say those that train with him. Never actually fearful that he’d take their place on Saturdays starting lineup sheet.
Unfortunately for McEachran, he arrived with a big reputation and leaves as one of the most disappointing players of this Brentford era.
10. Frank v Smith – Main differences and can Thomas Frank eclipse the work of his Predecessor?
DAVID: Dean Smith and Thomas Frank have contrasting approaches to the game. The former was rigid in his attacking approach to football, almost exclusively opting to play 433, whatever the situation, opponent and whether it suited the players or not. We can get too hung up on formations but his use of John Egan during his time at Griffin Park is a case in point. Had Brentford switched to 3 centre-backs to support Egan, instead of continually playing him in a central pair with a high line and huge spaces in behind, we may have seen some of the performances that have contributed to Egan winning promotion to the Premier League. The brilliant team in front of him obviously have a lot to do with it too but we do have to question whether Smith was getting the most out of the players at his disposal.
Frank seems to take on the game with much more of a holistic approach. Viewing defending as importantly as he sees attacking; controlling games in both areas is what he ultimately wants from his side. The positional tweaking of Romaine Sawyers has turned the captain into one of the best central midfielders in the division. Moving to a system using wing-backs has seen the side become tougher to beat whilst keeping the attacking flair that makes Brentford such a dangerous opponent. Maupay has had his most prolific season to date and Mokotjo has at times made it look unfathomable that if Ryan Woods were to return, there would be room for him. Sergi Canos has finally begun to show glimpses of the player from years ago with Dalsgaard too growing in defence and attack due to a positional change. Dasilva has himself shown signs that if he continues to do the work Frank asks of him, he could be a EPL midfielder. Though the league finish feels disappointing, I’m not convinced a number of these things would have necessarily happened under Smith. Next season, with a full squad to select from, Frank has the mindset to eclipse the top 10 finishes of his predecessor and make a sustained assault at the Play-Offs.
GREVILLE: Dean Smith’s three highly successful years at Brentford saw the club established as a top 10 Championship team – a truly excellent achievement given our lack of resources – but he was never able to produce a team consistent, defensively sound or robust enough to make a serious challenge for the Playoffs. He favoured a 433 formation apart from a brief foray with 532 in late 2016. An excellent man manager and teacher, popular with his squad, who encouraged the team to play on the front foot; but results were streaky and he never convinced me that he could take us further than he did. Thomas Frank has great inner strength and self-belief, as he never appeared to falter despite the start from hell when taking over from Smith. Instead he quietly analysed the situation and came up with a perfect tactical solution. His switch to 343 enabled the team to throw off the shackles of fear and indecision, defend in greater depth, allowed the attacking wingbacks to support an already potent attack and most importantly, a mobile and flexible midfield two in Sawyers and Mokotjo made a faltering and inconsistent McEachran redundant. Frank seems far more tactically astute than his predecessor whom he totally outfoxed, outsmarted and out-managed when beating Aston Villa in February by totally pulling the wool over Smith’s eyes when unveiling Sergi Canos as an attacking wingback. The football under Frank is as vibrant and exciting as ever and the home performances against Villa, Stoke, Blackburn, Hull and QPR were exceptional, but there is a steely depth and pragmatism to the man that makes me feel that we can go even further under his astute leadership once he manages to sort out the appalling away form. Quite how far remains to be seen depending upon the makeup of the squad we both start and end next season with.