Brentford have lit up the Premier League this season thanks to their exciting, aggressive and high quality style of football. This has been enabled by Thomas Frank’s tactical acumen, their shrewd approach in the market, and the quality of the likes of Ivan Toney.
Off the ball Brentford use a 5-3-2 shape but when they gain possession they utilise a 4-3-3 shape in which the third CB out of possession moves into a conservative right back role which encourages Canos to push on from wing back to the right wing with Henry moving high like a left-wing-back.
Typically, to play without a rigid overload in the build-up with lower quality players (which is what Brentford largely have) is a naive plan, but Brentford’s midfield 3 profiles enable their short build-up to have a large number of players contributing to it, which is good.
As you can see below, the midfield 3 are conservative positionally due to the nature of their profiles (natural central midfielders). This means that they will contribute to all phases of play so Brentford will have several passing options in midfield in the build-up.
Offensively, the outside midfielders within the midfield 3 are encouraged to 1) contribute to build-up play and 2) attack space centrally from deep i.e. in the box or space between the lines or 3) rotate with the winger and fullback on each flank.
Alternatively, in relation to combinations on the flanks, the outside midfielders are encouraged to rotate with the winger & fullback in an attempt to create space to directly penetrate the oppositions block or to find an angle to create for the likes of Toney in the box.
However, as mentioned previously, Brentford can also use the strict and wide positioning of their on-ball wingers (Canos & Henry) to switch the play after a combination on one side of the pitch. This is enabled by a quick switch of play which can isolate the opposition fullback.
Within these isolation moments, Brentford are encouraged to find an angle to get crosses into the box to their athletically proficient front 2 in Mbeumo and Toney along with runners from deep on the far side, whether that be one of the midfield 3 or the far side wide man.
Within these situations, if play breaks down, Brentford can create via counterpressing thanks to their positional play. The outside midfielders cover the half spaces, the wide players cover the wing and there’s typically 2 numbers present in midfield. Each key zone is covered.
As such, Brentford aren’t one-dimensional in the way that they play. Thomas Frank has instructed his team to utilise their good positional play, numbers in midfield and overall athleticism to play direct balls to the front 2 before counterpressing to win loose, second balls.
Here, in the below graph created by @AndyForrester1, we can see that Brentford have changed their style from a patient, short and conservative build-up to a more direct style since their promotion to the Premier League. This was a necessary adaption due to the step up in quality.
This has enabled Brentford to not be exploited regularly within the build-up phase due to their lack of technical quality whilst also remaining extremely competitive by using their top structure, athleticism and work rate to turn games into physical battles on and off the ball.
Furthermore, their settled pressing is similarly good when compared to their counterpressing, and Brentford’s style is reminiscent of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in the sense that they press high using their front 3, midfield interiors AND their wingbacks and outside centre backs.
Often times aggressive 3 at the back pressing systems are easily pushed back into a deeper block because of 2 primary issues, and that’s the lack of aggression from the outside centre backs and wingbacks, but this is not the case for Thomas Frank’s Brentford.
When they outside central defenders don’t follow players who drop in between the lines to pick up possession they can easily turn on the ball and force the 3 at the back team back i.e. dismantling their press. However, the likes of Pinnock, Ajer and Jorgensen are aggressive.
Furthermore, in relation to the wingbacks, if they don’t press high the opposition fullbacks or wingbacks can receive possession w/ all the time in the world because it’s unrealistic to expect the midfield & forwards to cover the full width of the pitch. Here, Henry is aggressive.
Again, due to the disparity in quality between Brentford and other Premier League teams, they struggle to retain possession when they get it despite their top quality structure. So this can see them be forced back into a deeper block, but this is normal and expected.
Within these situations, Brentford’s block is so compact and so awkward to play against due to the compactness and athleticism present within the team, as seen below within this deep 5-3-2 block (back 5 out of picture).
Crucially, for any team depending space in a deep block, they must possess outlets to help them get up the pitch, and Mbeumo and Toney are just that. Both can run the channels, carry the ball large distances, use their pace to break free, and hustle and harry defenders in duels.
Toney in particular is a special player as he ticks every box for a centre forward – he can link play, run the channels, bully defenders, strike through the ball on either foot, and is very confident within himself and determined to score goals. He has star quality.
The acquisition of Toney is testament to the way Brentford are run. They are one of only 2 Premier League clubs to have a net spend that is positive along with Norwich. However, the quality of Brentford’s transfer approach is much superior to thanks to their data-driven approach.
Overall, Brentford are an unbelievably well run football club thanks to their manager and the structure of the club from top to bottom along with special players like Ivan Toney. There’s not a hope in hell they’ll go down this season, and long may that continue!