After three months of summer transfer madness, the Championship has finally returned. Friday night witnessed a goal-thrilling match between Luton Town and Middlesbrough which ended with a draw. A series of clashes on Saturday followed up, including some of the big names. At Griffin Park, Brentford and Birmingham City faced each other as both were looking for a positive start.
Brentford will mark their last season playing at Griffin Park after the Brentford Community Stadium has begun to break ground. They also showed their intention of securing a promotion spot with a vibrant summer window. Seven first-team players have become free agents or found their new clubs. On the other hand, six new signings were brought in by Thomas Frank, which included Pontus Jansson and Mathias Jensen.
Pep Clotet’s side was quieter during this window. Besides Garry Monk and Che Adams’ departures, they managed to keep their core heading into the new season. With the introduction of new players like Dan Crowley and Ivan Šunjić, the Midlands-based side hope they could compete for a top-half finish. Three points will create a momentum for them and that was what they have achieved. Kristian Pedersen’s header and Birmingham’s only shot in the match turned out to be the winning goal for them.
This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of how Brentford’s tactics couldn’t help them win the match while being the superior team. Meanwhile, using statistics, we will point out what made Birmingham’s defensive tactics secure their first 1-0 win of the season.
3-4-3 was the choice for Thomas Frank when his side entered the match which included four new signings. David Raya started in goal with Julian Jeanvier, Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock located in front of him. Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard played as wing-backs, while Mathias Jensen and Josh Dasilva filled the central area. Upfront, Sergi Canós and Emiliano Marcondes provided support for Ollie Watkins.
Birmingham chose a more defensive formation as they lined up with a 5-4-1. Lee Camp continued to be their first choice goalkeeper, while Kristian Pedersen moved into centre-back. Alongside the Danish defender was Marc Roberts and Harlee Dean. Out wide, Stuart Seddon and Maxime Colin were providing the width with wide midfielders Dan Crowley and Jacques Maghoma. David Davis and Gary Gardner completed the midfield line while Lukas Jutkiewicz was responsible for the goals.
It’s easy to tell how Brentford had dominated the game just by looking through the stats. The first number that really stands out was their ball possession, which stood at 76%. Also, they have made 718 passes with 85% of them finding their destination. To understand how Brentford registered such a high number, we will take a look at their build-up.
When in possession, the players formed a passing block which contained three centre-backs and two central midfielders. With at least five players involved in the build-up, they could circulate the ball easily even when Birmingham started to press. Also, it’s worth noticing that they positioned themselves near the halfway line. This pushed the opposition’s defensive structure into their own half. It would also narrow the distance between them and the attackers, allowing more through balls to be made.
When the build-up took place, the wing-backs would push higher up the pitch. They filled in the spaces that the wingers, Marcondes and Canós, left behind when they tucked inside. By doing so, it divided the team into two five-player groups on the pitch with different responsibilities. One would concentrate on moving the ball forward, the other focused on their off-the-ball movements to capitalise the free spaces.
This also created more passing options for Jensen and Dasilva when they entered the opposite half with the ball. They could choose to attack the wide spaces using the pace of Dalsgaard and Henry. Or turning to the half-spaces with the flexible movements from the attacking trio.
Upfront, the attacking trio usually worked inside the central area and occasionally changed position with each other. Because Birmingham’s defensive structure consisted of two defensive lines, it created spaces in between and that was where the strikers worked. They were flexible in picking out a position to receive short passes, while still capable of chasing long balls behind Birmingham’s defensive line.
When not in possession, they would usually make runs in behind Birmingham’s defenders and wait for a through ball from their teammates. The shot below demonstrates one of the similar situations. As Watkins was shielding the ball, Canós moved away from Pedersen’s sight and ran in behind his back to pick up Watkins’ passes.
The only thing that Brentford were lacking in this match was precision. Watkins and Marcondes rattled the bar twice in the first half, with the Danish winger coming closest. His chance’s xG was rated 0.34 – the highest in the team’s thirteen chances in total. They should have done better in three other shots on target, but it wasn’t hard enough to force Camp to show his full ability.
Defensively, they pressed high up the pitch with the aim of winning the ball inside the opposition’s half. To deal with the numerical superiority that Birmingham had, they committed players forward and tended to overload a certain area. Brentford players would aggressively tackle the ball from the opposition’s feet rather than waiting for a hard touch or a misleading pass.
Birmingham’s defensive solidity
Birmingham entered this match with a negative state compared to Brentford’s. They played with a defensive 5-4-1 system and waited for the ball to launch a counter-attack. But there is a reason behind Clotet’s decision.
As shown in the shot below, three centre-backs were responsible for following Brentford’s strikers while keeping the structure compact. Full-backs Seddon and Colin would move wide and prevent the opposite wing-backs from overlapping. At times, Birmingham’s defenders pinned down Brentford’s attacks and forced them to find another solution to bypass the structure.
On the other hand, the midfield line stayed narrow and combined with the strikers to press the build-up. They shifted laterally based on the direction of the ball and locked Jensen up from turning himself into a possible passing option. As mentioned, because Brentford’s defenders pushed high up the pitch, they have to stay inside their own half and wait for a chance to press.
Statistically, they didn’t control much of the possession and couldn’t execute many attacks in the game. In total, they only had nine positional attacks and six counter-attacks with none of them ending up with a shot. Their passing map also showed Birmingham’s low passing rate.
There weren’t many passing arrows on the map and some of them were from Camp’s goal-kicks. Besides that, there was a noticeable small link on the left-hand side between Pedersen, Seddon, Davis, and Crowley. The former Arsenal player also formed some links with the strikers. A few relevant statistics which included how 190 passes were made by Birmingham players and the accuracy rate stood at 67%.
But, on a day where luck was on their side, their only shot and only shot on target turned into a goal. It came from a free-kick which was taken by Colin, Seddon picked up the ball and looked for potential receivers. At the same time, Pedersen was located near the edge of the 16-yard box and was unmarked. The young left-back noticed him and made a precise cross towards his head, which he made a thumping header into the far right corner of Raya’s goal.
The cruel rule of football had once again happened at Griffin Park. Brentford were dominating the game and led most of the stats. But not converting the chances that they had in the match cost them three points in their opening match. Although this is just the first out of 46 matches, starting off with a loss will surely hurt Brentford.
Birmingham, on the other hand, only needed a moment from Pedersen to secure three points. Some might say they are lucky because they were the underdog throughout the majority of the match. To prove that statement is wrong, Pep Clotet’s side will need to work harder in the season and this match will be the solid base for their expectation.
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