Brentford 2021/22: How The Bees resurrected their season – tactical analysis
This scout report will feature a tactical analysis of how Thomas Frank set Brentford up during the final 11 games of the season. It will also feature an analysis of how these tactics helped make them very tough to break down. There will be a deep dive into their security on the ball, and how they handle both phases of transition.
Following a very strong start to life in the Premier League, Brentford’s season began to fall apart. After the first seven matches of the season, the Bees were up to 7th in the league, only having lost one game in that time. They also had the 4th best defensive record in the league and looked like they belonged in the league. What followed seemed to be Brentford crashing back down to reality. Exits out of the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup, along with only 3 wins in the next 20 league games, meant that Brentford were well and truly in a relegation battle. The return of key players from injuries in Ivan Toney, David Raya and Kristoffer Ajer, along with the acquisition of Christian Eriksen, helped bring Brentford back to their top form and end the season with 7 wins in the final 11 games of the season.
During the first 27 games, Frank mostly used the 3-5-2 formation. However, in the final 11 games of the season, he switched to a 4-5-1, increasing the number of outlets that started further up the pitch when Brentford had control of the ball. During these 11 games, Brentford only managed over 50% possession on one instance, against 9-man Everton. This shows that their style of football is more direct and fast-paced compared to other teams.
In the build-up phase, Brentford like to play the ball out from the back, to attract opposition pressure and create space in behind. Their primary method of scoring, other than through set pieces, is to play the ball in the channels for one of two wide players to run onto the ball. This scout report will explain in further detail how they get into those situations.
They use a 4-1 build-up shape and heavily involve the goalkeeper. Brentford are patient in this part of the pitch and aim to keep hold of the ball long enough for opposition players to jump out of position and leave spaces behind. The Bees then look to bypass the middle part of the pitch by playing a long ball over the top to Ivan Toney. Toney is an elite player who excels in many areas of his game. One of these areas is his ability to win aerial duels, hold the ball up and link play.
When the ball is played into Toney, the two #8’s will come close to pick up the second ball and play a ball in behind to one of the two wingers who have made runs behind the opposition backline. At times, Brentford will use player rotations to increase the number of outlets further up the pitch and improve the technical quality in the build-up phase.
Nevertheless, this is the biggest change in Frank’s tactics from the first half of the season. His goal is always to have players close to Toney to win second balls. What has changed is that he has increased the number of outlets from 1 to 2 by starting more players further up the pitch. Two wide forwards, one on either side of Toney, attack the space in behind. This causes more chaos for the opposition defence, more options for Brentford’s players and has helped increase the efficiency of Brentford’s attack.
When up against a low block, Brentford use the incredible playmaking qualities of both Eriksen and Toney to create goalscoring chances. They create a 3v2 in wide areas and try to use that numerical overload to gain control of the ball in the opposition third. One of Brentford’s #8’s makes an underlapping run into the box to receive a through ball with the option of either a shot on goal or a cutback to a teammate.
Although this can be effective, the majority of Brentford’s chances come through both set pieces and more direct fast attacks. While Brentford don’t dominate possession, they usually control games by creating more clear-cut chances and more shots than the opposition.
Out of possession
While Thomas Frank is brave and attempts to have control over opponents, he isn’t naive and so he does alter his tactics against stronger opposition. Against Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham, Brentford did revert back to a 3-5-2. They know those teams have more quality on the ball, and so they focus on putting more bodies in central areas. This in turn allows opposition full-backs more time on the ball, which they are prepared to do.
In settled play, Brentford will move into a 5-3-2 mid-block to completely shut out any passing lanes into central areas. They force opponents to play in wide areas, allowing them to cross the ball with three towering central defenders prepared to clear any ball that eventually gets crossed in.
Frank also opts for mid-blocks in their 4-5-1 formation when the ball is in settled play. This is not something he only does against the biggest teams.
While they do sit in a mid-block sometimes, Brentford also often try to press their opponents high up the pitch to win the ball back. This is usually done on goal kicks, where the players have time to decide which player to press or mark.
Brentford will also press when there is a backward pass, allowing the defenders to get up the pitch. They can leave the forwards offside, and so they can press without the worry of a ball being played over the top. The opponents have to try to keep the ball whilst under heavy pressure or clear the ball up the pitch to an offside player. This can help them achieve great success through pressing in situations where two or three players are eliminated already.
On these occasions, Brentford go for a man to man approach in a wide area of the opponent’s third. They shut off all passing options apart from the opposite full-back. If that pass gets played, Brentford have enough time to get back in their rigid mid-block.
At times, the press can be lacklustre. When they try to press the goalkeeper in settled play, some players aren’t high enough up the pitch. This means that some players aren’t marked and a goalkeeper can find a free player. This can cause them to be played through on occasion.
When Brentford win the ball back in deeper areas, they try and play as direct as possible. The two wide players make darting runs in behind whilst Toney offers a passing option to feet. If the pass in behind to a winger is on, it will be attempted. Eriksen has been a master at having the vision, technique and ability to play those passes. If it isn’t on, Toney is always available to receive the ball, and either flick it on, turn with the ball, or spray a long ball to one of those wingers, from a better passing position.
At the moment that Brentford win the ball in the opposition half, they follow the same tactics of either finding Toney or a runner in behind. However, in these situations, there is usually less space in behind, and more players in front of the ball. Brentford utilise these moments just as effectively by playing directly to Toney. He has the ability to win the majority of his aerial duels, and because of the fact that there are more players in front of the ball, it means that his own players are near him as well. He lays the ball down to his teammates who have the option of finding a shooting opportunity, or another forward pass.
Brentford look to counterpress after losing the ball. The primary aim is for every runner to be tracked by a defender to avoid being undone by one pass. Players near the ball will attempt to force the ball wide, delaying the pass and guiding the ball down a narrow channel down the line, where the opposition only has two choices; run down the line, or turn around and slow down the counterattack.
In positions higher up the pitch, when Brentford lose the ball, they are very brave with their counterpressing. Players near the ball surround the player, cutting off all passing options. Players slightly further from the ball put themselves in positions where they are ready to intercept passes through their anticipation and defensive awareness. Christian Norgaard is extremely good at this, which is evident as he had the most interceptions + tackles (215) combined in the league this season.
This tactical analysis clearly demonstrates how Thomas Frank has altered Brentford’s tactics to allow them to rise up the table, avoid the relegation battle and end the season on a high. A proactive manager who keeps a compact mid-block, smart high press and an extremely efficient attacking style will always give his team the best chance of winning matches.
His fantastic use of set-pieces is also extremely vital to his success. The return of key players, the signing of Eriksen and the tactical tweaks have helped Brentford stay up and there is no reason for them to not keep this up in the 2022/23 season, as long as key players don’t get picked up by bigger clubs, where some of these players belong.