The Brentford Premier League Dream Has Nearly Arrived

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On Friday, Brentford will play their first game of football in the English top flight since 1947. To make the occasion even more historic, it will be the first competitive fixture to host a full stadium’s worth of fans at Lionel Road, where the Bees moved last year. The fact that, due to COVID restrictions, fans were able neither to give a proper farewell to Griffin Park nor an appropriate welcome to their new ground, coupled with the club’s entry into the Premier League, means that emotions will run as high as they possibly can on a football field.

Despite the sentiment of their opening fixture against Arsenal next week, there is also the reality of the pressure a new club faces in such a demanding league. Brentford will not be expected to stay up, but, based on both past and present evidence, there is every chance that they will be able to surprise a few people this season. Bettors may not start to bet on Champions League positions just yet, and there is a mountain ahead, but the team are heading in the right direction.

The Challenge Ahead

In truth, the Bees should have reached English football’s top table earlier. Their infamous jinx of being knocked out in nine consecutive play-off runs may have finally ended with the 2-0 victory over Swansea at Wembley in May, but the truth is that they shouldn’t have been in the play-offs in either of the last two seasons, as automatic promotion was well within reach.

This means that manager Thomas Frank’s job may not be untouchable, despite finally delivering promotion. In his time at the club, there have been too many occasions where he has displayed an inability to react effectively when his team goes a goal down, and this has led to far too many unnecessary dropped points. If this were to persist in the Premier League, the result will be much more brutal. Last season’s promotion was a fantastic achievement, but the reality is that, with the calibre of players Frank has had at his disposal, the team have not quite performed to their full potential in each of his three seasons in charge. He will be tasked with reversing this trend now that his team are closer to the bottom of the foodchain than the top.

State of the Squad

Much has been made of the real-life “Moneyball” story of Brentford. One of the key aspects of Matthew Benham’s miraculous profit-making over the years has been his use of analytics to identify hidden gems—such as Ollie Watkins, Saïd Benrahma, and many others—and continuing this tradition will be crucial. Centre-back Kristoffer Ajer from Celtic and midfielder Frank Onyeka, from FC Midtjylland (also owned by Benham) have been the most high-profile signings of the summer to date, but young talents Brennan Johnson and Jens Cajuste, of Nottingham Forest and Midtjylland respectively, have also been linked with moves to West London.

Ajer and Onyeka alone are steps in exactly the right direction. Pontus Jansson and Trevor Pinnock were two of the best defenders in the Championship last season, but the former missed a spate of matches through injury last season. Mads Bech Sørensen proved more than sound as a backup option, therefore adding Ajer’s height and top-flight experience (albeit in Scotland) will be invaluable. Christian Nørgaard, Mathias Jensen, and Vitaly Janelt were all more than good enough last season, and Josh DaSilva was one of the best midfielders in the league at times, but Onyeka will add some much-needed depth, as the performances of Saman Ghoddos were inconsistent at best, and it seems that Frank does not yet trust Sheldon Baptiste to be a regular fixture in the side.

Securing the signature of at least one of Johnson and Cajuste will make a huge difference, too; Ivan Toney will be under pressure to deliver after his record-breaking season in the Championship, and therefore it will be important to surround him with as much creativity as possible. Toney will be ably supported, as ever, by Bryan Mbuemo on the wing, but at least one of Joel Valencia and Sergi Canos will need to massively step up their game if Brentford are to have enough attacking firepower to stay up, and if their performances are not good enough, having one or two extra attacking midfielders who could play out wide will make for some useful (and perhaps even necessary) versatility.

This Season

In truth, it is very difficult to predict how Brentford will fare this season. At first glance, it would be easy to write them off. But there is every chance that they can perform above expectations, as they already have a wealth of promising talent at their disposal, and have quite the penchant for turning low-profile signings into world-beaters. The main worry is that they are relying on almost their whole squad to adapt to the Premier League from the first kick-off, and if Ivan Toney does not continue his goalscoring form they could be in trouble. Most of the other teams in the Premier League will not be familiar with most of their team’s players, however, and this could be turned into an advantage. Either way, expect this side to play some of the most entertaining football in the whole league.

 

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