Brentford held Liverpool to a point at the Brentford Community Stadium on Saturday evening. The game had an electric tempo from start to end and saw the net ripple six times. Surely this game would instantly go down as a Premier League classic. And it would also be one of the most revisited games of all time a few years down the line. Thomas Frank, the Brentford manager deserves huge credit for the way he made his side stand out in the top flight.
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) September 25, 2021
Brentford plays this way. Bold, fearless in attack and resilient in defence. For the ones watching them for the first time, it might come as a shock. But for those who have been keeping their eye on Brentford since their Championship days, it is only natural. The Bees have been making waves in the second division for years before finally mustering the strength to enter the top flight.
And there’s a way about this side too. They are not your regular team that signs players based on form and performance. Brentford have embraced the Moneyball concept and use data to its fullest extent to extract the best possible results. Besides, in Thomas Frank, Brentford also have a manager who humanizes the club. The Dane amalgamizes the technology and the talent of his players to produce extraordinary results. Hence, the Bees made a return to the top flight after 74 years.
THE REAL-LIFE MONEYBALL
If anything could get close to Moneyball in the real-life, it’d be the story of Brentford. Matthew Benham, Brentford’s owner and most importantly, a childhood fan of the club had wild imagination watching the movie. Benham saw his club struggle for decades in the lower leagues. He decided to do something different and when he completed his own rags to riches story and had the money, he bought the club he patronises in 2012.
After Benham purchased the club, there was only one way to go. Benham made his fortune in the gambling business and is the owner of Smartodds. He also became the owner of FC Midtjylland eventually in 2014. The Danish club was used as a trial and error place for Benham’s analytics idea to churn success.
But Brentford have a secret weapon.
Their owner and lifelong fan, Matthew Benham, owns a gambling consultancy called Smartodds.
Smartodds was founded in 2004, and is the reason Benham became wealthy enough to acquire Brentford in the first place.
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) May 28, 2021
Once that idea succeded in Denmark it was brought into London. Firstly he built a competent and diverse board with Jon Varney, the club’s chief executive and Monique Chaudhuri, a black woman and a director at the club. The permanent appointment of Thomas Frank in 2018 rounded it off.
Due to the limited budget in the Championship, they had to be efficient in whatever they did. Coming to the analytics, they chose xG as the most potent weapon they could find. The booming stat analyses how efficient a player can be when it comes to scoring goals, getting into crucial positions and creating chances. If not for this stat, who would bother scouting Peterborough United for a certain Ivan Toney and realise he could break the Championship scoring record in a new season.
Ollie Watkins: £1.8m ➡️ £28m
Neal Maupay: £1.8m ➡️ £20m
Chris Mepham: academy ➡️ £12.25m
Ezri Konsa: £2.5m ➡️ £12m
Andre Gray: £550k ➡️ £11m
Scott Hogan: £850k ➡️ £9.5m
Jota: £1.35m ➡️ £5.85m
Ryan Woods: £1.2m ➡️ £4.5m
— Sky Bet (@SkyBet) September 9, 2020
Brentford have made a habit of clinching top players through data-driven scouting. They bought players like Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins, James Tarkowski and Said Benrahma for next to nothing and sold them off for staggering prices. It is worth noting that they are all established Premier League players now.
However, just signing the right players wouldn’t guarantee success as they need a manager and a system that would get the best out of them.
Brentford were making slow steps towards the Premier League in the early 2010s. They got promoted to the Championship and Dean Smith was tasked with the promotion charge. However, the English manager left in 2018 for Aston Villa with Brentford still being an average side. Immediately, the club promoted Thomas Frank who was an assistant coach as the caretaker initially.
🗣 "Hopefully together we can create something beautiful."
Thomas Frank calls on the Brentford fans to take it up another level to help the team being the 12th man pic.twitter.com/Eh7w5YwfQD
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 25, 2021
It was the final domino to fall into place as Brentford went from an average side to an unstoppable one. Frank though endured a tough start at Brentford before finding his feet and marking his tactical imprint on the team. The Dane encourages attacking football with a high press and tempo. He concentrates on the vertical progression of the ball with quick passes up the field. He had two formations in store to put it to effect.
Frank uses a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-2-1 which function in the same way essentially. Brentford overloads the midfield with three central runners and open spaces for the wing-backs to exploit out wide. Their forwards are scouted and built perfectly to finish moves. Pace and clinical finishing are a trademark of Brentford forwards and is symbolized by Ivan Toney. Credit must be given to Frank for finding a striker who could score 25+ goals every season and even replace him effectively.
Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins have all come and gone while Ivan Toney, the best of them all stayed put.
𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙂𝙤𝙡𝙙𝙚𝙣 𝘽𝙤𝙤𝙩
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) May 8, 2021
However, the defensive contributions mustn’t be disregarded. Frank signed Leeds United talisman Pontus Jansson and the Swede shored up the defensive line. These players aren’t afraid of expressing themselves in the top flight.
After years of bad luck, finally, in 2021, the Bees cleared the playoff final to get into the top flight.
THE XG WINNERS
“We are not designed to fly,” a humble Thomas Frank said. “But there we are, flying into the Premier League.” Under his guidance, the club have reached the promised land and the whole community of Brentford is enjoying it. They unveiled a new and compact 17,000 seater Brentford Community Stadium with an electric atmosphere. The stadium was home to Brentford’s first-ever game in the Premier League.
The West-Londoner welcomed North-London neighbours Arsenal. And the Bees put on a show in front of the whole world to give an account of themselves. Former Liverpool winger Sergi Canos pressed and harassed Arsenal defenders before cutting in and scoring against a dazed Arsenal. You could say it was a classic Brentford goal. The hosts scored one more time to humble Arsenal and rejoiced in their first-ever Premier League victory.
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) August 13, 2021
They followed it up with a couple of draws before losing to Brighton via a 90th-minute winner. However, they bounced back quickly with a 2-0 win against the Wolves. Wolves who were the top flight’s surprise packages three seasons ago met a new team that could better them.
Then came the epic visit of Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds are known for winning these types of tricky games. Against the odds and according to their strengths Brentford took the lead through a setpiece. Of course, Liverpool came back into the game and scored twice. Any other side could’ve given it up at that stage.
But Thomas Frank built his Brentford side differently. They had runners into the box all evening long and tripled up on Liverpool’s right-hand side to put pressure. It worked out wonderfully as they scored two times down the same side to equalise the game late on. Brentford forwards Bryan Mbuemo and Ivan Toney had a top-class game as they harried Virgil van Dijk and rushed Liverpool into frantic mode.
What’s the coaching answer to dealing with multiple players flooding the far post like this. I actually think it’s very hard to deal with. Realistically can you expect the right sided central midfielder or right winger to track back that far all the time ? pic.twitter.com/A8B6a6OMZ4
— Raj Chohan (@rajsinghchohan) September 25, 2021
Though they took only one point, it feels like all three for Brentford for the way they played and came back into the game. They outscored Liverpool on xG.
To put it into some context, Thomas Frank and his Brentford and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are the only teams to win every game on Xg this season.
With this parameter in mind, if xP is calculated, Brentford are in the fourth position in the league. xP takes the xG related stats of all the games and calculates the results to build an xP table or the justice table as few say.
Teams that have won every match on xG so far this season:
◎ Man City
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) September 25, 2021
Though these are just early days into the season, but Brentford have left a huge mark on the season. If they continue what they are doing exactly, they can fancy a top of the table finish or who knows break the crazy top six battle and reach European spots.