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Christian Eriksen did change Brentford’s season – more on him later – but Brentford were doing okay without him. They were never lower than 15th last season, remarkable for a club that were promoted via the play-offs and were experiencing their first top-flight season in generations. The fans are happy, they have a lovely new stadium (seriously, go, it’s superb) and that warm glow of every aspect of the club being at peace with one another can really fuel a club’s continued success. It certainly isn’t true of every club in the Premier League’s likely bottom half.
Ivan Toney is arguably the most effective striker in the bottom half too. He’s a physical nuisance, fast and is an excellent finisher. Thomas Frank also believes that he is the best penalty taker in world football, which helps. If Toney replicates his 12 league goals from last season, Brentford are probably going to be fine.
Brentford’s greatest strength is their attacking set pieces. They created 83 chances from dead-ball situations last season, second only to Liverpool (and Liverpool were obviously far more dominant in attack). Only Burnley created a higher percentage of their chances from set pieces in 2021-22.
But, unlike Burnley, Brentford are also likely to be highly dangerous from crosses in open play. The wing-backs will get high and overlap. Bryan Mbeumo and Keane Lewis-Potter will get into the area to support Toney and Brentford will look to expose teams who are lax in their concentration or guarding against late runs.
Second season syndrome clearly has an evidence base. That does not mean that Brentford are certain to suffer it; we judge each team on their own merit. But the notion that you automatically are more likely to stay in your second season because you consolidated in your first is no guarantee either. Opposition managers have seen you for a year; they know what to expect and will plan accordingly.
Brighton went from 40 points to 36 in their second season. Huddersfield dropped from 37 points to 16 and finished bottom. Sheffield United fell from 54 points to 23 and did the same. Leeds dropped 21 points in their second season, although they eventually survived. All of these examples are in the last five years. No club outside the elite has a thick glass floor.
The loss of Eriksen is potentially huge. He only started 10 league games last season and yet fell only 13 short of the club’s highest chance creator. His ability to draw opponents – often two at a time – towards the center of the pitch created space out wide for the wing-backs to overlap and provide an option.
That’s an issue because their attack had faltered seriously before Eriksen’s signing. In the 11 league games prior to Eriksen’s first start on March 5, Brentford had scored only five times. Managers had worked out the threat having faced Brentford once, putting two players on Toney in the penalty area and cutting off the supply from out wide.
That said, the likely arrival of Martin Damsgaard could be a masterstroke. He can play on the left or right, would look to take over from Eriksen as the creative force, fits the model of buying Danish players and has spent a couple of seasons at Sampdoria in a similar situation as Brentford, fighting to stay away from danger .
The decision of Eriksen to join Manchester United instead of continuing his fairy tale story under Frank has dominated Brentford’s summer, but it should not overshadow the smart work that they have done in recruiting players. What’s new – Brentford have always invested well.
Lewis-Potter was one of the standout young players in the Championship last season, and has the potential to follow Jarrod Bowen in making the step up from Hull City to taking the Premier League by storm. His signing is a coup.
So too is Scottish full-back Aaron Hickey, reportedly wanted by Bayern Munich but who, at 20, has chosen to return to the UK to a club where he believes he can start every week. The fee paid to Bologna was substantial but Hickey will only help with the strategy of crossing in open play. Elsewhere in defense, Ben Mee is a very clever signing because he would improve the defense and won’t necessarily expect to start every week.
Thomas Strakosha is an interesting one, not least because David Raya is an excellent goalkeeper and yet Strakosha has joined from Lazio, the team who finished fifth in Serie A and thus qualified for the Europa League, where he had become first choice ahead of Pepe Reina . Has he really joined to be Brentford’s No 2 goalkeeper?
Thomas Frank has done a remarkable job at Brentford, and deserves to be bulletproof. Matthew Benham was the man who allowed Brentford’s supporters to dream, but Frank was the one who made that dream a reality and prolonged it with a wonderful first Premier League season.
But we can never rule out him being sacked this season, whatever supporters might say and however sad it would make them. Leeds fans would have said the same about Marcelo Bielsa, Huddersfield about David Wagner and Sheffield United about Chris Wilder. The financial rewards of remaining in the Premier League are so important to future-proofing a club that they tend to make shorter-term decisions to protect top-flight status.
Brentford will find life more difficult without Eriksen, no doubt. But they will still have enough, given the players signed. 15th
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