Premier League 2021-22 preview No 3: Brentford

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 18th (NB: this is not necessarily Ben Fisher’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 3rd in the Championship

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 750-1

These are exciting times at Brentford. A couple of months on from Thomas Frank being ambushed by his players during his pitchside interviews at Wembley, and conducting his press conference with a towel draped over his shoulders, it is time for a club that outperformed heavyweight rivals in the Championship to put to the test in the biggest league in the world an intriguing theory built on smart thinking and shrewd recruitment.

How will they measure up? Everything points to Brentford being a welcome addition to the Premier League. They play a punchy, front-foot style, promote youngsters from a novel and budding B team, established after they scrapped their academy five years ago, and in Frank they have a box-office head coach. Before May’s play-off semi-final comeback victory against Bournemouth he embarked on a pre-match lap of the pitch to rev up the crowd and, last year, he got a ticking off from the English Football League for using drinks breaks to fine-tune tactics on a magnetic whiteboard.

Brentford have a core of players who seem destined to take the step up in their stride, from the goalkeeper David Raya to Rico Henry, a force from left-back, the classy Christian Norgaard, Vitaly Janelt, a defensive midfielder picked up from Bochum for £500,000, Bryan Mbeumo and, of course, Ivan Toney. For the first summer in a while, Brentford did not have to worry about losing their best players to predators. They have received no offers for their talisman Toney and instead have focused on strengthening in key areas.

They planned to add at right-back after Henrik Dalsgaard’s departure but the urgency to recruit there may hinge on whether they persist with a three-man defence. Prospective signings, including goalkeepers and defenders, must be comfortable in possession to slot into Brentford’s slick passing style. Attitude and humility are also key, with Frank’s “no dickheads” mantra central to the organic environment they have cultivated in recent years.

They paid a club-record £12m, plus add-ons, to Celtic for Kristoffer Ajer and received glowing references from the Norway manager, Ståle Solbakken, about the centre-back, who will add European experience to a young group. Ajer’s arrival swells Brentford’s options in the heart of defence, with Charlie Goode, signed from Northampton last summer, fit to offer competition alongside Mads Bech Sørensen for key pillars Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock, who was playing in the seventh tier for Dulwich Hamlet in 2016. “It has been a really scenic route but I’ve enjoyed every step,” Pinnock said.

In midfield they have added Frank Onyeka, a Nigerian box-to-box player whose physical attributes made him an attractive acquisition from Midtjylland, for whom he played in the Champions League. In 2014, Brentford’s down-to-earth owner, Matthew Benham, became the majority shareholder at the Danish club, where Brentford’s co-director of football Rasmus Ankersen is chairman. “The negotiators over there are such a soft touch,” joked the Brentford co-director Phil Giles at an end-of-season Q+A with supporters.

Onyeka will help fill the void left by Josh Dasilva, who will miss the start of the season with a hip injury, and the teenagers Myles Peart-Harris and Daniel Oyegoke have joined from Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, following a similar path to Dasilva, who rejected a new contract at Arsenal in favour of progressing his career at Brentford, a club with their finger on the pulse. The B team feed the first-team squad, with Dasilva, Marcus Forss and Mads Roerslev the most salient examples of players to make the transition.

Brentford solidified last season and they determined to build on foundations that got them this far. They are flexible tactically – they flicked between 4-3-3, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 last season – but their principles remain consistent. They will be inspired by the way Leeds thrived upon promotion and the manner in which Sheffield United excelled in their first season back in the top flight with a rhythm struck up in the second tier. “We cannot be satisfied now,” said Jansson, the captain. “We have to push the limits and do as good as possible in the Premier League. The way this club works, we’re in good hands.”

It is difficult to imagine now but Frank lost eight of his first 10 matches in charge, though the club’s faith in his methods never wavered and last season he became the first manager to guide Brentford into the big time since Harry Curtis in 1935. Frank, a colourful character and a deep thinker who studied sports psychology, started coaching at grassroots level only because he needed to gain points for a university application. His formative years as a coach were spent with Denmark’s youth teams, prior to which he worked as an individual development coach under the current Denmark manager, Kasper Hjulmand, at Lyngby. He initially joined Brentford as an assistant head coach to the now Aston Villa manager Dean Smith five years ago. Usually wears a T-shirt and chinos to matches. “I am pretty simple and not too fussed about how I look – so I do get a bit of a killing from my wife,” he has said.

The consensus seems to be if Toney enjoys a good season, then so will Brentford. Good job pressure does not seem to faze the striker, who scored 31 league goals, including 11 impeccable penalties, in his debut season for the club. Has carried on in pre-season where he left off but beyond the goals his linkup play and aerial ability in both boxes are invaluable. Brentford have been free-scoring and, while their backline will inevitably come under greater scrutiny, attack may prove the best form of defence.

Matthew Benham, boyhood Brentford supporter, is unconditionally loved by fans. Not one to court media attention, Benham keeps a low profile but raised a few smiles two years ago when taking penalties in jeans and trainers at the Ealing Road end after Brentford’s last competitive game at Griffin Park in an attempt to replicate Marcello Trotta’s infamous stoppage-time miss against Doncaster, which smacked the crossbar and saw them miss out on promotion from League One. A physics graduate from Oxford University, Benham built SmartOdds, which offers statistical data to professional gamblers, after being mentored by Tony Bloom, the Brighton owner, at Premier Bet.

Mathias Jensen had the difficulty of replacing Christian Eriksen in Denmark’s Group B opener against Finland after the midfielder’s worrying collapse in Copenhagen. After the delay Jensen, flanked by his emotionally charged teammates, returned to the pitch clasping his hands together, covering his face. Neither Jensen nor Christian Norgaard started a game but both played key roles off the bench as Denmark reached the last four. The pair arrived to tighten Denmark’s grip against Wales in the last 16 and they finished on the pitch as England triumphed in extra time in the semi-final at Wembley.

The club’s unofficial anthem is Hey Jude – the Beatles lyrics could be heard emanating from one end of Wembley before and after the play-off victory over Swansea in May – and it is fair to say “Bees up, Fulham down”, to the tune of Knees Up Mother Brown, became a popular chorus towards the end of last season. Supporters will fill all the multicoloured seats at their sparkling 17,250-seat stadium for the first time when Arsenal arrive for the opener.

The good Accessibility is straightforward at their striking, angular new stadium, next door to Kew Bridge station and nestled between snaking railway lines.

The bad Parking remotely close, as with several grounds in the capital, is no mean feat. Unlike Griffin Park, there is not a pub at each corner of the ground. Also home to the rugby union side London Irish.

The emblem was rebooted for the 2017-18 season after an 18-month consultation with key stakeholders, with the aim of making the bee, previously hidden, more prominent. Designers fashioned a sleek crest, with the onus on creating a “simpler, bolder and more recognisable” look. Mission accomplished, with the rebranding key to giving the club a facelift. The subtle pinstripes in the background are a nod to the red and white home shirts.

“Toney should be in the England squad”

“Which manager will Frank have a set-to with?”

“Are we too nice to play against?”

“So Arsenal released Josh Dasilva for nothing? #regrets”

Buzz and Buzzette, giant furry bees, had a surprise when a 38-year-old on his stag do joined them in full kit for their match-day rituals three years ago.




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