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Scout Report: Brentford

It almost feels superfluous to write about a Brentford team who have already been covered so extensively. Famed for their player recruitment the core of their side is a young, attack-minded group of players who seemingly love to play together. They tend to play 4-3-3, with Watkins as the main striker, and Benrahma and Mbeumo attempting to find space to either side of him. The midfield three is given stability by Christian Norgaard in the holding role, while Dasilva and Jensen are free to push on.

Even goalkeeper David Raya Martin is crucial to the team's attacking intent. His quick distribution reminiscent of Marcus Hahnemann bowling out to Bobby Convey to set the winger away. That said defensively the Spaniard can occasionally be caught out, infamously allowing Ryan Tafazolli to pass the ball from the halfway line into the Brentford net. That's not the only mistake he's made this year - a missed punch condemned Brentford to a loss at Kenilworth Road, and similarly lead to dropped points against Leeds, while he conceded a penalty at home to Blackburn in a game they ended up drawing.

Regardless of the keeper Brentford still manage the second-best defensive record in the division, with only Leeds above them. A lot of that comes down to the team restricting shots to comfortable areas. Only 5% of shots against occur within the six-yard box, and 48% within the 18-yard area as a whole - both the lowest in the division - meaning almost half of the shots on Raya's goal are coming from outside the box.

Pontus Jansson in defence is crucial to this endeavour. The central defender is composed on the ball and a leader at the back. It's unsurprising that Brentford's win percentage is over twice as high when he plays, and his 1.89 points per game is the highest in the Brentford squad (Julien Jeanvier, his frequent replacement, has the lowest) and 10th in the division overall. He was unavailable for the initial part of 2020 where The Bees only managed 14 points from 30 when they failed to capitalise on similar losses in form for the top two.

Ethan Pinnock, who replaced Jeanvier in the starting eleven after the Guinean was sent off at the backend of November, has played every minute since. He's forged a solid partnership with Jansson and offers an option at set pieces. So far this season he's scored one and assisted three exclusively from dead-ball situations.

To the left of the centre backs, Rico Henry does the job of two men, getting forward to support attacks while doing his defensive work diligently. Benrahma's tendency to come inside means that Henry has an important role in stretching the play and giving the front three space to operate. On the opposite side vice-captain Henrik Dalsgaard has a more static role; Looking to play from deep, rather than getting forward to support attacks.

Norgaard drifting over to the left was pivotal in Brentford opening the scoring against Fulham. Cairney drifts off his man leaving Knockaert with two (one off-screen), and Marcondes is left with enough space to cross to Benrahma.

In midfield, another Dane, Norgaard, is the deepest of the midfield trio. He offers an option in transition by being the ball out from the back. He's able to drift across to either side to allow Brentford to overload one side of the pitch, and his through balls into the half-spaces are particularly potent. As you would expect from the holding midfielder he makes the most tackles, fouls, and interceptions of any Brentford player - the ball rarely gets past him.

Dasilva picks up the ball, drives into space, lays it off to Benrahma after he commits the right back, and ends up in the perfect position to volley home the rebound

Ahead of him usually sit Dasilva and Jensen. The former has slightly padded his stats with five goals in two games - he scored a hat-trick in a 7-0 demolition of Luton, and two more when Brentford put five past Sheffield Wednesday without reply, but he's a solid ball carrier who can drive the team forward and pop up in the box. More often than not he's happy to play just outside of it to allow space for the front three.

Reading will have to do a far better job of closing down Jensen this time. He puts the ball on Watkins' head - Moore doesn't get close.

Jensen meanwhile has six assists, including one in the reverse fixture, and is the main creative force from midfield. While Henry offers the width on the left, it's often Jensen pulling wide that has the same effect on the right, although if Watkins drops into midfield it's usually the Dane (there are a lot of them) making a run beyond him.

Brentford work hard on their set-pieces, and it's Jensen that often has the responsibility of taking them. As mentioned, Pinnock is a frequent target, but they've also worked more creative routines. In a match against QPR they packed the six-yard box and had Benrahma run around to the penalty spot to strike into the far corner from a free-kick that may as well have been a corner, but in the same game just floated a ball to Pinnock to nod across to Watkins to score when they an opportunity centrally.

Heatmaps for season. Benrahma and Mbeumo. You can see how Benrahma drifts centrally, while Mbeumo is looking to stay wide. (credit SofaScore)

So then we come to the front three. BMW. The reason Brentford are flying quite so high in the table. So taking them one at a time.

Benrahma often finds pockets of space on the edge of the area, where he tries to shoot as quickly as possible - sometimes at the expense of picking his spot.

Said Benrahma is perhaps the standout star of this team. Involved in nineteen goals so far this year he's so intelligent with his movement. Drifting out wide to stretch the play, popping up as more of a 10, or getting himself in the box to score. His quick feet means he can beat players, and his vision and understanding with his strike partners is on another level. The only real criticism can be that he really should be scoring more; Too often his shots are straight at the keeper, rather than finding a corner.

Mbeumo (circle centrally) runs into space behind the Cardiff defence. He pulls the LB central, and creates space wide for Dasilva.

On the other side Mbeumo stays a little wider, but his incisive runs often put him behind the defence. With Benrahma running across goal he often peels out wide, from where he can put a ball across to one of Benrahma or Watkins - the photo above is a little misleading but highlights his movement. He actually has more goals than Benrahma, although that's likely only because teams have to choose between where to focus - and the Algerian is more deadly all things considered.

While Brentford are a team notorious for playing 'good football', they're not averse to trying to play Watkins in over the top. His runs between defenders can be deadly if they're not switched on, as Blackburn found to their detriment. More often than not, though, the forward will drop deep to try to link with the midfield before putting himself in the perfect position to increase his goal tally. Occasionally he can be selfish when there are better options available, but I assume ex-pros would tell you that's just the goalscoring instinct or something equally as meaningless.

Overall Brentford are an incredibly technically proficient team, from back to front. The ability of the front three means they don't have to overcommit men forward, which allows them to stay strong defensively. They're one of only three teams not to concede a goal on the counter and have the third-fewest conceded from open play more generally.

It's difficult to see a way that Reading can get anything from the game, especially given Reading's own struggles offensively. Maybe if Jansson was missing, but with him in the side there's unlikely to be a repeat of their calamitous loss at Luton. The Bees have two wins since the restart, and the possibility of automatic promotion very much on the cards, while Reading have nothing to really gain. Maybe this is the week Bowen proves us all wrong?


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