While the Premier League title was wrapped up this season, the fight for promotion in Championship is still going strong. This week, fourth-placed Brentford played first-place West Bromwich Albion at Griffin Park. Brentford came into this game after beating another promotion candidate Fulham by two goals over the weekend, with one goal from Said Benrahma and one from Emiliano Marcondes in the dying moments of the game. The Algerian winger, who is linked to Chelsea and Arsenal, scored the first goal and assisted another in a sublime performance. West Brom, on the other hand, came in from a 0-0 draw against Birmingham City which hampered their hopes of automatic promotion.
Unfortunately for West Brom, Brentford edged this game out 1-0 with a first-half goal from the top scorer in the league- Ollie Watkins. This put Brentford two points ahead of Fulham and five off the direct promotion spots. If they ride out this form until the end of the season, they can overtake either Leeds or West Brom to be promoted directly to the Premier League.
In terms of the lineups, West Brom went with the 4-2-3-1, with Sam Johnstone in goal, Kieran Gibbs and Darnell Furlong playing as the full-backs. Semi Ajayi and Ahmed Hegazy played in the centre to complete the defence. The double-pivot consisted of Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers, while Matheus Pereira played directly in front of them as the central attacking midfielder. On the attacking wings, Grady Diangana played on the left while Matt Philips played as the right-winger. The lone striker on the day was Hal Robson-Kanu, the team’s top scorer.
Brentford opted for a 4-1-4-1, something they generally do not use but had to utilise due to the absence of Bryan Mbuemo. David Raya Martin started in goal with Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard playing as attacking full-backs. Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jansson played as the centre-halves while the pivot was Christian Norgaard. Further in front of him was Emiliano Marcondes and Josh DaSilva. On the left-wing was Said Benrahma while on the right wing was Tariqe Fosu. The lone striker was Ollie Watkins, the team’s and league’s top scorer.
Brentford’s defensive system
The two full-backs on this occasion were Norgaard and Henry. Henry’s task was to go up as the extra winger and attack the opposition and bombing up during counter-attacks, set pieces and to overload the left flank. This forced Brentford to either go to a back four with Norgaard dropping back as an extra defender or a back three with Dalsgaard and the two centre-backs. The three-at-the-back looked like below:
One observation that can be made is how stretched wide the players were. As West Brom play a pressing system, they were stretched wide trying to get the ball back from the Brentford defenders. This created space in the middle for the central players like Norgaard, Dasilva and Marcondes to exploit by progressing the ball further for the wide attackers and Watkins.
Henry meanwhile was mostly relieved of his defensive duties and was allowed to play as the winger when Benrahma would cut inside. Henry’s main role in the game was to play crosses and long balls into the target man, Watkins. In this game, Henry made four crosses and six long balls upfront, and an example of one is below:
Here, after a throw-in, Henry makes a dribble and crosses into the box for Watkins who does not score. This repeated manoeuvre is one of the reasons why Watkins has a lot of goals this season.
Another important part of Brentford’s defensive system is their pressing. The system of pressing means that whoever is closest to the ball presses the player and gets swarmed by other options, meaning that the only remaining option is to pass backwards. This efficiency in pressing has helped Brentford concede the least goals in the Championship this season. This is paired with a man-marking system to help in effective coverage to protect the goal. An example of both systems in action is shown below:
Their strength in numbers in defence allowed Brentford to keep a clean sheet against a very quality and attacking team in West Brom.
West Brom’s attacking midfielders
In this game, Brentford’s defenders kept Hal Robson-Kanu very quiet, but most of the attacking threat that West Brom posed was from the three attacking midfielders- Matheus Pereira, Grady Diangana and Matt Philips. The three played very narrowly towards the centre of the pitch. The reasoning behind this was because the Brentford defenders were stretched wide, there was more space in the middle to play short passes and progress the ball up the field. This happened through dribbling quality and creative passing ability of the attacking midfielders. The link-up between the three allowed Albion to create a lot of chances as they contributed to eight of the 12 shots that West Brom had. An example of this is below:
The three players circled are exploiting the space left by the Brentford players when they swarm the player with the ball. This closeness allows them to link up quickly and either shoot or pass to Robson-Kanu. This also creates opportunities for the two full-backs, Furlong and Gibbs, to provide the width and act as a passing option to play in crosses to the central players. The attacking midfielders have more attacking freedom as the double pivot of Livermore and Sawyers do not come up the pitch very often, except for counter-attacks.
The main attacking midfielder in this game is the ever-talented Matheus Pereira, who was arguably the best West Brom player on the pitch. Ability-wise, Pereira is almost unrivalled in the Championship. His vision when on the ball and his ability to make timed runs and finding space has contributed to his six goals and 12 assists this season. This game was no exception, as he made three key passes and two crosses with the rest of his team-mates having a subpar game. His technical ability is also very admirable and was good at the defensive side of the game.
The player in Focus: Ethan Pinnock
An injury to Pontus Jansson before the break meant that he would start in central defence with Pinnock after his recovery. But in this game, Pinnock shone and was, in my opinion, the best player on the pitch. He mitigated the attacking threat of the front four of West Brom and kept a very attacking team under control as this game was won on the better defence.
In this game, Pinnock had the most clearances with five, and the second-highest number of blocks with one. He made two tackles as well, which was the highest in this game. Aerially he was imperial, with winning 11 out of 12 of his aerial duels and won both of his ground duels. On the ball, he attempted one shot and made 13 long balls in this game. The only poor part of his game was his accurate pass accuracy at 59%. This is low for a team that employs a passing system but is understandable as he made a lot of clearances and played a lot of long balls that mostly would not have connected.
His positioning was important in this game as he was the one to cover for Henry this game. He was in charge of protecting Philips and Pereira and did very well in doing so by neutralizing their threats.
In a game with two attacking teams, the scoreline was expected to be much larger. However, the Bees and their fans should be the happier team as they move up into third place and are dangerously close to the direct promotion places. They are putting the pressure on Leeds, who worry about a repetition of last year’s debacle. Brentford’s next game is against Reading on Tuesday the 30th, which should be relatively easier as Reading are only in 14th place.
On the other hand, West Brom will be reeling from this loss as they go back to second place after Leeds beat Fulham 3-0. On Wednesday, West Brom travel to play Sheffield Wednesday which should be easy, but still have teams like Derby County, QPR and Fulham left to face.