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Brentford Buckle Up For A Harsh Season. How Should Brentford Improve For The Forthcoming Season?

Brentford FC’s first ever season in the Premier League was ultimately an incredible success, with the Bees firmly cementing their identity in the division, finishing 13th and 11 points above the relegation zone. In particular, the team showcased their attacking prowess throughout the season, something they made clear when they overwhelmed Arsenal in their first game of the season, winning 2-0. Newly promoted teams can often succumb to playing defensively and being too limited in their play, but Brentford defied this convention, stamping their attacking identity on many games and delivering upsets, including to Chelsea and Liverpool. Now, much-adored manager Thomas Frank must avoid Brentford buckling to second season syndrome and retain their status in the league, perhaps climbing up even further in the table. In this article, I will look at Brentford’s current squad, the signings they have made so far in the transfer window, and what areas they will need to address in order to improve.

What players are essential to Brentford?

In the 21/22 season, there were 6 players who started at least 32 games. One of them, of course, was star striker Ivan Toney. At 26 years old, he scored 12 goals in 33 league games, along with providing 5 assists. With his speed and his aerial ability, he was a constant threat for Brentford up top throughout the season, scoring a wide range of goals. Towards the end of the season, rumours started to stir about Toney possibly leaving Brentford, but as the transfer window has progressed, the rumours have quietened down. He will no doubt be an essential attacking force for Brentford in the upcoming season.

Another attacking talent that started a large number of games was right-winger Bryan Mbuemo. The 22-year old scored 4 goals and assisted 7 times in 33 games. While his fantastic work in build up play did not go unnoticed, his ability to be clinical in front of goal has generated discourse about the need for potentially another right winger to be brought in for competition. It is however hard to decipher Mbuemo’s fortunes as lack of being clinical or lack of luck: he hit the woodwork 7 times during the 21/22 season, which is a new Premier League record. Nevertheless, Mbuemo is still a very talented attacker who has room to grow and still seems to be essential in Thomas Frank’s plans.

In midfield, Thomas Norgaard was the stand-out performer for The Bees, delivering consistently impressive performances and winning Brentford’s Player Of The Season award. With 80 tackles won across the season, this ranks Norgaard first across Europe’s top five leagues. His imposing ability to break down opposition attacks allows the players up front more attacking freedom, and Norgaard is therefore an essential player within Frank’s system.

The talented left back Rico Henry played 34 games for Brentford, often intercepting the ball when the opposition fired forward on attack while also not being afraid to carry the ball forward up the left flank. Centre backs Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jannson also started the overwhelming majority of games for Brentford. Considering that most pundits tipped Brentford to go down due to their apparent defensive vulnerability, they produced good performances as defenders in an attacking system, allowing the team to finish comfortably midtable. This was along with Kristoffer Ajer, who filled in at both rightwing back and at center back, producing impressive performances.

Finishing 13th in the Premier League was largely down to Brentford’s impressive performances, but they were also helped by their lack of injuries to their ‘core six’ of players. To avoid the ‘second season syndrome’ and to repeat the performances of last season and beyond, Thomas Frank will need to make sure that his team has adequate squad depth for these key areas, as well as addressing the weak points within his team.

What Signings Have Brentford Made So Far?

Brentford FC, at the time of writing, have made three signings to their first team squad. The first is Aaron Hickey, a 20 year old Scottish defender from Bologna, for a fee of £17 million. Since signing for the Italian side in 2020, he has become a regular starter for the team in the Serie A, starting 36 games in the last season alone, scoring 5 goals and registering 1 assist. Although he has the ability to contribute to attacks, Hickey is a more reserved fullback in nature and he prefers completing short passes to long passes.

At first glance, the signing of Aaron Hickey may appear to be cover for left back Rico Henry. However, the talented Scotsman will instead be used by Thomas Frank on the right side of defence for the upcoming season. Hickey has the ability to play on the right side of defence due to how two-footed he is; a quality that is rare for any player, let alone a full back. Last season, he played 59% of his passes on his left foot and 41% of his passes on his right, which makes him incredibly versatile and able to play on both sides of the field. Because of this, it seems likely that Hickey may go on to replace attacking minded Sergi Canos at right back, with Rico Henry on the left flank.

Although he is not afraid to get forward and provide Brentford with attacking threat, Sergi Canos more than often proved to be a defensive liability in the Premier League, precisely due to his ability to get forward. Canos often struggled with the retention of the ball and often lost possession, leading to a turnover and allowing the opposing team to capitalise. Although Canos favoured the progressive pass, he achieved a pass completion of 60.4%, which is low compared to the rest of his fullback teammates. Hickey meanwhile achieved a pass completion of 81.8% in the Serie A last season. This is largely because of his smart short passes when protecting possession; a quality that Frank ultimately needs and has been largely lacking in a right back. Of course, it will take time for the 20 year old talent to adjust to the levels of the Premier League, but he has great potential to shine for The Bees.

Another signing that Thomas Frank has sealed is Keane Lewis-Potter, a left-winger from Hull City. At only 21 years old, what makes Lewis-Potter an intriguing talent is his goal-scoring touch. In the 21/22 season, Lewis-Potter found the net 12 times in the EFL Championship and registered 3 assists. His speed is noticeable and his ability to time his run to break defensive lines is already impressive. The young English talent is also versatile, with the capability to play on both sides of the attack, striker, and as an attacking midfielder in the 10 position. Thomas Frank has called him “one of the biggest young talents” in the Championship last season, and has asserted that he “fits the Brentford model perfectly.Lewis-Potter has frequently shown confidence in goal. He has also outperformed expected goals (xG) consistently throughout his career. Over the past two seasons, he has found the net for Hull City 31 times, which is higher than his xG at 26.6. Lewis-Potter may need some time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League, but he is a skilled talent who will add another dimension to Thomas Frank’s attack.

The third signing that Brentford have made is the 27 year old Thomas Strakosha, a goalkeeper from Serie A side Lazio, on a free transfer. For The Bees, Strakosha will most likely be the backup goalkeeper to current starter David Raya, but he will no doubt also want to show his abilities and contest the starting goalkeeper spot. In the 21/22 season, Spaniard Raya missed 4 months of action due to a troubling knee injury. It was therefore imperative that Brentford signed a capable back-up goalkeeper in case Raya’s injury problems reoccur. At Lazio, Stratkosha held the spot of starting goalkeeper for six seasons, with also occasionally playing in the Champions League and Europa League. This signing gives Frank a brilliant goalkeeping roster and competition for Raya.

Where Else do Brentford Need To Address?

There are still areas that The Bees need to address if they want to construct a stronger squad.

The most obvious area is to fill the recent departure of Christian Eriksen, who as a free agent has recently signed for Manchester United.

When The Bees signed Christian Eriksen in January on a six month deal, they were taking a huge gamble. Just 7 months after his cardiac arrest that occurred while he was captaining Denmark in the Euros, he made a spectacular recovery and was determined to play regular football again. However, there was no guarantee when Brentford signed Eriksen that he would reach his previous world-class levels of ability. He would end up being the catalyst in their late season charge to avoid relegation.

In the 10 games he started, Brentford won seven of their matches. From January onwards, Eriksen was ranked third in the Premier League for chances created and final third passes. In just his first seven starts, Eriksen completed 34 switches of play, allowing his teammates more time on the ball to build up attacks. Due to his magnificent creativity and his ability to switch play, the rest of the Brentford attacking force benefitted from his arrival and their performances became more impressive. Striker Ivan Toney hit a rich vein of scoring form, and Mbuemo became more involved in forward passages of play.

Christian Eriksen revitalised Brentford’s attack and his world class aptitude will be hard to replace. Thomas Frank may revert back to the midfield three of Norgaard, Janelt and Oneyka that he was ulitising before Eriksen’s arrival. However, Oneyka’s numbers are disappointing compared to the Danish attacking midfielder. Eriksen was also more dominant on his ball, attempting more than double the amount of passes compared to Oneyka.

New signing Lewis-Potter may add a new attacking dimension to the midfield, but due to the fact he played the majority of his games for Hull on the left wing, it may take him time to adjust to this role. This does leave one to wonder if Brentford need to look to the transfer market for another left-sided midfielder who would be able to replicate Eriksen’s attacking magic.

Another area which Brentford should be looking to redefine is their options as centre back. Out of the seven centre backs The Bees currently have in their roster, only two of them are left-footed. They also have injury problems in defence going into the new season due to the talented Kristoffer Ajer recently undergoing surgery for a hamstring problem that will make him miss the opening games. Therefore, Brentford will most likely be relying on Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jansson at the heart of the defence for the start of the season. Pinnock missed games due to a hamstring problem last season, and in his absence Brentford looked more vulnerable. Therefore, Brentford should look to bolster their team with a left-footed centre back. Levi Colwill, who is likely to leave on a permanent transfer from Chelsea this summer, may be an option.

Finally, The Bees should look to sign a back-up striker. Ivan Toney is the superstar striker for Brentford, but the club should always have one eye in the future, in case he decides to depart. Aside from Toney, Brentford lack depth in the natural centre forward position. Mbuemo played alongside Toney as striker at the start of the Premier League campaign, but found his best form when he was moved to the right wing and Thomas Frank switched to a back four. Yoanne Wissa, meanwhile, is a talented attacking talent but is more suited to playing on the left wing. The Bees will want to look for a back-up striker with an eye for goal and has the ability to be clinical. Watford striker Emmanuel Dennis, who scored 10 goals in the last Premier League campaign, may be an option for Brentford to look at.

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