The Big Match –
It was another special night under the lights at Griffin Park, as Brentford left it late to score an injury time winner and deservedly sink Aston Villa 1-nil.
For those that have been living under a rock for the last year, Aston Villa arrived at TW8, led by ex-Bees Head Coach, Dean Smith.
Smith spent three years in TW8 and this added plenty of fuel to the many different narratives leading up to the night.
Had the Brentford bubble burst with Smith’s exit?
Have Brentford gone backwards since his departure?
Is Thomas Frank able to lead the side as effectively?
Do the players understand Frank or want to play for him?
Would Aston Villa and Smith come to town and show Brentford what they were missing?
One could go on and on with those but the savvy minds expected nothing more than a cagey, tactical affair, as two old and respectful colleagues battled it out and looked to get one over the other with their new sides.
But it was Frank who would have been the happier as Brentford totally dominated the 90 minutes.
Controlling the ball with 63% possession to 37%, competing almost double the amount of passes overall and completing over triple the amount of passes in the final third with 149 to Villas 45.
Shots were another mismatch with Brentford firing off twenty three to Villa’s six and chances created tell the real story with Brentford creating fourteen to Villa’s five. Saïd Benrahma created six chances on his own, with Aston Villa’s most creative player creating one.
It was an impotent display from a low quality Villa side but Brentford had to keep probing, wearing down a team only really able to wait for their lucky moments on the break. There were two occasions where Villa genuinely threatened, once with an effort from Adomah dragged wide and the other through Hourihane, which a steadier Bentley was equal to. The rest was just scraps with star forward Tammy Abraham on the periphery.
Brentford were far more effective with good chances from Watkins, solid blocks forced from Benrahma efforts and a looped effort from Canos, all well kept out by a busy Kalinic.
Staying compact and narrow was the plan for Villa, frustratingly having to soak up pressure and await their own chances in the hope that Tammy Abraham would convert something that fell across his pathway. On the flip side, with Brentford kept out for 90+ minutes, executing the plan of a defensive shutout would have been incredibly lucky but came so close to coming off.
And it was very late indeed that the real drama took place.
Tom Field, subbed on after Canos had run himself into the ground, beautifully collected a ball floated out wide to the left and teased the aging Hutton. He passes the ball inside to Mokotjo, who then rolled it immediately into Benrahma for a second assist.
Benrahma opened up looking for a one two with Maupay as he tried himself to run into the box.
Maupay here had other ideas as he turned away from the hapless Elphich, who had decided at that moment he shouldn’t stay on his feet and slide to take Maupay out on the edge of the box, maybe looking to defend a dead ball situation instead of Maupay progressing any further, but he missed.
Maupay then faces up to Mings, who after 90 minutes has tracked runners and made blocks and headers all evening, to lose his footing and slightly stumble.
Maupay comes alive in these moments as he shifts the ball slightly to the right opening up a clear angle at goal and bends a delicious finish into the top right hand corner of the net, leaving Kalinic rooted to the spot and queue delirium and pandemonium.
Brentford deservedly break the hearts of Dean Smith and for the third time in a row at Griffin Park, all of the Villa fans.
Frank completely outthought Smith here. Using a phrase like student becomes the master doesn’t in nonsensical and doesn’t seem apt as we know Frank has been a head coach and managed at the top level before he rocked up at Griffin Park to offer a slightly struggling Smith a different tactical perspective. The talent at your disposal can determine playing style but one was clearly more effective at using his tools than the other.
There were again key performances across the team but standing out was a rejuvenated Sergi Canos in a confusing wing back role that had fans and Dean Smith alike scratching their heads at the shape of the side. Tactical reports after the game had Sergi as an inside right winger with Konsa as the recognised right back but whatever the actual position of Canos, he was almost unplayable in and out of possession, one of many master strokes Dean Smith had to deal with devised from the mind of Thomas Frank.
1-0 to Brentford
Head Coach Watch –
Dean Smith looked furious as the cameras panned to him after Maupay’s injury time strike curled into the top right hand corner sending Griffin Park into meltdown.
He’d brought his Villa side back to his old offices and ideally wanted to return up the M6 full of wine, handshakes, hellos and a hard fought point. All three would have been scenario ecstasy, but a scenario unlikely due to the game plan.
And his game plan shouldn’t have been surprising at all, as Smith more than anyone knows how well this bunch of Brentford players can be if given the space.
It was the performance that was very un-Dean Smith like with Villa unable to keep the ball and spending a lot of time handing over possession on the edge of their own penalty box or in the middle third. The quality in possession was non-existent and it should rightly be noted that Smith and Villa are missing Grealish, but this Villa side looks nothing like the sides he constructed at Walsall or Griffin Park, with this supposedly the most talented, most expensive and most experienced group he’s worked with to date. This is the worst Villa outfit that Bees have faced in recent times and they looked more comfortable and superior carrying out the ideas of Bruce.
Smith said hugely frustrated after the match
“The big chances fell to us tonight and we’ve missed them. We should have had a penalty as well.
We’ve had a few of them as well. This season the refereeing has been pathetic at times.
We’ve seen it ourselves. We should have had a penalty against Sheffield United, should have had the second goal (disallowed against Sheffield United) and again tonight.”
Villa are in the thick of a tough run of six fixtures consisting of Sheffield United, Brentford, West Brom, Stoke, Derby and Birmingham.
It’s make or break time in terms of playoff chasing with one point earned and a third of this mini chunk of tough games played.
Smith can’t afford to lose against the teams they’re hoping to catch as the daunting reality hits fans that this side is not yet on an upward trajectory and still in need of huge surgery.
Add to the fact Abraham is only on loan, the perils of building your side around a player you don’t own and cannot buy make succession planning even more difficult.
Thomas Frank when asked about Sergi’s performance
“I can’t praise Sergi enough, firstly we ask what do you think about playing wing back? He says, Yes, I’m ready, if you want me to play centre back, I’m ready, so that’s the attitude you want from your players and Sergi is a player who has been in and out of the side”
Before I go on any further, I think it’s only fair at this point to recognise the Dean Smith influence on the Brentford side.
Romaine Sawyers, Watkins, Maupay, Mokotjo, Canos and all of the other young players in the squad have massively developed under the tutorage of Smith, O’Kelly & Thomas Frank.
The deeper questions surrounding this group of players is not how good they may be, but have to be along the lines of whether or not they’ve underachieved during the last couple of seasons, or whether the three top ten finishes of 9th, 10th and 9th was their actual level?
The point I’m fumbling around and trying to make quite badly, is Frank looks to have taken all of those talented players, (as we currently stand this isn’t quite reflective by league position), onto another level.
Sawyers – is looking like a leader, deserved of the captain’s armband. We know his game but he now looks even more complete and a great deal more purposeful and aggressive.
Mokotjo – looking like a midfielder who’d be comfortable in the premier league. When you look at some of the £20-£30 million pound fees EPL clubs splash out on average players, who can even put a realistic value on The General.
Canos – his last 12 months under Smith were really disappointing. He looked like he was going backwards. Canos is now in the best form of all his time at Brentford and looks educated and disciplined and is following instruction far greater than I’ve ever seen culminating in Wednesday’s superb display covering for the injured Dalsgaard.
Jeanvier – Smith couldn’t select the colossal Frenchman due to injury, but would he have played him how Frank has deployed him in a defensive three or would he have selected him at all?
Maupay – Now a consistent aggressive threat throughout 90 minutes. Arguably the best all round striker in the division.
Dalsgaard – a player a number of bees fans hugely undervalue, is now looking like the World Cup standard international he is and an aggressive leader at right wingback, deployed in a way to maximize his height and attacking play with his defending now vastly improved too.
This list of improvement could also go on but overall Brentford matches have become less reckless, xG for has been slightly sacrificed for a significantly improved xG against average.
Whatever Smith was doing in terms of coaching was fantastic and has to be respected but what we’re now seeing from the same group of players is levels of consistent performance completely unreachable by the side under Smith.
And that is down to Thomas Frank.
Maupay vs The World – In this section we’ll take a look at how Maupay has performed, pitting him up against his opposite CFs and asking the question, would we swap him for any of the other strikers in this brilliant league?
Maupay v Abraham
This is the big matchup Championship fans have been waiting for.
Ali v Fraser, Jean King v Riggs, Messi v Ronaldo and now finally, Maupay v Abraham.
The young strikers are two of the hottest forwards around, scorers of all different types of goals ranging from the sublime to the scrappy.
A big occasion for the pair, both sides were looking to their central front men to be the difference on the night.
The output of the two players was in the end very different and one came off head and shoulders above the other.
Abraham managed just the one shot across the 90 minutes, a cross late on from the right, met well, where he directed a comfortable headed effort towards Bentley. The attacking game plan for Abraham completely fell down with his only other moment of note, a clever ball played under pressure from Barbet to release and set up Adomah to race into the box on the right for the chance that Albert pulled wide.
Other than that, it was distinctly average from Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, who we have to recognize is and was on the night playing in a far weaker attacking team compared with his opposite number.
Tammy managed three touches in the box, Maupay managed nine but this could be attributed to the style and game plan of the two side, with Brentford opting to work players forward in pairs or threes so that Maupay is never isolated, instead an integral part of the attacking shape. Seeing Abraham adrift on his own and stretched away from teammates isn’t going to be the best recipe for success but it’s what happened due to the lack of coherent build up play from Villa, ultimately leaving a striker feeding off scraps.
Maupay is a machine. As we’ve been doing these reviews for a while now, a certain pattern may appear to be noticeable to those paying attention.
Whatever the game or situation or opposition Brentford are able make sure Maupay is getting in and around five shots per game.
It’s this five shot number that keeps coming up, whether they’re made up of left foot or right foot efforts in the box, even closer still in the six yard box or from the edge of the penalty box curled into the top corner, he consistently finds positions or works space to get off good quality, dangerous shots.
If you consistently do this you will score goals, defenders just get a little better and make it more difficult the higher up you go, but for now let’s take a quick look at three recent matches.
The match against Forest wasn’t too dissimilar to Aston Villa, the match against Blackburn similar again. All different results for the side, 1-0 win against Villa, 2-1 loss at Forest, and a 5-2 win against Blackburn. How do you make sense of those score lines, and what is the constant propping them up?
It’s shot data and underlying numbers showing a level of consistency in performance that underpins why Maupay is so highly rated. There are lots of other parts too, his refusal to be bullied, his strength, his linkup play passing, his pressing, his all-round football intelligence and while Tammy Abraham was blunt in his play at Griffin Park, you can never lay that assessment at the feet of the best striker of his age in the league, Maupay.
OAP Watch (Older Aged Performer) – a constant bemoan of Bees fans follows the lines of “We need to purchase one or two older players to compliment the youth” In this section, we’ll take a look at an OAP from the opposition ranks and decide whether we feel they could make it into or have anything to offer the Brentford side.
Alan Hutton – 35 years old
What do you get today with an Alan Hutton? You firstly get a lot of miles on the clock but a player that rarely misses games.
Hutton has a label of being slow and aging but he is actually a quicker player than a lot of football fans recognize. He further engrained himself in folklore scoring a fantastic solo goal against Birmingham, running most of the pitch before calmly finishing to be likened to Messi, Ronaldo or more fittingly, legendary Brazilian fullback Cafu.
Providing experience to the right hand side, he was a big part of the defensive shape Steve Bruce was so proud of. No longer able to gallivant up and down the flank as he was able to in his younger years, he has to pick his moments but because Hutton is so defensive, Villa are able to play an attacker on the right with minimal defensive duties in his remit. Admoah works hard but often leaves Hutton unprotected so that he can stretch the game the other way.
Hutton’s overall performance in this game was fitting with his team mates, below average, though he made five clearances, two of them important headers, blocked two crosses and made a successful tackle right on the edge of his box. He was booked before half time and at that moment, it was a real concern that he’d be exploited and not complete the full 90. Benrahma picking up the ball in the half spaces was a constant threat on the right hand side and to Hutton and many other fullbacks before him. At points the Scotsman did well in shepherding situations out for goal kicks or corners, but a lot of Brentford’s attacks came down his side.
Verdict – Alan Hutton could be quite fairly described as a poor man’s Henrik Dalsgaard. Older, less technical, not so attack minded with similar in levels of speed and range but with more matches on the clock.
I wonder if the Dalsgaard doubters were asked if they’d be comfortable with a straight swap for an experienced pro like Hutton at right back, because that’s what you get with Henrik, except with much more athleticism. The answer would be a resounding, thanks, but no thanks.
Key Man – Sergi Canos
Sergi Canós Tenés, to give him his full name, was a magnificent Spanish matador, running rings around Villa and his former head coach.
Everyone was scratching their heads, thinking about formations and starting positions when Henrik Dalsgaard was omitted from the line-up and replaced by Canos, but there didn’t need to be a moment’s concern. It was a brilliant up and down display Sergi pressed high and caused plenty of problems for Hause, effectively playing as a right winger. Ten successful dribbles, creating two big chances as qualified by Opta, and nearly looping an effort over a scrambling keeper, his forward game was fantastic to see, added to 77% of his forward passes being completed.
But it was his game without the ball that particularly caught the eye, winning three out of three aerial duels, completing three out of five of his attempted tackles, eight ball recoveries, and giving away just the solitary foul. He worked tirelessly and looked as though he’d been playing the role all of his career, and maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised.
Pigeonholing players, especially those that are so young into fixed positions is silly. Good coaches look to develop players, solve problems and find tactical solutions to issues that arise on the pitch. Frank appears to be doing just this with a much improved and rounded Sergi.
Game Changers –
Sergi Canos OFF Tom Field ON 83min
Key May for Sergi, Tom Field replaced him and moved to the left as Moses switched to the right and both did a brilliant job. Field was heavily involved in the buildup for the third goal and pinned the right of Villa back.
Benrahma OFF Ogbene ON 95mins
Only seconds for Ogbene and the squad starts to look even thinner, he may be called upon so he needs to be involved wherever possible.
Final Summary –
Frank only made two substitutions, which is incredibly rare for him. Forced into a change with Sergi running himself into the ground, you got the feeling he wanted his best possible side out there for as long as possible to push Villa all the way.
It was a wonderful victory for Frank and Brentford and there can’t be a single fan left doubting that the potential in Frank is at least equal to that of Smith.
It’s a winnable FA Cup match away at Swansea for Brentford next , with some much needed rest in between.
For Smith and Villa the tough fixtures continue with a testing home match against playoff favourites, West Brom. A big loss here could heap more pressure on Smith as a confused fanbase come to terms with how good their squad actually is. We wish him all the best.
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