Beesotted contributor David Anderson gives his breakdown of Brentford’s resounding victory against Stoke City
On The Pitch
Saturday afternoon saw the return of the old Brentford as Stoke City were completely dismantled in a fantastic 3-1 victory.
Brentford were superb in every area with the level of performance and dominance hard to relay into words.
Scoring first on 7 minutes through a bizarre Shawcross own goal, The Bees ruthlessly made it two on 17 minutes through a classic team effort, involving Mokotjo, Watkins and Sawyers, finished expertly into the bottom corner by the dangerous Benrahma.
From nowhere, fed by the highly rated Ince, Benik Afobe on the 27th minute mark lashed an unstoppable effort into the top corner and beyond a rooted Bentley, to make it 2 – 1, somehow clawing The Potters, in scoreline, back into the game.
But it proved to be hot air as Brentford pushed even further on, controlling the chances, dominating the midfield and the wide areas and causing Griffin Park to erupt in the 54th minute.
Sawyers, with the outside of his boot, played the ball into Rico Henry who gathered it in full stride – running straight at the Stoke backline. Dropping a shoulder and skipping past the hapless Shawcross, Rico fired a wicked right-footed strike from the edge of the area, low into the bottom left hand corner giving Butland no chance, and making it 3-1 to parking joyous scenes around Griffin Park .
This felt like a turning point.
A shift from Dean Smith’s Brentford to Thomas Franks Red Army.
High quality chances still followed and Maupay, who was unplayable at times, was unlucky not to add to his league tally from smart cross in from Watkins on the right. The ever improving Watkins was unlucky not to get on the score sheet as he shifted the ball to the right, bamboozling the defender before cracking an effort goalwards which cannoned off the crossbar.
Stoke were limited to next to nothing in this match but it wasn’t through the want of trying. Brentford allowed them nothing. Maupay led the line bullying – rather than be bullied by – Shawcross.
Pressing was expertly organised and relentless. The midfield gave a lesson in interplay, aggression, skill and power, and the defence controlled all of the route one high balls.
Stoke were out thought, out fought and dispatched in a manner that was arguably one of the best all round performances ever seen at Griffin Park.
Every player to a man was fantastic with large amounts of credit owed to all involved – the hard work we’ve continually heard about finally looks to be coming together in poetic fashion.
All of the players, staff and coaching team should be deservedly buzzing.
Head Coach Watch – Rowett, Jones & Frank
Here we take a look at the Head Coaches involved. As Rowett’s reign still looms large over Stoke, it’s only fair to include him in this week’s Head Coach Watch.
Gary Rowett. A few days prior to this match, the brilliant Stoke & Gary Rowett Show made an unscheduled halt in production. There’s an element of sarcasm there as the show was always scheduled to end and in this particular way, although some thought at an even earlier episode.
Defensive coaches feel outdated. Their practices feel prohibitive as the modern game has swiftly moved towards trying to maximize the number of attacking scenarios – increasing your team’s probability of scoring goals.
Even a coach as expertly adept at the defensive game as Tony Pulis is starting to feel the strain.
Rowett, or Pulis lite, was always destined for underachievement at Stoke. His idealism is enough to keep you competitive. But looking at the sides that went up in 2017/18, there appears to be a narrow route back to success for the ultra-conservative, defensive-minded tactician.
His Derby team that came to Griffin Park for a draw in 2017 will live long in the memory. With just 24% possession that evening (and at one stage Brentford had 91% possession), it revealed a coach playing the game through fear.
It was bizarre to see a side with such little attacking impetus but Rowett seemed to revel in it
Is Rowett going to put the talent at his disposal into a position to achieve as positive a goal differential as possible? The answer is no.
Controlling most of the ball, supreme counter attacking or simply blowing the opposition away with skill, pace and power is how you get out of The Championship. Rowett opts for neither, instead going for shape and a tight ship at the back, which is never going to be enough.
Asking his teams to sit low, protect a lucky lead or wait for opposition mistakes is low risk but with low reward. They’ll of course reach a stage of desperation in matches and possibly come out, launching balls goalwards to haul themselves back into games. But it’s not easy on the eye and the Stoke fans rapidly grew tired.
Where Rowett goes from here is anybody’s guess. You cannot deny what he did with an average Birmingham team was remarkable. He may turn into one of those firefighting managers that enables underperforming teams to stop shipping large amounts of goals. But you’d think his time as a supposed young dynamic English football brain or future top flight promotion hunter is well and truly up unless he changes his approach.
Prediction: Firefighting for a relegation-threatened Championship side or a mid-table League 1 role.
Thomas Frank on the other hand is growing in stature week-by-week. He has been under an enormous amount of pressure. The dip in Brentford’s form has co-insided with the dip in form of numerous players and there have been also injuries to key players. To be fair to Frank, he has dealt with it all magnificently and comes out of the other side with Bees fans finally realising what he is able to deliver and hopefully back a Head Coach they can call ‘their own’.
I’ve always viewed Frank as a confident man and somehow found it easy to look beyond the turbulent results of his first set of games to see the potential in his use of language, demeanour, the tactical snippets he lets on and his calming thoughtfulness.
Frank deserves many of the plaudits for Saturday’s 3-1 victory and it clearly meant a lot to him. The 3-4-3 formation is a system he’s implemented. The players within it are his players. And he’s motivating them and they’re responding. For them to produce a complete a display as the one we’ve just seen, the team are 100% playing for the head coach.
A studio guest on this week’s Sky Sports EFL Matters, Frank again spoke confidently on a variety of topics. He covered his start at Griffin Park, the annoying number of goals Brentford had conceded. And showed anguish towards football short-termism and the obvious difficulties faced in light of another managerial colleague given the sack (Rowett).
Agreeing to appear on Sky Sports shows this is a person who seriously believes in where he’s going. And is doing so with the full backing of his bosses.
It’s a positive PR play from the club and the more fans get to see Frank in a traditional managerial setting, the more time he’ll get in the eyes of the fans to implement his own ideas onto the pitch.
When asked post-match “Is this his most satisfying day as Brentford Head Coach”? his reply was:
“That’s a good question. One of them, definitely. I, the fans, the club, the players have been waiting for a top performance like this and the win. This was more or less the complete performance from the first second to the last second and we totally dominated the game. They had two shots in the whole game, one of them blocked. We created a lot of opportunities and we won. It was a clear, clear win, so pleasing. We’ve been waiting for this good and clear win for a long time. It was really pleasing”
Frank is under no pressure from the director’s office as temporary relegation fears are put behind us – partially due to the implosion on and off the field at clubs at the bottom of The Championship. On the pitch he now looks he will be given the rest of the season to tactically hone the side, get smiles back on faces of the fans by rising up the table and hopefully take the side on a cup run for the first time in quite a few years.
Frank’s qualities and ideas aren’t going to be fully implemented overnight. It may take a year for the full recycling of this squad of players and the embedding of the next set coming through. But he’s certainly not going to do anything but give it his best shot.
I’m convinced there’s a great deal to come from Mr Frank.
Prediction – 11th
In recent history, Nathan Jones’ name has been synonymous with everything positive at Luton Town FC.
On Saturday, he opted to take charge of a Stoke side still very much in Rowett clothing. It was a bold move many managers would have shied away from – instead choosing the comfort of the stands and leaving it in the hands of a caretaker.
On course for back-to-back promotions with The Hatters, Jones took decision to move from a club on a sharp upward curve to leading a squad that needs a building job akin to the Ark.
A sign from God, maybe.
The way Jones speaks so openly about his faith is something you quickly get used to as he slips religious references into public conversations at a surprising rate. His religious belief is obviously the base in which he draws on much of his positivity. I’ll add that at this stage, Stoke City FC will need something along the lines of divine intervention to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt. The miracle work that Jones needs to perform is very real in the shape of ridding the club of the Rowett cloud and quickly getting them to dominating games in the opposition’s final third.
Stoke are currently far too negative. Fullbacks are lifeless and centre cacks are sitting ducks, unable to link smartly with the base of midfield when in possession.
But it’s his positivity in person and it’s the way he uses his players on the pitch that makes Jones and his 4-4-2 diamond such a catch.
Learning the game in a deeper sense in Spain, he also learned the language and divulged in the brilliant interview with the guys on the D3D4 Podcast, that his personal pinnacle would be to manage none other than Barcelona. There’s that self-belief again.
In balance this was a tough start for Jones and he could have quite easily have put out 11 Leo Messi’s from his beloved Barca and still lost. It wasn’t going to be his or Stoke’s day as Brentford were a side possessed.
Nathan Jones post-match
“Credit to Brentford, they’ve been aggressive. They’ve got a good system about them and they played well, the better side on the day. They’re way down the road from where we are. They’ve had the right processes in place for a long, long time; we can’t say that we’re going to change everything in two days so it’s going to be a work in progress. We know where we want to be and we know when we want to get there”
Jones is an out and out manager. He does not appear to be of the ilk to slot into a club that already has a distinctive identity, like a Brentford. That may go some way to answering why some Bees fans were left baffled why that fantastic “gettable” coach in Nathan Jones wasn’t given the role Thomas Frank now occupies.
Instead, it is much more likely that a club opts for a Jones type character to rebuild them in his image and for Stoke City FC – which in recent times has begun to suffer their own identity crisis – Jones appears to be the perfect choice and a real coup. He’ll be under immediate scrutiny and pressure from the off because of the nature of the role and the big names still at the club. But hopefully he’ll be afforded the time to move the hangers-on to pastures new, and rekindle some of the Luton fire which has been evidently missing at the Bet365 (Britannia in old money) in recent years.
Final Prediction – 10th
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?
Beneke Afobe – educated at Arsenal but never making an appearance, has 7 goals for Stoke this term.
Scoring in this fixture and the reverse it would appear on paper that Afobe has Brentford’s number. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. A mix up between Bentley and Mepham gifted him a tap in open goal at the Bet365 and at Griffin Park, his goal with a 0.05 xG value, would most of the time find itself high, wide and not handsome – ending up in traffic along the Ealing Road.
His all-round Centre Forward display was blunt and lacked any threat other than his instinctively lashed effort in the first half. That proved to be one of Stokes two shots – the other from Ince was blocked.
Afobe’s football intelligence level is very different to Maupay. he is not clever at using his body to win fouls and finds himself offside at frustrating times. His hold-up play was non-existent and he offered little of note at any stage to test the Brentford backline. Playing as a Centre Forward in a Rowett side is a thankless task and he has probably been asked to “run around” and “make himself a nuisance”.
But when you’re up against footballing defenders who can read the game well and play the ball, you’re going to be easily curtailed without a cohesive and organized pressing plan. He looks like – for a 25 year old forward who has played in the Premier League – he needs to work on his game a lot more. With Jones’ more sophisticated attacking style, I’m sure he will demand much, much more from Afobe in weeks to come.
Coming off the bench and scoring the decisive penalty in the FA Cup win against Oxford, Maupay couldn’t quite make it two in two at Griffin Park. He did deserve to get on the scoresheet against Stoke but even when he isn’t scoring, Maupay uses his football nowse to affect proceedings.
He links up play effortlessly, knowing when to drop deep and get involved or when to pull Centre Backs out of an area. It took Shawcross & Williams, who weren’t having a day to remember, two serious hatchet attempts to stop the dangerous Maupay from progressing on the edge of the box. And with space behind on the break on the halfway line on any other occasion, both could have turned into goal scoring situations.
With four shots on goal – two registered on target, – and the joined up pressing with Watkins and Benrahma, Maupay is the central point of a dangerous trident applying constant pressure to opposition centre-backs. Used to far greater effect by Brentford and now Thomas Frank, Maupay looks the sharper and more experienced forward at this level. If you were asked which forward could make the step up to Premier League in the next few years, one would come to mind a lot quicker than the other.
Comparing the two strikers seems a little unfair. Afobe will get goals by default. But his overall game is clearly a rung or two below Maupay.
Would we want to swap a Maupay for an Afobe on this showing and the years prior – the answer is a resounding, no?
Key Man – Kamo Mokotjo
When The Bees put in a display like the one against Stoke in which every player reaches such high levels, it seems a bit unfair to pick out one key man. Special mentions go to Jeanvier at the back, Barbet and his cultured left foot, the Sawyers baller display in the middle and Benrahma trickery out wide.
But it’s Kamohelo Mokotjo that has to be Saturday’s key man.
“The General” completed 91% of his passes, with 45% of those passes going forwards.
He completed 5 out 5 take ons and looked dazzling in the middle of the park.
Describing Mokotjo’s games is difficult. There’s an aggressive elegance about him that is confusing to the eye. He has quick feet and a delicate touch but a real energy in him and when he turns on the power, transitioning the ball between through the middle third, as Stokes’ midfielders found out, he’s difficult to stop.
He worked expertly in tandem with Sawyers and the pair ran the game from start to finish.
Pressing Woods, Allen, Clucus and the half time sub Etebo into errors, it was quite impressive to see how he and Sawyers as a pair seemed to dominate the central spaces containing 3-4 Stoke players. It was a mismatch and some Brentford fans were left so in awe that it was said the display was one of the best individual performances they’ve seen from a Brentford player
At the final whistle he dropped to the floor, exhausted and spent. His GPS tracker probably out of batteries or memory space unable to continue to monitor his exceptionally high output. He really was everywhere.
The levels of fitness shown by Mokotjo against Premier League Stoke make it even more difficult to see where a Josh McEachran fits into this side. The intensity peaks on and off the ball for the full 90 are unreachable for his deep lying, playmaking squad mate. Is this the kind of midfield display Frank has been crying out for during the toughest of times after Mokotjo went off injured at Carrow Road, leaving his young centre backs exposed to the elements?
Either way, “The General” put in a superb performance and it was a delight to watch.
Never mind a general, Brentford have their own South African Lion.
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.
Ryan Shawcross (87) 31 Years Old – Centre Back
Watching Shawcross, you can’t help but notice his 6ft 3 frame. He’s a giant, especially when matched up against a forward like Maupay.
Aerially he’s dominant. What he struggles with though is quick feet and clever movement and unfortunately for him, there was plenty on show.
The Brentford front three gave him plenty to think about and other than being great in the air, I didn’t really see anything standout from the experienced Stoke Captain.
After the game I was extremely surprised to see that he completed 88% of his passess. It felt like his distribution was a lot weaker than that, as it was the aimless balls pumped long into the direction of Afobe that stuck in the memory. I didn’t particularly get the impression that he was vocal or was leading the side from his deep position. This was attempted by Ryan Woods who would continue to try and find some tempo from those around him until he was subbed.
Shawcross completed seven clearances – five of them headers. But it was an unfortunate own goal from a Benrahma corner that cannoned in off the unsuspecting Shawcross and proved his most important header of the day.
At 31, Shawcross looks a little like yesterday’s defender. He’s a significant presence but cumbersome and slow across the pitch. If you were playing against a Millwall or a Rotherham every week, someone with such height would be a clear benefit. But as more and more sides in this division are looking to play the game on the floor, his key strengths feel a little negated.
Looking at the Brentford defenders and the assets of Ryan Shawcross, although he showed impressive passing numbers, he doesn’t quite fit into Brentford’s current game-plan.
For the last chunk of fixtures, Alan Judge has been the first substitution – often letting up on the opposition and unfortunately forcing Brentford to drop deeper.
As Judge is speculated to be on his way to Ipswich, he wasn’t on the bench on Saturday. This offered slightly more intrigue in the subs department.
Benrahma OFF Sergi Canos ON – 78th Min
Sergi did well when he came on. Benrahma is a difficult man to replace as his skillset is unrivaled. But Canos did a good job, cutting inside, spreading the ball in possession and making sure Stoke fullback Peters was still pinned back and didn’t see the latter stages as a time to push on and attack. He completed passes and while sometimes naive in his off-the-ball play, he did well in helping maintain the tempo to the final whistle, completing one out of his two attempted take ons.
VERDICT – Always wanting more from Sergi but did just enough.
Watkins OFF Ogbene ON – 89th Min
It’s difficult coming on at this late stage to impact a game but Ogbene did try. He attempted a couple of powerful runs, pushing the ball in behind the tired legs of Pieters. And during his loan spell at Exeter he looks to have worked on his upper body, bulking up, as there was an aerial challenge he confidently went for and didn’t shy away from
VERDICT- As good as you can be for an injury time sub. Excited to see more.
Brentford bossed Stoke here with the final scoreline actually quite generous on The Potters.
It wasn’t a happy return to Griffin Park for former Bee Ryan Woods but he was given a respectful ovation when subbed for his brilliant service in TW8.
Next up for The Bees is a tricky trip to Rotherham where maintaining this level of performance will be key.
For Stoke, it’s a midweek FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury – a home game in which Jones will get another chance to stamp some of his DNA onto the side and bond with the home crowd.
It’s not going to be easy though, put out a decent side and a cup match win is a chance to get some confidence and smiles back to carry into the league.
Just as Thomas Frank has done at Griffin Park.
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