With Brentford’s pre-season friendlies now over, Billy Grant asks what have we learned on and off the pitch. And pontificates on whether The Missing Three – Benrahma. Watkins. And Maupay – will start the season or, more to the point, start for Brentford again?
Brentford went down 3-1 to Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth in their last friendly of the pre-season with Marcus Forss adding to his summer tally with another well taken goal.
Pre-season friendlies are a funny fixtures. You have to take them with a pinch of salt, I reckon. The reality is – to get the most out of friendlies, you have to chop up what is going on and off the pitch. And micro-analyse it. The biggest eye-opener was the absence of Neal Maupay, Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins – The Missing Three.
As they say, absence speaks louder than words, and in Thomas Franks’ post-match press-conference, he discussed Benrahma and Watkins’ injuries and Maupay’s “ongoing transfer speculation” as reasons for not being included in the match-day squad.
On top of that, Said Benrahma was the only player to have made it to the Brentford Fun-Day the following day.
With the ongoing rumours surrounding Maupay and Watkins, that would have been no surprise. However, I will talk about The Missing Three in a bit.
Bur first of all, let’s look at what could we could take from the match itself.
The Bournemouth Match
We spent most of our time in the pub before the game trying to ascertain if the team put out against Muff was an A- side or a B+ side.
Of the players that were named, Raya. Jeanvier. Jansson, Pinnock. Dalsgaard. Nørgaard, Canós would contribute to the A element.
Whereas DaSilva, Oksanen, Clarke, Žambůrek, Jensen (not much match-time in the last 12 months), Marcondes, Forss would contribute to the B and B plus elements.
Not saying the B/B+ elements are bad players. Not in the slightest. These are what pre-season friendlies are before. To experiment – trying new combinations and blooding new players.
And there is an argument to say – playing Marcondes and Forss for one half each against Muff we would have learned a lot more than us playing a Marcondes and Maupay combination. Sometimes you can get more of an idea of what you would NOT do rather than what you would.
Anyway, it was a B+ for me as we were looking light up-front for the first 45 minutes. We were missing the Benrahma/Watkins’ directness. And we were playing our only other real alternative option at left-back – Josh Clarke.
Maupay will always be the first name on the team sheet – whatever match he’s playing in. Marcondes – once again looked lost playing as a striker but looked slightly better in the second half as he played deeper and further out wide.
Meanwhile, Marcus Forss looks to have come on leaps and bounds in the last year. And – whilst he is no replacement for Maupay if he were to leave – he is starting to prove that he could be an exciting addition to the Brentford bench. His movement both on and off the ball is impressive. And the way he evaded his Premier League markers before cooly slotting home was quality.
What does one make of our three man defence of Pinnock, Jansson and Jeanvier who let in three goals – albeit against top flight opposition?
Jansson shouts a lot and loves to give his team-mates lots of encouragement. He looks comfortable on the ball. And is definite captain material.
But more work is needed with him and his team mates on their playing the ball out from the back when being pressed high and hard. The first Muff goal came from a mistake with Jansson giving the ball away needlessly just outside the Brentford area. The loose ball was then was picked up by Jordan Ibe who hit us on a quick break before evading a back-tracking Jansson and slotting home.
Ethan Pinnock looks like a very cool, composed and commanding player. The first thing I noticed was him winning headers at both ends of the pitch as the ball was lobbed into the box. It’s been (literally) years since we have had a player that can do that with so much ease.
Jansson also came close to scoring with a header from a corner so good to see our defenders adding options in attack.
Raya looks comfortable on the ball and is obviously a good shot stopper. After giving the ball away to a Palace player, he remedied the mistake by pulling off an incredible save – putting the ongoing shot over the bar.
Canos had a good first half and was replaced at half-time. Marcondes continued to reaffirm in many people’s minds that he is not a natural striker as he failed to make any real impact in the first half.
Josh DaSilva could be the surprise package this season. He is strong but also very fast. And he loves a pass. Maybe too much as he has a tendency at times to over-play by making one intricate pass too many. He linked up well with Jensen for Forss’ goal.
Marcus Forss coming on at half-time – with Marcondes moving to the wing – upped the tempo of the game and he held his own against Premier League defenders.
Jenson was on for only 20 minutes. However, he showed (hopefully) what he has to come with a cheeky little through-ball to Forss, setting him up to score Brentford’s only goal of the game.
Thomas Frank was ‘delighted’ with the performance, but remarked on the players’ poor decision-making and being hit on the counter. He also remarked how much he is looking forward to the start of the season with Birmingham City’s visit to Griffin Park.
However, for Bees fans, it is difficult for them to get a handle of what our attacking three will look against Harlee Dean’s Birmingham City with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding our three most-wanted players – The Missing Three.
Brentford’s Missing Three
The latest rumour to surface is Ollie Watkins being linked to a cash-plus-player deal with Crystal Palace. Palace have reportedly offered £8m plus Alexander Sorloth in return for Watkins.
Now, Sorloth is an interesting one. He’s very much got a ‘Scott Hogan’ vibe about him, playing relatively few games for his original club and scoring loads, before being signed for big money and then not performing for his new club.
Signed from FC Groningen in summer of 2017, he played only half a season for FC Midtjylland (who are also owned by Brentford head honcho Matthew Benham) – scoring 10 goals in 19 games.
Crystal Palace bought him for £9m in January 2018.
It was a risky move as at the time FC Midtjylland were flying high at the top of the Danish Superligua. They sold Sorloth – squeezing Palace for as much money as they could get for their (at the time) prize striker.
They then went on the win the league anyway.
Sorloth is seen as an ‘expensive mistake’ in South London and, after 16 appearances for the Eagles, he was shipped off to Gent on loan.
Palace are desperate to get rid of him. And based on Watkins’ current valuation of £15m, have rated Sorloth at £7m.
But with that type of offer being mooted, Palace are a million miles away from a deal for Watkins.
Is Sorloth that bad? Or is it Palace just didn’t know how to play him?
Brentford will know more about the strengths and weaknesses of Sorloth than anyone through their FC Midtjylland colleagues.
Will Sorloth add value to the current Brentford team?
Is Sorloth the ADDITIONAL (as opposed to replacement) striker that we need?
Would Brentford consider Sorloth but see his current price at (and this is finger in the air btw) closer to say £3m than £7m?
Does the Brentford team believe FC Midtjylland got the highest value they could for Sorloth and wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole now?
Are Brentford looking for a club to meet Watkins’ £15m valuation all in cash as opposed to a player-plus-cash deal before they then make a decision on what to do next?
…. these are situations which all affect how the Watkins scenario moves forward. If it moves forward at all.
However, whichever one of these is the correct answer – Palace are not currently even close to doing a deal.
So we will wait and see what the next developments are
Benrahma has been out injured since the back end of the season. He has not had much playing time. Even if he was available, he wouldn’t just slot into the team against Birmingham on Saturday.
After his form last season, teams naturally will be looking at snapping him up. But, if anything, his lack of playing time has probably done us a favour – with maybe only a manager that knows him well, or a head coach who is comfortable taking risks, willing to take a (in Premier League terms) punt on an expensive player who hasn’t played since April.
Villa have supposedly enquired about Said. But they are rumoured to be in for everyone.
Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly spoke to me about their admiration of the player – who they said would attract a lot of interest this summer along with the other members of The Missing Three – when I met them at the Playoff finals. So it’s hardly surprising Villa have been linked with him.
However, from what we have heard from our sources, there is nothing currently on the table that will prise Benrahma away from Griffin Park.
Whether that will change in the next ten days, we will see.
This is the most interesting scenario. Many fans have been upset that Maupay has not featured in pre-season friendlies, despite being contracted to play for the Bees. Personally, I’m happy he’s been kept out of the limelight.
Pre-season friendlies are so-so. We all know what he can do. The last thing we want at the moment is Maupay coming on and scoring a hat-trick against Bournemouth to spark a CEO into adding another £5m onto his stalling offer.
More to the point. Looking forward, do we play him against Birmingham?
Naturally we want to play our strongest side against The Blues. Yes Maupay is contracted to Brentford. And, although Forss looked lively pre-season, our alternative options up front are looking light at the moment.
Of course there is interest for Maupay. You do not score 28 goals in a season for your club and not attract interest.
But none of the interested teams have come close to offering the deal that Brentford are looking for.
Once a team matches what we value Maupay at, then the club can make a decision on how to move forward.
There’s no denying Brentford seem to be doing all they can to keep Maupay. Finding a 25+ goals striker is not easy to come by. And there is no denying the value that Maupay adds enormous value to a Brentford team that is ‘going for it’ this season.
But it makes it hard to try and lock a player down to a new deal when he is still weighing up his other options.
Maupay’s agent knows that his client his hot property at the moment. And he has to strike whilst the iron’s hot. So he is working his hardest (as Jota’s agent was two years ago) to find his client a deal.
That new deal may not happen. Just in the same way Jota very nearly ended that summer as a Brentford player. After a whole close-season promising his client a move to the Premier League, it was only the interjection of another agent at the very last minute that secured Jota his deal to Birmingham.
The fact is, if a middle-ranking Premier League team puts £30m on the table and offers Maupay £60k a week, Brentford will be unable to match that. And it will be highly likely – assuming the player wants to go – that he will leave.
However, if the best offer on the table is from a potentially relegation-threatened Premier League side or a Championship team. And that offer could be matched by Brentford with the prospect of him being in the Premier League next season and thereby in a much better position to land an even bigger deal, Maupay’s thoughts on what to do next will be completely different.
But there have been no offers on the table to match what Brentford are looking for. And, if that remains the case, Maupay remains a Brentford player.
Until the next window anyway.
That is why personally – as much as I would love him to start against Birmingham – I’m happy for him to be locked away (Out of sight. Out of mind) until the window is shut tight.
If I could get an early wish for Christmas, I would ask Santa to tie The Missing Three to Brentford for the foreseeable future.
But as there is no smoke without fire, the reality of the situation is one of The Missing Three will probably go before the window shuts. As gutting as it would be, losing one as opposed to all three is more palatable.
However, for me Neal Maupay is the one. I would love the other two to stay. But dare I say it if they decide to leave, they are both replaceable. Especially with the large wad of cash we would get in exchange.
Neal is key to our promotion hopes this season.
So whatever box he is currently locked in, keep him in there.
And don’t let him out until 5.01pm on Thursday week.
The Beesotted crew are back on LoveSport radio Monday night from 8pm and will be discussing transfer action plus much more. Catch them on 558 AM (London), lovesportradio.comand on podcast at PrideOfWest.London from Tuesday morning
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