Brentford fans will have awoken this morning to the realities of the squad they hope will see them through a successful debut Premier League season – or at least until the transfer window opens again in January. Beesotted’s Tim Street looks at Brentford’s window activity.
There will have been many diverging opinions flying around last night as the summer transfer window drew to a close – some happy with Brentford’s lot and some no doubt feeling that more business should have been done from an incoming perspective.
The Bees arguably did their best business earlier in the window, with the arrivals on successive days in late July of Frank Onyeka and Kristoffer Ajer, who have already become integral parts of the Bees side taking their first steps in the top flight in seven decades.
Also, crucially, that promotion to the Premier League meant that Bees fans, for once, didn’t have to wave goodbye to their star player (or player) from the previous campaign – Ivan Toney for one would almost certainly have still been plying his trade in the top flight this season, whether in red and white stripes or not.
Toney’s position is, in fact, the one I hold the most concerns about going into the next stage of the battle after the international break. Here, as I take a look at the shape of Brentford’s post-transfer window squad, I’ll attempt to explain why.
I was surprised at first by the signing of Alvaro Fernandez, as the reported fee seemed a lot for someone who would essentially be a back-up keeper – but the deal made more sense when it became clear it was a loan with an option to buy.
It means the Bees have a very promising second option who, with no disrespect to Luke Daniels, should push David Raya for a place in the side more than the previous back up, and have a quality replacement should any injury befall Raya.
The same goes for any potential January move for Raya. The way the Spaniard has started the new season, I would not be surprised if he has more than a few suitors come the next window. Touch wood, he seems to have cut out the howlers which blighted his early days at Brentford, and has made some magnificent game-saving stops in all three of the Bees’ league games so far.
Of course, these heroics between the sticks are now seen by a much wider audience, and Raya is just the sort of modern sweeper-keeper so loved by Premier League clubs. Hopefully his form will continue, and if Brentford manage to hold onto Raya, with Fernandez waiting in the wings, I think the goalkeeping department is very strong.
I suspected when Brentford finished last season so strongly with three centre-backs and roving wing-backs that this formation would be carried into their Premier League adventure, allowing more security at the back and meaning the midfielders are less likely to get isolated.
Christian Norgaard had initially dropped back from his midfield position to become a kind of deep-lying sweeper, but a more specialist option would be required in the top flight, and in came Ajer from Celtic.
I had some concerns at first about Ajer adapting to the English game as he seemed off the pace and to struggle a tad against Valencia, and didn’t look quite as sharp as one would have hoped against Arsenal. But since then the big Norwegian has gone from strength to strength, and his performances against Palace and Villa have dispelled those early fears.
Alongside him, Pontus Jansson certainly seems more comfortable in a three-man back line, and what more can be said about Ethan Pinnock? A man who was playing non-league football as recently as four years ago has stepped up and then some, and looks an absolute natural in the Premier League. A rock at the back who is also a massive aerial threat at the other end, Pinnock looks so comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and is another, like Raya, who if he remains a Bee on February 1 next year, I‘d breathe far easier.
As far as back up goes, the more I see of Mads Bech Sorensen as a centre-back rather than stuck out on the left, the more I like. Unfortunately it looks like he will be sidelined for a considerable time, and with Julian Jeanvier also seemingly still injured, any further setbacks along those lines would probably see Charlie Goode, who has thus far blown hot and cold, step up, or Luka Racic hopefully live up to his early promise in a Bees shirt.
And so to the wing-backs. I’ve talked in a previous column about Sergi Canos’ development as a player during his time at the club, where I also admitted I had doubts about whether he’d have what it takes to be a successful top flight wing-back. Canos has answered those fears and then some, and has arguably been Brentford’s best player during their first chunk of Premier League games.
I remain surprised, however, that an experienced right-sided defender wasn’t brought in, and wouldn’t be astonished to see one arrive in January. I do, however, think that Mads Roerslev remains a good second option, despite not having the best of games against Forest Green in the Carabao Cup. Let’s not forget that it was only a few months ago that the young Dane was being praised for his lung-bursting run and assist for the crucial second goal in the play-off final.
On the other flank, Rico Henry is one who I had no fears about stepping up to the next level, and so it has proved. My only concern would be the second option, especially given Rico’s past injury record. Dominic Thompson is a player we saw both sides of during the Forest Green game – poor first half, excellent after the break. I think he would be fine covering for the odd game, but I’d have worries if Henry happened to have a long-term absence. Sorensen is, of course, not an option there for the foreseeable future, and I’m not sure I’d be entirely comfortable with the Dane as a Premier League wing-back.
The news that Josh Dasilva’s injury would be longer term than first feared was a big blow for the Bees, as he’s another I would have expected to take to the Premier League like a duck to water. That blow was softened, however, by the signing of Onyeka, with Frank the Tank being a huge hit so far – and let’s just hope that he doesn’t suffer the sort of post-covid slump Bryan Mbeumo did.
Another blow was losing Mathias Jensen to a midfield which has so far been pleasingly solid, but perhaps lacked a creative spark going forward at times. It was good to see the Dane back on the bench against Villa, and although he may find it hard to win back a starting berth, his ability to pick out a pass and provide something different will be a welcome option.
Back in his natural position, Norgaard has so far done what you would expect from him – all the unheralded work in front of the back line – allowing Onyeka and Vitaly Janelt to be the beating hearts of the midfield. Janelt has been superb so far and, pound for pound, has arguably been one of Brentford’s best signings of recent years, and he’s another who I expect to get some attention from elsewhere come January should he keep up his current form.
It was also pleasing to see Saman Ghoddos have such a good game at Villa Park. A Marmite player in the Emiliano Marcondes mould, Ghoddos has found, like Marcondes, that arguably his best position is one which doesn’t fit Brentford’s system. But Marcondes answered his critics to an extent that his departure from TW8 this summer was actually mourned, and hopefully Ghoddos has started to prove his own doubters wrong too.
The rest of the supporting cast, I don’t have too many problems with, especially if we do get to see Dasilva pull the shirt back on later in the season. Shandon Baptiste has shown good signs of promise in the few chances injury have afforded him, while Myles Peart-Harris come with a fine reputation, although I suspect he will have to do his time in the B Team. Although he was another who didn’t really take his chance to shine in the Forest Green game, I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen elsewhere of Mads Bidstrup, and although I was expecting to see him go back out on loan, Jan Zamburek seems a tidy and energetic player too. Tarique Fosu, however, seems to have fallen out of favour, but hopefully his loan move to Swansea breaking down will give him another chance in a Bees shirt at some point.
This is the area which causes me most concern. Whereas I can see Ivan Toney quickly become a Premier League legend, I do fear that any kind of injury suffered by the much-loved striker would leave the Bees exposed. Marcus Forss hasn’t quite built on his early promise of last season, nor does he offer the same kind of work outside the six-yard box that Toney does. The young Finn is still an excellent finisher and a good option off the bench, but is not yet ready to be the focal attacking point for a Premier League side.
Mbeumo – having had a brilliant first campaign with the Bees as a winger but faded badly last term – came to life again superbly during the run in and has adapted superbly to playing more as second striker in the new formation. He played a big part in getting the Bees up and will play a key role this season, both in assisting Toney in and around the goal area and in drifting deep and out wide to help make things happen.
I’m hoping Yoane Wissa will allay my fears about the lack of back up to Toney, but he remains too much of an unknown quantity so far, and my initial impression is he’d be more of an alternative to Mbeumo. I still fear the Bees are lacking another solid option at number nine, but perhaps Forss would come good if Toney suffers any kind of injury – or maybe we would pull a rabbit out of the hat as happened with Ollie Watkins when no like-for-like replacement for Neal Maupay arrived.
As for the other options, Halil Dervisoglu may still have time to secure a loan-purchase move to Fenerbahçe, but even if he stays he seems to be as out-of-favour as he’s ever been, while I’d be surprised if poor Joel Valencia even gets handed a squad number.