Speed, verve and flexibility: how Brentford closed the gap on Chelsea | Brentford

EAt the start of 2015, Brentford Co-Director of Football Phil Giles welcomed three German visitors to Heathrow Airport. He drove them to Kentish Town in north London, where club owner Matthew Benham was waiting in the offices of his sports model. business, Smartodds. They received the grand tour and were in awe of how the company’s methods influenced a football operation which, although new to England’s second tier, was starting to turn heads across the continent. . Then everyone made it a weekend: dinner, Arsenal game in the Emirates, and farewell promises to keep in touch with everyone’s progress.

Both parties are firmly up to date now. The curious travelers were Thomas Tuchel, who was between two meetings in Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, and two of his assistants. When Tuchel takes Chelsea to Brentford Community Stadium on Saturday night, he will see firsthand the fruit of his knowledge. While the Premier League leaders will be favorites to champion their own cause, their seventh hosts have adjusted to high-level life with such enchanting confidence that a different result would not send shock waves.

“Life is good,” smiled Thomas Frank Thursday, and he shouldn’t have said much more. Frank agrees with the adage that a manager’s behavior reflects the health of his team. His public appearances are fun and expansive, but never too far from a serious turning point: he presents a breath of fresh air in an increasingly homogenized climate, and that’s exactly what Brentford has offered. The speed and verve with which they left the league shone in wins against Arsenal, Wolves and West Ham, not to mention the roller coaster draw with Liverpool and respectable points at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace. But they can also give up, and that’s what sets them apart from the brightest newcomers: Their ability to mix things up is striking, and it has often been difficult, within individual games, to anticipate exactly what was to come next. .

“We want people who don’t always look at their own task, but also want to see the big picture,” Frank said of the standards Brentford expects. “The more people you can get into your club, the better off you are. I constantly talk about hard work and performance. Culture is the most important thing I believe in, and you can destroy it in three or four weeks.

This is why there is no backslapping around the Brentford training ground at Osterley. At the end of last month, Frank expanded on his players after detecting a drop in one of their sessions, later telling his colleagues it was one of the worst he could remember. Brentford was riding a wave but the point had to be made: their level must be exceptional every day, because the Premier League’s margins are so thin that any slippage could be catastrophic.

As Foreigners predicted a relegation fight, Brentford’s internal measures showed a roughly 30% chance they would drop. Even those odds are being challenged now, although no one is ahead of himself. They expected to be competitive, supporting the consistency they had gained from third consecutive places in the championship. Only Arsenal have a younger squad so we can expect most of their players to improve. Ivan Toney, a center-forward with rare physical and technical gifts, seemed a safe bet to manage the rise in power; the question was who else would take a similar leap with him?

Among those who shine is Vitaly Janelt, a 23-year-old midfielder who had just started playing regularly at VfL Bochum when Brentford signed him for £ 500,000 last year in a typically far-sighted gesture. He didn’t make the headlines that Toney, his attacking partner Bryan Mbeumo and right-back Sergi Canós drew, but was still around until he suffered a blow during the warm-up at West Ham. A six-footer, Janelt has faced the Premier League jumble head-on and his dynamism has been a hallmark. He ranks well among the top 20 tackles in the division.

Thomas Frank gives instructions to Ivan Toney. Photograph: Mark Greenwood / IPS / Shutterstock

Janelt’s comfortable fit embodies that of her team. If anything has pleasantly surprised the Brentford hierarchy, it is their flexibility to meet the demands of a game. In the Championship this has not been called upon so often, but it is recognized that few can spend 90 minutes in passing through Arsenal and Liverpool. Arsenal were rocked by long deliveries to Toney and passed by a blocking maneuver with a long throw. Although goalkeeper David Raya played regularly in defense last season, he was not dissuaded from making quick transitions against teams trained in fierce pressing, hoping to win the second ball and win them over. pin in their own half. Eliminating opponents from football is only part of the plan.

“We were able to be brave and positive and try to attack the teams,” Frank said. “[But] if we are to accomplish anything as a newly promoted team, you have to be able to defend. Kristoffer Ajer, the record £ 13.5million signed by Celtic, slipped straight into Brentford’s zonal defensive system and was seen as a low risk buy despite the high fees. Another 23-year-old Ajer has 25 caps for Norway and his future value looks sure.

The Brentford players have sometimes left the field commenting on the intensity of the league, but they have always kept pace. There is a feeling internally that they are capable of doing even more: that their structure has been solid and that they are difficult to break, but that they could show more quality in possession. It was hardly absent, as they showed two-thirds of a dominant victory at Molineux and in a 20-minute opening whirlwind against West Ham, but a team that scored the best goal with 79 league goals has not yet opened the taps. . A tally of 10 in seven games hardly constitutes a drought, but it is surprising that only Norwich and Watford have taken fewer shots.

Forward Yoane Wissa, who arrived from French club Lorient in August, has achieved cult hero status with late goals against Liverpool and West Ham. Brentford’s involvement in the play-off final meant they had less time to move around the market than many of their new rivals: Michael Olise, the Reading midfielder at the time, was in high demand but Crystal Palace was able to finalize its £ 8million purchase. Their four signings have helped move the dial forward, but if they stay upright, a full preseason could see their scouting methods yield greater payoff.

For now, every potential benefit counts. One of them is their stadium, ingeniously packaged in a tiny space just off the M4. Two nights before Arsenal’s visit, a number of senior Brentford executives enjoyed steak and wine at a branch of the Gaucho chain: it was a rare occasion on which Frank, Benham, Giles and his colleague co- director of football, Rasmus Ankersen, came together in the same room. Partly, they talked about goals and transfer windows, but there was a flurry of childish excitement at the prospect of opening a historic campaign to a packed first house at the new site.

The ambiance exceeded expectations. It feels like a real football field: angular, close, acoustically almost perfect. The environment is set for a team that wants to gain the upper hand over the opposition, even if they are as decorated as Chelsea. “The best way is to try to be in the spotlight: aggressive, forward-thinking and offensive,” Frank said of the West London derby. “The more we can bring them back, the better.” If he offers any comfort to Tuchel, he has had six years to prepare for what awaits him.