This preview appears in the August 2021 edition of FourFourTwo.
Since owner Matthew Benham took over Brentford in 2012, the ‘moneyball’ moniker has stuck with irritating persistence. Stats do play a huge role in the outstanding player trading that’s taken them up two divisions while making a profit on transfers each season, but as co-director of football Rasmus Ankersen told a fans’ podcast recently, identifying talent is often straightforward; the tricky bit is in persuading ambitious players to choose Brentford over bigger clubs. So it was with Ivan Toney.
It was no secret that, at Peterborough, Toney was League One’s best striker. Plenty of teams looked at him, including Fulham and Celtic, but it was Brentford who put down the money – reportedly an initial £5m with considerable add-ons – and then managed to coax him into joining their promotion bid rather than making an immediate move to the Premier League.
Toney’s goalscoring statistics at Brentford speak for themselves: he scored 33 goals in 48 Championship appearances last season. Yet it was the multi-faceted nature of his game that really caught the eye. Along with those goals, he contributed 10 assists, while his link-up play was exceptional and he also proved to be a valuable asset for defending opposition set-pieces.
But, as with any striker making their Premier League bow (Toney’s 10 top-flight minutes with Newcastle in 2015/16 notwithstanding), there’s a valid question to be answered about whether he can make the step up.
The 25-year-old has the physicality to give elite defenders a tough time, and self-confidence won’t be an issue even if he hits a barren spell. He missed several chances in his first few Bees appearances, before posting a goal total surpassing any other in the second tier since Guy Whittingham in 1992/93.
Some nit-pickers have pointed to the fact that a third of the Brentford star’s 33 league goals were scored from the spot (‘Ivan Penal-Toney’ was a barb that irked him), and that all of his strikes came from inside the box (as if that was somehow a bad thing). However, with Thomas Frank’s charges expected to create far fewer chances per game than they’ve been accustomed to, having a prolific fox in the box is a benefit to be welcomed, not a problem to be solved.
Can the play-off winners thrive at this level? Survival will do for now, at a club previously derided as ‘just a bus stop in Hounslow’. If the Bees do succeed in staying up, it seems certain that Toney will have had no issues adjusting. He backs himself – so should we.
The five-point plan
1 Stay strong
Only Norwich boasted a better xG last season than Bees, who will play on the front foot when they can. Their defensive numbers were also impressive, though: they allowed sides 8.4 shots per game, the joint-fewest in the league. It’s now even more important that they balance their old attacking instincts with this new solidity.
2 Keep them guessing
When Brentford stuttered last season, Thomas Frank switched formation from 4-3-3 to a fluid version of 5-3-2, with midfield maestro Christian Norgaard slotting into the back three. It bamboozled a number of opponents – most notably Swansea in the play-off final – so the flexibility is an asset, and it’ll be interesting to see if Frank sticks with his innovative second setup.
3 Embrace change
It wasn’t so long ago that a trio of summer signings from Dagenham & Redbridge was, for Bees fans, the high point of a close season. How times have changed. They have since been spoiled with the quality of arrivals, and can’t wait to welcome new hidden gems – such as Nigerian midfielder Frank Onyeka from Midtjylland – who’ll provide the reinforcements they need.
GOAL FOR THE BEES! 🐝Sergi Canos picks out Josh Dasilva who slams it past Darlow.Watch live on Sky Sports Football 📺Follow online here 📲 https://t.co/3ACSMnmZK0 pic.twitter.com/deV9dtIErjDecember 22, 2020
4 Project Dasilva
Josh Dasilva was one of the Championship’s standout players during the past two seasons. The 2018 free signing from Arsenal, aged 22 at season's start, is a powerful box-to-box midfielder capable of scoring spectacular long-range goals. Provided he overcomes the injury issues that plagued him last season, he is a top-flight star in the making.
5 Stick to your guns
Frank’s squad is very young – Pontus Jansson is the elder statesman, at 30 – but the club’s rise from League Two to the Premier League has been founded on the principle that accepted footballing wisdom is something to be defied. From bringing in free-kick coaches to scrapping their youth academy, Brentford are often ahead of the curve – and so far, this approach has worked superbly. They won’t change tack now they’re among the big boys.
FFT verdict: 17th
Toney’s goals and Frank’s touchline intensity are weapons the Bees must channel to beat the drop.
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